The Dragon in the Library / The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden

The Dragon in the Library
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

Kit is anything but enthusiastic about reading; she much prefers to be playing outdoors and the library is definitely not her choice of destination on the first day of the summer holidays. But when her friends manage to persuade her to accompany them she discovers that she’s a wizard. Not just any wizard though, possibly the youngest ever wizard. The librarian doubles up as a wizard too.

Before long Kit learns that she has to play a crucial role in protecting the dragon sleeping in the library. The existence of the library itself is at stake though (the villainous Salt is determined to destroy it and it seems as though he knows too much about that dragon).

There’s another snag however, over-enthusiastic Kit is, shall we say rather impetuous in the use of her new-found power and it might be that her action has put not only the library but the entire world in danger.

The plot moves at a rapid pace and with its plethora of wonderful one-liners, allusions to other children’s books, and excellent characterisation, Louise Stowell’s debut story is a cracking one. Throw Davide Ortu’s illustrations into the mix and the magic becomes even more potent. ‘True magic’ indeed as the final words of the story say.

The Day I Found a Wormhole at the Bottom of the Garden
Tom McLaughlin
Walker Books

This book is totally crazy; it’ll likely have you giggling your way through in one gulp as you encounter its diverse cast of characters. There’s metal detecting enthusiast Billy and his trusty dog Shakespeare, Billy’s nan (who loves to snooze and in between bakes cakes (rocky ones) and watches television. Then come – thanks to the wormhole of the title – Queen Victoria, Roman warrior and wonky road builder Atticus, Einstein (self explanatory), Shakespeare – the real one this time and Professor Jones, scientist specialising in time travel and consumer of quantities of his favourite dunkable chocolate biscuity confection.

How on earth can all those co-exist you may be wondering; it’s on account of that time portal aka wormhole. When you toss into the mix a whoopee cushion, (it reminds Queen Vic. ‘of my Albert after a pork-pie session’),

a toaster – which according to HRH “has utterly blown one’s mind.”, a dinosaur and the frantic race to close that wormhole before the whole of history is forever altered, you’ll be sure Tom’s day cannot get any more complicated.

Splutter-inducing dialogue, a plot that moves so fast you almost have to run to keep up, and a liberal scattering of suitably silly drawings by none other than Tom himself, not to mention a quiz, a maze and instructions for making an olde quill pen, make for a terrific adventure to tickle the taste buds of independent readers.

It would make a super class read aloud too – as long as you don’t laugh so much you lose the plot.

Playing with Collage

Playing with Collage
Jeannie Baker
Walker Books

I still have a treasured copy of Jeannie Baker’s exemplary Where the Forest Meets the Sea as well as several more of her books, and so was excited to learn of this one.

Following introductory spreads on basic tools, some key tips and ‘playing with materials’, the author has divided her books into four main sections, Paper, Out in Nature,

On the Beach and In the Kitchen.

In each one she offers practical tips for assembling your chosen materials, advising readers to look closely, let the items themselves and their textures act as a guide be they scraps of torn or cut paper, leaves and lichens or shells and seaweed.

I like the way she guides rather than instructs and that her examples give the impression of being unfinished and totally unintimidating, albeit exciting and beautiful.

This is a perfect book to encourage playfulness with materials right from the early years (when children generally are that way inclined anyway) through to adulthood when that creativity may have got buried and need re-awakening.

The clear photographic illustrations, that leave plenty of space on the page, along with succinct captions, help make the entire topic approachable and fun. To add to the book’s playfulness, there’s a final collage quiz.

Highly recommended as a resource for home and school use.

Babymoon

Babymoon
Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal
Walker Books

A new baby has just been born and the two new parents spend their first days after their baby’s arrival on their ‘babymoon’.

During this precious time they experience tender moments, ‘A sweet, secluded afternoon – / this restful time, our babymoon’; joyful ones, ‘ A tender dance of give-and-take. / We share a tiny birth day cake.’

and occasionally, anxious ones – ‘Here together. So much to learn. / We muddle through each new concern.’

From the opening alliterative line, ‘The house is hushed. The lights are low.’, readers are enfolded in Hayley Barratt’s gentle rhyming narrative of moments to savour, moments shared not only with parents and child but the family dog and cat are also included in the building of that loving bond.

The sense of serenity is reflected in Juana Martinez-Neal’s breathtakingly beautiful illustrations, which show the warm loving involvement of both parents.

This is a gorgeous book to give to new parents especially perhaps, to encourage them to savour the precious ‘babymoon’ time (the word was coined by the late anthropologist Shelia Kitzinger to do just that.) I absolutely love that the parents are shown sharing stories right from the start of their baby’s life.

Ariki and the Island of Wonders / Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds

Ariki and the Island of Wonders
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books

Nicola Davies’s sequel to Ariki and the Giant Shark is equally rooted in island life, the natural world and the Pacific Ocean.

Strong-minded Ariki and her good friend Ipo, who live on Turtle Island, ignore the advice of Ariki’s guardian to learn about wave behaviour from a bowl of water and set sail on Sea Beauty. “We’ll be in trouble, ” says Ipo as they discover the wind is rather stronger than expected and Ariki has to agree.

It isn’t long though before there’s a storm brewing and it’s impossible to turn back: the only option, they realise, is to let the storm blow them where it will.

After several days without food and virtually nothing to drink, they encounter a wounded whale that has become separated from its family, which the children help. The whale then assists them by towing them towards an unfamiliar island that looks like paradise.

On the island they meet a strange man calling himself Crusoe McRobinson and learn of a dangerous creature the man calls “Dog”. There are in fact a number of these ‘dogs’ lurking and because of them the other island residents – humans and animal – as well as the two children, are in jeopardy.

Is there anything Ariki can do and if so will the two friends ever get back safely to Turtle Island?

Zoologlist story weaver, Nicola Davies cleverly entertains and educates at the same time in this gripping tale. Her affinity with the natural world shines through in her narrative with its vivid description of wildlife showing the interconnectness of human beings and the natural world.

To add to the magical mix, Nicola Kinner’s black and white illustrations perfectly capture the relationship between the human characters and nature.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

Combining magic and wonder with facts about birds is this latest story in Anne Booth’s series of chapter books for young readers that began when its main protagonist, Maya was made keeper of a very special colouring book that could draw her into the Magical Kingdom of Birds.

The picture that appears to draw her to the Kingdom (where in addition to being a schoolgirl she is the Keeper of the Book) in this adventure is this one.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular kind of bird, songbirds from many parts of the world are featured; the reason being there’s to be a special singing gala so her friend Willow tells Maya. But can they really trust Willow’s wicked Uncle, Lord Astor, who claims to have become a reformed character wanting only to bring everyone together in friendship?

Of course not: he has set his sights on stealing the songs of all the participants in the event and using them for his own nefarious purposes.

Maya certainly has a big problem on her hands and she also has to face up to singing in her school concert if she succeeds in saving the songbirds.

Another exciting episode, with Rosie Butcher’s enchanting black and white illustrations, this is certain to excite Maya’s established fans and capture some new enthusiasts for the series too.
(The final pages contain fascinating facts on the real birds that inspired the story, plus fun things to make and do as well as additional information about the plight of endangered Indonesian songbirds).

A Handful of Activity Books

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Seaside
Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Walker Books

If you pay a visit to the seaside, no matter where you look there are fascinating flora and fauna to discover, be that in rock pools, in the grassy dunes that are a-buzz with insects, down on the shore, beneath the ocean waves or on the cliffs where seabirds nest. If you look in the shallows you might spy a seahorse or perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to spot a seal resting on a rock or a dolphin leaping from the waves.

All these and more are part and parcel of this activity book that includes items to colour, dot-to-dots, things to spot, matching, drawing and several pages for adding stickers to. Stephanie Fizer Coleman has created ten inviting, textured scenes for little ones to adorn as well as the four central pages of colourful stickers.

Before heading for the coast with a young child, this would make a worthwhile, enjoyable book to introduce some of the things they might look out for.

My First Amazing Animal Mazes
Various illustrators
Highlights

For the youngest of puzzlers, this book contains over 35 mazes with such diverse settings as a farm, a bamboo forest, an ocean and a safari waterhole. There are different kinds of mazes including one composed of letters called Jellyfish Jumble; another is a downhill slalom. There are also string mazes, pattern mazes and traditional mazes to keep your little ones engaged at odd moments or times when they can’t venture outside, or need something to quieten them down.

A greater variety of puzzles is to be found in

Jumbo Pad of Picture Puzzles
Various illustrators
Highlights

This one will keep young puzzlers busy for a fair few hours as they use their hands, eyes and mind to spot differences, locate objects hidden in scenes such as a gymnasium populated by cats and a park full of children playing, search for matching pairs, engage in word puzzles, try memory challenges, choose missing puzzle pieces, solve mazes and more.
The large variety of illustrative styles and things to do should guarantee boredom doesn’t set in; and just in case youngsters are unable to solve a puzzle, all the solutions are provided.
A boon on a dull day as is …

Ultimate Puzzle Challenge!
Highlights

This one is bursting with word searches, codes to solve, Sudoku, busy scenes with items hiding in plain sight to locate, a plethora of word puzzles such as rhyming pairs, spiral word puzzles, crisscrosses, logic puzzles, find the differences, tricky mazes and more.
If this large book of 125+ puzzles doesn’t engage and absorb young puzzlers, then they don’t deserve to call themselves such.

So, pencils ready, set, puzzle …

Joy / Harris Finds His Feet

Joy
Yasmeen Ismail and Jenni Desmond
Walker Books

A little grey and black kitty is in effervescent mood as she goes ‘Bounce bounce, ding-a-ling, ring ring, let’s sing! And who can resist her invitation as the happy creature plays with her favourite toy

and then in her glee, narrowly avoiding a large canine in front of her, uh-oh, down she tumbles ‘trip, trip, slip, flop and …

Happily however, there’s a parent not far away ready with a little hug, a kiss, a squeeze and a quick check the little kitty is okay after a bit of a tumble.

What a wonderfully upbeat, rhythmic text to read aloud is this one from Yasmeen and unusually, she hasn’t done the illustrations. Jenni Desmond did those and they’re equally joyful and brilliantly expressive; the two together have created a smashing book to share with your little ones.

And for those interested in developing young children’s sound/symbol awareness, this picture book is in an entirely different league from those specifically designed for that purpose.

Harris Finds His Feet
Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger

I adored this book when it first came out over ten years ago so was thrilled to get this board book edition to share with even younger little ones.

Meet Harris a small, very large footed hare. One day he asks his grandfather, “Why do I have such large feet, Grandad?”

Smiling, Grandad explains he and all other hares have big feet and goes on to demonstrate the benefits of same.

Together they spend time hopping, springing and mountain climbing with Harris copying his expert grandparent until he has mastered each skill.

They explore the world creating resting places as well as being active with Harris learning more every day …

until Grandad decides Harris is ready.

Then he explains gently that it’s time for Harris to discover more about the big wide world for himself and that is what the now stronger, bigger young hare does by using all the skills his Grandad has helped him to learn.

Every spread of this book is pure pleasure, as the little hare bounds gleefully across Kate Greenaway medal winning Catherine Rayner’s wonderful watercolour-washed spreads, pausing sometimes for discussions on his journey towards independence.

A must have addition to your board book collection.

Tooth Fairy in Training

Tooth Fairy in Training
Michelle Robinson and Briony May Smith
Walker Books

If you’ve ever wondered how tooth fairies hone their skills, then this magical tale will perhaps enlighten you.
Let’s meet the trainee Tate and her trainer, sister May who has much to teach her younger sibling.

First task is to perfect the ‘switcheroo’ – a doddle of course … unless that is, you happen to be performing it on a baby hippo.

Visit two is also pretty demanding and perhaps a tad alarming, especially when you’re being watched by the infant’s mother whose tail you have to avoid with some nimble footwork.

And so it continues over ground and under sea, on the shore and then having traversed almost the whole planet, the penultimate stop is in the jungle with the possibility of being swallowed by an anaconda – yikes! But snake teeth are a rarity so it has to be done.

Surely the final stop will be simplicity itself – it’s to a mere human girl. How could anything go wrong, and even if on the off-chance, it does, you can always resort to a touch of the old magic …

Does our novice pass the test though? That is after all, the purpose of the whole exercise: I’m not telling …

Briony’s illustrations are spirited delight, every one of them. Tate is totally adorable and her expressions and body language say even more than the lively rhyming narrative she (and Michelle) provides during the learning journey throughout which her big sister looks on benevolently and comments encouragingly.

I fell in love with this utterly blissful book.