Friday, 20 June 2014

First Steps in reading for young children

Do You Speak English, Moon?
Written by Francesca Simon
Illustrated by Ben Court
Orion £9.99
ISBN: 978-1444001556
Confronting the loneliness of his room in those quiet moments before sleep, a boy begins a one-sided conversation with the kindly looking moon outside his window. Horrid Henry author, Francesca Simon, takes readers on a reflective stroll through the boy’s imaginings as he finds company and reassurance at a time of day many children find worrying. Ben Court’s vibrant full-page illustrations bring to life helter-skelter ice creams, mermaids, pirates and friendly constellations with brilliant colour and energy. Gentle and comforting – a bedtime favourite in the making!
Megan Stanfield

Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde
Written by Joyce Dunbar
Illustrated by Jill Barton
Frances Lincoln £6.99
ISBN: 978-1847804921
Sitting here, looking at our sweet, velvety, black cat, sprawled on a chair, waving his legs in the air, I wonder, “Can he really be a ferocious hunter in disguise?”. Well, yes, the evidence has been deposited at the bottom of the stairs on many occasions! This is the theme of Puss Jekyll Cat Hyde, a lovely book. The illustrations are wonderfully observed and focus on the cat itself with no distractions. The different aspects of cat behaviour are caught to perfection. The beauty of the language is a delight with great rhythm and rhyme. For young readers it can be shared, re-told, discussed and can be enjoyed at that simple level. With older children, the dichotomy of the nature of the domestic cat can be discussed, but it is the richness of the language that older children will enjoy and that will hopefully stimulate their own use of language, both written and spoken.
Patricia Thompson

Troll and the Oliver
Written and illustrated by Adam Stower
Templar £10.99
ISBN: 978-1848773523
Every day Oliver goes shopping and every day a turquoise troll with green eyes and a gap-toothed grin tries, haplessly, to catch him. Oliver is really glad about this and over hills and bridges, through woods and fields, he sings his song of triumph. The forlorn and very hungry troll returns to munch sticks and stones. At last, he successfully works out how to catch the over-confident little boy, but with unexpected results, for Oliver finishes up making cakes for the troll to prevent him menacing small children ... and there’s a clear and detailed troll cupcake recipe for everyone to share. A lively, funny, amusingly illustrated book which young children will love ... and using the recipe may enhance their reading skills too.
Tina Massey

Written by Gillian Shields
Illustrated by Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Hodder (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1444904017
Ellie is a child used to getting her own way, because if she doesn’t she has a massive tantrum. She has everything she wants but it is never enough. She decides she wants a real elephant and throws a major strop until her father gives in and gets one for her. However, she soon learns that elephants have minds of their own, as they won’t be bossed around and also they have a singular way of teaching small children about manners, behaviour and friendship. This is a delightfully quirky story with whimsical illustrations that are gentle, but full of humour, and that really support and enhance the text very well. Suitable for both reading aloud and sharing together, this provides a good moral lesson for children wrapped up in a laugh-out-loud story.
Annie Everall

Captain Brainpower and the Mighty Mean Machine
Written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd
HarperCollins (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007324781
From the quirky imagination that gave us Mr Pusskins and Dr Miaow comes another enjoyably offbeat picture book for young readers. With more than a passing resemblance to Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, the story’s central character has a pleasing familiarity that will draw the reader in, and his mouse companion is instantly loveable. There are maps and detailed spreads, ideal for little fingers to trace and explore, as we follow the two friends on their nail-biting adventure into the rubbish dump and across the path of its dogged oppressor, the Mighty Mean Machine. The text is cleverly designed to form part of the visual storytelling, and contains pleasingly childish rhymes, as well as brilliant words like ‘Bamboozled’ that will ignite giggles and encourage participation. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about this book is that it values intelligence and innovation as superpowers and encourages children to consider the act of thinking as a worthwhile exercise with which great feats can be accomplished.
Rowan Stanfield

Mr Wuffles!
Written and illustrated by David Wiesner
Andersen £11.99
ISBN: 978-1849397803
Two worlds collide in this inventive picture book from Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner. Mr Wuffles is a black cat uninterested in playing with balls of rubber bands or clockwork mice because an alien spaceship has crash landed in the hall! As the aliens leave the safety of the control room to seek help, they are confronted by a huge black monster with sharp claws, which chases them underneath the radiator. Through a crack they discover a room. On the floor are a coin, a pencil, matches, some string and a few toys. The walls are decorated with pictures of the cat’s struggles with the insects that live there, like prehistoric art on a cave wall. Soon the aliens make friends with the ants and the ladybirds, but, will they be able to find a way of getting back passed Mr Wuffles and back to their spaceship to make the necessary repairs? It requires great skill to tell a story without using any words and still captivate the attention of the reader, but Wiesner’s masterpiece, with its new perspective on the world, is sure to appeal to older children.
Richard Monte

Written and illustrated by Emily Hughes
Flying Eye £11.99
ISBN: 978-1909263086
Finding a baby, the forest creatures look after her; Bird teaching her to speak, Bear how to eat, Fox how to play, “And she understood, and was happy”. There is a warmth, exquisite beauty and fine detail to the artwork, but its mood changes when the humans arrive. The sky blackens and all is sharper and more austere. Once rescued, she is taken in by a famous psychiatrist and his family, where even the family dog and cat appear disenchanted, if not completely unhappy, and the lady of the house is not only formidable but blatantly terrifying. Eventually, enough is enough and it is the baby, now a toddler, who leads the dog and the cat to a happier existence. “Everyone remembered how she left, and all knew it was right. Because you cannot tame something so happily wild…” A very special book with stunning artwork! Note the inclusion of a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Gill Roberts

The Magical Life of Mr. Renny
Written and illustrated by Leo Timmers
Translated by Bill Nagelkerke
Gecko £6.99
ISBN: 978-1877467899
This talented Belgian author brings his experience as a successful comic-strip artist into this lavishly illustrated story. Its hero, the dog artist, Mr. Renny, discovers that he can turn his paintings into reality, starting with a single apple, depicted Magritte-style against a green background, and finishing with a brand new mansion. Each illustration piles one surreal image on another, with various fantastical animals watching on as Mr. Renny finally decides he would like to return all his paintings to their original form. Totally original and unique, this picture book benefits from any amount of re-reading, each one discovering yet more artful detail, previously unnoticed.
Nicholas Tucker

I am a Woolly Hat
Written by Salma Koraytem
Retold by Vivian French
Illustrated by Betania Zacarias
Orion (eB) £4.99
ISBN: 978-1444008449
This tale has a simple, straightforward, but very interesting, text. The attractive illustrations have the texture of crayons, in warm autumn hues, and are set at unusual angles, giving the reader glimpses of Basma and her family life. Basma is a little girl who poses the deceptively simple question, “What is love?” and speculates about the answer. She wonders whether love has a shape like a long elephant’s trunk, or thin spaghetti, or does it have a colour like the blue summer sky? She asks her Mum who replies that love is like the clothes we wear in winter which keep us warm. Basma does not understand but as she goes to ask each of her family in turn what they think love is, she finds the answer herself in their actions, and understands just what her Mum means. This is such a special little book with a lasting message and illustrations to treasure and just right for a first reader to share.
Louise Stothard

When I Grow Up…
Written and illustrated by Patrick George
PatrickGeorge £8.99
ISBN: 978-1908473103
This is a lovely sharing picture book introducing children to the different jobs that people do and to promote thought as to what they would like to be when they grow up. As good as any dressing-up box, it encourages children to dream about becoming anything they like and perhaps to aspire to great things! So simple and yet so clever! Young children will enjoy turning the transparent pages which each transform a child into a pilot, a zoo-keeper, an astronaut, an artist or a superhero. There are also plenty of opportunities to talk about the different jobs that people do in your family. What other jobs can they think of? My young daughter particularly liked the pirate page! Perhaps we have an aspiring pirate on our hands!
Louise Mundford

I Miss My Pet
Written by Pat Thomas
Illustrated by Lesley Harker
Wayland £7.99
ISBN: 978-0750280112
Here is a picture book about the death of pets, designed to be read in a family or school setting to provide comfort and a means of discussion at the time of a pet’s death. The text is straightforward, honest and sensitive. It explains that while we all would like our pets to be with us forever, it is natural and inevitable that they eventually die. These matter of fact explanations are occasionally enhanced by ‘What about you?’ questions directed at the reader and providing a useful prompt for discussion about the issues raised by the text and pictures. The illustrations are colourful and clear, portraying a range of families with their pets in various situations: being played with, in illness, at the vet, in death or being remembered. At the back of the book is some useful guidance for adults on how to use the book with children, with ideas for classroom activity as well as very reassuring words about various ways in which children might react to the death of a much-loved pet. This is a well-designed and well-written book which should provide helpful to families and teachers at difficult times.
Liz Dubber

Love Monster & the Perfect Present
Written and illustrated by Rachel Bright
HarperCollins (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007487912
Most parents, and indeed grandparents, will have found themselves navigating the minefield of children’s materialistic demands and expectations around events like birthdays and Christmas. We want our kids to feel valued and special, but to also appreciate the sentiment behind the gift as much as the actual gift that gets unwrapped. A genuinely moving story of love between two monsters, Love Monster & the Perfect Present advocates a more meaningful and heartfelt approach to such ritualistic giving, stressing the importance of the thought behind the gift, and the love with which it is given. After realising that his few pennies and buttons won’t get him any of the “shinyful” things from Planet Present, Love Monster makes his own gift to give his special monster friend on Present Day, concluding that “the perfect present doesn’t have to cost the earth to mean the world”. Because it is told in such a colourful, humorous and visually engaging way, the message is never preachy or overly worthy. The apparent secular nature of Present Day and the ambiguous gender of Love Monster’s special someone makes for an inclusive read that could be appreciated by all cultures and family set-ups.
Rowan Stanfield

Two Trickster Tales from Russia
Retold by Sophie Masson
Illustrated by David Allan
Christmas Press £10.79
ISBN: 978-0992283803
Christmas Press is a new venture featuring traditional tales from around the world, presented by well-known authors. These high-spirited stories from Russia, retold in a lively manner by celebrated Australian author Sophie Masson, are the perfect way to keep young readers entertained. There is a delightful mischievousness about a little girl outwitting a bear by hiding in a basket of pies and a clever cat and thrush who save their less astute rooster friend from the jaws of a cunning old fox. The two tales have elements of Little Red Riding Hood and Aesop’s Fables about them, while the bright colourful illustrations by David Allan, have an old-fashioned charm which complements this beautifully produced book. Each edition comes complete with an audio CD, making them good teaching aids for the classroom.
Richard Monte

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