Hope

Hope
Corrinne Averiss and Sébastien Pelon
Words & Pictures

Finn is a small boy with a very large dog called Comet. The two are best friends and do pretty much everything together.

One morning Comet isn’t his usual lively self: “He’s poorly,” Mum says, “he needs to go to the vet’s.”

Off go Dad, Finn and the dog in the car. The vet is uncertain about Comet’s recovery but promises to do his best.

Alone in his den on their return, Ben lets his tears flow.

Dad comes into the boy’s room with a torch offering advice. “All we can do is hope, … Hope is keeping a little light on however dark things seem,’ he tells the boy.

That night Finn lies in bed, torch on for Comet and unable to sleep.

Suddenly he notices another light: it’s the bright moon shining right into his room as if it too is hoping.

Eventually Finn does fall asleep and outside the sky is alight with hopes – big and small, old and new, some shining right down on the vet’s.

Next morning it’s an anxious boy who rushes downstairs just in time for a wonderful surprise …

A powerful, positive message shines forth both from Corrinne’s appropriately direct telling and Sébastien Pelon’s illustrations. His effective use of dark, light and shadow serves to intensify the emotional power of the story showing little ones that even in dark times, you should never give up hope.

When We Became Humans

When We Became Humans
Michael Bright, illustrated by Hannah Bailey
Words & Pictures

Here’s a large format, illustrated book that provides an accessible overview of human evolution from our earliest primate ancestors right through to Homo sapiens.

Having explained such terms as hominids, hominins and haplorhins, the author takes readers back to our earliest primate ancestors – tiny rodent-like mammals – of some 65 millions years back; then moves on 35 million years to the monkey-like ape ancestors that were starting to bear a greater resemblance to the apes we know today. (Here, I was fascinated to read of the theory of the parallel evolution of primates and fruit trees).

Then comes a spread on how scientists study fossil evidence and the kind of information this can yield.

Next is a look at the move to bipedalism and how this enabled early hominins both to see further across the plains and to grasp and carry tools, food and even babies.

Bright presents the theory that a number of different hominid species lived at the same time, as well as stating that as DNA analysis shows, Neanderthals and modern humans interbred.

There is just so much absorbing information packed between the covers. In addition to exploring physical changes,

the author includes a look at the stages of cultural development, tool use and its modification.

I was particularly fascinated by the cultural spreads such as the look at health care, and jewellery, (Neanderthals and humans both wore it),

trinkets and charms.

The book ends with the question of whether or not humans are still evolving, plus a visual presentation of chronology and migration routes.

Hannah Bailey’s plentiful illustrations are excellent, making the considerable amount of information feel much less challenging to primary school readers.

A book I’d thoroughly recommend adding to family shelves or a KS2 collection for supporting both the history and the science curriculum, as well as for interested individuals.

Ella May Does It Her Way!

Ella May Does It Her Way!
Mick Jackson and Andrea Stegmaier
Words & Pictures

Let me introduce young Ella May; she’s a little girl who lives on a boat and knows what she wants and how she’s going to do it. Good on you Ella May, you’re not about to let anyone push you around.

One day, Ella’s Mum gives her something new to eat saying, “It’s good to try new things.”

The idea appeals to Ella and so later in the park she decides to try walking backwards and having pretty much got the hang of that, she does a whole lot of other things backwards too.

Despite her Mum hoping she’ll soon tire of the backwards notion, it’s not long before Ella has got her Mum as well as pretty much everyone else in the neighbourhood joining the backwards walking parade through the town.

Having harnessed their enthusiasm though, Ella decides enough is enough with walking backwards; but being Ella she’s not going to revert to a normal way of moving around. After all there are plenty of other ways and as she says in parting, “It’s good to try new things!” And so it is.

Billed as the first of a series, I look forward to seeing more of Mike Jackson’s determined character in further funny episodes. Andrea Stegmaier’s illustrations are an equal delight: I love her colour palette, her portrayal of Ella, her Mum and the bit part players, all of whom contribute to the splendid scenes of purpose and tenacity the Ella May way. Long may young Ella continue.

If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon / The Race to Space

If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon
Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli
Sterling

Hold on to your helmets, it’s blast off time, destination a birthday party in a place you never expected it to be. Moreover, there’d be a lot more celebration time on your lunar destination for it has a 709-hour day.

On the way to the moon you’ll discover what it feels like to be weightless and your party paraphernalia and pals will also float around inside your spaceship.

Once on the moon’s surface you’ll feel a lot lighter than on Earth and the Moon’s low gravity will keep you safe.
You won’t be able to fly any party balloons on account of the Moon being airless but you can have enormous fun doing one-handed push-ups,

exploring the lunar craters, trying a game of freeze tag and making moondust angels.

Perhaps you will have to eat your birthday cake astronaut style squeezed out of a foil pouch. Don’t think I’d be so keen on that idea.

Then on the return journey and there’ll be bags of time to open your presents, a whole three days in fact during which you could also open those party bags and sample some of the Moon pies therein.

Woven into all this partying is a great deal of STEM information on exciting topics both astronomical and cosmonautical. Why for instance is the sky black rather than blue; why your birthday will last almost 30 days, and why there wouldn’t be any point in playing musical statues on the moon.

With Simona Ceccarelli’s lively, playful digital illustrations and Joyce Lapin’s enormously engaging narrative that speaks straight to the reader, this is a sure fire winner for younger readers/listeners.

(Included at the back are a glossary, bibliography and suggestions for further reading).

For somewhat older readers is:

The Race to Space
Clive Gifford and Paul Daviz
Words & Pictures

With the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first moon landing fast approaching, here’s a book that traces the history of the space race between two super powers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, from the launch of Russia’s Sputnik to Neil Armstrong’s planting of a U.S. flag on the moon’s surface and those oft quoted words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” That must be etched into the brains of all who saw that landing broadcast live.

From then on the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union became more one of co-operation and collaboration than competition and the book documents the ‘handshake across space’ in the 1975 joint Apollo-Soyuz mission.

It concludes with more on the co-operation including the establishment of the International Space Station.

Illustrated, retro style by Paul Cadiz, in shades of red, yellow, blue plus black and white,

the book has clear explanations together with a liberal scattering of quotes from significant participants in the whole endeavour.

Recommended for individual reading at home and for KS2 class collections.

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend

Humperdink Our Elephant Friend
Sean Taylor and Claire Alexander
Words & Pictures

Storyteller Sean gives the impression he’s spent time standing behind the heads of young children, observing carefully, so he knows what they’d do should a playful pachyderm burst through the door of their playgroup.
That is just what happens in this book and straightaway the children attempt to accommodate him in their play, be it dressing up, hairstylists …

hide and seek or something more energetic. No matter how hard they try though, things keep ending in disaster.

The children then change tack asking Humperdink what he likes to play and before you can say, ‘come outside’ he’s led the little ones outside for some exceedingly satisfying elephant-stomping, stamping and stumping,

followed by elephant riding right into a jungly place that’s perfect for …

After all that romping Humbert is ready to settle down into something equally creative but rather less energetic; though of course, he and his new friends are always up for a jungle foray.

The joyful exuberance inherent in Sean’s telling is wonderfully echoed in Claire Alexander’s scenes of the characters’ imaginative play. Clearly she too spends time observing little ones – their joie de vivre, their intense concentration on whatever they’re engaged in, and the way their open hearts are sensitive to the feelings of one another, empathetic and full of love.

Perfect for story time in a playgroup or nursery and at home with little ones, this is a book that’s bound to be requested over and over.

The Colour of Happy / Some Days / A Thank You Walk

The Colour of Happy
Laura Baker and Angie Rozelaar
Hodder Children’s Books

This sweet, simple rhyming story of a boy finding a dandelion seed head and what happens thereafter is the means for an exploration of feelings for young children around the age of the child narrator, using a rainbow of emotions and the fluffy seed head.

The child, out walking with a pup, spies a dandelion clock: ’Yellow is for happy when I spot a special thing,’ he tells us and having picked it, hops and skips along. But when a gust of wind whisks his treasure away, the boy is engulfed in dark blue sadness.

His emotions then run through the colour spectrum: red for anger as he watches it sail away;

green for feelings of envy when he sees a girl with the seed head; grey when he cannot believe things will be okay; gold for the kindly response from a little girl, and the return of hope as they play together chasing the dandelion clock while it sails off again;

purple for the proud feeling when the boy again holds his treasure safe and bids his friend farewell; orange for the mounting excitement as he heads home and finally, pink as he reaches the front door with his somewhat depleted, love-filled offering …

Little ones will certainly relate to Laura Baker’s lovely story, which offers a great starting point for becoming mindful about their own responses to situations. With a foundation stage class, I envisage children talking about the book, their own feelings with regard to a particular happening; and then perhaps responding with paints or whatever medium they feel right, in music or a dance with coloured scarves perhaps.

Some Days
Karen Kaufman Orloff and Ziyue Chen
Sterling Children’s Books

We all experience different feelings at different times and so it is with young children and this book, with Karen Kaufman’s lively rhyming text and Ziyue Chen’s warmly hued illustrations, conveys that huge gamut of emotions through the course of a year.

Through two young children, we share in their everyday highlights such as ‘chocolate pudding pie day’s’, ‘Kites up in the sky days. Jumping super high days’; the joys of swimming and sunbathing;

as well as the downs – a nasty cut knee for instance.

Some days are extra special like that for ‘picking out a pup’ or winning a cup. Then come fussy mum days

and days when raincoats just won’t do, and there are  too wet to play football days with glum stay indoors faces; better though are snow angel making days and watching a warm fire days.

The author acknowledges those bad days when everything feels wrong

and those when it’s best to be alone.

Finally comes ‘Learning to be me days’ which is really the essence of the whole, a book that celebrates the positive but doesn’t gloss over the negative feelings. It’s a good starting point for discussion in an early years setting, or after a one-to-one sharing at home, perhaps about how best to respond to and deal with negative emotions. After all, being mindful of, and being able to talk about, our emotions and feelings helps us best deal with them.

Helping to develop mindfulness in even younger children is:

A Thank You Walk
Nancy Loewen and Hazel Quintanilla
Words & Pictures

Nancy Loewen’s brief story of a mother and little girl walking their dog, Duke, is one of the Bright Start series aimed at developing emotional intelligence in the very young.

Simply expressed it tells how as they stroll hand in hand mother and child interact with the animals they encounter. The barking sounds of Duke, the chirping of birds eating seeds, a neighing pony fed carrots, an overturned beetle that they rescue, which flies off with a buzz-buzz,

are, the child is told, the creatures’ ways of saying thank you.

Cutely and expressively illustrated in black and white with orange pops, by Hazel Quintanilla the book demonstrates the importance of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It’s never too soon to start saying thank you and as an introduction to being mindful about expressing gratitude it offers a useful starter for a circle time session with a nursery group, or for individual sharing at home.

Dragons in Love / Bagel in Love

Dragons in Love
Alexandre Lacroix and Ronan Badel
Words & Pictures

Dragon, Drake, as some of you may know from Dragons: Father and Son is a troglodyte residing with his father at the bottom of a steep valley. He frequently leaves his cave and ventures forth into the town to play with the children and so it is on this particular day. But although he may know a bit about playing, kissing is entirely new to him. So when his friend Violet lands him a smacker on the snout he feels all hot and bothered.

On reflection however, he realises no personal harm has been done but avoiding Violet is the best plan henceforth. Not easy as it means avoiding all his favourite haunts.

Drake talks to his dad who explains that the fire is a dragon’s natural way of showing love and tells what happened when he and Drake’s mom were courting.

This is all very well for dragons but what about human Violet? Poor Drake feels at a loss to know where to go; but then he hears noises coming from the nearby park. Violet is being bullied, he discovers. It’s time to act, thinks Drake and so he does …

Friendship fully restored, what will be Drake’s next move … ?

Badel’s ink and watercolour illustrations are full of detail with a wealth of wonderfully humorous touches. I love the early spread with the football being kicked and ending up way out of reach in a tall tree.

Beautifully droll as before, Lacroix’s story is sure to strike a chord especially this season when love is in the air, though with its standing against bullying message it’s a good one to share with young listeners at any time.

Bagel in Love
Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik
Sterling

Bagel is a talented dancer: his spins and swirls, taps and twirls make him feel anything but plain. The trouble is however that he doesn’t have a partner and so can’t enter the Cherry Jubilee Dance Contest.

Poppy, the best dancer he knows tells him his steps are half-baked: Pretzel says his moves don’t cut the mustard and from Matzo he receives a flat refusal.

Not one to give up easily, Bagel heads to Sweet City where things aren’t actually much sweeter when it comes to the responses of Croissant, Doughnut, and Cake. But then outside the café, Bagel hears music coming from the contest venue and he breaks into a tap routine.

To his surprise a tapping echo comes right back. Has he finally found the perfect partner?

Natasha Wing has thrown plenty of puns into her narrative mix with its underlying message about determination and not giving up on your dream, while Helen Dardik treats readers to a plethora of sticky confections and some salty ones too in her digitally worked, richly patterned scenes.

A sugary romance for Valentine’s Day this surely is. Anyone want to dance?