Picture Book Reviews

A Hat for Mr Mountain

Soojin Kwak, pub. Two Hoots

A Hat for Mr Mountain is a delightful story about Nara. Nara loves to make hats for all the animals who visit her workshop in all the different shapes and sizes necessary: no customer is too small, too tall or too big. However, one day she receives a letter from a very large customer indeed – Mr Mountain has been watching her make hats from afar, and has now asked for one of his very own. Nara rises to the challenge, but has she taken on the impossible?


This gorgeous story works on many levels. It will be great for primary STEM lessons as Nara explores using different materials to make Mr Mountain’s hat and discovers why so many of them just don’t work or won’t last. It is also a humorous tale about never giving up, but - how often - when things get too hard we need help and support from our friends to be able to keep going. The power of friendship is a clear winner on these pages. These messages are woven into the warm fabric of the story with a subtly that does not distract from the tale itself. The illustrations add beautifully drawn moments that aren’t mentioned in the text – a sign of a wonderful picture book doing what it should: text and pictures working together in perfect symbiosis. I loved seeing the mountain peeking in through the window and the panda eating the watermelon!


A Hat for Mr Mountain will be ideal for sharing in schools for its humour, friendship goals and its exploration of materials, but it will also be the perfect book to read at bedtime and I suspect it can be read again and again as there will always be something new to find in the pictures, and always another question to be had about the hats for Mr Mountain and the actions of the animals.  Age 3+ recommended for reading to, enjoying the illustrations and sharing ideas together.


This is Soojin Kwak’s debut picture book as a writer and illustrator, however he also won second prize in the Macmillan Prize for Illustration in 2018. We’re in very safe hands.


Anja Stobbart

Born Bad

C K Smouha, illus. Stephen Smith, pub. Cicada Books

This bold eye-catching picture book is intriguing but puzzling. It sets out to explore important themes through a clever fable but seems to get muddled in its message and ultimately left me irritated by its failure to live up to expectations. My first irritant was the premise: Wolf does not like being Wolf, he does not like how he looks, it makes him feel bad, and when he feels badly he acts badly.  This thought process is unchallenged with no other ways of looking at the issue explored. Wolf wonders if he can change his appearance and thus the way he thinks and acts so he asks other creatures their opinions beginning with Leopard and Chameleon, who I found to be judgmental and negative, especially as initial characters in vulnerable Wolf’s quest. They state that just as leopards are born spotty, Wolf was born bad, and this is unchanging and that Wolf is ignorant for not understanding camouflage.


When Wolf meets Caterpillar and Salamander he proves to be open-minded as he realises he has missed so much happening around him, like life cycles, because of being so self-absorbed and he settles into Salamander’s self-help group with ease. He is interested in and listens to the other animals, who all wear name badges, as they give quick introductions. This is a pleasing section which I am sure will pique reader’s interests into these animals. Each creature has a specific role to play: Flounder represents somebody with an unusual appearance (having two eyes on one side of the head is embarrassing), Reed Frog was born a girl but suddenly changed into a boy, which was confusing but now cool. Seal’s cute fluffy white fur has transformed into serious thick grey blubber that they are proud of. However, Mimic Octopus is another irritant. In reality they can impersonate a wide variety of animals but this character states they “can take the shape of five different sea creatures” before changing into a rock, crab, snake, and jellyfish. Is the fifth creature themselves? Is a rock a sea creature?


Wolf declares that he is not proud of himself reiterating the initial troubling premise: “I don’t like what I see in the mirror.  It’s hard to be nice when you just want to smash things up.” With the group’s encouragement Wolf considers what he would like to see in the mirror and remembers something he did once that felt good so decides to do it again. For the book’s big finish, Wolf returns to the group wearing a big toothy grin and a body covered in white fluffy wool – he is now a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Yes, this is a good use of the saying, a visual pun, and does fit with the idea of the book if you just think of Wolf changing his physical appearance into something that is soft, gentle, pleasing: sort of like Seal but in reverse. However, the actual meaning of the idiom, biblical in origin, and an Aesop’s fable, in my opinion, sharply contrasts with what I thought the book was trying to say. In this costume, Wolf is a dangerous enemy pretending to be a harmless friend and so therefore, a more sinister character than he has been previously. This ending supports Leopard’s starting point that you cannot change, you can just attempt to hide who you truly are from yourself and others.


This is a visually appealing book full of contrastingly lurid colours forming vibrant colour-blocking, flat bold graphics, and simple abstract geometric forms, but, overall, it is a puzzling book that is probably best to be taken at face value, not looked at too deeply. It is a shame that what could have been a valuable, critical book about such important issues that are so prevalent in society today in the end feels like a missed opportunity and a book that itself is as confused as its lead character is.


Natalie McChrytsal Plimmer

Dinosaurs vs Humans

Matt Robertson, pub. Orchard Books

Everyone knows that humans and dinosaurs can’t play together. It’s against the Ancient Scribe. All the tribes follow this teaching so there are unusual developments when Pearl and Dexter meet. They discover that, unlike their tribes, neither of them care for teasing and they both hate all the fighting. They want to laugh, joke and share their dreams. Soon they become best friends – an inseparable Human-Dino team! One day, when the pals are playing in secret, tragedy strikes. Will the two tribes be able to put aside their differences to save their loved ones?


Matt Robertson’s illustrations are so chock-full of character and colour they look like they might leap off the page at any minute, and with so much to look at you’ll find something new every time you read this gorgeous book as will your young listeners. The lively rhyming text is an absolute joy to read aloud too.


This is a beautiful tale of friendship against the odds. The message is clear: you can’t judge a book by its cover, a dinosaur by its blue skin or a cave girl by her pink hair. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. If you were a fan of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Smeds and the Smoos, this is a must buy. Dinosaurs, cave people and a fantastic message – what’s not to love? 


Abby Mellor

The Dragon Machine

Helen Ward, illus. Wayne Anderson, pub. Templar Books

George feels unseen, ignored and overlooked until he begins to notice the dragons. Trouble is once he’s seen his first dragon, he begins to notice them everywhere, causing mischief and mayhem! All too soon the dragons start to become too troublesome, George spends all of his time cleaning up after them and taking the blame for their accidents. George quickly realizes that the dragons need to return to the place where they belong before they become too noticeable and are captured. 


George invents a magnificent mechanical flying machine, and packs it with plenty of stale biscuits and smelly cheese to lead the dragons back to the wilderness where they belong. But once George has flown away everyone begins to miss him and they go searching for him to bring him home. George is no longer unseen, ignored and overlooked, but he misses his dragon friends. And then he is given a new friend—a dog. But is it really a dog?


The Dragon Machine features expressive typography, a muted palette, and achingly beautiful, ethereal illustrations to complement this dreamlike adventure that dances along the line between story and metaphor. A strange and wondrous tale with plenty of entertaining moments and a wealth of little dragons waiting to be discovered on each page.


Rebecca Rouillard

The Ferocious Chocolate Wolf

Lizzie Finlay, pub. Five Quills

When Ferocious Wolf opens his new chocolate shop, he is very excited to share his sweet creations with all of the towns-folk, however nobody will even try a free sample never mind enter his shop and buy a box. Even with the encouragement of his new friend Piggy, who has just returned from the city (and so is more enlightened than his neighbours) all the other animals are still more inclined to follow the doomsayer Mrs Chicken’s panicky rumours than be open-minded. Mrs Chicken says that Ferocious is a Big Bad Wolf and is using the chocolate shop as a ruse to eat them all and so it must be true. Mrs Chicken’s suspicions look to be truthful as Piggy suddenly goes missing and so a search party is set up. But when the animals find Piggy safely being looked after by Ferocious, even Mrs Chicken has to not only eat her words but also Ferocious’ delicious chocolates!


This is a nice, lively, sweet, story about not making snap judgements based on prejudice, reputation, and tarnishing everybody similar with the same brush. It neatly plays on the panicky chicken established in tales such as Chicken Licken whilst simultaneously subverting the scary murderous wolf that is so prevalent in fairytales and the like.  


Finlay’s illustrations are bold, vibrant, colourful, and energetic, with lots of details to observe. For example, in one of the most interesting double page spreads, Mrs Chicken is in the foreground stoking up panic on a busy road of houses early on the morning when Piggy has gone missing. Finlay evokes a sense of hullabaloo (as the text suggests), flurry of movement and noise, and the understanding of a long road sweeping behind Mrs Chicken who is in the foreground, is delightful. Mrs Chicken wears a polkadot headscarf with a curler peeking out, blue fluffy backless slippers, and her green bead necklace is swaying with her frantic movements. Behind her the menagerie of animals are peering out of the windows, standing in doorways, and gathering in the street to join in the gossip. A goose wears a top hat and carries a briefcase, he is shouting to his wife in her pink nightcap while the post is delivered by a grey squirrel with many red and pink envelopes to deliver.


The characters are neatly drawn, especially Ferocious Wolf, aptly styled as a Willy Wonka type character wearing a purple top hat, bow tie and red flowing cape. He is a showman who takes delight in his work and creativity. The ideas of friendship, open-mindedness, forgiveness, and not being scared to sample new things are astutely developed throughout the story. There are obvious links to Easter (the chocolate theme) and Valentine’s Day, with the post as described earlier and the heart-shaped chocolates that Ferocious makes. Developing activities such as creating your own chocolate assortment and packaging also make this a fun group reading book.


Natalie McChrystal Plimmer

Garden Jungle

Helene Druvet, pub. Thames & Hudson Children’s Books

The Garden Jungle introduces us to Tom, a young boy who declares that he is bored and has nothing to do. Mum tells him to open his eyes and look at the things around him, then he certainly won’t be bored. 


So Tom tries and after making hand shadows on the sheets that Mum has hung to dry, Tom spots a butterfly and follows it as it flutters further into the garden. We, the reader, need to follow with Tom for we will soon see that Tom’s eyes and imagination are opened up by what he sees as he ventures into the Jungle Garden – the cat becomes a leopard, and birds become beautiful flamingos. What else does Tom see, what else can you see in the Jungle Garden? There is so  much to spot and discover, are your eyes open too?


The simple rhyming text works well for the young reader but what really brings this book to life are the detailed laser cut pages that give tantalising views of the pages to come and an added depth to the Garden Jungle itself. Children will delight in looking at each beautiful page. This truly is a book to be treasured and revisited again and again – though much borrowed library copies may well suffer at the hands of young children!


Vicky Harvey

Gloria’s Big Problem

Sarah Stiles Bright, illus. Mike Deas, pub. Tilbury House Publishers

Gloria’s Big Problem is the story of a little girl who loves to sing so much, that when she is on her own Gloria pretends to be an opera singer, standing on a chair and singing as loud as she can. But when she is not on her own, Gloria cannot sing, not even ‘Happy Birthday’ because the big green monster follows her around and it never shuts up, never stops telling her that if she tries to do anything, like going to the movies or on a sleep-over, or riding her bike, terrible things will happen. And so worry, anxiety and fear never leave Gloria alone.


The illustration of the monster is wonderful, big and green and mean, filling Gloria so full of worry, she is sure that anything she tries to do will go wrong and people will laugh at her. So she does nothing because even when she tries to sing, the monster drowns her small voice with its own big shouty one. Again and again, Gloria tells the monster to go away, to leave her alone but it won’t go.


No-one else seems to have a monster and this makes Gloria feel alone and frightened. Her brother, Henry, laughs at her when she tells him about it. But then one day, she hears that a concert is being arranged at the community centre and any child who wants to be in it, has to go and audition. Gloria wants to sing at this concert more than anything, so getting every bit of her courage together, she goes to the audition, her tummy aching and her throat dry. The monster goes with her but this time, Gloria yells at it. ‘Go Away,’ and the monster does go away, melting into the shadows. Gloria sings so beautifully, she is given the part of the singing Lady Bug.


Gloria’s Big Problem addresses the anxieties, fears and worries of children with real sympathy and understanding. With its vivid and lively illustrations full of brilliant detail, the reader will sympathise and identify with Gloria’s problem, which could so easily be a problem of their own.


Both reassuring and understanding, this book will help any child defeat the big green monster.


Gwen Grant

Greta and the Giants

Zoe Tucker, pub. Frances Lincoln Children's Books

Here’s a good game for a long car journey. Name three people who have lived in the last 100 years and who you would describe using the term ‘modern day saint’. If your answer contains anyone from Love Island, it’s probably best to stop reading now. If Greta Thunberg featured in your list, then this is the book for you.


Thunberg’s story has all the hallmarks of a great myth: good against evil; small against huge; plaits against dubious peroxide comb-overs. Communicating these universal themes, whilst at the same making them tangible enough to engage a very young audience, is a difficult task. It is one that Zoe Tucker has achieved admirably in her book Greta and the Giants: an allegorical tale that captures Thunberg’s spirit, determination and beliefs.


Greta lives in a beautiful forest (brought to life by Persico’s sumptuous illustrations), but realises that it is slowly being destroyed by giants. As things get worse, and the animals in the forest begin to fear for their home, Greta decides that she needs to act. One day, she makes a sign saying ‘STOP’ and waits for the giants to come. At first, her efforts go unnoticed - but as days pass, others join her with their own signs until at last a huge crowd stands united and determined to make their voices heard.


And then the best bit. This being a fairytale, we do get a happy ending. The giants are quick to see the error of their ways (in fact they are, rather touchingly, ‘embarrassed and a little bit sad’) and set about working hard to restore the forest to its former glories. 


This book provides an introduction to modern environmental issues and activism that is both accessible and optimistic. It stands alone as a charming fairytale and works equally well as a springboard for wider discussion. Although it is targeted at a very young audience (2-4 year olds) it has a universality that make it a powerful read for all ages. Plus, 3% of the price goes to Greenpeace. What’s not to like?


Laura Myatt

Hey, Water!

Antoinette Portis, pub. Scallywag Press

Picture books are beginning to come in a greater variety of formats by which I don’t mean just size and shape, they are crossing divides and breaking down boundaries, boldly going into new territory. Wordless picture books are gradually finding their place and now we see the introduction of non-fiction picture books, Hey, Water! being one such example. It works. A non-fiction picture book a few years ago may have seemed impossible, it isn’t, this book shows us both how and why.


Our character, the lead for this story is a nameless little girl whose adventure into her surroundings is a journey of discovery not only for her but for the reader too. With her we soon learn that water is everywhere. Water is on the front cover as she wears her goggles and swims. Water is on the title page where she is sitting in the bath. Water is on the end pages - a scape of blue waves. We know water is all around, we see water whenever we turn on a tap – in the house or in the garden, it trickles, gurgles, streams gradually building in size, strength and momentum and this book cleverly takes us on a journey of water discovery.  See water in nature, in weather, in the home and even inside you. But, remember that water is not always the same – it can have a different look or feel – be as hard as rock or as soft as snow, be a tear or a drink. Water can be many things. Water is life giving. 


Water has many words associated with it. This, for me, is where this book really stands out. We see the pictures, read the words of the ‘story’ but don’t forget the descriptors. See the water from the tap and read the word ‘tap’. Look at the pictures of the snow and read their associated words. Read and learn, learn and read. A book that will spark conversations, can be read as a story of an information title and is sneakily packed full of science too. Ideal for younger readers, bold artwork and a strong design lets hope this boundary-crossing book is the start of more to come.


Louise Ellis-Barrett

I Am Brown

Ashok Banker, illus. Sandhya Prabhat, pub. Lantana Publishing

“I am brown, I am beautiful. I am perfect… I am brown. I am amazing. I am YOU.”


From the first words to the last, I Am Brown is a celebration of and for children with brown skin. But it’s not just tokenism: differences as well as similarities are highlighted. Where the children come from, what they do, what they like, what they eat, what they wear, the language they speak, the type of house they live in, where they pray (including a “nowhere” option!), the careers they will follow and what they look like are all covered, showing that the mere fact of having brown skin doesn’t make them all the same. There’s an overlying, and quite moving, message of equality and respect.


The illustrations are dynamic and joyful, filling the pages with well-researched detail and movement. The page about food is a true feast for the eyes, and the religion page is serene and calm. There is a genuine effort not to miss anyone out. However, it would have been interesting to see a mention of mixed-race children (for example, the book mentions brown and green eyes, but not blue, which some mixed-race children might have), more differentiation in the illustrations and also a more in-depth look at the different types of hair that brown-skinned children have, but maybe that is asking too much of a picture book!


I’d recommend this book for boys and girls of any age, especially if they are feeling unsure about their place in the world or if they have been teased or bullied about the colour of their skin. There is more multicultural representation on television and in films these days, but the literary world – and especially children’s books – is still catching up, and this book will certainly help. I Am Brown might even help children to have the confidence to ask why they aren’t represented in the other books they read – or even to write a book themselves?


Antonia Russell

The Last Tree

Emily Haworth-Booth, pub. Pavilion Children’s Books

A group of friends are looking for somewhere to live. The desert is too hot, the valley too wet, the mountain too windy. Then they see the first tree. They find a beautiful forest. All summer long they enjoy its gentle breeze and dappled light. They play among the flowers and sleep on the forest floor. Winter comes, and they cut some branches for firewood. As a result, the rain comes through, so they chop down some trees to make shelters. That makes everything colder, so they chop down more trees to make houses. With fewer trees, the sun blazes down on them, so they use more wood to make porches. Now they have the perfect village. But without trees, the strong winds of autumn are a problem. They cut down the rest of the trees to make a high protective wall. Just one tiny tree remains, too small to be useful. 


The joyful friends are no longer joyful. They no longer play. They no longer leave their homes. They become suspicious of one another. Each family decides they need to protect their home. Each secretly sends out their children to chop down the last tree. But instead, the children play. And they tend the little tree. They tell their parents about it, but the parents don’t want to see it. They just want more wood. So the children bring them planks. Only when the wind rushes into the village do the adults realise what has happened. The planks came from the wall. Through the hole they can see the last tree and the children playing around it. They remember the joy the forest used to bring. They remember they all used to be friends. So they demolish the rest of the wall, and they plant seeds and tend saplings. And they sing. And as the children grow, so does a new forest. 


What an important message this picture book conveys, through its powerful text and its lively and expressive illustrations. How pertinent for our times. How significant that the children find a way to solve the problems that the grown-ups have created. The climate emergency is a source of huge anxiety to children today. They need of course to understand it, but crucially they also need hope, and Emily Haworth-Booth provides it. Recommended.


Anne Harding

The Legend of the First Unicorn

Lari Don, illus. Nataša Ilinčić, pub. Floris Books

Nataša Ilinčić’s illustrations are clear and uncluttered. The use of watercolour paint gives an appealing lightness and fluidity to the pictures. The protagonists she pictures are older children, making this a picture book that children throughout the primary school age-range can relate to.


The story is an original creation by storyteller Lari Don. As a lover of folktale, I was pleased to find source notes included in the endpapers. Lari Don drew inspiration from The Coming of the Unicorn, a traditional travellers’ tale in which a king loses the will to engage with the world, and his court magicians create the beautiful, elusive, unicorn to inspire him to return to the hunt, and thus provide food for his people. In Lari’s re-imagining, the king becomes the unsmiling prince Duncan, and the turbaned magician’s daughter, Hana, is the heroine who creates the unicorn to help him find his smile. In creating new protagonists Lari Don offers modern readers a more diverse picture in which to recognise themselves; both a girl and a boy, with two different heritages. Lari Don also adds an extra element to the story; the magician creates a griffin that battles the unicorn, and the children help the unicorn to escape.  


Like the original, this story ends with the carving of the first ever statue of a unicorn. After reading this book, children will enjoy spotting unicorn statues in castles and towns throughout Scotland, and beyond.


One final note: the book The Coming of the Unicorn, which inspired Lari’s imagination, is a real treasure trove of traditional tales. The author, Duncan Williamson, was a Scottish traveller and he heard the tales direct from the oral tradition of his own culture, making The Coming of the Unicorn a rare folktale gem.


Dawn Casey

Like the Moon loves the Sky

Hena Khan, illus. Saffa Khan, pub. Abrams&Chronicle

Like the Moon Loves the Sky is both a story and the author’s personal wish for her children as they grow up. A wish that they will flourish.


The book consists of fourteen lyrical lines, each one based upon a verse in the Qur’an and begins with the Arabic phrase Inshallah. In the introduction the author explains the meaning of Ishallah (‘if God wills it’) and its common usage across the Arabic-speaking world and different religions. Hena Khan asks, Ishallah, that children grow up happy, secure and confident and above all else loved. In addition, Hena Khan promotes the importance of children learning to be fair, kind and honest.


Saffa Khan illustrates each lyrical line with a large double-page picture. The warmth of Hena’s words are beautifully echoed in Saffa’s use of complementary colours with a predominance of oranges and reds. The pictures also develop a narrative. Each one shows precious moments in a girl’s life. As a baby being pushed in a pram; a toddler planting flowers in a garden; at nursery making friends and school-aged, learning to swim. 


So often the picture is perfect for the lyrical line, such as learning to ride a bicycle and “Inshallah you have faith that won’t waver or bend”. Moreover many of the pictures show the girl’s mother close by, encouraging her daughter as well as offering reassurance. In other pictures, the girl happily plays with a diverse group of friends.


The words and the pictures in Like the Moon Loves the Sky evocatively capture parents’ unconditional love for their children.


Simon Barrett

The Littlest Bandit

Ali Pye, pub. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Littlest Bandit is part of a very large family, but whilst they are all very adventurous and sporty, Littlest loves nothing better than sitting and reading one of her books. One day she is disturbed by her grandmother flying past (at least she was trying to fly) and getting stuck in a very high tree. Littlest offers to help but is told she is too small and has to go and find the rest of the family, so that they can help. All of her strong and athletic family takes it in turns to try and rescue Grandma, but they all fail. Finally they decide to give Littlest a chance and with some help from her book and a lot of teamwork from the others, Grandma is finally rescued.


This is a delightful story about being yourself and understanding that everyone has qualities that make them outstanding at something. There is a lot of humour, not least in the family name and the fact that they are raccoons. Whilst there is a lot of family togetherness there is also a tendency to not understand those who are different and younger. This is something of a human trait and children are often ignored, as adults assume that they can’t possibly understand what is needed. 


This story mixes so many lovely elements, especially the importance of reading and knowledge and it is a book that will be a great favourite with younger readers.


Margaret Pemberton

The Longest, Strongest Thread

Inbal Leitner, pub. Scallywag Press

Thread can conjure up different images in the mind of those that hear the word. Perhaps there is a loose thread hanging from your clothing? Is it the thread you put into a needle for sewing or a strand of wool perhaps? The thread in this delightful story could be any of these things (though the end pages are decorated with the various sewing implements suggesting where the story may lead). Above all the thread in this book is the thread of a story, the thread of life, the thread that binds us, that draws us together, that keeps us together.


As a reader it may not be immediately obvious but here is a deeply moving and touching story based on real life. The author’s grandmother left her behind parents when she moved from Nazi Germany. The author herself left grandparents in Israel when she moved to the UK, she is very much writing from experience yet with a strong sense of celebration and reassurance.


The suitcase is heavy, and it is not surprising for it is packed full of everything the little girl is going to need in her new home. The new home must be far away for she will be flying there and it is a place where in the winter the lakes freeze. However there are things to be done before she goes. Important things. Saying farewell to her grandma for her grandma is staying, in the studio where she sews, where it is warm. The little girl loves to help grandma sew and is worried about leaving her. Grandma is worried about the little girl too, so together they take some thread, some fabric and they make a coat. 


Follow the story and follow the threads to be reassured that despite the anxiety of moving there will always be a connection between loved ones. Enjoy the pastel illustrations, the warm and delicate artwork and immerse yourself in a story of love and warmth.


Louise Ellis-Barrett

The Moonlight Zoo

Maudie Powell-Tuck, illus. Karl James Mountford, pub. Little Tiger

The Moonlight Zoo addresses one of the most traumatic incidents in a child’s life; the loss of a much loved pet. Eva has lost her cat, Luna, and cannot sleep for worrying about her. Was Luna safe? Was she warm, or was she all alone in the cold moonlight? And Eva missed cuddling Luna. Missed her furry tummy and the way she purred as if she had a little engine in her throat. But then, in the silence of the night, with her hearing aid full on, Eva hears a noise under her bed. Shining her torch into the dark space, Eva sees it is full of animals. She has found the Moonlight Zoo and a friendly wolf tells her this is where all lost animals and pets are safe and warm.


The wolf leads Eva to the Penguin Palace, where a huge pile of sardines is ready for a penguin supper. ‘I didn’t know penguins got lost,’ Eva says, but they do and they also find their way to the Moonlight Zoo. Near the sardines, Eva finds Luna’s velvet collar and with the wolf, she hurries on to Monkey Island, hoping Luna will be there. There are lots of trees, monkeys and owls but no Luna. Past the dogs and the wolves, past the elephants, the snakes and the dragons, the stars are fading and the Moonlight Zoo closes at dawn and still Eva has not found her cat. But in the Cat Kingdom, Eva hears Luna purring. Her cat is sitting with the tigers, the lions and the leopards. Now it is time to go home, and together, they climb onto the wolf’s back.


The illustrations are fabulous with their soft and gentle colours, the animals, birds and exotic creatures in brilliant detail. The pages are oddly shaped with cut-outs so appealing, it’s impossible to resist sneaking a quick look through them to get a glimpse of the next page. With so much to look at and think about, the reader is absorbed and enchanted by this lovely book. Kind, tender and reassuring, The Moonlight Zoo with its gorgeous cut-out cover, its blue edging shining like a bright blue flame, this book will fly into waiting hands.  


Gwen Grant

My Mama

Annemarie van Haeringen, trans. Bill Nagelkerke, pub. Gecko Press

Is there something, just a little thing, that you would really love to do? Little Elephant would really love to fly, more than anything, at least that is what he thinks. Mama tells him that he can do anything if he really wants to which of course is true. Little Elephant knows this and believes that he can be good at flying. The problem is that Mama finds it very hard to let go.


Little Elephant is good and sends out a good message to his readers – he plays with his toys and then he tidies them away (do you do this?) Little Elephant is also trying to find other ways he can be good but it they do not always prove to be successful – making Mama’s dress look prettier by using scissors may not be wise it would seem. However he does help with the shopping, after all it needs to be tidied away and what can be tidier that food which has been eaten! And so it goes on as we discover all the things that the Little Elephant really believes he is good at and does to help his Mama. 


By now all those parents reading this review will be fully in sympathy with Mama and will know just how they might use this book with their own little ones! A delicate, simple and very touching story of the love between a mother and a child that will resonate with all its readers as children follow the pictures and adults follow the words – but be warned, there may be some explaining to do for the children!


Louise Ellis-Barrett

Nine Lives Newton

Alice McKinley, pub. Simon & Schuster Children's Books

This is a tale to tantalise about a beguiling little dog called Newton and his long suffering friend the cat; who I am guessing parodies the ever-vigilant parent. A nifty first book, Alice McKinley has good reason to be delighted. 


Newton has no regard for his individual safety, he is invincible, as most children seem to think they are. However, the scorpion on the front cover, lurking at Newton’s feet is a portent of things to come. Newton does the reckless exploring and the cat does the suffering in his wake, familiar? My sympathies are with the cat, who from page nine onwards has the scorpion firmly clamped to his tail.


This book is ideal for toddlers to those learning to read. The toddler will enjoy it, as the pictures tell the story in rich colour and graphic style. There is heaps to look at on each page, thus engaging the very young participant in spotting things, whilst the reader manages to reach the end of the short, forgiving text before the page is turned rather too quickly on occasions.  A feat which can be difficult to synchronise! 


The early stage reader will appreciate the brief text and visual clues.


Nine Lives Newton ticks all the boxes for a well rounded children’s picture book, suitable for daytime and bedtime stories. The artistic interpretation is the nectar to attract the bee and following on from that, the moral of the tale, epitomised by the ubiquitous scorpion. This will provide food for thoughtful discussion afterwards perhaps, in a school, play school or home setting? Roll on book number two. 


Elizabeth Negus

The Old Truck

Jerome Pumphrey, illus. Jarrett Pumphrey, pub. Norton Young Readers

The Old Truck is a quaint and pleasant picture book that shows how both keeping going, perseverance, and hard work are the right approach for success. We follow the little truck as the central character, whilst he learns and as we follow him he grows old. At the same time we meet a young girl who also grows as the story progresses.  The two are entwined and although this is primarily a story about the Old Truck the girl becomes an integral part of his story. 


It is lovely to see a female character associated with the male truck because books tend to be stereotypical and pair boys with them instead. 


The Old Truck gives the reader a warm feeling strongly reminiscent of and reflecting family relationships and bonds, at the same time it considers, on behalf of the reader, how perseverance can prove invaluable to reaching desired goals. 


The brothers who created this book have successfully drawn younger audiences in with their traditional and simplistic style illustrations and a text that is relatable and feels real. Young girls are likely to feel inspired by the young mechanic the girl in the book becomes as she grows up through the book.


Susan Thomas

One World

Michael Foreman, pub. Andersen Press

A stunningly illustrated picture book that is hugely relevant to today’s climate. This is a book that makes its reader think about the damage humans are causing the environment and encourages them to think more deeply about pollution. 


The story is about siblings who create their very own little habitat within a bucket on the beach as they play by the rock pools. The bucket has everything you could imagine accessing at the beach – wildlife, shells, oil even a tin can. Sadly the fact that the children include litter among the items they find on the beach and add to their bucket is a true reflection, a smaller version of what is unfortunately all around us on a much larger scale. Hopefully seeing this reality in a picture book will help children, encourage them to discuss the meaning of this, understand why it might be wrong and what they can do to help bring about a change. An interesting point for discussion but hopefully one that will not detract from an enjoyment of the story itself.


For not only is this a book to enjoy and fall in love with - the illustrative content in particular -  it is a book that makes the reader pause and reflect as they think through aspects of our daily lives that impact the world around us. 


This book would make a great learning tool for children learning about the environment in school. 


Samantha Thomas

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