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reviews Superfrog! HHHH

Michael Foreman, Andersen, 32pp, 978 1 84939 209 9, £10.99 hbk

Foreman’s familiar blue and green palette and liking for wide-angle depiction of scenes are to the fore in creating atmosphere for this spoof superhero tale of Little Frank, a frog

from Pond City who turns into Superfrog when a gang of toads steal frog spawn that his granny was babysitting. Quickly responding, Little Frank transforms himself into his alter ego, Superfrog, by breathing in great mouthfuls of air. Duly superendowed, he dives into the depths of the underwater underworld where he vanquishes the horny toad who is the leader of the gang, and liberates tadpoles, tiddlers and frog spawn all packed into his big, fat belly. There are delightful visual and verbal plays on the superhero and crime noir genres here, but none that are above the heads of young readers – a characteristic of Foreman’s work is the huge respect he always shows to his audience. Of course, a young princess appears at the end, but she doesn’t kiss our Superhero in case ‘he turned into a boring prince’. And how superheroes are propelled is also revealed here, no doubt to the delight of gas and bottom-obsessed


Beautifully paced and great fun for all. VC

Pirate House Swap HHHH

Abie Longstaff, ill. Mark Chambers, Picture Corgi, 24pp, 978 0 552 56081 8, £5.99 pbk novelty

After years of spending their summer holidays on DIY and other mundane activities, the Clark family are determined to do something different. So, a house swap seems the ideal thing especially one advertised like this: ‘Lovely timber home. Picturesque views. Right on the sea – fish, swim and sail! Sleeps four.’ Armed with a map, they set off but as we know – even if the Clarks don’t – adverts can be more than a little deceptive and their holiday home is unexpected to say the least for this family of landlubbers. Their city house tenants meanwhile are making the most of the facilities the Clarks have left behind. Thus, we have two holidays unfolding in parallel as each group becomes more and more settled in until, all too soon, it’s time to head home once more. However, the surprises don’t end there. For the Clark family certainly, things are not quite as they left them.

Told in comic strip style with gatefold pages, this is essentially a picture book for young readers to explore for themselves or for sharing one to one or with a small group of listeners. It certainly merits close attention.

JB Bubble Trouble HHHHH

Margot Mahy, ill. Polly Dunbar, Frances Lincoln, 40pp, 978 1 84780 186 9, £6.99 pbk

Told in Mahy’s exuberant style, this frolicking, rollicking rhyming story tells of a baby who, when his sister blows a bubble, accidentally becomes trapped

inside and is blown away. Said baby is pursued by an assortment of zany characters who become involved in his attempted rescue. Full of suspense, in more ways than one, Mahy’s hilarious text will challenge even the most experienced storyteller not to mention young listeners, but with its amalgam of rich, deliciously mind-stretching vocabulary (‘nefarious intentions’), alliterative phrases (‘calculated catchwork’; ‘Copple couple came cavorting)’, glorious nonsense words (‘flum-a’diddle)’ and more. It is well wor th the effor t; almost every conceivable language lesson is painlessly embedded therein.

5 – 8 Infant/Junior Zoo Girl

Rebecca Elliott, Lion, 32pp, 978 0 7459 6270 2, £5.99 pbk

Using a minimum of words (only 19) and a riot of pattern and colour, this lively picture book introduces us to a lonely little girl who has no family and lives in a children’s home. While the home is seen to be forbidding and institutional, the carer who looks after the children is loving and caring and the other children are happy. But this one child is not. During a zoo visit she is inadver tently left behind but finds friends galore. The animals love her, and after a joyous play time with them all, she falls asleep cuddled amongst the tigers. Discovered by the zoo keepers who are a childless couple, the little girl finds her home and her family with them – and lots of friends. She is a child with special needs who has found those needs fulfilled in a special way. You don’t need to accept that a child would hardly be playing with polar bears and tigers to understand that each child is different and each family is different and that the important thing is matching one with the other.

Young audiences can follow the baby-bearing bubble as it loops and swoops on its perilous path by tracing the line of blue dashes across the pages. Polly Dunbar captures the mood quite brilliantly with her soft water colour illustrations. The portrayal of baby seemingly in blissful repose and loving every minute until disaster strikes, is a splendid counterpoint to the anguished expressions of her pursuers. The tender expressions of his mother and sister as they hug the babe

It is the pictures that tell this story. Absolutely full of detail, with even the grass, the walls and the sky full of distinct and subtle pattern, the expressive faces of the people and animals, the richness of colour, and the poignancy of the story add up to an outstanding picture book. While it will be very useful for children with unusual families, particularly those adopted, all children will respond to the need for love and acceptance and be happy that the little girl has found her special place.

Editor’s Choice

This Little Teddy HHHH

Lucy Lyes, ill. Emily Bolam, Ladybird, 12pp, 978 1 40930 842 3, £5.99 novelty board

This satisfyingly robust ‘touch-and-feel’ board book has five double page spreads each featuring a different teddy bear. On the verso, a friendly rhyme introduces the bear’s name and invites the very young reader to stroke the furry tummy/touch the

fuzzy ears/feel the smooth paw pads/touch the shiny raincoat. The final spread invites greater participation as baby is invited to choose a name for the bear with the silky blue bow. Emily Bolam’s cheerful illustrations have just the right amount of detail.

This unpretentious publication with its combination of tactile, language and illustrative elements is ideal for parents and other carers to enjoy sharing with small children. How wonder ful it is that early developmental needs are being met with well pitched and accessible titles such as this. There is a companion volume, This Little Pirate. RS

safely in their arms are heart-warming indeed.


Rebecca Elliott has already written about her own two children in two earlier books, and this story goes further to prove she is a new talent to be reckoned with.

ES The Little White Sprite HHH

Gillian McClure, Plaister Press, 32pp, 978 0 9565108 1 5, £5.99 pbk

The War ty Tree that stands apar t seems to whisper and beckon as the young narrator walks in the park. When he, or possibly she (gender is ambiguous like much in this story), approaches, the ‘cold, hard hands’ of the little sprite who lives in the Warty Tree reach out to drag him in. They climb to the top of the tree where the sight of his dog waiting on the ground breaks the hold of the Sprite, and the narrator chooses to return to the dog, the adults who accompany him and their young baby whose appearance resembles that of the Sprite. The adults look quite different from the older child – he is blond while they are dark and possibly Asian – and they seem more concerned with the baby. This gives the story layers of possible meaning. Are the adults not his parents? And is the encounter with the Sprite an imaginative journey, possibly triggered by jealous feelings towards the baby? These are complex questions and may be bewildering for a young audience, but then, children are often much better than adults at constructing meaning in narrative.

The illustrations’ somewhat tremulous line and pastel tones also heighten the sense of the uncanny in this rather unsettling story that demands several readings, and even then, leaves questions looking for answers.

VC Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 21

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