Play Like Your Football Heroes

Play Like Your Football Heroes
Seth Burkett and Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tom Jennings
Walker Books

Former pro football player Seth Burkett co-authors this book with friend and writer Matt Oldfield. It’s broken down first into four parts with tips on how to: Train Smart, Think Smart, Live Smart and Play Smart, and then into chapters each featuring five or six star players. It’s great to see both men and women included, one of the latter being American icon and political activist Megan Rapinoe, winner of two World Cup winner’s medals as well as both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot trophies. But what makes her even more inspirational to this reviewer is her peace message: “We have to love more, hate less, listen more, talk less.’

Self belief is key if you’re to become a successful soccer player, or indeed succeed at pretty much anything: Kevin De Bruyne is a shining example of a player who believes in his ability, in his case to ‘pull off another amazing assist’. He started having to find the courage to step outside his comfort zone (a requisite if you’re to develop self confidence) age fourteen when he left his Drongen home and family to join the Genk academy 100 miles away. Just one of the incidences of his awesome self-belief.

Incredibly skilful ball dribbler, Messi, didn’t gain that outstanding ability in a vacuum; rather he needed to work on a whole lot of inter-linked skills to become the amazing ball master that he is. Training, training and more training in different conditions: constant, variable and random. Don’t worry if this sounds a bit technical; explanations are given in the very first chapter, featuring of course, Lionel Messi.

Another star who believed in himself, no matter what is Harry Kane who scored that crucial goal in the final minutes of the first group game against Tunisia in the 2018 World Cup. A real smart hero assuredly..

When it comes to playing smart, somebody who personifies the five ‘P’s – ‘proper preparation prevents poor performance’ is French midfielder N’Golo Kanté, he of outstanding stamina.

However, no matter where you open the book you’ll likely find something that will speak to you: and sometimes challenge you.

With both authors’ passion for the game shining through all that they’ve written in this inspiring, interactive book, as well as some 80 black and white illustrations by Tom Jennings, there’s lots in here for readers from around seven, be they enthusiastic watchers/team supporters of the game, or a young player and would be football star, .

Witch In Training

Witch in Training
Michelle Robinson and Briony May-Smith
Walker Books

Following their Tooth Fairy in Training, Michelle and Briony present another trainee this time in the form of a little witch.

We meet the young narrator as the final preparations for her training are, with her mum’s help, being made. Off they zoom on broomsticks to obtain all that’s necessary for her very first potion, Magic Stew.

First come the sky ingredients,

after which it’s down to Monster Town for wood-related supplies.

Next stop is a tomb for further slightly gruesome requirements, but the list still isn’t all ticked off: the final visit is a sub-aquatic rendezvous.

Then, full of excitement back home young Betty, hands duly washed, starts brewing with a wave of her wand, some magic words and . …

Uh- oh! in goes an additional ingredient that was not on that list and whoops! What has become of kitten, Pumpkin Patch?

Can Betty brew another potion and save the day? (or rather the night) … Well maybe – or almost …

Told in Michelle’s magical rhyming text and Briony’s wonderful scenes of moonlit ingredient gathering and spelling, create their own brand of enchantment that youngsters will delight in becoming a part of when the book is shared.

Perfect for a run-up to Halloween story time, or indeed, any other time.

Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off / Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider

Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off
Nicola Colton
Little Tiger

In case you’ve not met the two protagonists, cat Jasper loves cooking fancy food and dining in fancy restaurants. Puppy Scruff is fond of eating with a particular penchant for salted caramel. The two run their own cafe, its speciality being the Cheese Monsieur with customers coming from near and far to sample this delicacy.

One day though, there’s a distinct lack of visitors and on investigation they discover across the way a new establishment – The Sophisticafé – is opening up with Lady Catterly as head chef. Eager to learn what the signature dish is to be, Jasper and Scruff head over and try to enter the cafe doors, only to be rebuffed without the necessary invitation.

Back they go to their own diner to find that things are in a chaotic state but even worse, the recipe page for their signature dish has been removed from the book. Looks as though it’s the work of the Sophisticats AGAIN!

Time to find out exactly what is going on … Things don’t go quite to plan however but they do encounter famous food writer, Gaspard le Skunk sampling the fare. Now he’s the one to impress, decide Scruff and Jasper but that will entail some menu amendments.

Again things don’t quite go to plan as those dastardly Sophisticats have got wind of the critic’s visit. Sabotage is their way of doing things …

but who will win this battle?

Another tasty offering in this series, and with one or more of Nicola’s humorous illustrations on every spread, it’s ideal for those readers just starting to fly solo.

Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

Stink is Judy Moody’s little brother and now he’s battling with his arachnophobia, a fear of spiders having troubled him for quite a while.

Having fashioned an origami frog, he takes his creation to the backyard to test its hopping. The creature hops right out of sight but when Stink looks in the long grass there’s no sign of his frog. Instead he sees a ‘pink thingy’ or rather several and they’re attached to large hairy legs which in turn are attached to a larger hairy body and that is attached to a massive head of the hirsute kind. A head with a plethora of eyes, what’s more. YIKES! Readers will have no doubt what this thing is.

A fearful Stink dashes indoors to seek help in locating his frog from the one person he knows is actually quite fond of spiders, his sister Judy. A deal is struck but Judy goes beyond that and sets about trying to cure little brother of his phobia.

This is a fun, scientific episode in which Megan McDonald’s characters exhibit their delightful optimism and it’s brought out in Peter Reynolds’ amusing illustrations; love the spidery chapter headings. There are even instructions to make an origami jumping frog after the story.

A relatively easy read: early chapter book readers will thoroughly enjoy this spin on facing your fears.

Poultrygeist

Poultrygeist
Eric Geron and Pete Oswald
Walker Books

With a touch of the macabre, this is a deliciously dark tale that begins before the title page, with a chicken crossing the road – as chickens do – to get to the other side. Only the result of this one so doing is that it’s splatted against the front of a huge tractor-trailer becoming a ghostly version of its former self.

The next thing the creature knows is that it’s greeted by a host of other animal ghosts informing it of its new status as the titular Poultrygeist and ordering the erstwhile ‘spring chicken’ to start acting scarily – like a ‘foul, fowl’ no less.

Despite haunting not really being the chicken’s thing, the now featherless creature ends up frightening its fellow phantoms.

(It does though give a nod to readers/listeners to make sure they’re not similarly scared at any point.)

With its hilarious finale, this has just the right amount of scariness for most youngsters, thanks in no small part to Pete Oswald’s superb artistry. His use of colour for the ghosty animals against a black background is brilliantly done with the spoken part of the text corresponding in colour to the speaker and that revelation of the poultrygeist’s scariest possible, ‘not even scary’ face is show-stoppingly superb.

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals
Emma Chichester Clark
Walker Books

Absolutely full of charm, this is the debut novel of wonderful picture books creator Emma Chichester Clark and it stars Polly Pecorino, a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl but with a difference: Polly is an inveterate animal rescuer.

Notably, she is able to talk to animals and understand them though she doesn’t know from where this ability came, nor does she make it known outside her own family. They live (along with Crow, a wild creature Polly had rescued) in the small town of Abbeville overlooking Silent Water Lake beyond which in Wild Bear Woods lived actual wild bears.

These are feared by everyone living nearby including Polly. All of this gives something of a fairytale feeling. Danger lurks close by only kept at bay by a high protective wall surrounding the town. A story has it that an entire family got lost and were gobbled up by the bears, one by one.

Within the town walls on the opposite side to Wild Bear Woods is the somewhat neglected Happy Days Zoo and Polly spends much of her time there after school and during holidays helping her Uncle Stan care for the animals and doing what she can to keep them fed and happy.

In contrast the zoo’s unscrupulous owners, the Snells, care nothing for the animals but will do anything, anything at all, to make money and the more of it the better … They’ll even resort to stealing a tiny bear cub from the woods – that will surely make them a nice packet with a huge surge in ticket sales.

No matter their action will put the entire town in danger from the other bears in the form of the cub’s wild family that will come for him.

Polly realises that if she doesn’t act that is exactly what will happen. Yes, she’s brave but is she brave enough to go against the Snells, follow her heart and take little Booboo back to Wild Bear Woods?

Surely there has to be a way and if anyone can do it, that person is Polly with her ability to see things from the perspective of the animals.

Matters become increasingly tense as the dramatic events build … BooBoo simply must be returned to his parents …

Emma’s storytelling is brilliant – you really feel you’re scrambling through the tangles of creepers and brambles with Polly, damp air penetrating your skin, . Equally brilliant is her characterisation, especially of the girl; together, they give this book a real classic feel, helping to make it utterly grippingly unputdownable. In your haste to find out what happens though, make sure you slow down to enjoy the plethora of fantastic black and white illustrations.

Let’s Save Antarctica

Let’s Save Antarctica: Why We Must Protect Our Planet
Catherine Barr and Jean Claude
Walker Books

This book is an urgent plea from author Catherine Barr and illustrator Jean Claude for readers and listeners to help in the vital task of protecting our precious planet, in particular Antarctica from climate change and plastic pollution, and all that means.

That vast white continent covering the South Pole – the most extreme environment on earth – is home to millions of Emperor penguins as well as safe waters for the enormous whales that live in the depths of the surrounding Southern Ocean. Losing these, thus far tough survivors just doesn’t bear thinking about, but think about it we must.

Penguins though are just some of the awesome inhabitants of the vast icy wilderness, for eons ago it was home to dinosaurs, and fossils, footprints, teeth and ginormous bones have been discovered by scientists investigating the ancient volcanic ash of the Antarctic sea floor.

Other scientists have and still are investigating what Antarctica can reveal about how earth’s climate – the temperatures and wind patterns – have changed over hundreds and thousands of years.

But what are the secrets to the survival of the flora and fauna of this extreme environment? Yes they are all protected in this our last great wilderness.

However, it’s something biologists are studying while others are looking at what allows deep sea life to survive.

So too is the crucial work that scientists are doing to monitor the effects and speed of climate change, Antarctica’s greatest risk of all, and something that will also have a huge impact on all of our lives.

You don’t have to be a scientist to contribute to the saving of Antarctica and the final spread comprises things that we can all do to stop plastic pollution in the ocean and help slow down climate change. What Catherine has written will surely spark action to protect this incredible place; it’s up to us …

The More the Merrier

The More the Merrier
David Martin and Raissa Figueroa
Walker Books

Bursting with delicious movement words – stepping, galumphing, slipping and sliding, and wiggling, leaping, swooping and flying, skipping, even flappity-flipping – go the creatures in this book as we meet in turn Bear with kicking feet and bending knees, Moose going high, low, fast and slow,

Snake doing what it can, beat-loving Deer and round-eyed Owl.

Then come cute Baby Mouse drawn to the action as are Mouse’s friends with their “Hey diddle, diddle”. Round they cavort singing at the tops of their voices until sleep finally overcomes them and zzzzzzz.

Who could resist the call to action to head over to that forest and join Bear in following the infectious beat of the rhyming telling. Inspired by the dancing animals shown in Raissa Figueroa’s dynamic scenes, young listeners will probably also want to offer their own unique dance moves performed with similar abandon to the animal cavorters that grace the pages accompanied by David Martin’s joyfully upbeat, cleverly patterned text with its almost irresistible beat.

By the way, it’s also a great book for developing sound/symbol awareness. The foundation stage classroom potential is huge but more important, it’s a super story that supports the all-important message that playing with language is fun..

Look, Puppy!

Look Puppy!
Mary Murphy and Victoria Ball
Walker Books

A little girl has long awaited the arrival of her new puppy and now, hurrah! At last the nameless creature has arrived and she is eager to introduce the newcomer, first to the immediate surroundings and then the world at large. The latter entails a walk around the neighbourhood to see the various houses and their inhabitants both human and canine,

most of whom are very welcoming and offer to help choose Puppy a name. But then disaster! The creature disappears.

Where is Puppy?

A frantic search begins, followed by a pause for some reflection,

a joyful reunion and a return home.

Will the little girl ever settle on a name for her puppy though. Yes of course, but what will it be?

With endearing, finely detailed illustrations by Victoria Ball, Mary Murphy’s is a warm, gentle tale that will especially appeal to youngsters with a dog in the family. The little human protagonist herein shows such understanding and love in her dealings with her puppy offering a great example to young readers.

It Could Be Worse

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati
Walker Books

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? In this story we meet one of each – Albertini is the latter, always placing a negative slant on a situation; his fellow sailor, George is an optimist, remaining cheerful no matter what.

Stranded out on the open sea on what’s left of their ship after a disaster that took place prior to the start of the story, we see them facing a series of incidents that get progressively unlikely. First comes a cloudburst with the rain falling only on the two sailors, followed almost immediately by a torrent of excreta from a school of flying fish suffering from diarrhoea, that strangely amuses George (perhaps none fell on him).

Their disparate viewpoints continue as they encounter half a dozen crooning mermaids whose song lodges itself in lamenting Albertini’s brain; then while George renders the mermaids’ tune on his harmonica, a ghost ship of pirates suddenly appears, closely followed by an ark brimming over with animals – very hungry ones on account of being food deprived for forty days.

Their adventure then takes a subaquatic turn as the tentacles of a massive sea anemone pull them to the ocean floor

where George’s oft repeated “It could be worse” starts to wobble somewhat as they’re surrounded by jellyfish, engulfed (albeit briefly) by a whale

before landing unceremoniously on a rather smelly island where they bed down for the night. Or attempt to before they get the surprise of their lives …

Now how on earth (or in water)? did that happen?

Comical illustrations of the unlikely scenarios and George’s oft-repeated refrain will likely keep young listeners anticipating the possibilities of the next unlikely happening, while causing lots of giggles along the way.

Ten Delicious Teachers

Ten Delicious Teachers
Ross Montgomery and Sarah Warburton
Walker Books

In all my time as a teacher I’ve heard teachers called many thing but never ‘delicious’. Get hold of this yummy counting down rhyme though and you’ll immediately see the reason for the adjective.

Many youngsters have recently bid farewell to their teachers but here you’ll not see a single child for as the book begins what we have is those ten teachers, tired and weary coming out en masse only to discover that they’ve missed the last bus home: no cars parked in a car park- what a ‘green’ lot they are.

Maybe though, I should use green in another way, for following Mr Smith’s suggestion to take the shortcut, they head off into the Dark Forest wherein lurks a hungry horde of hirsute beasties of all shapes, sizes and hues, ready and waiting for that next tidbit.

One by one, the easily distracted teachers are gulped down by the waiting monsters

until just one, Miss Hunter the nursery teacher remains.

Then comes a brilliant twist to Ross’s jaunty rhyming tale: who will have the last laugh though? Surely that will be the youngsters who savour this number narrative so dramatically illustrated by Sarah Warburton whose mock-scary monsters are hilarious. I love all her witty details too.

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

It’s great to have young Sona Sharma and her extended family back in another story. Now Sona is alarmed when she hears how much humans are doing to damage Planet Earth as her class talk about global warming, plastic pollution, deforestation and more and after the lessons she and her classmates all sign a pledge to do their bit to look after Planet Earth. Sona resolves to enlist the help of all her family members too, although once home she finds Paati (grandmother) is very preoccupied with perfecting her kolam designs in preparation for an upcoming competition.

Nonetheless, on Saturday Soma sets to work on her caring for the planet plan but her over-zealous electricity saving soon has other family members just a tad irritated, not to mention the disappearance of baby sister Minmini’s nappies.

Time for a family Panchayat as Sona’s grandfather calls it, to look at Sona’s list of changes to be made. There are some compromises but everyone seems satisfied with the outcome of the discussion and Sona goes to school clutching a plan she’s happy about on Monday morning.

That evening however, things happen that make her anything but happy and as a result some high drama ensues. The day ends well though but a new day brings another challenge for Sona when she resolves to get the use of chemicals, plastic and glitter banned in the kolam competition. 

Will she succeed? It might just require a miracle …

I’m an even bigger fan of Sona after this story: she’s certainly a force to be reckoned with. Her enthusiasm and determination are admirable even if they do get her into some tricky situations. I love too the way Chitra has woven into her narrative an explanation from the Ramayana of why the Indian palm squirrel has three stripes.

Jen Khatun’s line drawings are a delight; it’s great to have one, (often containing fine detail) on every spread.

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Oxford Children’s Books

Leo’s role as apprentice to the Guardian, Henrik, is to protect the village from any monsters that lurk in the encircling forest while keeping his job secret. Even if receiving a summons from Henrik means curtailing his enjoyment of the Spring Festival being celebrated as this story opens.

It’s as well he’s just demonstrated his target hitting prowess at the festival; he’s certainly going to need it in this assignment; but is the truth about his job in danger of being revealed when his close friend Jacob decides to help?

There’s only one thing to do according to The Guardian: Leo must urgently obtain a hair from one of the ghostly Frightmare’s tails before the end of the night. Not a problem then, except that these monsters haunt the higher mountain passes protecting their territory by breathing deadly blue fire from their nostrils.

Can Leo succeed? Perhaps with map in hand and the assistance of his Leatherwing friend, Starla. 

However as he soon discovers, these Frightmares have an unexpected power that will make his task even more difficult: that and the fog. But as Leo tells himself, ‘failure just wasn’t an option’ …

Established fans of the series will eagerly join Leo in this new, splendidly written and illustrated adventure that’s packed with thrills, action and atmosphere. Newcomers will quickly find themselves sucked into the intriguing story too and also enjoy the map and concluding illustrated fact files.

Let’s Get Ready for School

Let’s Get Ready for School
Jane Porter and Carolina Rabei
Walker Books

Meet Marley, Maya, Theo, Akiko, Ella and Zakir. These young children are about to experience one of the most important days of their lives: they’re starting school. Yes it may well feel exciting but that feeling is perhaps tinged with nervousness too.

The little ones share with readers, not only their feelings but their actions as they make themselves as ready as possible, trying to do such things as putting on their own coats and shoes and opening their lunch containers.
Then come two questions: ‘why do I have to go to school? and how will I get there?, both of which are answered with a spread for each.

Safely at school, there are lots of new faces.

We see them meeting their teacher and getting to know what happens in the classroom; how best to become a member of a largish group – working in a team, taking turns, how carpet times operate and more.

One of the most important lessons is a social one: accepting and understanding difference among your classmates and always being kind no matter what.

Then there are routines that help the day go smoothly: snack time, lunch time and playtime.

Not every single day will be the same however – sometimes there are special occasions to look forward to, but before you know it, the entire first day will have whizzed by and it’s home-time. Your grown ups will be waiting, having wondered about how you’ve got on and you may well be bubbling over to tell them all about it, or perhaps you aren’t ready to share your experiences just yet: it’s up to you.

With Jane Porter’s reassuring narrative (including a ‘worry page’), the plethora of speech bubbles and Carolina Rabei’s realistic illustrations of classroom life (why no story time, I wonder), this book will certainly be one to share in those days leading up to that big step, especially as due to the pandemic, youngsters may not have had those taster sessions normally offered before a child starts school.

Ergo

Ergo
Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz
Walker Books

For me there’s nothing worse than feeling trapped between the walls of my home however safe and secure it might be. And I suspect most of us have experienced some claustrophobic feelings during the last sixteen or so months, though I’m lucky to be living at present in the countryside surrounded by green spaces that I’ve taken advantage of no matter the weather. Hurrah for the big wide world waiting outside your immediate cosy environs, both physical and mental.

So let’s now meet the aptly named Ergo, a cute baby chick that’s just woken up to her own physicality. She decides to explore the world: first she finds her toes, ‘wiggle, wiggle ‘ now that’s a GREAT START and it’s followed by wings, beak and legs. Now that’s a small world: AM I THE WORLD though?

Ergo concludes that she is. Until she notices the wall surrounding her – a roly poly world then.

Suddenly into this hitherto perfect world intrudes a sound – BUMP and it’s closely followed by a realisation. Time to embark on a journey of discovery perhaps …but it’s going to take some pluck to reach out. Can Ergo make that vital truth searching move? …

What Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz have so cleverly created here is a philosophical demonstration of freeing oneself, of going beyond the information given and of reaching out to others. Seemingly simple perhaps, but this is a highly thought-provoking and a smashing starting point for a philosophy for children discussion in the primary classroom.

I Am Angry

I Am Angry
Michael Rosen and Robert Starling
Walker Books

This book has its origins in Michael’s experience of watching his youngest child having a temper tantrum. He then decided to write a poem about anger that was included in A Great Big Cuddle and now based on that poem we have the first in a new series by the poet and illustrator Robert Starling.

The big bad mood presented here is the kind that comes from nowhere in particular, causing huge noise making –

thrashing and bashing, bodily contortions – rolling on the ground and knocking down trees actions, raging and rampaging, squashing the moon

and terrifying the sun sort of angry, which then vanishes just as rapidly as it arrived.. All this from what appears to be a cuddlesome creature.

Parents and indeed teachers of young children will immediately recognise such scenarios and welcome this smashing book with its reassuring message that however overpowering such anger might feel, it’s soon over, often leaving the once angry person feeling tired out.

Robert Starling has already demonstrated his skill at portraying anger with Fergal is Fuming and now in combination with Michael’s superb rhyming text has created a terrific read aloud picture book for sharing with little ones in an early years setting or at home.

Kids Fight Climate Change / So you want to be an Owl / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest

There are 3 recent Walker Books publications about various aspects of the environment – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

Kids Fight Climate Change
Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Following on from Kids Fight Plastic, from the same team comes a second book containing sixty six ways in which children can become two minute superheroes.

There are sixteen major missions focussed on helping to save the planet and in particular on climate change, starting with powerful facts about global warming and the hugely harmful effects it’s having on ecosystems both large and small. 

Many people will have heard about the terrible effects of the Canadian heatwave that has killed hundreds of people in the west of the country. There have also been huge numbers of wildfires putting both humans and wild life in danger in Australia especially. The latter as well as the other effects of climate change are presented around a world map early in this little book.

Then comes the first of the main missions, how to count your carbon footprint, that includes a bitesize ‘2 minute mission’ to compare inside and outside temperatures on a sunny day, as well as finding one small action you could do tomorrow to reduce your carbon footprint.

With the added interest of collecting points along the way youngsters must complete such challenges as using ‘an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning up the radiator’,

making a bee hotel in your garden or a reusable face mask from an old cotton T-shirt or persuading parents to let you use an airer or washing line for drying the wash rather than an electric drier.

This is a smashing, highly readable little book with lots of funky illustrations from Tim Wesson. It gives young eco-warriors plenty of information, incentive and inspiration to be active in their homes/gardens, schools and local community. Very much a book of our time and young followers of Greta Thunberg (I know a fair few of those) will love it. An empowering read likely to produce lots of young activists.

So you want to be an Owl
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Author Jane Porter places Professor Olaf Owl in the classroom to deliver a sequence of nine lessons and an initial assessment should readers (despite being a fair bit larger than the featured creatures.) want to consider the possibility of becoming an owl alongside the trainees.

There’s a strict code to live by: ‘Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!’ Then come the questions that start each lesson: Can you fly? Can you merge into the background environment? What about seeing in the dark. What’s your hearing like? and so on before giving her assessment to each class member and whoo hoo! they’ve all gained a certificate.

Skillfully engaging readers by the aforementioned questions and others about hunting and feeding, 

hooting, tree dwelling and chick rearing, Jane Porter imparts key facts to young readers with gentle, playful humour while Maddie Frost’s inviting and endearing illustrations further enhance that humour and the scientific information.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest
Stephanie Fizer Coleman

With scenes of several rainforest locations in different parts of the world, youngsters can encounter some of the fauna and flora of these steamy habitats as they search for hidden animals, help a chimpanzee find her way to her friend, match up pairs of gorgeously patterned South American butterflies, add colours to some birds of paradise and to Amazon rainforest snakes. They can also use the 100 or more stickers to further adorn the various spreads and learn some amazing facts along the way.

The Seed of Doubt

The Seed of Doubt
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Books

The boy in this story has big dreams far beyond his immediate horizons. “You know you can do anything, … as long as you believe it,” his father would say in encouragement.

One day while the boy is walking in the fields a bird calls to him and in so doing drops something from its beak.

Catching it, the boy feels the seed is significant. He plants it and after a few weeks it sprouts, becoming a sapling and eventually a tree.

The tree grows, the boy grows too, but his dreams get smaller and self doubt begins to take root. Now the tree seems to signify fear rather than its original joy and the boy no longer feels capable of climbing it.

His evening chats with his father are no longer of dreams but every day farm-related matters. However the change doesn’t go unnoticed by his father who reminds his son of those words from long back, “You can do anything … “
That triggers a change and slowly, slowly the lad begins his ascent of the tree, until eventually, with lots of encouraging words …

he reaches the very top.

Once more his dreams are visible: “I can see everything,” he tells his proud parent.

Movingly told is this beautiful story of a boy’s journey back to self-belief, equally movingly illustrated by Richard Jones. His variety of page layouts and perspectives make the narrative even more powerful, and I love the patterning.

It’s all too easy to let those small seeds of self-doubt take root and this book is a lovely starting point for talking about faith in oneself, determination and positiveness either at home or in the classroom.

I Like Trains / Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!

These are two recent picture books from Walker Books – thank you to the publishers for sending them for review

I Like Trains
Daisy Hirst

The young canine narrator of this story has a particular liking for trains – playing with toy ones, reading about his passion,

and travelling in the real kind, especially to pay a visit to Granny’s. That’s when she can hear all about the exciting journey, is treated to a picture of the ride, and then she and the puppy have great fun playing in a park sandpit that has a train theme.

With her art taking centre stage, this is a briefer, less sophisticated tale than many of Daisy Hirst’s previous books, but equally delightful, It’s perfectly pitched for very young listeners and beginning readers particularly those who share the puppy’s enthusiasm.

Phoebe Dupree is Coming To Tea!
Linda Ashman and Alea Marley

Abby, narrator of this rhyming story has invited her friend for tea, hoping that all will be as perfect as the guest herself. To that end, she prepares carefully for the three o’clock rendezvous, instructing dog Louie to be on his best behaviour and arranging a tray with delicious confections, flowers, and a china tea set, as well as lining up the other guests – three toys.

Then DING-DONG! The eagerly anticipated guest arrives and ‘oh-so-politely’ sits herself down in her seat while her hostess goes to fetch the tray. But on her return with the tray (it’s really heavy), she has a Mrs Wobble moment and trips sending the contents of said tray every which way. This results in further chaos as Phoebe leaps up onto her chair and in so doing sends the entire table over causing such a mess. Will Phoebe contemplate returning ever again?

Now comes the time when Phoebe surprises readers and her friend too … After all, who wants perfection when it’s at the expense of fun?

Linda Ashman’s narrative reads aloud well with both page breaks and Alea Marley’s detailed illustrations highlighting the drama and suspense splendidly. With its subtly empowering message, this is a delightful story to share with youngsters.

Agents of the Wild : Operation Sandwhiskers

Agents of the Wild: Operation Sandwhiskers
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens
Walker Books

Agnes (aka Agent Gamble) is watering her window boxes when a flamingo crashes into her geraniums , is briefly trapped and then tumbles through her bedroom window. The dehydrated creature is en route to SPEARS with an urgent message for Commander Phil.

Almost immediately, as part of SPEARS’ fight against the illegal trading of wild animals, with baby animals going missing across Africa, Agnes is off to meet up with her partner Attie, currently in Egypt, intent on what she’s told could be her most dangerous mission to date; to investigate the disappearance of some hydrax pups from their burrow.

Almost as soon as Agnes and Attie are reunited, they’re dashing across the Sahara Desert in a silver bullet buggy towards the burrow’s location. There’s trouble in store though when they find themselves at the mercy of a wicked animal poacher, trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Then it’s up to tenacious Agnes to summon all her courage, use her wealth of wildlife knowledge plus the occasional animal-tai move to try and save both agents and the stolen animals.

Like the previous books in the series, this has a superbly written, action-packed narrative with plenty of witty dialogue and some terrific characters, including two that henceforward will be a special part of Agnes’ life. Plus there’s an absolute wealth of animal facts seamlessly woven into the story, part and parcel of which on almost every spread, are Alice Lickens’ splendid quirky illustrations.

The last few pages contain Agnes’ field notes and observations, a rallying cry for readers from Commander Phil concerning illegal wildlife trading, information about the animals threatened and more.

An absolutely smashing solo read or KS2 class share.

My Day with the Panye

My Day with the Panye
Tami Charles and Sara Palacios
Walker Books

Fallon lives with her family in the hills of Port-au-Prince where we meet them on a market day when her Manman has invited her elder daughter to accompany her to the market. The girl narrates what happens, talking especially about her desire to be able to carry the panye on her head (a kind of rite of passage) as her Manman does.

Her first attempt is a failure but Manman quotes her own manman,: ” ‘Pitit, pitit, zwazo fe nich li’ Little by little the bird builds its nest. Not everything is learned fast. “

Desperate to learn the skill, Fallon envies Manman’s grace as she moves with a sway of her hips, panye perfectly balanced, through Sara Palacios’ busy, richly coloured Haitian landscape

and into the bustling market also awash with its vibrant colours and patterns

including those of mothers and daughters ‘Their feet are graceful. Their panyes are still, even as the wind swirls through the city.’ (I love the author’s lyrical language)

After the purchases are complete and the two are ready to begin their journey home, Fallon begs to be allowed to carry the panye. Finally her mother agrees, assisting with the balancing; but the full basket is very heavy and down it crashes sending vegetables flying all around.
Now it’s Manman’s turn to do the urging when Fallon wants to give up, and with the reloaded panye, slowly, slowly … success! Feeling like a queen she makes her way back home. “The panye means we are graceful when the load is heavy. We are strong, even when the earth is not. We are family, fed from love.”

There is so much to enjoy about this book in both words and pictures (look out for the antics of the dog): the warmth of the mother/daughter relationship especially the encouraging of perseverance when learning something new.

The author ends with a note explaining the tradition of panye carrying and telling us that Haiti is her husband’s homeland and why she wrote the story.

Margaret’s Unicorn

Margaret’s Unicorn
Briony May Smith
Walker Books

Children seem to love unicorns and stories about these mythical creatures. I have no doubt they will love this gentle one of Briony’s with its atmospheric setting; it definitely stands out from the crowd.

Margaret and her parents have moved to a distant cottage in the mountains to be near Grandma. To the child, this house feels strange and unfriendly so her parents send her out to explore while they organise things inside. Don’t go beyond the big stone, they warn.

As Margaret walks she suddenly notices what at first glance seems like mist over the sea but then she realises it’s unicorns leaping across the skyline, only to vanish almost immediately. 

On her way back she comes upon a baby unicorn tangled in the weeds presumably left behind by the others. Having freed the little creature, she carries it back home.

With her grandma’s help, the girl tends the little unicorn, buying it flowers to eat and making a nest in Margaret’s new room. That night she and her father don wellies and go to collect some of the “water touched by moonlight” her gran had said it would drink. And so it does, making its horn glow with magic in the dark.

Over the changing seasons Margaret nurtures her little unicorn while at the same time gradually thinking less about her old home. ‘When a unicorn is your friend, you wish spring would stay far away.’ she tells readers but inevitably come it does and with it the other unicorns, among which is her unicorn’s mother. It’s time to bid a sad farewell to her friend 

and then the unicorns depart.

By the following spring Margaret has made some new friends and feels settled in this beautiful environment; but will she ever see her unicorn friend again?

Yes there’s magic in this lyrical tale but never of the sparkly sort; rather it has an earthiness fed by the landscapes and the seasonal changes all around, so beautifully captured in the illustrations, that and the love.

Mister Boo!

Mister Boo!
Joyce Dunbar and Petr Horáček
Walker Books

Meet Mister Boo, a mischievous moggy that loves to tease, not least Rosie when he pops his head out from the box on arrival at her home.

Surprises are his special thing: he alarms the mice, flips the goldfish from their bowl,

and come spring there’s no stopping him. He frightens the baby birds as they learn to fly,

terrifies the baby rabbits and the owl fledglings with his springtime joie de vivre.

Time passes and one morning awoken late by birdsong, Mister Boo finds that despite it being spring, he no longer feels that spring in himself. Equally upsetting is the fact that the other animals either ignore him or show him little interest other than the mother owl that lets him know what she thinks.

Feeling decidedly downhearted Mister Boo creeps back home where he’s greeted by a joyful Rosie who has a surprise in store.

Can this restore his spirits? He’ll assuredly need to accept some changes in the home …

Told through Joyce’s chatty text with its lively, playful language and Petr’s distinctive, brilliantly expressive scenes of the ups and downs of the titular character this will delight young listeners and adult sharers alike, especially those with a particular penchant for prankish cats.

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers

Oscar’s Tower of Flowers
Lauren Tobia
Walker Books

Oscar’s mum takes him to stay with his grandmother for a while in this wordless, wonderfully warm story. He bids a sad farewell to his mum and then despite reassuring hugs from his nan, the boy spends a very difficult first night away from home.

Next morning though his nan observes Oscar’s interest – a picture he draws, and his careful watering of a seedling.

She takes him to a very special shop where they buy all kinds of gardening things including seeds.

Back in nan’s apartment, Oscar plants and tends the seeds

until her entire residence, both inside and out, is alive with flowers, greenery, even vines. There are certainly sufficient plants to make gifts to the other residents of the block, especially a little girl who soon becomes his friend.

No words are needed here: Lauren Tobia’s gorgeous vignettes and full page scenes say it all. The emotions of the characters are made palpable both through their faces and their body language all the way through to the happy reunion of mother and child.

Perfectly paced, this is a super book to share nestled up with one child or a few, taking time to focus on and relish all the wonderful detail in every spread and both endpapers.

A Celebration of Dads

My Dad
Susan Quinn and Marina Ruiz
Words & Pictures

A small child celebrates their dad, and the everyday activities – real and imaginary – that make him and the days they share together so special.

In Susan Quinn’s first person rhyming narrative the child presents such things as baking, growing vegetables, grocery shopping, going for picnics and bathing, moving through the different seasons and kinds of weather: ‘If it rains, we splash through puddles, / stomp through leaves of gold and red. / And gaze at a colourful rainbow, / big above my head.’

Marina Ruiz’s illustrations are suffused with the love shared between Dad and child, while her colour palette alters to reflect the changing seasons.

No matter the particular home situation of the young reader/listener and Dad this sensitively written book is one to enjoy together.

What is Daddy Going To Do?
Carly Madden and Juliana Perdomo
Words & Pictures

This is a fun lift the flap book for toddlers to enjoy, especially with a dad. It features diverse dads, one portrayed holding or wearing an item on the flap of each recto, while opposite the text says for instance, ‘Daddy has a stopwatch. / What is Daddy going to do?’ Having had a guess, little ones lift the large, sturdy flap to reveal the answer. (‘Start the family sports day!’)

In all there are six fun activities that Daddy does with his child or children – Fly to the moon, play in the forest, build a pirate ship, play in a band and make some noise, and read a bedtime story.


Little ones will want to join in with the repeat question and the (hidden) sounds, as well as lifting the flap (great for developing fine motor skills) and they’ll certainly enjoy exploring Juliana Perdomo’s bright, gently humorous illustrations and making predictions about the hidden activities.

Daddy
Leslie Patricelli
Walker Books

The adorable one-haired baby is back to introduce Daddy. Said male parent is ‘so big and strong’, his ‘legs are so, so long.’ The infant then enjoys a playful time with Daddy – riding piggyback, trying to touch the sky, feeling his unshaven scratchy face, fleeing from a pretend monster, singing, wrestling till they need a rest.
At other times Dad is busy so baby helps him cook and clean and much more.

Our baby narrator also introduces several other dads pointing out that each one is different be that ‘Dressy … Messy … Bald … Hairy … Tall or Short’ before pointing out the ideal nature of ‘My Daddy’.

With its rhyming text and warm, lively scenes of baby and Daddy, this is a delight for the very youngest.

Twitch

Twitch
M.G.Leonard
Walker Books

Oh my goodness this is a totally immersive, brilliantly written, unputdownable story with a fascinating main character, Twitch.

Twelve year old Twitch is a passionate bird watcher, keeper of pigeons and pet chickens, and at certain times of the year, has swallows nesting in his bedroom. He’s kind-hearted but happy in his own company and bullied at school.

As the story starts, the summer holidays are about to begin and Twitch anticipates spending lots of time in Aves Wood where he’s constructed a hide.

Things don’t quite go as planned though for when he arrives at his hide he finds police everywhere. A potentially dangerous robber is on the run with the possibility that the missing millions from the bank haul are buried in the locality.

Can Twitch put his bird watching skills to use in tracking down the convict and even find the money?

Perhaps, with the help of some of the unexpected friends he makes, not least of whom is Jack, one of those who has bullied Twitch but actually has a kinder side that he sometimes keeps hidden. The way their friendship develops is superbly done but there are a host of other interesting characters too, several of whom aren’t what they appear.

Indeed, the entire story is full of surprises; and what a wealth of ornithological information is embedded in the plot, thanks largely to Twitch’s knowledge and passion.There’s plenty of suspense too: as the tale twists and turns; it’s hard to tell who is to be trusted and there’s a terrific finale, which one hopes indicates that we’re going to be hearing more of the newly formed club, The Twitchers.

Hike

Hike
Pete Oswald
Walker Books

Wordless save for some environmental sounds and labels, this is a truly beautiful book. 

It begins one evening as a man bids goodnight to his child in a room littered with outdoor gear.

Next morning the father wakes the child who packs the gear into a rucksack, the two get into a jeep and head off from their city home into the countryside for the day.

We follow the two as they walk into the forest where they see wildlife aplenty, 

sharing in occasional small dramatic moments as the child copes with some scary challenges. 

The two stop to share snacks, take photos, enjoy the view and finally carry out the task they’ve come to perform – the planting of a sapling they’ve brought with them and the taking of a selfie beside it.

As dusk descends, they leave the woods and drive home. Once there, they don pyjamas, share some cookies and look through a photo album.

Totally immersive, this wonderfully heartwarming book, open to more than one interpretation, is one that needs slow and careful reading of every page: I love the variety of perspectives and the wealth of visual clues we’re given. I love too, how Oswald shows us the natural world through the lens of the close child/parent relationship. A special day and a special relationship. 

To sum it up, I’ll borrow the title of a very old song ‘Memories are made of this’.

Dance With Oti: The Bird Jive

Dance With Oti: The Bird Jive
Oti Mabuse and Samara Hardy
Walker Books

This is the debut picture book of Strictly Come Dancing star, Oti Mabuse, and as the book opens, Mrs Oti is welcoming a host of would-be dancers into her studio for their very first lesson.

Warm ups and stretches completed, everyone is ready to start learning the jive. There are the inevitable thrills and spills but under their teacher’s enthusiastic, watchful, caring eye, the children are quick learners

and in no time the lesson is halfway through. Then suddenly, an unexpected winged visitor makes an appearance.

Mrs Oti deals with the disruption in her characteristic creative way and soon everyone is back on task

and the lesson proceeds towards the final steps and a wonderful controlled POSE! Just in time to give the waiting families a first performance of The Bird Jive. And humans aren’t the only ones that show their enthusiasm as the dance draws to a close.

With some delightful characters including Poppy, Gan and Olivia, all illustrated with panache by Samara Hardy, and a step-by-step demonstration of the Bird Jive routine by Oti, this is a thoroughly enjoyable celebration of movement, dance and giving it your all. Share the book then, get on your feet and JIVE!

The Rock From the Sky

The Rock From the Sky
Jon Klassen
Walker Books

Quintessential quirky Klassen is this sequence of five connected short comic episodes delivered with the author’s dead pan humour, not to mention that its main characters – a tortoise, an armadillo sport Klassen’s signature style hats.

The entire thing is delivered through (colour-coded) dialogue between Tortoise and Armadillo (plus those characteristic Klassen eye-movements).

The topic under discussion in The Rock is the best place to stand/sit. Tortoise favours one particular spot, “I don’t ever want to stand anywhere else.” But Armadillo is unfavourably disposed towards it, “Actually I have a bad feeling about it.’ And rightly so; he instead goes off to try another spot. A to-ing and fro-ing ensues but it’s not until Snake rocks up to join Armadillo that Tortoise decides to join them too – and only just in time … for something huge and mightily heavy falls on his erstwhile spot. Of course, we readers in on the joke, have been anticipating same all the while as we enjoy the mounting tension.

In The Fall, Armadillo attempts to act helpfully while Tortoise tries to save face zzzz. Episode three sees the two, eyes closed, contemplating the future

watched by a futuristic creature, while The Sunset is a contemplation of same – kind of;

and finally, in No More Room Tortoise takes umbrage “Maybe I will never come back” and is once more under the watchful Eye now no longer in the future,

but perhaps soon to be in the past. Thank goodness for asteroids!

Another weird and wonderful Klassen gem, albeit somewhat longer (90 pages) than usual, set in a minimalist landscape that offers much to ponder upon in a Waiting For Godot for primary school readers.

My Big Book of Outdoors

My Big Book of Outdoors
Tim Hopgood
Walker Books

When it comes to nature, ’The more you look, the more you see’. So says Tim Hopgood in the blurb to this stunningly beautiful bumper book.

To amplify this, starting with Spring, Tim takes us through the four seasons of the year celebrating the delights to be discovered in each one.

My favourite time, Spring, brings blossom, baby animals, bulbs busting into bloom, the birds greeting the day with their dawn chorus, nest building, egg laying and more.

There are close-ups of eggs, feathers, minibeasts, 

frogs, soil and a rain shower and more; as well as the occasional poem and activities for indoors and out.

With its longer, warmer days, Summer offers insects aplenty, baby birds taking flight, a richness of colour and scents from flowers and for some plants, it’s time for seeds to be dispersed. More colour comes from amazing skies, 

ripening fruits and vegetables and there’s the promise of a holiday, perhaps by the sea.

Misty mornings, leaves changing colour and falling in blustery winds herald Autumn as birds take flight to warmer climes, seeds are dispersed far and wide, and creatures forage for supplies in readiness for winter as do humans who harvest the spoils from trees and hedgerows.

Quiet seems to descend along with Winter’s arrival with its chilly, sometimes frosty days and cold snuggle up nights when some creatures hibernate to survive. It’s a season to remember the resident birds and perhaps using Tim’s instructions, make a feeder for the garden or balcony. Assuredly they’ll need it should snow fall.


With every page turn bringing more of nature’s delights, this is for sure, a veritable treasure trove: Tim has done nature proud.

Ernest the Elephant

Ernest the Elephant
Anthony Browne
Walker Books

From the much loved and highly praised Anthony Browne comes a stunningly beautiful modern day fable.
Having had thus far a safe happy life with his Mum and the rest of the herd, little elephant Ernest has become curious about what more life has to offer than mere walking, eating, drinking and sleeping.

One day Ernest and his mum are strolling happily along with the other elephants when something catches Ernest’s eye. To him it looks exciting but Mum tells him it’s not a place for baby elephants.
Somewhat put out at being called a ‘baby’ and eager to explore this alluring place, Ernest drops behind and into the jungle he goes. It’s a strange, colourful place and Ernest is fascinated by the dazzling light and dark, mysterious shadows.

Soon though, his excitement begins to wane and he contemplates rejoining the other elephants, but realises that he’s completely lost.
After some time he comes upon various other animals – a gorilla, a lion, a hippo, a gaping-mouthed crocodile –

but not a single one can be bothered to offer any assistance. Their apathy and condescension is evident in each of their faces, but then happily when Ernest is at the point of despair, one little creature stops and listens: it’s a tiny mouse.

Ernest explains his plight doubting that so small an animal could possibly help but so polite is Mouse that Ernest decides being lost with such a companion is preferable to being lost and alone.

Much to the little pachyderm’s surprise though, help is exactly what Mouse does and hurrah! Ernest and his Mum are eventually reunited and three happy animals are the outcome. After all, what better reward could there be for help so selflessly given?

While empathising with Ernest’s plight, children will love to lose themselves in Anthony Browne’s classic style surreal jungle, relishing the multitude of delicious cakes, lollipops, liquorice all sorts and other confectionary, as well as fruits, eggs both creme and fried, not forgetting the interesting variety of tree trunks one of which looks to me like a chocolate flake. There’s even a pair of socks and some underpants pegged out to dry. The illustrator clearly had huge fun with those scenes.

What a wealth of talking points this cracking book offers when adult and child(ren) share it, not to mention the visual literacy lessons aplenty.

Beautiful Day! / Take Off Your Brave

Beautiful Day!
Rodoula Pappa and Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Cameron Kids

In the company of a small child we experience the seasons’ riches through a sequence of twenty haiku-like poems. Rodoula Pappa’s words are as if spoken by said child, whose activities we follow starting with Spring: ’Beautiful day! / Teach me, too, how to fly, / mother swallow.’ are illustrated in Seng Soun Ratanavanh’s richly patterned scenes beautifully crafted as if from Japanese washi paper. 

There’s much to enjoy no matter the season: Summer offers lush peaches, somnolent-sounding music and ‘Among the reeds, / a new galaxy – / fireflies.’ as well as days by the sea.

Come autumn there’s an abundance of busy chipmunks and dahlias bloom prolifically and its time for the wild geese to travel. 

With winter soft snow falls and there are preparations for Christmas, while ‘In the rock’s crack, / deep green, full of light – / winter blossom.’

There’s a feeling of serenity about the entire book; it’s as though the words are asking us to slow down, stand and stare, imbibing the beauty of the natural world so wonderfully depicted, no matter what time of year.

What a lovely starting point for children’s own seasonal reflections this book would make in a primary classroom.

Take Off Your Brave
Nadim, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail
Walker Books

The Russian writer, storyteller and poet Kornei Chukovsky talked of young children as ‘linguistic geniuses’ playful and creative users of language and this book of poems by four year old, Nadim is a wonderful demonstration of this.

Responding to prompts from his mother, with the initial guidance of poetry teacher, Kate Clanchy (who has written an insightful foreword to this book) the little boy shared his thoughts about a variety of things from his feelings on returning home from nursery school, his best friend,

his mum, doing something scary, his wish. To read each of these is to share in something of how a four or five year old sees the world (something that I as a nursery and reception teacher for many years particularly enjoy); there’s no attempt at emulating adult poetry, rather, this is a child’s voice capturing those moments of happiness, joy, love, loneliness, peacefulness, togetherness, hopes, fears and dreams.

‘You always have sad moments / Happy moments / Nice moments / Angry moments // And when you smush those moments together / They make a great feeling / Called: / ABRACADABRADOCUOUS.’

And rest assured everyone has indestructible love to share for ‘Baddies love their baddie friends / Even very baddie ones. // Nothing can make love disappear / Not spells / Not magic / Not mermaids / Not anything. … ‘

Accompanied by Yasmeen Ismail’s illustrations – who better to capture young children being themselves – this is a lovely demonstration that poetry is for everybody.

How To Be Cooler Than Cool

How To Be Cooler Than Cool
Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien
Walker Books

Coming upon a pair of sunglasses unexpectedly immediately transforms Cat from ordinary to real cool with the ability to glide effortlessly backwards down the slide – or does it? Err … 

Cockatoo, next to come upon the sun-specs is instantly rendered supercool when he dons his find and dances along the see-saw – 

but not for long … and those shades are then caught by Pig.

‘Mr Totally Completely Cool’ is how he anticipates being seen as he stands posing nonchalantly on the swing until … 

and even he has to admit he doesn’t quite live up to his own expectation.

Disappointment, and realisation concerning the non-effect of the sunglasses reign; but then who should rock up but Chick clutching said article. 

The others warn him of their inability to make their feathered friend cool but is she bothered? No way, all she wants is some fun time with friends … And does it prove ‘cooler than cool’? What do you think? …

Assuredly this new story from the duo that gave us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise is another splendidly silly slapstick offering that will surely have both children and adults laughing out loud. Be yourself is the message that emerges from this zany celebration of play and unconditional friendship.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. Jones
Walker Books

The barber’s shop is where transformation happens. Through tonsorial magic, boys who enter as ‘lumps of clay’ or ‘marble slabs’, are transformed. First comes a protective cape that makes you feel ‘like royalty’ allowing the wearer to contemplate the possibility of having a super-powered brain;

then with a dab of shaving cream on the forehead, a slow steady cut with the razor you become much more visible: girls take notice of your style; even your mother’s looks assures you that you’re ‘someone that matters’. And assuredly you are; as are the shop’s other clients – important and uber-stylish every one.

This is a super celebration of that boost in self esteem, that confidence amplification, that uber-cool swagger that comes upon you as you leave the safety of the barber’s shop and step forth in the knowledge that with that fresh cut you look a million dollars …

The combination of Derrick Barnes rhythmic prose and Gordon C. James’ mesmerising portraits of the splendid cast of characters is a book that needs to be in every classroom. It truly is a stunning demonstration and timely affirmation that there’s no doubt about it: ‘Black Lives Matter’.

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth / Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
Walker Books

Four linked short stories with an Indian setting feature Prince Veera and his best friend Suku. The two are invited by Raja Apoorva to spend the summer at Peetalpur where in addition to attending the festival they might have some challenges to meet and problems to solve, particularly as their uncle enjoys puzzles. Who pulled the king’s beard and moustache as he was taking his morning stroll, for instance.

There’s a trip to the seaside, a dispute over the ownership of a fig tree, a mystery of a blind sadhu – or is he? – to get to the bottom of, and finally, the strange case of the travelling astronomer and a gardener who needs some help. All that in just two weeks …

Just right for newly independent readers, these tales with themes of problem solving and fairness, combine Indian culture, folklore and storytelling, and are seasoned throughout with traditional style illustrations that break up the narrative.

Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

The comic Skeleton Keys adventure series has reached its fourth tall telling and sees wildly imaginative young Flynn Twist and his baby sister Nellie living with Gran in the village of Matching Trousers. As the story opens Flynn is expressing concern about a little boy he’s just seen standing opposite, looking decidedly ’unwell’.

Over dinner Flynn admits to telling his sister a pre-bedtime tale called ‘Sir Flynnian versus the Horrible Darkness’, intending to send her off to sleep but instead she’s making a to-do upstairs. When he goes to investigate he’s faced with a shadowy shape that whispers “No-body”. But that is just the start of freakish happenings.

Soon there’s a knock at the door and who should it be but Skeleton Keys. Flynn is surprised to find that he and Gran have met before. Suddenly a strange girl appears, whom Skeleton Keys introduces as Daisy, his ‘partner-in-problem solving’. When Flynn tells them of his terrifying encounter with ‘The Nobody’, Skeleton Keys thinks it could well be a shapeless Unimaginary searching for physical form, but Gran quickly sends him packing.

Next morning Gran sends Flynn to deliver a letter to Old Mr Nash at The Windmill and as he sets out Flynn notices the boy over the road entering Gran’s house. Why would that be? And what has happened to Mr Nash?
Could there be a connection between the Horrible Darkness in the story Flynn told Nellie and the Nobody? Can Flynn possibly become that brave hero of his imagination, save Skeleton Keys and free the village from the dire danger of the Nobody? Maybe, with the help of Fur …

Crumcrinkles! The whole thing just goes to show the power of a wild imagination, no matter if it belongs to a tiny infant.

Oh my goodness – what a fun mix of terrific characters, wit and frissons of fear, as well as a large number of farts – freakish and otherwise – indeed there’s a throng of flatulent figures – an entire village population of 343 zombie-like nobodies, to be more precise, not forgetting Pete Williamson’s atmospheric black and white illustrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hugely inspiring combination of superb science and awesome art.

Maybe …

Maybe …
Chris Haughton
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Yeoman and Quentin Blake
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frog vs Toad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lipstick

The Lipstick
Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

making this whole immersive world even more enjoyable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Bears Ski?

Can Bears Ski?
Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

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

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

puzzled classmates say it, “Can Bears ski?”

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

The audiogram shows little bear has hearing loss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the Shop

Over the Shop
JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The House at the Edge of Magic

A House at the Edge of Magic
Amy Sparkes
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Play Monsters!

Let’s Play Monsters!
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I Talk Like A River

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

This reviewer was absolutely swept away by this awesome collaboration.

The Tale of the Valiant Ninja Frog

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

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

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

and the gruesome Grubber.

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

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

I love the close-up perspectives and the panel sequence

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

If Winter Comes, Tell It I’m Not Here

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

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

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

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

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

and yes lots of rain but also yummy warm soup.

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

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

The Midnight Guardians

The Midnight Guardians
Ross Montgomery
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of the Nightingale

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

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

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

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

and the parrots are instrumental in their own colour schemes.

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

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

How To Make A Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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