Noodle Bear

Noodle Bear
Mark Gravas
Walker Books

When spring arrives the animals celebrate with a party but there’s a notable absentee, Bear. Fox, the party organiser goes off in search of her friend, taking with her an offering of snacks only to find Bear asleep having spent all winter bingeing on his favourite noodles and watching Noodle Knockout on TV.

So obsessed with noodles is he that instead of consuming the treat he’s been left, all he can think of is yet more noodles.
None of his friends can supply the necessary

and eventually Bear decides to travel to the big city and take part in his favourite game show.

Unsurprisingly, he has no trouble securing the Grand Noodle Champion’s crown

and quickly becomes a celebrity with his own show.

Satisfying though all this fame and unlimited noodles might be, before long, Bear realises that there are other more important things in life – his friends and all the fun things they did together. Only these can really fill the emptiness he feels deep inside. So it’s a long journey back to the forest where awaits a celebratory party thrown by his best pal, Fox; guess who supplies the noodles.

There’s a comic, cartoony feel to this cautionary tale of having too much of a good thing that will surely lure screen-obsessed little humans away from their digital devices for a while.

Give Me Back My Bones!

Give Me Back My Bones!
Kim Norman and Bob Kolar
Walker Books

‘A stormy night has passed here /and toppled every mast here./The ocean flowing fast here,/has scattered all my bones!’ But from who or what is this making this claim on the opening spread, readers will wonder.

A page turn reveals a skull and thereafter Kim Norman’s spirited rhyming narrative cleverly introduces each vertebra from the skeleton using both the scientific name and an everyday one: ‘Give me back my breastbone,/ the centre of my chest bone, / the hold-my-ribs-the-best bone – / return my sturdy sternum.’

As the story progresses we realise  it’s a pirate skeleton that, with our help, is putting himself back together piece by piece from among the marine flora and fauna Bob Kolar has scattered collage-style on the ocean bed.

Love the generous sprinkling of alliteration – ‘I claim my clavicle

… that armpit-of-alarm bone – I hanker for my humerus’ , … I miss my metatarsals’, as well as the other playful language that’s part and parcel of this bone-rattling reclamation, which finally sees the reconstructed skeleton proudly standing before all that have helped complete him …

Don’t miss the endpapers – the front shows all the disparate skeleton components, the end ones display the cutlass waving salt.

Anatomy with a mock scary twist:  Avast me hearties, go grab yourselves a copy of this rattling good book. ARRRR!

Small in the City

Small in the City
Sydney Smith
Walker Books

I’ve loved Sydney Smith’s work ever since I saw his illustrations for Footpath Flowers so was super-excited to learn of his first picture book as both author and illustrator. It’s a stunner.

The story begins with two wordless spreads showing a child on a tram, the first four blurred views through the tram’s misted window from the boy’s seat,

the second looking into and within the vehicle.

Then, warmly wrapped against the cold, the lad (our narrator) rings the bell, gets off the tram and starts walking. ‘I know what it’s like to be small in the city,” he comments as he crosses the road, continuing to talk of the hustle and bustle around.

As he negotiates crowds and traffic we sense that it’s not the reader he’s addressing, rather it’s a special someone known to him; and instead of being scared, he begins to give advice, …’don’t go down this alley. It’s too dark.’ … ‘There are lots of good places to hide, like under this mulberry bush. Or up the black walnut tree.’

Gradually, even before the boy begins to put up posters, readers understand that he isn’t talking to a human at all. As he enters the park, snow swirling all around, he stops to put up another of his posters; then we see …

and in the dwindling daylight we fully appreciate his, ‘Your bowl is full and your blanket is warm. If you want you could just come back.’

There’s a final twist in the narrative that leaves readers with fast beating hearts, awed by Smith’s brilliance in capturing emotions, and by his use of light, shadows and reflections; and with new knowledge, a desire to turn back to the beginning and start the story over again.

Handa’s Noisy Night

Handa’s Noisy Night
Eileen Browne
Walker Books

Yippee! A new Handa story. Handa’s Surprise was one of THE most loved, most read picture books when I taught under sevens, so I was super excited to get my hands on a copy of this.

Handa goes to spend the night with her friend Akeyo and the girls are to sleep alone in the hut.

Having bid goodnight to the rest of Akeyo’s family, off they go but almost before the door is closed Handa hears a snorting sound outside. Akeyo insists it’s just her dad laughing.

During the night there are more sounds – chattering, rattling,

squeaking, slurping, crying and finally a thud. Rather than the grown-ups talking, Mum making music, Grandpa’s rusty bike, Nan having her bedtime drink and Akeyo’s baby that her friend claims are the cause,

readers see what is actually happening outside.

In the morning a tapping wakes Handa and when her friend opens the door, nobody’s there.

Mum’s “Did you sleep well?’ receives an accusation that the noises from other family members meant a wakeful night, which is quickly countered with, “We were as quiet as mice”.

The glowing Kenyan landscape and stunningly patterned clothes of the characters are signature Handa story elements, but here we’re treated to the delights of some of the resident fauna of the area- a bushpig, bat-eared foxes, an African porcupine, yellow-winged bats, a tree pangolin, lesser bush-babies, the magnificent spotted eagle-owl and a Nubian woodpecker, each one in its full glory (all are named in the author’s notes at the front).

It’s hard to believe the original Handa story is now 25 years old; I still have a treasured copy of the first edition and she’s lost none of her magic. Happily now though there are more BAME books available: this one is a ‘must have’ addition to any family bookshelf or nursery/KS1 class library.

Don’t Worry, Little Crab

Don’t Worry, Little Crab
Chris Haughton
Walker Books

Chris Haughton takes the familiar topic of first time fears and finding the courage to overcome them and in his signature style arresting, minimalist graphics and a present tense narrative, conjures an original decapod spin.

Little Crab and Big Crab live together in a small rockpool and today’s the day Little Crab takes his very first swim in the big ocean. They set off together making their way over the rocks, tip-clawing across shallow pools and squelching through slimy seaweed, Little Crab full of eager anticipation until …

Perhaps this isn’t quite such a good idea after all, he thinks as despite Big Crab’s reassurance and encouragement, a rather large wave approaches. Then comes an even bigger one followed by a much, much bigger one.

Big Crab continues to cajole his companion and all the while ever more fierce-looking waves wash up.

Inching closer and closer the tiny creature eventually dips his claws beneath the sea

but still those waves come, one so gigantic it WHOOSHES the two of them right away from any land.

Down into the depths they go discovering together a truly wonderful new place and what’s more, it’s full of friendly creatures ready to introduce them to some exciting new experiences.

Chris’s vibrant, seemingly simple illustrations convey SO much about Little Crab’s feelings showing how in his case, less is most definitely more.

This is an ideal book for little ones taking their first steps towards independence be that starting nursery or school, learning to swim, joining a new club or whatever.

Red Red Red / Ravi’s Roar

Here are two picture books about young children and their anger

Red Red Red
Polly Dunbar
Walker Books

It’s tantrum time for the toddler in Polly Dunbar’s new picture book. A tantrum that’s precipitated when the infant attempts to extricate a biscuit from the jar up on the high shelf, bringing both jar and child hurtling to the floor.

A sympathetic mum is quickly on the scene but her attempts to placate her little one only make things worse until she suggests a calming, counting strategy that gradually transforms the toddler,

allowing all that fury to dissipate.

Polly’s scenes of anger and its management – of biscuits,

bumps and breathing – are sheer delight. The cathartic counting sequence in particular is absolutely brilliant.

Just the thing to share post-tantrum with little ones – make sure  they’ve completely calmed down first of course.

Ravi’s Roar
Tom Percival
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Meet Ravi; he’s the youngest and smallest member of his family. This is perfectly fine most of the time but there are days when everything goes wrong.
The day of the family picnic was one of those.

First of all he’s squished into a train seat between a grown-up and a farty dog; then the game of hide-and-seek is a dismal disaster.

Ravi’s lack of stature puts paid to his enjoyment of the adventure playground but then his Dad steps in with a suggestion intended to help diffuse the lad’s rising anger.
That too goes badly wrong causing Ravi to lose it completely.

He’s suddenly transformed into a furious roaring tiger, which does seem to result in some short-term advantages.

But then the tiger overdoes his wildness, so much so that nobody else wants anything to do with him.

All alone, sadness starts to take the place of Ravi’s fury: what was it that had caused his anger anyway? The reason eludes him but he knows that an apology is called for.

After that the rest of his tigerishness seeps out leaving a calm child once again. PHEW!

In case you’re wondering, that was the last time Ravi ever became a tiger although he does still emit the occasional moderated growl …

Once again Tom Percival demonstrates his empathetic understanding of young children and his skill at exploring a subject that is very much part and parcel of their emotional make-up.

Add this enormously engaging book to your family collection or classroom shelves.

Mr Scruff

Mr Scruff
Simon James
Walker Books

Crazy but totally adorable is this canine tale from Simon James.

Most of the dogs herein bear a striking resemblance to their owners: there’s Polly and her owner Molly;

Erik belonging to Derek; Martha owned by Arthur and then there’s Mr Scruff, a large rather mangy-looking dog that nobody coming to the rescue centre seems at all interested in.

Also very much wanted are Mick – by Rick

as well as Lawrence with indulgent Florence.

Meanwhile back at the centre, things are looking more hopeful for Mr Scruff. In comes Jim and right away boy and dog seem to take a shine to one another.

Jim’s parents take a bit of convincing: there’s the size difference and surely a pup might be more fun. Jim though has made up his mind: Mr Scruff is going home with them and that’s that.
And so he does.

Now into the centre comes someone else seeking a dog: he makes an unlikely choice too, but no matter because like Mr Scruff this one also needs a loving home. And that’s that.

Animals lovers especially will fall for this tale. The gentle humour of Simon James’ wonderful watercolours ensures that the inherent warmth of the story never becomes sentimental, while the rhyming nature of the narrative makes reading it aloud all the more enjoyable.

A definite winner for me despite my cynophobia.