The Big Book of Blooms

The Big Book of Blooms
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

How much joy can be packed between the covers of a book? An infinite amount when it comes to Yuval Zommer’s splendiferous botanical offering. I put my hand up to being a botany enthusiast having studied the subject at A-level and spending a gap year working in the herbarium at Kew so have an abiding interest in the subject but I defy anyone not to be bowled over by this visual stunner.

Topically organised the basics are covered in the first few spreads – floral families, plant anatomy,

pollination and reproduction, followed by a look at some of the useful things flowers provide.

Next is a zoom in to some specific kinds of flora: the carnivorous Venus flytrap (there’s just a single species and it grows wild in swamps and bogs on the East coast of the USA); roses – I was astonished to read that it takes 15.4 litres of water to produce a single flower; the ancient proteas that could be found as long ago as 90 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth; cherry blossom trees with their delicate pink and white flowers that delight so many of us in the springtime; tulips, giant water lilies and another carnivore– the Pitcher plants.

Some flowers, despite their striking, sometimes beautiful appearance, smell something rotten. That’s to attract carnivorous pollinators such as carrion flies; but to my vegetarian sensibilities, their ‘rotting meat smell’ would be a huge turn off: the ‘Stinking Flowers’ spread was the only one I didn’t linger long over: I could almost smell the odour emanating from that parasitic corpse lily that lacks roots, shoots, stems and leaves.

Despite the exotic nature of a number of the flowers featured I think my favourite spread of all is that devoted to wild flowers, some of which are flowering abundantly very close to my home as I write.

The final few pages are allocated to seed dispersal, plant defence, there’s a spread devoted to Kew Gardens and some of the work that goes on there both inside and out; a plea for the protection of vital habitats and some suggestions for becoming a gardener without a garden.

There’s also a final glossary and index.

With the wealth of fauna on every spread, Yuval injects just the right amount of mischievous humour into his illustrations.

To add further interest and to ensure that readers study every page with the close attention it merits, he’s planted a golden bulb to search for on fifteen of the spreads .

Written in consultation with experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. this is a must have for family bookshelves, classroom collections and anywhere that budding botanists might be taking root.

Absolutely BLOOMING BRILLIANT!

The Skies Above My Eyes

The Skies Above My Eyes
Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures

This follow-up to The Street Beneath My Feet uses the same double-sided format unfolding to 2.5 metres only now we’re directed to look at what’s above the Earth’s surface.

Standing alongside the child at the bottom of Zuval Zommer’s continuous concertina illustration readers are taken on an exciting journey from ground level, billions of kilometres up and right out to the farthest reaches of the solar system and back again.

We travel past high-rise buildings, through the layers of the atmosphere to the imaginary Karman line to where 400 kilometres above the Earth is the International Space Station and thence to the Moon and out into the Solar System where the planets are found.

Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt that includes Pluto and even further out beyond the Solar System we can see hundreds of billions of star-filled galaxies.

 

After a period of stargazing, it’s time to travel back earthwards. We might spy comets, meteoroids, the Aurora Borealis and lower down, migrating birds on the wing;

and if we look very carefully, ballooning spiders drifting parachute-like a few metres above Earth as well as, rather more easy to spot, mountain sheep on a rocky escarpment.

Our long, long journey comes to an end on a grassy hillock where alongside the little girl we saw as the start, we can relax and enjoy nature’s bounties that surround us.

Charlotte’s narrative is certainly fascinating and informative as her enthusiasm sweeps us up and away. However it’s Yuval’s richly detailed art that ensures that the reader is not only informed but filled with awe and wonder about so many aspects of the mind-stretching, The Skies Above My Eyes.

Why not step outside with your children and see that you can spy in the sky …

(I missed this super book when it first came out but thank you to the publisher for sending it out now.)

The Tree That’s Meant To Be

The Tree That’s Meant To Be
Yuval Zommer
Oxford University Press

Both his wonderful sense of humour and his love of nature and its beauty, shine forth from Yuval Zommer’s festive story of a little tree.

The tale is told by the tree itself. It speaks of its perceived imperfections right from the start – its asymmetry and lack of rapid growth: ‘Looking wonky. Feeling small’ we’re told.

The seasons come and go. People search the forest looking for the perfect tree to cut and take inside for Christmas. One by one the trees are felled until one snowy winter’s night the little tree finds itself alone, seemingly forgotten and unloved.

It’s not so though, for the forest animals have heard its cry and it turns out that the little tree is to have a very special Christmas after all.

Such important themes for all, children especially – unconditional love, enduring companionship and support – are woven into this tale. And what a wonderful way to end, which ensures that this is a story to share beyond Christmas.

All Yuval’s rich, detailed illustrations are a joy to behold. Breaking into rhyme from time to time, the narration really gives a sense of what it feels like to think you’re far from perfect, but this is ultimately, an uplifting book, one to keep and revisit.

Deep in the Ocean / The Big Sticker Book of Birds

Deep in the Ocean
Lucie Brunellière
Abrams Appleseed

In this large format board book, readers follow Oceanos, a shiny silver submarine, as it takes an exploratory voyage into the depths of the oceans.
From the first opening, we’re immersed in the ocean’s waters along with the submarine’s scientific crew

but as their craft dives deep and travels through a deep abyss, a fierce storm blows up, whisking the little shiny submarine right off its intended course.

Instead, eddying whirlpools cause it to journey to the polar waters of the Arctic; then it’s pulled by a blue whale towards tropical waters of a coral reef, travelling on until one imagines, it resurfaces, with the crew having collected a wealth of information.

There is a free accompanying 10-minute, atmospheric sound track available to download, though to get the most out of the dual experience, you need to synchronise the track timings with page turns.

It’s easy to get lost in the colourful ecosystems with their standout bright flora and fauna depicted in Brunellière’s multi-layered, finely detailed spreads that do a splendid job of capturing the awe and immensity of our ocean ecosystems.

Dive in and be amazed at the riches therein.

The Big Sticker Book of Birds
Yuval Zommer
Thames & Hudson

Following Yuval’s wonderful The Big Book of Birds comes an activity book on the same theme.

Readers are in the company of Polly the Pigeon. She guides us through as we’re told, ‘the feathery world of birds’ and all that’s needed for the journey is a pencil, some colouring pens and ‘a flighty imagination’. Some of the latter might be used in deciding how to adorn the pages with the 200+ stickers provided at the end of the book.

There’s a wealth of fascinating facts embedded within the spreads that are allocated either to specific kinds of birds such as albatrosses or puffins, or to avian topics including feathers, nesting, and migration.

Children might accept Yuval’s invitation to complete a maze,

design a feather for a new bird species, spot the difference, design a bird box, imagine and draw what a dozen magpies might have picked up in their beaks and more. Or what about playing a game of Blackbird bingo or adding foliage to a tree for wild birds to hide among?

I love the way all Yuval’s creatures be they birds or other, have a slightly mischievous look in their eyes, which adds to the allure of the already engaging pages.

Immersive and fun while unobtrusively educating the user(s).

The Big Book of Birds

The Big Book of Birds
Yuval Yommer
Thames & Hudson

This is a cracking series and Yuval’s bird book is an absolute beauty.

Each and every spread, starting with the opening Bird Family Tree is full of fascinating facts and illustrated with that wonderfully playful, ‘twinkle-in-the-eye style the artist has.

Despite my partner being an avid bird spotter, I’d not realised before that there are almost 10,000 bird species and here they’re divided into family groups: birds of prey, owls, woodland and forest birds, seabirds, perching birds, water birds and the flightless kinds.

After spreads on being a bird-friendly spotter, feathers and their role in flying, and bird migration, each introduced by a question, we’re given examples of members of each family, zooming in first on great grey owls. Did you know that these are the tallest owls in the world and have special feather-formed discs around their eyes acting as satellite-like dishes directing sounds into their ears; or that with seven more neck vertebrae than humans, a great grey owl can turn its head almost completely around? (The teacher part of me loves that idea.)

Flamingos (pink feathered on account of their diet) and magpies – not thieves of shiny things – come next and then one of my favourites, kingfishers. Currently living much of the time very close to the Nailsworth Stream along which if I’m lucky, I see a kingfisher flash by, or occasionally spot perching on a overhanging branch, these birds always make me feel uplifted; and so it was here.

I don’t think I’ll go and investigate the bank for a stinky fish bone and poo-filled burrow though.

With introductory questions, there are spreads on flightless birds, secretary birds, parrots, bald eagles, puffins, albatrosses, hummingbirds, peacocks – I love to see these on walks in parts of India – robins, swans, hoopoes and red-crowned cranes. Interspersed there are pages looking at nests of various kinds,

eggs – I was amazed to learn as ostrich egg is 16cm long; beaks – their shapes and feeding functions; bird calls and songs – we’re probably all aware of the early dawn chorus these light mornings; city birds and making your garden a bird-friendly place.

If you really want to impress others, there’s a spread on specific vocabulary and as I should have mentioned at the outset, the solution to the ‘can you find the same egg 15 times’ poser from the title.

Absolutely avian-electable; and my copy came with a wonderful pictorial treat – thank you Yuval – before the title page.

If this book doesn’t get your young ones enthusing about our feathered friends, then I’ll be forced to spend a whole day doing various yoga poses like peacock or crow.

Big Brown Bear’s Cave

Big Brown Bear’s Cave
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing

What is more important to you: friends or ‘stuff’? I know which I’d prefer any day.
Could it be though that Yuval Zommer secretly visited our home before writing this story: I certainly wish Big Brown Bear, star of his latest picture book would drop in on our human cave (garage): he’d have a field day surrounded by stuff, stuff and more stuff; and he’d be able to fill his new abode with all manner of goodies.
The ursine collector definitely goes overboard on acquiring creature comforts for his empty cave, so much so that its fame spreads far and wide, attracting the attention of all his pals who are eager to see inside his residence.

Lack of room prevents their entry however, and off they go leaving Big Brown Bear to continue filling the space.
Alone with his boxes, Bear begins to be overwhelmed by lack of wiggle room, so much so that when his three friends return with an invitation, he’s well and truly hemmed in …

Then there’s only one thing to do and our hero does it: wise move, Big Brown Bear.
Zommer’s portrayal of the acquisitive trait, and the accumulative chaos it can cause, is a rib-tickling treat. There’s Bear pondering over the sheer variety of ‘stuff’; and his obvious delight over the selection of his favourites – ‘stuff that came with wheels, stuff that came with handles and stuff that came in boxes.’ He almost looks as though he’s dancing with joy despite the precarious balancing act required to carry that stack of boxes.

This is very much a fable of our time and will, I suspect strike a chord with readers of all ages.

I’ve signed the charter  

The Street Beneath My Feet

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The Street Beneath My Feet
Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer
Words & Pictures
This large format volume takes the form of a concertina book that invites readers to stop and look down, posing the question, ‘What’s going on deep in the ground under your feet?’ and then takes them, layer by layer down, down through the earth’s structure to its core, and back again.
Through Charlotte Guillain’s accessible narrative style text and Yuval Zommer’s super-stylish illustrations the whole experience encompasses aspects of biology, archaeology, geology and civil engineering …

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There are questions such as ‘Who do you think wore this helmet on their head?’ to ponder and perhaps research,

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as well as less satisfying ones like ‘What’s that loud rumbling noise making the ground shake?’ that are immediately answered by the next sentence. In fact, any small paragraph or picture might generate some research if it catches the interest of a young reader and that, must surely be part of the intention of the joint enterprise.
Those same readers may well find themselves getting a little dizzy at the point the pace accelerates with ‘Let’s pick up speed as we delve down deeper. Hold on tight because things are about to get shaky. We’re deep in the Earth’s crust now and things are moving!’ and there follows talk of an earthquake and how it happens.

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If you can’t experience the real things, this book is a stimulating substitute; alternatively and better, read the book and then, enthused by what is between its covers, get out into the world and discover first hand, what lies under the ground beneath your feet in your particular part of the world.

One Hundred Sausages

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One Hundred Sausages
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing
As a vegetarian, sausages are NOT my thing at all, I’ll cross the road to avoid walking past a butcher’s and I’m certainly no dog lover. That said I was more than happy to see the return of Scruff, mischievous mongrel of One Hundred Bones fame. This funny story revolves around sausages, Scruff’s favourite food in the whole world and he certainly has a nose for them; sausages even fill his dreams every single night. Imagine his devastation then when he learns that his daily sausage sniff has been thwarted by a robbery.

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Even worse, the number one criminal suspect is none other than Scruff himself.
What’s to be done? Either he faces a stint behind bars or he tracks down the real culprit. Straightaway, Scruff goes off to enlist the help of his doggy pals …

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But it’s not until the s word is mentioned that the other dogs show any inclination to join the search.
Finally, the hunt is on: a sniffing party hits the city and eventually Scruff’s nostrils catch a whiff. Time to put those paws into action …

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A chase ensues and the thief is finally apprehended …

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after which it’s time to celebrate. You don’t need me to tell you what was on the menu for Scruff and his fellow pooches.
Zommer’s canines are a real laugh, not only Scruff, but Ada the Afghan, Pixie the Poodle, Percy the Pug and Sidney the Sausage Dog too, are real characters with their own idiosyncrasies. Pixie for example likes to file her nails and Percy considers himself a bit of a charmer.
Dog lovers especially will be delighted: the rest of us will have a good giggle over the crazy shenanigans shown in this daft detective tale.

The Big Book of Bugs/A Beetle Is Shy

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The Big Book of Bugs
Yuval Zommer and Barbara Taylor
Thames & Hudson
Now is the time of year to go in search of all things buggish and armed with inventive illustrator, Yuval Zommer’s and bug expert, Barbara Taylor’s fantastic book, you’ll be in a position to find out all about them. It’s absolutely packed full of fascinating facts and some figures relating to minibeasts of all kinds – insects, snails, spiders, centipedes and worms and indeed we are given a classification explaining how to tell what’s what …

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as well as some other general bug-related information, before moving on to look at particular species in greater detail. This, the author does by posing intriguing questions such as ‘Does a dragonfly breathe fire?’ or ‘Just how slow does a snail go?

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as leads in to double spreads on over twenty-five topics. Most spreads look at one kind of mini creature, say spiders, where among the facts we find that spiders have 48 knees (I’ve never thought of spiders having knees before, I have to say); or Ants ‘the queen ant can live for 15 years!

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Or, Centipedes where we discover ‘most of these creatures have around 30 legs and can have over 300.

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And, in relation to Bugs on the Move, ‘A horsefly (my most unfavourite bug) can fly faster than a car on the motorway.’ That’s as maybe, but the one that bit me and caused an infected wound on my back that grew to the size of a duck’s egg and needed daily lancing for over a month, certainly wasn’t doing that!
Each spread is beautifully illustrated by Yuval Zommer, who adds touches of humour here and there, making bug discovery and factual learning a fun activity for all. Zommer even extends his creativity and readers’ enjoyment by including a ‘search and find’ element throughout, asking on the title page, ‘Can you find exactly the same fly 15 times in this book? Watch out for imposters.’ And he’s also hidden a couple of stripey wasps on the Bees spread …

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This is exactly the kind of captivating, treasure trove of a book that will turn youngsters into bug lovers, effervescing with enthusiasm to go on a minibeast hunt. It’s a must have for all family bookshelves, primary schools and early years settings – most of the latter two include some kind of minibeast theme in the curriculum.

Also on the topic of minibeasts, focusing on one category of insects is:

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A Beetle Is Shy
Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books
This one is vibrantly illustrated in glowing watercolours by Sylvia Long, and the poetic text is provided by Diana Hutts Aston. Although originating in the US,(and so some of the species may be unfamiliar to say, UK readers) the book has plenty to offer everyone with an interest in the subject. And some species just have different names ‘Convergent Lady Beetle’ is a ladybird.
The author uses attention-catching phrases such as ‘A beetle is kaleidoscopic’ …

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or ‘A beetle is telegraphic’ …

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to introduce particular characteristics that are then further explored on the spread in text that is perfectly pitched to engage and keep readers involved and wanting to know more.
We learn of the helpful things some beetles do (ladybirds eat aphids for instance), others can be a food source (in India some people eat stag beetle chutney. I’ve never come across this despite frequent visits). But some kinds such as weevils devastate crops like cotton and lettuce.

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A good one for individual reading or for sharing – it reads aloud so well.

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One Hundred Bones

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One Hundred Bones
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing
Rascally mongrel Scruff leads an independent, free-spirited existence much to the disgust of the other inhabitants of his neighbourhood. His penchant for excavating leads to tirades of hostile comments from the human owners of the pampered pet dogs until Scruff finally decides enough’s enough and sets out in search of somewhere more welcoming. He follows his nose (a nose that is particularly expert at sniffing out juicy bones.) And on this occasion his olfactory organ picks up on that most desirable osseous scent leading him up hill and down dale to a spot from which said awesome odour emanated.
You should see those little paws go as down, down he burrows until he finds …

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Oh joy! Our canine pal is almost beside himself with pleasure at the sight of the stash.
Back he dashes to call for some assistance, only to meet with considerable resistance to his pleas until that is, he mentions the b- word. Then it’s a case of follow-my-leader and all paws on deck so to speak.
There follows a conflab as to the nature of the find until Percy the pug has a light-bulb moment after which it’s public transport all the way in a mad dash to – you’ve guessed it – South Ken.

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and in particular, the Natural History Museum and its resident palaeontologist, Professor Dinovsky.
The outcome is a win/win situation as our lovable Scruff and the prof. both come up trumps one way and another.

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What a delicious canine caper and it’s great to see Scruff emerging as top dog (and digger) in the end.
Wittily written with plenty to make adults smile as well as children. I love the dog-eyed view from which Yuval Zommer portrays the action and his characterisation is splendid. Each of those dogs – Percy the pug, Pixie the poodle, Sidney the sausage dog and Ada the Afghan has a distinctive and wholly apt personality.

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Another sure fire winner from Yuval Zommer who brought us The Big Blue Thing on the Hill.

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Problems, Plans, Perils and Parties

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Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon
Rachel Valentine and Ed Eaves
Bloomsbury Children’s Books pbk
Marmaduke just hates being different. Unlike the other (purple) dragons his skin is faded orange, his scales stick out and his ears are positively elephantine. Protecting princesses is definitely out of the question, so the other dragons laughingly tell him when he asks for their assistance. However, Marmaduke is not only different; he is also determined. So too is Princess Meg and when she gets herself lost in the deep, dark woods, Marmaduke seizes the opportunity to dash to her rescue.

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When he finally spreads those unusual wings of his, Meg declares them “Fantastically different!” as they shimmer and sparkle in the sky.

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So, does he become her protector? Suffice it to say that although Meg is a strong- minded kind of princess, she does need a friend.
Yes, it’s sparkly and spattered with pink but here is a divergent princess who refuses to fit into a mould and what’s more she accepts and appreciates difference in others. And of course both she and in the end, Marmaduke, show strength of character.
Buy from Amazon

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Shh! We Have a Plan
Chris Haughton
Walker Books
I’ve been a big fan of Chris Haughton since A Bit Lost some four years ago but this, with its intriguing title, is I think, my favourite so far.
Essentially four woolly-hatted friends, nets a ready, (hence the title) spy a colourful bird as they are out walking. The approach of the smallest is a friendly ‘hello birdy’, quickly ‘shhed’ by the others, those with a plan, a catching plan of course. Slowly, they creep, tiptoe, tiptoe … Oops! Missed.
Plan B involves a ladder and a balancing act;

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ready… whoopsie! …
Plan C – these are determined characters – paddling upstream … stretching forwards, ready, one, two, three…

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splash!
Time for a different approach, the little one’s this time; he knows just how to tempt a bird

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or two or … O OHHHHH!
Dry humour, quirky characters, a slightly ridiculous, perfectly paced, skillfully suspenseful tale and distinctive, limited colour palette; add to that an eye-catching typeface, images and shapes – the result? Another Haughton must have –I’d get more than one in fact.
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The Big Blue Thing on the Hill
Yuval Zommer
Templar Publishing pbk
Howling Hill stand far from the city, a quiet peaceful place during the day, alive with the sounds of foxes, and weasels, boars, badgers and bears, wolves too, each making a characteristic rustle, snuffle, sniffle, growl, or howl. Then one night, there comes a rumble, a ROAR and a dreadful vision atop the hill. Wild speculations on behalf of the frightened animals ensue and off they dash to hide in the Great Forest. Back they creep next morning; the trouble remains. Speculations run wild – “a big blue elephant!” say the weasels, ‘a big blue dinosaur!” is the badgers’ decision. (Echoes of The Six Blind Men and the Elephant here). “It’s a BIG BLUE THING” is the foxes’ correct assertion. All agree however that the thing appears to be awake and should be left till it sleeps.
At dusk the animals return to HOOOWWWLLL – the wolves suggestion this –

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GRROOOWWLL – that’s the bears; HUFF, PUFF, PUSH and SHOVE – the boars try that. But does the Big Blue Thing budge? Not one single centimetre. Burying, a seemingly possible ploy, is foiled when the Thing makes a “WAKING UP” sound. Off flee the animals to consult the Wise Owls. An attack of the BUZZING WHIZZING ZOOMING kind delivered by a BIG BUG FLYING SQUAD ensues as the sun peeks over the Hill.

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Peace and quiet resumes until …

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Foolishly funny: those fearful animals with their troubled countenances and plucky plans are an absolute hoot and the surprise ending has caused much mirth among my young listeners who relished every moment of the tale.
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Two Speckled Eggs
Jennifer K. Mann
Walker Books pbk
Ginger wants to invite the girls in her class to her birthday party, all except one – Lyla Browning. Lyla is different, smelling ‘like old leaves’, carrying a magnifying glass and she’s not much of a talker.

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Ginger’s mum insists she’s included. On party day, the first to arrive is Lyla but once the others come, things begin to go rather differently from Ginger’s expectations. Ava invents new rules for Blind Man’s Buff, Pin the Tail on the Donkey becomes pin the tails on each other and the egg and spoon and Three legged races are disastrous. Moreover, the silver-and gold cake is anything but a hit, except with Lyla, who until then has stayed in the background. Poor Ginger. But then she starts to think that perhaps she’s misjudged Lyla;

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maybe she is actually rather cool.Assuredly her present – a tiny bird’s nest, hand-made and containing two speckled eggs (chocolate caramel-cream and Ginger’s favourite no less) stands out as wonderfully thoughtful and serves as a symbol of a new friendship. Being different is a good thing after all, Ginger decides or perhaps the two of them aren’t really so different anyway.

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How good to see a quietly strong, divergent character such as Lyla ; all the more so as her independence of thought and openness come to be appreciated by Ginger. Jennifer Mann’s slightly scruffy crayon outlines filled with soft waterolours, stand out against the largely white backgrounds of the pages
As well as in their facial expressions, a considerable degree of emotion is conveyed through the artist’s perfect placing of particular characters on the page.
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Farmer John’s Tractor
Sally Sutton and Robyn Belton
Walker Books
Thoughts of the recent floods came right back to me as I started to read this rhyming tale of how Farmer John’s tractor – a rusty orangey-red one kept locked in a shed – comes into its own when the river breaks its banks after a very rainy winter.
Down by the river a car is stuck fast: the family inside shouts for help. They manage to climb onto the roof as a series of vehicles — a speedy jeep, a tow truck,

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and a fire engine, siren blasting — rush to the scene one by one. Each ends up more firmly stuck than the last. Time to see if Farmer John’s ancient tractor, might still be up to the job?
Belton’s muted watercolour pictures are just right for the prevailing wetness of the countryside setting and Sally Sutton’s strong, rhythmic, rhyming text just right for conveying the power of the swirling, twirling, rushing, gushing water and the muscle power of Farmer John and his chugging tractor.
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Dinosaur Roar!
Paul Strickland and Henrietta Strickland
Doubleday Children’s Books
With a host of opposites dinosaur-delivered, but even more importantly, the powerful message that early reading is (or should be) fun, this rip roaring rhythmic rhymer really packs a punch. What young child can resist the lure of Paul Strickland’s roaring or squeaking

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lunch gobbling beasties be they fierce or meek, fast or slow, above or below, weak or strong, short or long, sweet or grumpy, spiky or lumpy …
After twenty years, with its glorious pictures and a cleverly catchy text
this one is still a real winner.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!
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