Picture Book Reviews

Alfred’s Adventures in the Children’s City

Imogen Alexander and Rose Feather, illus. Rose Feather, pub. Play and Picture Books

This engaging, unusual picture book was conceived as part of Play and Picture Books, a project delivered by Kettle’s Yard Art Gallery in Cambridge and the Red Hen Project, through an Early Years initiative, Cambridgeshire County Council’s ‘Talking Together’.

 

This project funds work which helps parents to support young children’s communication, literacy and language development. The charity Red Hen Project works one-to-one with children and families at home, at school and in the community.  Alfred’s Adventure in the Children’s City focuses on the artwork and techniques of the naïf/self-taught early twentieth-century painter Alfred Wallis, over one hundred of whose drawings and paintings now have a home in Kettle’s Yard, the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery. 

 

The story follows the adventures of a real group of families who explored the paintings of Alfred Wallis, and whose adventures started at home in North Cambridge, and took them eventually to Kettle’s Yard House and Gallery. Alfred Wallis was a sailor and fisherman who lived in Penzance, and who, at the age of seventy, took up drawing and painting to record the seas, boats, villages and seascapes he remembered from his travels. Having moved in his old age to nearby St Ives, he met artists such as Ben Nicholson, who admired his work and encouraged him.

 

The book imagines Alfred living in Kettle’s Yard, being lonely, and taking his work into the city to entertain and engage children. His work appeals particularly to children because his images are simple and childlike, with no attempt at detailed accuracy or perspective, and his painting technique is immediate and simple. The text and images in this picture book reflect how the project’s families discovered Wallis’s artwork through stories, artmaking and songs, and through this built confidence in multi-sensory play and storytelling. Feather and Alexander follow the project’s children’s discoveries (which are of course Alfred’s Adventures), which brought them new skills and understanding, and a great deal of fun. The book’s story and images are simple, like Wallis’s, using cut-and-stick techniques to reproduce the drawings which Feather made on the spot of the project’s children. A wonderful book!

 

Bridget Carrington

A Bear Named Bjorn

Delphine Perret, pub. Gecko Press

A Bear Named Bjorn takes the reader into the forest with Bjorn the Bear and his friends, The Fox, The Weasel and The Badger. Included are six enchanting chapters, centered around Bjorn discovering new objects and activities - the familiarity of these human actions make for a very amusing read!

 

The delightful accounts of Bjorn’s adventures allow the reader to escape into a world where nature and human ‘nature’ become one, which is guaranteed to capture a child’s imagination. Bjorn is a thoughtful and eccentric bear, which we see when he shares his prize sofa with his friends, yet, his mischievous personality is also shown when himself and his friends borrow clothes from a washing line to dress up for their very own carnival! The importance of friendship is cleverly weaved into the book as the community all join to help Bjorn in his times of need. 

 

The beautiful illustrations compliment the story wonderfully as the line drawings depict the personalities of the characters, whilst also aligning with the simplicity of the text. The frequent illustrations are perfect for a new reader! Originally written in French, the translation of short sentences and easy vocabulary make for an easy and relaxing read with a young reader also. 

The subtle humour of The Owl’s detailed medical examination and Bjorn’s creative use of a fork will appeal to many and is guaranteed to bring a smile to both a child’s and an adult’s face! 

 

Jemima Henderson 

The Blue Giant

Katie Cottle, pub. Pavilion Books

Award-winning author-illustrator, Katie Cottle burst onto the children’s book scene with The Green Giant, a timely eco-adventure about guerrilla gardening, greening our cities and generally making the world a better place to be.  One year on and she picks up the environmental theme again, this time turning her attention to the oceans in The Blue Giant, which highlights the importance of taking care of our blue planet and shows clearly that we all have a crucial part to play in making our world a better place.

 

Meera and her mum head to the seaside for a day at the beach, but their peace is disturbed by “a great big giant who seems to be made of the sea” who has something important to show them.  As they follow him into the ocean in their little boat he shows them exactly how much rubbish swirls in the ocean and the impact it has on the creatures that live above and below the waves.  Meera and her mum do their best but eventually realise it’s too big a problem to tackle on their own and come up with a plan that might just make a real difference…

 

This timely and topical picture book cleverly introduces the important issues around pollution, plastics and waste management. It helps even the youngest eco-warriors understand this pressing environmental issue and inspires them to want to be part of the solution. 

 

The vibrant colour palette of rich blues, almost childlike illustrations and simple storyline make this a superb book for sharing and for starting discussions both at home and at school.   Perfectly pitched for preschoolers, EYFS and into KS1, The Blue Giant is packed full of important ideas for taking action and ends with a list of small, simple lifestyle changes which have a big impact in reducing single-use plastics.

 

The overriding message is one of encouragement, empowerment and hope.  The Blue Giant shows clearly that no-one is too small to make a difference where they live. “Each deed and act of kindness inspires the next. And when everybody helps out even the biggest messes can be fixed.”

 

Brilliant eco-activism for early years!  

 

Eileen Armstrong

The Cockerel and the Fox

Retelling by Helen Ward, pub. Templar Books

The ancient tale of a proud cockerel and a crafty fox is beautifully retold in Helen Ward’s gorgeous new edition of her award-winning picture book, The Cockerel and the Fox.

 

Chanticleer, meaning ‘domestic cock or rooster’, is the name of the beloved cockerel who wakes the valley at sunrise with his glorious cock-a-doodle-doo. All of the farm animals idolise him, no more so than his adoring wife, Pertelote. One day, a sly fox slips up to the farm gate. Before Chanticleer can warn the other animals, the fox compliments his beautiful voice and asks him to sing again, just for him. Vanity overshadows caution, and when Chanticleer stretches his neck to let out his brilliant sound, the fox snaps him up in his jaw and carries him off to eat him for supper. Pertelote alerts the animals and they all chase the fox until he enters the forest. Fortunately, the chase has given Chanticleer the chance to form a plan. His clever trick outwits the fox and Chanticleer escapes but not before reminding us to be aware of those speaking false flattery.

 

This classic story, masterfully retold, is accompanied by stunning illustrations also by Helen Ward. In ink, watercolour and gouache, the intricately detailed paintings give texture and tone to the vast array of fowl – turkey, ducks and geese – cows, sheep, goats and farm dogs. The rolling hills, thatched cottage and vegetation are meticulously drawn to reveal the grain in wood stakes, an imperfect leaf on a blooming tree and the fuzzy body of a pollinating bee. Every page of this book is a visual delight.

In addition, the backmatter includes a review of the story from its appearance in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales to fables from the early 17th century and even as far back as Aesop’s fables. It includes fascinating ideas for children to contemplate such as the importance of a cockerel’s crow to keep a clockless village on schedule. There is also a two-page spread listing and explaining the array of rare breed animals seen in the pages of the book. It is intriguing to study the details of these farm animals and imagine what it might have been like to live on an English farm when this story was first told.

 

The Cockerel and the Fox is a classic story, beautifully presented, that would make a wonderful edition to a school, library or child’s bookshelf.

 

Victoria Wharam

Crying is like the Rain

Heather Hawk Feinberg, illus. Chamisa Kellogg, pub. Tilbury House Publishers

“Have you ever noticed that after a storm ends, the whole earth feels like it took a big, deep breath? It’s the same for you and me. Our tears connect us to ourselves, deep inside. Crying is like the rain.”

 

Crying is like the Rain marks the debut book of Heather Hawk Feinberg, founder of Mindful Kids, and reads as a love letter to her twenty-five years of experience educating and counselling families of all-ages.  With a publication date of July 2020, the story is due to be released at a time when many children have been out-of-school and so, those who anxiously await their return, may identify with Kellogg’s charming illustrations that tell the tale of a little boy who is tearfully bound for his first day of school. Described as a story of mindfulness and feelings, Crying is like the Rain seeks to support children in their lifelong journeys of identifying, understanding and coping with their ever-changing emotions by drawing comparisons to the weather in an intelligent yet accessible way.

 

There are many messages that can be taken from the story: we are not our feelings; our emotions come and go but should never be ignored; it is important to express ourselves; and even the worst storms come to an end. These lessons in emotional awakening can be reinforced by the excellent suggested activities at the end of the book, helping adults connect to their children through play and dialogue.  As a teacher of younger ones, I will most certainly be using Crying is like the Rain in my classroom.

 

Ellie Egleton

Do Grannies Have Green Fingers?

Fransie Frandsen, pub. Artfox

“Mummy’s nails are very green. Daddy’s toes are wrinkly and green. Baby T is green all over. And the neighbour is definitely going green! But what about Granny? Join Alexander in his latest colourful quest to find the answer to the puzzling question: Do Grannies have green fingers?”

 

Do Grannies Have Green Fingers? marks the debut of internationally acclaimed fine artist, Fransie Frandsen’s, fabulously fun picture book series. By drawing on her art therapist expertise, the book playfully explores how children build relationships through the importance of talking and listening to each other. Fransie’s quirky style, reminiscent of Eric Carle and Lauren Child, rearranges images with collage to build a multi-textured world, welcome to all children and adults. Packed with humour and colour, the story follows a young Alexander who aims to find out if Grannies really do have green fingers. But what does this mean?  Grown-up idioms can be confusing, especially when angry faces can be “rather red”, cold temperatures can leave you “quite blue” and the amused can be left “tickled pink”, but Alexander and his loveable dog learn a valuable lesson in resilience when they find the answer to their puzzle in Granny’s beautiful garden.

 

As a teacher, I am confident that Do Grannies Have Green Fingers? will survive in the hands of my students as no expense has been spared on the printing of this book, complete with a thick card stock cover.  With a price tag of £7.99/$9.99, Frandsen’s first book is a worthy investment, not only for it’s charming story but for the details hidden on each page, allowing curious minds to spot something new and different with every read. Don’t just take my word for it, be sure to check out @artfox.bookwolf on Instagram.

 

Ellie Egleton

Elephant in my Kitchen!

Smriti Halls, illus. Ella Okstad, pub. Egmont Books

Elephant in my Kitchen! is a picture book about various animals moving into a young child’s house and the antics they get up to while refusing to leave.

 

The book itself stands out extremely well because of the large, bright cover which is neon orange. The first time I picked it up, I almost let out a gasp at how bright it was! While being bright is often a good thing when it comes to children’s books, I actually quite disliked the neon orange. It is not in keeping with the lovely, eco-friendly, nature-coloured inks inside the book and feels a bit at odds with the story. I don’t see why it needed such a gaudy, tacky cover. My feelings about the cover were soon irrelevant. It is clear right from the first page that this is a beautifully illustrated, colourful book which has had a lot of effort and thought put into it. Each page is fun to look at before the story has even started, with little frogs and animals in the corner of the copyright and legal text. Once the story started, I loved reading it out loud. The rhymes flow nicely with a great beat that would captivate and hold any child’s attention. Each animal is doing something funny that is sure to make little ones laugh. I even giggled a couple of times out loud, especially with; 

 

“A tiger’s on the toilet

And I’m BURSTING for the loo!

He says it’s just a number one…

It’s definitely a TWO!”

 

perhaps being one of my favourite lines in a book ever.

 

Children love silly rhymes and animals, so it’s a great combination, and the illustrations really enhance it. The book feels big, the animals are large and bold along with an easy-to-read font making it perfect for smaller children. Each picture is full of character, the scribbly, child-like style lends itself well in this case in which the story is told from the point of view of a child.

 

However, there was one thing that bugged me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I just didn’t like the main character’s design. After reading a few times I realised that the problem was the eyes, or at least their face. The illustration style worked well with funny animal faces and they appeared to be full of emotion and character, but the little kid’s eyes were so big they were off-putting and his face didn’t convey much other than surprise because the eyes were so big. I ended up focusing more on the animals. It’s a shame, because the character is clearly androgynous to appeal to both boys and girls, in fact, their gender is never mentioned, which is very inclusive and welcomed.

 

The book was fun to read and I was enjoying it, then, suddenly it changed. The reason the animals were in the child’s house was revealed and the tone became serious. This was a complete surprise to me and not something I could predict in the text, once I realised the message was that the animals had no home because they were being destroyed, the book suddenly had much more meaning to me and I went from liking it to loving it.

 

The book took on a more educational feel that explained the importance of looking after the environment to keep our animals safe. It was very cleverly done, gaining the attention with fun and silliness to then explain the plan to help the animals go home by saving the environment. ‘The BIG plan’, explained in the last few pages of the book, are great tips for children to learn and something that will appeal to parents who care about the future of the planet. More children appear and the funny animal rhymes continue but this time they have purpose. 

 

Overall, I felt like this was a special book that I would buy and keep as part of my permanent collection. It could be read to little children every night or read out loud by children and become part of their learning while still being fun. Having a copy in a school or playgroup would be a great hit I’m sure. The important message is backed up by some facts printed in the book. For example, in the front a polar bear holds a sign that the book is printed with vegetable based inks; a nice touch that fits in well with the theme, and the end pages are one big spread of things we can do to save our planet, each with a little illustration.

 

I would highly recommend this book to friends and families with kids.

 

Izzy Bean

Good Guys, Bad Guys

Joanne Rocklin, illus. Nancy Carpenter, pub. Abrams Books for Young Readers

To begin with, Good Guys, Bad Guys seems to be a story about bullying and intimidation, showing the baddies as children that are repulsive and frightening. The gaggle of giddy, naughty children suggests trouble is afoot. However, we quickly learn that Good versus Evil can be great fun. Who will win? Which side will you be on? Does it even matter? None of us is perfect - we all have a bit of good and bad in us and this book plays on the motif that the boundary between the two is sometimes blurred.

 

Good Guys, Bad Guys is a charming picture book for children showing the joys of a large group of children playing and having fun, harking back to pre-Covid days. This sense of nostalgia couldn’t have been foreseen by the author yet adds to its appeal in these days of isolation. This book does what books do best – takes us away to another reality & allows us to be part of something that is not possible right now. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be part of a noisy, chaotic game of make-believe with all your classmates right now? 

 

Catherine Millar

The Huffalots

Eve Coy, pub. Andersen Press

When Mum wakes up her young twins in the morning, they appear to have turned overnight into Huffalots – they are grumpy, argumentative and really don’t like each other. But as they eat breakfast, a magical transformation takes place and they become Huffalittles, who though still not agreeing on some things, enjoy racing around the park. And if one trips over, the other is there to comfort them, with hugs and gifts of feathers and flowers. This magic continues through the day until they become Lovealots. However, by this time Mum has also become a Huffalot, trying to juggle working, supper, noise and mess. The Lovealots know just what to do and by bedtime everyone is enjoying cuddles and a story.

 

A gentle exploration of family life, there is lots to enjoy, find and talk about in the softly coloured pictures of this book.  The story can also help young children understand that their feelings and behaviour can impact on other people, especially their carers, without being didactic. A warm hug of a book just right for snuggling up with.

 

Jayne Gould

Hugo

Atinuke, illus. Birgitta Sif, pub. Walker Books

This is the totally delightful story of a Parisian pigeon called Hugo who oversees life around the square where he lives. He plays with the children, supports the older residents and even makes friends with many of the local animals. One day he becomes aware that one apartment always has the curtains drawn, but that there is a ‘someone’ who peeks out at the world in the square. When Hugo is injured by a dog, it is the ‘someone’ who takes him home and nurses him back to health. The ending of the story emphasizes the need for community and sharing and brings a glow to the reader.

 

I love the delicacy and style of the illustrations that seem to exemplify the atmosphere of Paris. The use of pencil and pale watercolours really give a feeling of place and yet there is a timeless quality about the setting; this provides a very sophisticated feel to the illustrations.  This is a story that has short sections of text, which balance the wealth of pictures and the tale is told in the first person by Hugo, so we see things from the perspective of the pigeon, rather than the humans. Whilst the story is aimed at the KS1 reader it can also be read with KS2 children because it opens up many questions about some of the characters, but especially about the ‘someone’.  Altogether a beautiful book.

 

Margaret Pemberton

I Am Perfectly Designed

Karamo Brown and Jason “Rachel” Brown, illus. Anoosha Syed, pub. Macmillan

This picture book is dedicated to ‘every child and adult who has ever felt different or not good enough.’ Throughout the book the reader follows a father and son as they start the day together with breakfast, then walk through the city, visit the park and finally find their way home together at the end of the day. Through Anoosha’s delightful illustrations we join the two as they share different activities and recall different memories. The text is a back and forth of conversation between father and son which highlights and allows us to see how the little boy is becoming more aware of himself and of his changing relationship with his father through the passage of time (the differences between the two are celebrated). The son remembers how his father has looked after him and reassured him, and always been there for him. The father continues to reassure his son how perfectly designed for life and for the things that he will face. There is also the reassurance that they will always be there for each other, even though their roles may change and they might inevitably not be together all of the time.

 

I am Perfectly Designed is a great book about the relationship between father and son. It continues to offer reassurance and encouragement along the way and will stand many readings and food for thought for class discussion. 

 

Damian Harvey

Ig Pig and Og Frog

Sophie Burrows, pub. David Fickling Books

Ig Pig and Og Frog are as close as best friends can be. They love playing the same games, eating the same food (big juicy worm burgers, anyone?) and they even have their own rock band – but not just any old rock band: it’s a super cool, crazy loud, totally rocking rock band! That is until the morning a newcomer floats onto the scene. Bog Frog. She pitches up out of nowhere, looking – to Ig – suspiciously like Og’s best friend.  

 

The arrival of this stranger does not bring out the best in Ig. Og and Bog try to include him, but tensions begin to rumble and build and finally Ig erupts in a mighty tantrum which ruins everything for everyone.

 

Poor Ig – you’ve got to love him!  He wears his heart on his sleeve and Sophie Burrows’ illustrations capture his tempestuous emotions so brilliantly. There is a double page of Ig, lying flat out, the picture of forlorn, deflated despondence after his outburst. It’s heart-rending!

 

Og and Bog, like kind, little frogs, work hard to make him feel better and eventually Ig realises he has been super jealous, crazy mean and totally grumpy. There are apologies all round.

 

This exuberant book explores the sometimes-rocky road to friendship.  It champions being open-hearted and inclusive.  The illustrations zoom out for big feelings with dramatic impact, but they also zoom in on very funny details. The end pages are definitely worth a mention: feast your eyes on a riot of music posters with visual puns specially for the grown-ups. 

 

This is Sophie Burrows’ picture book debut. She is going to have fans galore!

 

Jackie Spink

In the City

Holly James, illus. Hannah Tolson, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The latest in a long tradition of picture books which encourage the youngest readers to rediscover items they know in everyday life, and also to discover new things they will encounter in specific environments. Unlike the tried-and-tested Richard Scarry picture books, which more than half a century ago used anthropomorphic characters to explore a wide variety of places and activities in Busytown, Holly James and Hannah Tolson see new scenarios through the eyes of a pair of apparently mixed-race children, Oscar and Lucy. Oscar and Lucy go on a day out with their parents/carers, first getting ready, taking a map with them and ensuring they catch the train in time. In fact, readers are never told if the two adults are their parents or carers, a welcome approach which means that the text is equally appropriate to children in different domestic or care situations. When they reach the station (looking surprisingly like an interchange between the mainline and underground areas at Waterloo) items we can see – such as a suitcase, a bird, a train driver – are labelled, and readers are invited to search the spread for additional, specific, information. The departures board offers journeys to cities all over the world, and ‘the city’ is non-specific.

 

They visit the museum, the bustle of the city itself, a skyscraper, then have a picnic in the park (obviously not lockdown then!), take a trip on the river (which does look like London), then go shopping and on a bus tour, before they go home and to bed. 

 

Each spread operates in the same way, information, new vocabulary labelling images, then questions to invite readers to engage with other details. The final spread is a visual glossary to remind us of some of the places and objects we have seen. 

 

James and Tolson have collaborated to give young readers, and carers, bright, colourful, informative scenes of everyday life in a typical city which will encourage a great deal of discussion, questions and comments on each page. 

 

Readers will hope that other books will appear where Oscar and Lucy, and readers, can discover other places and activities. 

 

Bridget Carrington

Lisette’s Green Sock

Catharina Valckx, trans. Anthony Shugaar, illus. Catharina Valckx, pub. Gecko Press

In this picture book, Lisette, a duck, finds a green sock, which pleases her, and she puts it on. Tomcat and Timcat tease her and say that socks come in pairs, so she sets off in search of the other one.

Fish in the pond hasn’t seen it, but she has found a coffee pot and a rake. Lisette sadly goes home, and her Mum washes the sock and hangs it up to dry. Her friend Bert, a mouse, admires what he thinks is a hat, and Lisette lets him wear it on his head. Tomcat and Timcat come over and dangle the other sock in front of them, then run away. The friends almost catch them, but the cats throw the sock into the pond, and tell them it flew away, though Bert knows that socks do not fly. Sadly, the friends go back to Lisette’s house, and Bert is only allowed to keep wearing the hat until they get there. They discover that Mum has knitted another sock, so they both have hats. Bert is especially pleased, and they both go to sleep in their hats. The final page shows Fish, delighting in her coffee pot, rake – and her new green sleeping bag.

 

Lisette’s Green Sock is a charming story, beautifully illustrated, and the young reader can be glad that the bullies do not win after all.

 

Catharina Valckx has written and illustrated more than thirty books and been nominated four times for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Her books are written in French but published in eleven languages and have won numerous awards. On the strength of this one it would seem to be worth looking out for her work.

 

Diana Barnes

Little Blue House Beside the Sea

Jo Ellen Bogart, illus. Carme Lemniscates, pub. Tilbury House Publishers

“There is a special place for me – a little blue house besides the sea. It nestles on its cliffs so high and watches as the boats go by.”

 

In a world where travel has now become difficult, transport your child to the ocean with the critically acclaimed creative team who, individually, are behind several best-selling titles.  Although it is a simple story that follows a little girl across the shore and through a storm, the book carries a deeper meaning. 

 

The little blue house could be overlooking any ocean, and the narrator could be any child anywhere, gazing out over the waters, thinking about all the places s/he could go and imagining other little blue houses on other shores, with other children gazing back. Now more than ever, this message of unity is so important. We should be teaching our children to make connections with those from different backgrounds as at the end of the day, we all share the great, wide, wonderful world. 

 

At the back of the book, in ‘A Note from Jo Ellen’, this message is conveyed beautifully through a personal childhood anecdote and a plea that we look after the oceans that serve us so well. 

 

Overall, I can envision the lyrical Little Blue House Beside the Sea next to the likes of The Storm Whale by Benji Davies and for those curious to what lives in the sea, The Big Book of the Blue by Yuval Zommer.

 

Ellie Egleton

The Lost Leopard

Jonny Marx, illus. Xuan Le, pub. 360 Degrees

Let me start by saying I am a huge fan of the animal kingdom and all it can teach us. It is so important that children are engaged with this topic and a book like this will do just that.

 

The Lost Leopard is a real gem of a book; it is the right mix of fact with fiction. It follows the ‘world’s greatest explorer’ family; Flora, Fauna and their baby, Bud, on their adventure to find the most elusive of the wild cats – the clouded leopard. Their adventure takes them across all terrains, through all weathers and teaches us important environmental lessons along the way.

 

As the adventure progresses, we are introduced to many animals along the way, each one subtly labelled. Everything from a tiny butterfly to the Indian elephant make an appearance, with everything in between.

 

The stars of this book though are the illustrations and quirky page designs, complete with flaps and fold-out pages. The detail in each page is incredible and it is easy to get lost in each scene. You can enjoy the bustling, colourful markets, the rushing rivers, hills and valleys and jungles to name but a few.

 

I am a big fan of this book and I hope there will be more to come!

 

Victoria Wharam

Meet Monster

Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, illus. Quentin Blake, pub. New York Review of Books

Monster was first introduced in 1973, and these 6 stories have been collected into a format that looks like a chapter book, but it is intended for beginner readers.

 

Monster is a tall purple creature, not at all scary. In the first story he comes to a city, notes lots of things about it, and decides to stay. In the second story, he looks for a house. Amazingly, he looks at a few unsuitable houses before he finds a tall thin house that looks perfect, and he just moves in. He doesn’t seem to have or earn any money, but he furnishes it and lives comfortably. Unless children have had experience of moving house, they will probably just take all this at face value.   In the remaining stories, he cleans his house, looks for a friend, meets a lady monster, and has fun with a magic umbrella.

 

The language is simple, but it is American, so he goes to the railroad station, a child  ‘jumps rope’ instead of skipping, and the wardrobe is called a closet, but the illustrations serve to clarify these differences.  Monster is ‘ kind of tired’ or the house is ‘ kind of nice’, and there  are some examples of exclamations like ‘ Oh boy!’ but, generally, children exposed to  American films and television will probably cope with this. The text is very clear and bold, with simple ‘a’ and ‘g’, and there are usually only a few lines on each page.

 

Quentin Blake’s illustrations are as excellent as we have come to expect, and your reviewer needs say no more. The authors are both experts in child education and teacher training.  Ellen Blance comes originally from Newcastle, but she has lived and worked in the USA since 1970. 

 

Monster books have been widely praised and translated into other languages, and there is

even an animation available.  This charming compilation will certainly have its place in the 

school library or home bookshelf.

 

Diana Barnes

My Rhino Is Better Than Yours

Bec Barnes, pub. David Fickling Books

Two children, a girl and a boy, both have rhinos, one blue and one red, and they argue over whose rhino is best. Each rhino has different characteristics – they are mighty and strong, daring and brave, can shrink really small or can grow really big. As the argument progresses, the children get crosser and crosser, more insistent that their rhino is the best, making wild and exaggerated claims that involve smelly bottoms and flying to the stars to try and outdo each other when suddenly they hear a rumbly, thumping, snorting, grunting noise and the ground starts shaking.

 

An amusing story told in rhyme that will connect with young children and that has a refrain to encourage them to join in. There’s a lot to see and discuss on the pages – my favourite is the rhino who has outfits for each day of the week although I suspect children will be drawn to the rude rhino – and the illustrations are bright, big and bold making excellent use of the pages. Good to see diversity and a lack of girl/boy stereotyping too.

 

Barbara Band

Penpals Forever

C K Smouha, illus. Jürg Lindenberger, pub. Cicada Books

Penpals Forever is a story about two characters that couldn’t be more different – they live in completely different parts of the world, enjoy completely different interests and are completely different sizes!

 

Freddy’s a skateboarding, pizza–loving mouse, who lives with his friend, Pete. Annabel, however, is a science-loving elephant, who enjoys carrying out lab experiments. C K Smouha’s story begins with Freddy and Pete minding their own business; skateboarding and eating pizza, when, suddenly, a huge white object floats from the sky and lands in front of them – what could it be? It’s a giant letter!

Here starts an amazing friendship, as letters are sent to and fro, sharing their different lives and interests via good old-fashioned pen and paper, until one day, Pete stops writing and Annabel becomes concerned for her friend. Wanting to find out what is wrong, she sets off on her adventure to the big city to help him. One good turn deserves another, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what.

 

Each of Jürg Lindenberger’s pages are brightly illustrated and the illustrations cleverly play with size and scale. The energy of life in the big city is demonstrated by the busyness of the pages and the pictures are complemented by die cuts, flaps and an amazing use of interesting colours.

 

This is a fun book that’s ultimate message is about accepting and tolerating differences, looking out for each other and, quite simply, how to be a good friend.

 

This book would be a welcomed addition to any child’s bookshelf, in the primary age range and their grown-up alike!

 

Claire Webb

Rabbit’s Spring Gift

Anita Loughrey, illus. Lucy Barnard, pub. QED Publishing

Hop along with little Rabbit and explore the wonders of springtime in this delightfully charming picture book from Armadillo reviewer Anita Loughrey’s must read A Year in Nature series!

With mum busy spring cleaning their warren, Rabbit and her brother go in search for the perfect springtime thank you gift. But when a cheeky competition has the two in a race to out-do the other, will they realise that the perfect gift might be a little closer to home?

 

Jumping through vegetables plots and rummaging through flower patches, peering in ponds and skipping past bees, the rabbits are quick to find gifts in the form of beautiful blooming daffodils, tasty treats and fluffy feathers. With each gift, illustrator Lucy Barnard beautifully captures the joys, colours and new life of springtime, but it’s Rabbit’s mum reminder that, the greatest gift is you, that was most joyous of all.

 

I love that this series not only offers a charming window into the changing seasons, but also includes spring inspired activities – think pond dipping and flower collages – and seasonal discussion points at the back for further learning about the natural world.

 

A Year in Nature also includes Frog’s Summer Journey, Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox’s Winter Discovery.

 

Fern Tolley

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