Tag Archives: Walker Books

Maya & Cat

Maya & Cat
Caroline Magerl
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe not …

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

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

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

Nibbles Numbers
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

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

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

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

Little Fish and Mummy
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

Where’s Mr Duck?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

Bear Moves

Bear Moves
Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyūz
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

This he follows with a doughnut fuelled Belly Dance,

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

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

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

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

Great for child participation is this zany offering.

Kiss the Crocodile

Kiss the Crocodile
Sean Taylor and Ben Mantle
Walker Books

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

Are they brave enough?

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

Mission successfully accomplished, Tortoise is next

and what a smoocher!

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

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

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

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

Duck!

Duck!
Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

However, Duck’s message merely grows more strident.

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

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

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

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

Ambulance Ambulance
Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Animals
Mary Kay Carson
Sterling Children’s Books

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

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

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

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

Castle Adventure Activity Book
Jen Alliston
Button Books

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

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

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

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

Tooth
Big Kid Bed

Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bizzy Bear Knights’ Castle
Benji Davies
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

Mix & Match Farm Animals
Rachael Saunders
Walker Books

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

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

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

Isle of You

Isle of You
David LaRochelle and Jaime Kim
Walker Books

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

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

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

There’s entertainment laid on courtesy of dancing polar bears

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

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

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

Flat Cat

Flat Cat
Hiawyn Oram and Gwen Millward
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Milway
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another laugh out loud adventure of the two friends is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreamland

Dreamland
Noah Klocek
Walker Books

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

but most of all, she loves to dream.

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

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

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

On Amelie marches taming whatever hides among the shadows,

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

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

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

A Year in Nature / My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My First Pop-Up Dinosaurs
Owen Davey
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

Little Bear’s Big House
Benjamin Chaud
Chronicle Books

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

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

Once inside the real adventure begins …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josie’s Lost Tooth

Josie’s Lost Tooth
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Box Animal Adventures / My RSPB Nature Craft Box

Story Box Animal Adventures
Claudia Boldt
Magma for Laurence King Publishing

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

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

Here’s Alesha having fun creating her own stories

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

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

My RSPB Nature Craft Box
Sarah Edmonds
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Except Winston / Good Rosie!

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

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

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

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

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

Good Rosie!
Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems
Jory John and Lane Smith
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grumpy Duck

Grumpy Duck
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry Cookie

Angry Cookie
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maisy’s House
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

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

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

Then Maisy gets creative,

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

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

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

Pirate’s Perfect Pet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Digger Little Digger

Big Digger Little Digger
Timothy Knapman and Daron Parton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Cars and a Million Stars: A Counting Storybook

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

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

and toys.

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

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

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

Ten Horse Farm

Ten Horse Farm
Robert Sabuda
Walker Books

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

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

playing, drinking

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

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

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

Three Cheers For Women!

Three Cheers for Women!
Marcia Williams
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

artist Frida Kahlo,

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

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

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

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

Want To Play Trucks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am Little Fish!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Wiggly Wiggly
Michael Rosen and Chris Riddell
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cinderfella

Cinderfella
Malachy Doyle and Matt Hunt
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Moon Smiled / Vehicles ABC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vehicles ABC
Jannie Ho
Nosy Crow

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

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

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

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caterpillar and Bean

Caterpillar and Bean
Martin Jenkins and Hannah Tolson
Walker Books

Here’s a beautifully illustrated, narrative information book that cleverly combines two life cycles, that of a runner bean and an unnamed butterfly. (I’m not aware of a butterfly whose food plant is the runner bean.)

Written by conservation biologist and author, Martin Jenkins it’s the latest in the Science Storybook series for young children with growth and change as its themes.

Starting with a wrinkly bean seed ‘neath the ground, readers can follow its development as first a tiny root emerges, followed by (above ground) green leaves, then more green leaves onto one of which a white dot of an egg appears.

From this hatches a caterpillar that nibbles and grows, nibbles and grows,

shedding three skins, almost stripping the plant of its foliage.

Fortunately though, the plant too continues growing apace, but of the caterpillar there is no sign. Instead, dangling on a thread is a chrysalis.

Meanwhile bean pods have replaced the flowers and are swelling ready to shed new bean seeds after which, come winter the plant dies.

Not so the chrysalis however, that is awaiting spring when …

Simply and effectively told in a reader-friendly chatty style, alongside growing your own beans and caterpillars this is an excellent introductory book.

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha
Aaron Becker
Walker Books

I could just write a single word in response to this story– awesome – but that wouldn’t help those who have yet to encounter Aaron Becker’s new wordless picture book. Nor would it do justice to his remarkable lyrical endeavour.
My initial reading called to mind two poems of T.S. Eliot, the first being the opening line of East Coker: ‘In my beginning is my end.

In Becker’s beginning we see a girl collecting flowers and discover they’re an offering for her beloved dog, Sascha’s grave.

The family – mother father, daughter and son – then leave home for a seaside camping holiday.
As night begins to fall the girl heads to the water’s edge and we see her standing beneath a starry sky about to throw a smooth stone.

Thereafter, time shifts and what follows are spreads of a meteor hurtling earthwards to become embedded in the ocean floor and we witness the evolution of our planet as the stone works its way upwards and out, as life transitions from water to land, dinosaurs roam and then give way to early mammalian forms.

Having broken the surface as an enormous protrusion, the stone is quarried and transported to a huge ancient royal edifice where it’s carved into an obelisk.

Wars, looting, fragmentation and remodelling occur as the stone moves through history becoming part of first a religious monument, then a bridge; is fashioned into a fantastical dragon and placed in an ornate carved chest; taken to an island and installed in a chieftain’s dwelling, stolen,

lost at sea and eventually, having moved through eons of time, is polished smooth and carried by the waves to the shore where stands the girl who finds it.

Now, as she presses the stone to her cheek she appears to have made peace with the situation and perhaps, her loss and grief.

The stone’s final resting place – as far as this story goes – is atop Sascha’s gravestone.
(You can also trace the whole journey through the timeline maps that form the endpapers.)

Becker’s layered pastel spreads – digitally worked I think – have in the present time, a near photographic, quality. The scenes of bygone eras where the degree of sfumato intensifies are, in contrast imbued with a dreamlike quality, being as Leonardo da Vinci said of the technique he too employed, ‘ without lines or borders’.

This intensely moving, unforgettable, multi-layered, circular tale is open to countless interpretations and reinterpretations depending on what we bring to the book, at any particular time. Assuredly, it makes this reviewer think about our own place in the cosmos and our connection to past and future, for to return once more to T.S. Eliot:
Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.’
Burnt Norton

Going Solo: The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday / Hubert and the Magic Glasses

The Princess in Black Takes a Holiday
Shannon & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Walker Books

Princess Black has a double identity moving between Princess Magnolia and her black clad alter ego and it’s a pretty full-on, hard going existence and one that causes her to pay the penalty of a lack of a decent night’s sleep.
Now her slumbers are disturbed once again and having donned her transforming dark disguise, despite near exhaustion, she’s ready to leap into action once more.

Consequently when the Goat Avenger (who bears a close resemblance to her pal Duff the goat boy), offers to take over goat-guarding

and keep watch against marauding monsters, thus allowing the black sporting princess to take a much needed holiday, she cannot resist the opportunity.

Bags packed, Princess Magnolia is off on her bike to the seaside.

However her much-needed rest and relaxation are short lived for even on the beach, a monster shows up, emerging from the waves to cause havoc and scare the sunbathers out of their wits.

Time, (while Goat Avenger is still bravely playing the hero back home), to grab that black garb, step up and do battle with the brute.

Of course, in the end, our resourceful princess does finally get that much-needed holiday sans monsters, sans screaming humans, just her and sand, sea, sunshine and the odd bit of shade courtesy of a few coconut palms.
Brimming over with action, humour –due occasionally to the princess not recognising her friends, as well as monsters of the not really scary variety, the Hale partnership has penned another great chapter-book adventure story for readers just flying solo that’s bursting with engaging, action-packed illustrations from LeUyen Pham to smile at. Equally though, plenty of in-built sound effects to let rip with, make it a super read aloud.

Also ideal for new solo readers is:

Hubert and the Magic Glasses
Candice Lemon-Scott and Joe Spellman
New Frontier Publishing

When it comes to soccer, young Hubert’s skills as goalie for the under 12s Goodview Primary Able Ants team leave a lot to be desired: at best he’s mediocre. But then his team itself isn’t likely to be under enormous pressure in their next match when they take on the Wandering Wombats, reputedly the worst team in the district.

We first meet Hubert as he sits in the changing room struggling to tie his own boot laces, so nervous is he feeling while the other players are already on the field warming up. However despite the lad letting several goals in, his team does manage to win that match.

Next, Hubert’s team have to play in the quarter finals – a real challenge against a decent team – but then at dinner Hubert is faced with yet another problem when his mum announces that she’s made an appointment for him to see an optometrist.

The verdict? Astigmatism and Hubert is prescribed glasses: he’s not happy.

Just over a week later though, as he’s attempting to eat his breakfast Hubert is finally persuaded to put on his glasses and from then on everything in his life takes on an altogether different view.

With a new version of their goalie, can the Able Ants eventually win through: after all those glasses of Hubert’s aren’t just ordinary ones.

Issues of confidence building, team relationships, taking charge of your life, peer pressure and more are embraced in this amusing pacy narrative that has cool colour illustrations by Joe Spellman sprinkled throughout.

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea
Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton
Walker Books

Award winning team Davies and Sutton present a fine, diverse collection of sea related poems that subtly blend information within.
Starting down by the shore readers can experience a paddle, sandcastle building, watch a flock of seagulls, have a spending spree on the pier, ride a wave, become creative with shells and pebbles, or stop still and watch a Shore Crab:

‘Delicate! / As a dancer, / The crab sidesteps / To a dead-fish dinner. / Wary! / Periscope eyes up, watching. / Its big claws pinch tiny scraps / And pass them to its busy mouth. / Dainty! / Like a giant eating fairy cakes.’

I love that observation.

Equally beautiful, from the Journeys section, is Star School wherein, ‘The old man draws the night sky out in pebbles / to teach his grandson the pattern of stars. / They will steer his path across the ocean / like stepping stones laid out in the sky, / They’ll steer him safe to tiny islands, / green stars lost in seas of blue.’

I’ve never been a particular lover of beaches and the sea other than in tropical climes, but Nicola Davies’ superb word pictures in tandem with Emily Sutton’s remarkable watercolours have made me want to head to the nearest coast and look anew at those seagulls, limpets, shells and ‘bits of beauty that are pebbles.’
I know I’ll have to travel a bit further in search of puffins though, and I can wait a few more months to watch fishermen on palm-clad shores, perhaps in Kerala or Goa, tossing their nets ‘spider web’ like, endeavouring to ‘catch just enough fish for dinner’.
This is an outstanding and wondrous evocation of the sea – beside, upon, above and beneath –

‘A festival of flashlight fish! Off-on, off-on. It’s a morse code fiesta of living lanterns.

for every book collection, be that at home or in school. A ‘First Book of the Sea‘ it might be, but this is one that will go on being appreciated over and over and …

How Does My Home Work? / What on Earth? Robots

How Does My Home Work?
Chris Butterworth and Lucia Gaggiotti
Walker Books

Most of us, at least the fortunate ones, adults and children, take for granted such things as light at the flick of a switch, clean running water, heat at the touch of a button or perhaps something even more sophisticated, ditto TV and fresh food straight from the fridge; we seldom stop to think about it unless something goes wrong, let alone appreciate these facilities.

Herein with uncomplicated diagrams and illustrations from Lucia Gaggiotti, including cross sections, author Chris Butterworth describes in straightforward language the inner workings of a family house. He takes readers below the floors, behind walls as well as outdoors to see where and how the amenities – electricity (from both renewable and non-renewable sources),

natural gas and clean water are sourced and in the case of the latter, dirty water got rid of.

An engaging read with words and pictures working well together, a gentle conservation message (on the penultimate spread children offer ten energy saving suggestions), final notes from author and illustrator and an index, this is a thoughtfully presented introduction to everyday, life-enchancing technology and one hopes a book that will make youngsters appreciate their creature comforts just a little bit more.
Recommended for use at home or school.

What on Earth? Robots
Jenny Fretland VanVoorst and Paulina Morgan
QED
The latest addition to the What on Earth? series that embraces a wide range of subject areas, is sure to set young minds buzzing with excitement.
Robots are, increasingly, playing a part in our everyday lives and this book covers all kinds of robot-related material from poems to building a pasta rover; creating a robot costume responding to sound clues

and touch clues robot style; and appeasing your appetite with a yummy snack by turning your friend into a robot

or discovering the role of computers and programs in robot functioning.

All these and more are covered under the book’s five sections: What is a robot?, Robot bodies, Robot senses, Robot brains and robot jobs and there are also a couple of templates relating to activities as well as a glossary.

Easy to understand, appealingly illustrated and clearly presented, with artwork and text interwoven, well-explained activities that require relatively few, readily available resources, this is a lively, worthwhile resource whether or not you are pursuing a robot-related topic at school, or to add to a collection for home exploration.

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

World of Birds / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals

World of Birds
Robert Hunter
Wide Eyed Editions
This is the first of a new Sounds of Nature series, which has ten 10-second natural soundscapes available at the touch of a button.
Herein readers can visit and explore ten diverse habitats—from the Himalayan Mountains

to the wetlands of Kenya’s Lake Nakuru, and the tropical rainforest of New Guinea to an English forest

and listen to birds in the wild with this exciting book, strikingly illustrated by Robert Frank Hunter.
There’s a brief paragraph of facts about each bird species included and their respective numbers relate to the order in which the sounds they make can be heard.
An interactive book for young, and not so young nature lovers that called to mind an alarm, sounded by ecologist and musician, Bernie Krause in his recent book: ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening.’
Let’s hope that it doesn’t spread over the wonderful habitats featured by Hunter.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Woodland Animals
Illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Walker Books

There’s a range of activities to engage young children in this woodland setting book. Readers can enjoy dot to dots,

colour in some of the creatures including completing and ensuring the symmetry of the peacock and red admiral butterflies (they’d have to check elsewhere for the colours of the latter), add stickers to scenes (in some cases completing a puzzle), hunt for partially hidden nocturnal animals, complete a maze and spot differences.

The semi-matt finish and reproductive quality of the stickers, along with the illustrator’s attractive collage style art work and the factual information integrated into the various scenes make this a book to keep and return to after the tasks have been completed.

The Day War Came

The Day War Came
Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb
Walker Books

I came back home after a few days away to find this book waiting; it was the day we heard about the egregious separation of children from their parents at the US border, so it was especially moving. It is also Refugee Week as I read/write this – even more timely and heartbreakingly pertinent, especially as I think of my Syrian friends who fled their home country from war a couple of years ago and are now happy and their two children loving their primary school in Stroud. No lack of chairs there.

Nicola Davies wrote the text, a poem, as a response to her anger at our government’s refusal to allow 3000 refugee children to enter the UK in 2016. A poem that began the 3000 chairs campaign for which artists contributed pictures of chairs, symbolic of a seat in a classroom, education, kindness and the hope of a future.

For those who didn’t read the poem when it was published in the Guardian, it’s a spare text narrated by a little girl from a country, perhaps Syria, blighted by war whose day starts normally – breakfast with her family and then school where in the morning, she learns about volcanoes, draws a picture of a bird and sings a song of tadpoles.

After lunch though comes war, destroying her school, her home, her town,

leaving her alone, bloody and tattered.

Somehow she makes it to a boat and thence to a beach and then to a camp. “But war had followed me. / it was underneath my skin, / behind my eyes, / and in my dreams. / It had taken possession of my heart,” she says.

Nicola Davies is a fine weaver of words; her text is heart-wrenchingly powerful and ultimately, redemptive – having initially been turned away from a school classroom because there was no chair for her, one is supplied by a little boy,

whose friends do likewise … as the children walk together, “Pushing / back the war / with every step.”

Rebecca Cobb has done an outstanding job with the illustrations. Her watercolour, crayon and pastel pictures – scenes of destruction, flight and desolation, all too familiar to us from TV news bulletins, have a heightened poignancy so rendered, and are all the more powerful viewed together with her images of normal life in home, street and classroom.
All her characters are incredibly expressive both facially and in their body language, and the little girl is the very embodiment of the poem’s narrator.

A must read book for anyone who values humanity.

£1 from every copy of the book sold will go to the HelpRefugees charity.

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry
Jarvis
Walker Books

Come with me to Coral Reef City, home to the most flashy, dashy array of fish you could imagine. It’s also home to Terry. Terry has no dazzling scales or funky fins to flaunt. He does however have two good friends, Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail with whom he lives and plays.

The three and their games of Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish are shunned by the tropical fish on account of their drabness. Terry’s pals try to cheer him up but he still hankers after that dashing, flashing life.

A plan is needed and next day, with the help of his friends, operation transformation Terry is put into action.

Now he verily outshines everything else in Tropical City.
At last he’s one of the fishy dazzlers and much too busy with his new acquaintances to bother with Steve and Cilla.

One day however, Eddie the Eel arrives on the scene and Terry’s life in is great danger. What can he do to escape becoming an eel’s next meal?

There’s only one way to find out: get your fins on a copy of Jarvis’ tale of friendship and sea changes and read the rest of this piscine picture book.

Jarvis never fails to delight: his deep-sea adventure is certainly one to dive into.

We’re Getting a Cat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian is a Mermaid

Julian is a Mermaid
Jessica Love
Walker Books

Here’s a picture book that transcends so many boundaries seemingly effortlessly delivering a powerful punch, or rather several, through a wonderfully empathetic affirming story and richly coloured, heart-stoppingly beautiful, watercolour and gouache illustrations.

On a ride home one day with his Nana, Julian sees three mermaids, or that’s what he considers them to be. When they enter his carriage, the boy is totally transfixed – he LOVES mermaids.
We then join him in a wordless 3-spread daydream that shows the boy becoming a mermaid swept along in a mass of sea creatures.

Once back home, while his Nana showers, Julian sets to work: he adorns his hair with palm fronds and flowers, applies some make-up and fashions a flowing tail, transforming himself into a fabulous mermaid.

What will his Nana’s reaction be though? His anxiety is palpable when she returns and we’re left momentarily, as unsure as Julian. Is he in trouble? Shamed perhaps?

Then comes her reaction and it’s truly what we’re longing for …

With the boy’s transformation complete, Nana leads him to a place filled with other people like him.
(I must add here that it’s not only the main characters that are so ‘real’: just look at the people they pass: their portrayal is genius).

An awesome unforgettable tale of non-conformity, understanding, acceptance and belonging; it speaks to the desire for love and understanding in us all, no matter who we are.

A book to be shared and celebrated by anyone and everyone, young or not so young and amazingly, this is Jessica Love’s debut picture book – wow!

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo / Why is the Cow on the Roof? & Smart Girls Forever

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Maverick Arts Publishing

At Purple Hill primary School there’s yet another supply teacher in 4X; they’ve gone through quite a few already so the question is, how long will the strange-looking Mrs Ogg survive, particularly when she decides to take the class on an outing – their first ever – to the zoo? Can she possibly keep seventeen unruly children under control for a whole day? It’s particularly important, for their attendance at the end-of-year party depends upon the trip being 100% trouble free.
Arlo decides it’s unlikely, so he assigns himself the role of chief back-up.

Mrs Ogg however is no ordinary supply teacher and the zoo she’s taking them to is no ordinary zoo, which probably accounts for the inclusion on the ‘don’t forget’ letter sent to parents just prior to the trip, of a T-bone steak.

Is the outing a success and do they arrive back at school with all seventeen children plus teacher safe and sound? And, are they allowed to go to that eagerly anticipated end-of-year party? You’ll have to get hold of a copy of this action packed story and find out.

With its twisting-turning plot, it’s certainly lots of fun. Packed with zany illustrations by Kathyrn Durst

and promises of further adventures to come, let me just say, there’s a whole lot more to class 4X than previous teachers had thought: Mrs Ogg manages to unearth a whole lot of hidden talents therein.

Why is the Cow on the Roof?
Smart Girls Forever

Robert Leeson illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Walker Books

These two books of short stories were first published 20 years ago and they’re as amusing now as ever – great for reading aloud or for solo reading.

Why is the Cow on the Roof? is one of the five folk tale based renditions in the first book, the story being based on the Norwegian, ‘The Husband who was to Mind the House’ and is a hilarious account of what happens when a husband and wife swap their round of daily tasks to see who works hardest.

The other four stories also pose questions including ‘Why are you such a Noddy, Big Ears?’ and “Who’s Next for the Chop?’, the former, a pourquoi tale being based on a Native American ‘Rabbit’ character and the latter from a story in the Arabian Nights..

In each case, Leeson’s renditions are full of humour with plenty of dialogue used to great effect; if you’re reading them aloud to a group, don’t forget to share Axel Scheffler’s funny line drawings that introduce each story.

Smart Girls Forever contains six tales from various parts of the world, all of which have resourceful female lead characters; they are, Leeson tells us ‘Russian, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Persian and English’ but ‘could be from anywhere’.

Look out for Natasha who outwits the devil and Oonagh who gets the better of the terrible giant Cucullin, an act for which her husband Fin M’Coul will be forever grateful.

Early Years Bookshelf: Maisy Goes to a Wedding / Bigger, Bigger!

Maisy Goes to a Wedding
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

Oh my goodness! Ostrich and Penguin are getting married and we’re all invited to their wedding. Needless to say Maisy, decked out in her new outfit, is super-excited.

At the flower-bedecked venue, Maisy greets all her friends. Every one of them has brought something for the couple and soon it’s time for the celebration to start.

Music plays as Tallulah leads the way festooning the aisle with flowers and is closely followed by Penguin on the arm of Charley. They reach the waiting Ostrich.

Owl does the officiating, rings are exchanged, “I do” is said by both partners and then it’s the party. Hurrah!
Delicious food, toasting the couple, music and dancing and cutting the cake follow.

Then the bride throws her bouquet: who will catch it though?

After a wonderful party the happy couple leave for their honeymoon …

Maisy fans will love this latest episode in the ‘First Experiences series’, which now numbers over 15 titles.

Bigger! Bigger!
Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

The story really starts before the title page with a little girl gleefully emptying out her box of coloured blocks onto the floor.
Build’ she says smiling, hard-hat balancing precariously on her head.

From then on her imagination appears to take over as the blue wall behind her is transformed into blue sky and her pets too have donned hard-hats and their buildings look real: first a dog kennel ‘Big’; then a wooden house ‘Bigger!’ and ‘Bigger! Bigger!’ is the cry …

as a block of flats, a large bridge, office blocks appear until we see the happy builders exuberantly celebrating the finish of their task.

They’re certainly an ambitious crew these three.

Suddenly there’s a ‘BOOM! BOOM!’ followed by at the turn of the page a huge nappy-clad baby (has it escaped from the author’s board books?) wreaking havoc.

Thereafter reality is restored with tears from big sis. and then a penitent babe attempting a silent apology.

Finally co-operation wins the day and ‘Stronger! Stronger!‘ comes the cry.

Share with a group of nursery children or an individual around the age of the girl builder – either way they’ll demand repeats. Equally, with its minimal text writ large, this is perfect for those just starting to read.

A Handful of Board Books

Clap Hands
Say Goodnight

Helen Oxenbury
Walker Books

Can it really be thirty years since the original editions of these ‘A First Book for Babies’ titles appeared? They’ve lost none of their charm and those babes, whether they’re dancing, eating, making a noise, waving, swinging, riding or sleeping are just as adorable as ever.
As first books for babies, with their brief jaunty texts and superbly observed illustrations,

they’d still be one of my first picks to give a new mum.

Pop-Up Ocean
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Books

In this chunky little board book fifteen ocean-related things (one per spread) are stylishly illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius.
Toddlers will delight in seeing sea creatures large – whale, seal, stingray and not so large– crab, fish, octopus, seagull, coral and seahorse, along with a fishing boat, lighthouse, shell, submarine, swimmer, surfer all of which literally pop out of the pages.
A fun way to introduce vocabulary associated with the sea, it’s full of opportunities for language development at every opening.

Spot’s Puzzle Fun!
Eric Hill
Puffin Books

Toddlers will enjoy joining in with the ‘Brmm-brmm. Whoosh!’ of Helen’s bright red car; the ‘Bumpety-bump!’ of Steve’s shiny green tractor’ the ‘Rumble-rumble, beep-beep!’ of Tom’s big yellow digger and finally, the ‘Choo-choo, clickety-clack’ of Spot’s blue train as one by one they drive their vehicles into view, offering “Does anyone else want a turn?” to the other animals.

There are sturdy press-out pieces (animal and vehicle) on each spread that can also act as puzzle pieces and can be fitted together in various combinations – great for developing manipulative skills as well as fun.

Star Wars Block
Peskimo
Abrams Appleseed

Using die-cut shapes, the husband and wife design team that is Peskimo take readers on an epic celebratory journey that showcases iconic characters, spacecraft, combat vehicles, locations and creatures from various Star Wars films, from the very first to Rogue One.
Subtitled ‘Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know,’ with its easily manipulated pages, this latest addition to the block book titles, will be welcomed by small fans of the epic space adventures, and I suspect, enthusiastic adults with whom they share this chunky offering.

Square

Square
Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Walker Books

In a previous book we left Square obstructing the entrance to Triangle’s home and now he’s back moving in and out of his own secret abode hauling large rock cubes from his subterranean stash all the way up to the top of a hill. This he regards as his ‘work’.

One day while he’s thus engaged along comes Circle pronouncing him a “genius” and “sculptor”. Thinking his block sculpture to be a self-portrait, she commissions one of her, promising to return the following day. Now Square really does have a tricky undertaking: Circle is perfect.

Anxiously he sets to work but as the rain falls, Square’s far from perfect shape begins to disintegrate and come nightfall he’s surrounded by a circular pile of rubble into which the rain falls.

By now his anxiety is almost palpable and having determined to stay up all night, overwhelmed by despair, he falls fast asleep.

Morning comes and with it the realisation that he’s allowed himself to be beguiled by Circle’s talk of genius. There he stands in a large puddle surrounded by a circle of rubble.

Eager to set eyes on her portrait, Circle rolls along early and sees her reflection in the puddle.

Declaring it “perfect” she reaffirms Square’s genius and departs.

Barnett’s final throwaway ‘But was he really?’ leaves readers, and indeed Square, to ponder and make their own decisions, not the least of which are, what does it mean to be an artist? And, what is art?

With his characteristic minimalism Klassen imbues his art with humorous detail: the twig for instance that looks like a wilted aerial on Square’s head, and the way he just keels over in utter exhaustion, are superb.

Barnett’s brief, droll text, combined with Klassen’s illustrations make this a perfect offering for those who enjoy pondering upon and discussing philosophical questions. Community of Enquiry enthusiasts and artists in particular will love this, as indeed will anyone who enjoys the subtlety of this duo’s picture books.

Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale

Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale
Robie H. Harris and Chris Chatterton
Walker Books

Block play elephant style is pretty much the same as that of young children particularly when little Elephant has such a wonderful resource to use.

Kneeling on a carpeted floor our pachyderm starts stacking; his aim to build a tower the same height as he is (intention). How many more do I need he wonders (estimating) .

‘1 2 3 4’, he counts the precariously balanced blocks, then hurrah! – arms stretched out wide in celebration (self-expression and self-esteem).

Elephant stands beside the stacked blocks (comparing/measuring), but almost inevitably given the unstableness of his stack CRASH! BOOM! Disaster …

Elephant though is not one to give up so easily. “It has to be as tall as ME!” he reaffirms. (resilience and determination).
He stops and thinks about the placement of that first block …

before starting to build another tower, self-questioning as he goes until, 8 blocks high it’s “WHOOPEE!” Success! This time Elephant gives the tower a celebratory bottom bash sending his stack crashing.
He still isn’t finished though; it’s time to experiment with that very long block and those others he’s yet to play with … “What if” – imagining. (love that one)

until …

(testing hypotheses, problem-solving, spatial awareness, balance, concentration)

Harris introduces a multitude of maths concepts along with a host of other learning possibilities of block play.  Chatterton’s simple, uncluttered, but oh so telling, illustrations show not only Elephant’s learning but also his sheer joy in his experience.

Those, like myself who champion the activity – especially with the kind of equipment in Chris Chatterton’s photographic collages, will celebrate this book and want to show it to anybody who ever thought block play was mere messing around: they need to read it right away. It’s such a brilliant example of learning through play, made even better because the publishers let the story speak for itself.

After you share it with young humans (and any elephants that happen to be around), make sure you have a large set of wooden blocks available; they’re sure to be inspired.

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?

Where’s Home, Daddy Bear?
Nicola Byrne
Walker Books

Evie Bear and her Dad are moving home and Evie feels full of doubts – ‘heavy’ in fact. “How will I make new friends?” she wants to know. She doesn’t understand why they need to move at all but eventually everything is loaded and it’s time to say goodbye to their city life and set off into the unknown.

As they drive further from everything familiar Evie’s worries continue. “Dad, what if I don’t like my new home?” she asks.
Where am I from now?” Evie wonders aloud when they stop for blueberry pancakes.

All the way Dad does his best to reassure the little bear with carefully considered words of comfort and activities to distract her from her worries.

When they stop for the night, tucked up together in a hammock they continue their discussion about home

and Dad tells his little Bear that he considers home is more about feelings and not really things at all.

After what seems like a very long drive next day, father and daughter finally reach their new abode

and as they start to unpack Evie comes to her own conclusion about what home means for her: no matter where they live, so long as her dad is with her, she will always feel at home.

Rich in detail both domestic and of the natural world, Nicola Byrne’s illustrations have plenty to pore over and enjoy, not least being the two tiny mice that move house along with the bears and appear in several scenes along the way with their suitcase. On the penultimate picture attentive readers will see them moving into a hole in the skirting board, a scene that also shows The Great Dragon Bake Off among Evie’s books.

The expressions on the bears’ faces say much about the loving bond between father and Evie and also about the emotional upheaval involved in their move.

Why this is happening, especially as their new home appears to be in the middle of nowhere, is left for audiences to ponder upon and draw their own conclusions as is the question of what has happened to Mother Bear; but then, gaps for the reader to fill are part and parcel of a good picture book.

That Fruit Is Mine!

That Fruit Is Mine!
Anuska Allepuz
Walker Books

Deep in the jungle live five elephants, fruit lovers all, but content to stick to their own favourites until one day they come upon a new tree, a very tall one bearing the ‘MOST delicious-looking exotic fruit’ they’d ever set eyes on.

Inevitably each one wants that tasty-looking object for him or herself.
MINE!” calls Elephant One, huffing and puffing till her lungs were fit to burst.
Elephant Two launches herself at the tree but fails to dislodge the object of her desire.

The other three elephants are equally unsuccessful despite ingenious attempts, and all the while unbeknown to the pachyderms, but spotted by readers, a group of five tiny mice working together reach and seize the yellow fruit

and carry it away triumphantly. “OURS!

Their teamwork lesson so adeptly demonstrated, is then put into action by the elephants and a combination of their original individual ideas bears fruit of a truly yummy kind.

Even yummier is the tale’s final twist.

Anuska Allepuz’s debut as author is a delectable offering, with its wry humour, theme of the fruitfulness of cooperation and sharing and alliterative phrases to relish. The use of different typefaces for elephants and mice works in harmony with the splendidly expressive, comical illustrations.

Great fun for sharing with one child or many.