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Animal Magnetism

Animals are a consistently strong feature in picture books and this round-up of titles that have come to Armadillo HQ in recent weeks is no exception.

As the autumn evenings set in, what better time to sit back and learn with a book? Explore the world. Make a few models. And all this can be done with just one book! Surprised? I thought you might be, which is why I decided to start this week's blog with Lego Animal Atlas from DK, a book which includes enough bricks to build four Lego animals whilst learning which parts of the world they live in. Having built your models – follow the expert instructions! – search for your animals to learn more about them and their habitats, placing them in their homes around the world. Cuddle the koala in the Australian Outback, swim with the mysterious giant squid and learn what a blue-footed booby is! Embark on an inspiring journey, discover the world and some of its amazing animals this autumn - and all from the comfort of your own home.

But how to follow such an interactive adventure? For me there was, I admit, little competition -for I may have mentioned in the past how much I love the work of author and illustrator Emily Gravett. Imagine my joy then when Cyril and Pat slipped from its envelope … Cyril is a squirrel, Pat is a rat – and that is only the start of the tongue-twisting rhyming story that makes this funny book a true page turner! But take time to absorb the delightful illustration; it's big and bold but hides a few secrets too if you look quite carefully... A true marriage of visual and textual literacy, this picture book will make you laugh at the misunderstandings of Cyril and Pat and delight at this unique tale of friendship.

Now for some titles featuring animals from the quirky and dare-to-be-different Gecko Press. Stephanie Blake, who many will know for her delightful Poo Bum books, is back! I’m the Biggest features cheeky rabbit Simon and his brothers, each vying to be the biggest - but who will win …? For more sibling fun, turn to Maria Jonsson’s Valdemar’s Peas. Discover the simply drawn but very effectively portrayed Wolf family as young Valdemar attempts to get ice cream without ever having to go near a pea! Sports are Fantastic Fun by Ole Konnecke highlights sports from football to skiing, riding to athletics and doesn't forget the likes of snooker or ballet. Every sport covers a double spread and is shown in all its guises. Many will make you laugh out loud, some may even tempt you to have a go! Brilliant fun for active and inactive sports enthusiasts at every age!

Now for a picture book which poses an interesting question: What Do You Do if Your House is a Zoo? asks John Kelly. Through her

exuberant illustrations, Steph Laberis (Little Tiger) attempts to help with the answer! When one little boy advertises for a pet, he has no idea just how many applicants there will be - or what he will do when they don't want to leave! Meerkats, a gorilla, hyenas, even a bull! The list goes on- and Oscar has no idea if the perfect pet is among them. Will he find out or will the perfect pet find him? With lots to learn about animals, this factual picture book to make you laugh too.

Having learned about the real habits of a variety of animals, now may be a good time to learn about good manners. In the jungle it is busy and the animals are misbehaving. Some are messy, like the monkeys, whilst others are just grumpy, like the grizzly bears. A touch of rhyme and some magical illustration should however help our young readers to learn just how important some manners can be - and who knows, maybe the characters will learn too?! In Mind Your Manners, written by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by Feronia Parker-Thomas (Caterpillar Books), this is a delightful introduction to manners and politeness.

Amy Husband’s The Noisy Foxes (Willow Tree books) features lots of NOISE! The foxes of the title may be noisy, but so is their house and, for that matter, their entire city! They mix and fix, hop and bop and even bang and clang. Cars honk and toot, and the foxes have to rely on megaphones to speak to one another. This has to stop! Perhaps the countryside will offer some peace? However, countryside homes seem to be dark ( like mole’s tunnel), wet (like frog’s pond) and - is it possible?! – too quiet ( like badger’s den)? Perhaps they need the city after all? With plenty of sound effects, vibrant colour and busy pages, this book really brings the sights and sounds of both city and countryside to life.

But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Taylor (Sterling Children’s Books), evokes mixed ides from its dust jacket cover: a bear in the rain under a lamppost, holding a suitcase. The end pages with their paw prints and the suitcase in the bears’ hand may give some additional clues... We are about to meet a bear who has been on his travels! Here is a bear who persists, in fact insists, on finding himself a home - but as far as the little boy is concerned, he doesn’t belong in houses, no matter which friends he brings along with him! Getting angry it seems may achieve the desired result, but is this really what the little boy wants? A story with a soft heart demonstrating the importance of acceptance and making home a place for one and all – no matter how big, messy or noisy they may be!

Having lost - and hopefully found! - a bear, it is time to use our skills to Help Find Frank. Anne Bollman’s (Sterling Children’s Books) story of the lost French bulldog needs a detective reader to help find him! A wanted poster goes up because even if his slobbery kisses may not always be wanted, or if he gets overexcited when playing cat and mouse or even if he is a bit smelly, he is still much loved and missed. Interview all those who saw him, follow the clues as to where he went next and see if you can indeed find Frank! A clever concept and a fun book to be enjoyed with friends.

It appears that bears are a strong theme in picture books this autumn with the next title including them as primary characters! Don’t Feed the Bear by Kathleen Doherty and illustrated by Chip Wass lures us in with a very grumpy-looking bear and a very cheerful-looking park ranger - but is all as it seems? Bear was having a great life, eating up all the leftovers courtesy of the picnickers' until the ranger interfered and then it was war … A battle of wits between the two commences to great hilarity for the reader. A war of words and a very funny story to boot, a great way to enjoy another book about bears - and get a whole new perspective on picnics!

And now for a new character, this time an anteater. The topic remains with food, so there is most certainly a common theme for us to follow - but now the question is not who will eat but what will be eaten! In Ross Collins’ What Does an Anteater Eat? (Nosy Crow), simple text belies a more complex consideration of what food we actually eat. Most of the animals know what they eat and probably what they want to eat too, but not the anteater! And it seems none of those he asks seem to know either. Some are just too busy on their own quest for food – the swooping bats are a prime example, but when it comes the turn of the ants to answer … Well, I will leave this one to your imagination!

There is a link to my last book (the last one for now, at least), but I can’t tell you what it is because it will reveal too much story and, well, that just wouldn’t be fair! Belinda Brown introduces a brand-new story and a brand-new character from David McKee (Andersen Press). Belinda is quite a character and she loves- No, that is not really a strong enough word - she adores bananas! What happens then when she is warned against eating too many of them for fear of becoming as bendy as one of her snacks? With delightfully rhyming text this new character and original story are guaranteed to make reading time, snack time, in fact any time full of bright yellow fun!

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