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BfK Bear’s Best Friend HHHH

Lucy Coats, ill. Sarah Dyer, Bloomsbury, 32pp, 978 1 4088 2726 0, £5.99 pbk

Bear wants a best friend; he has plenty of friends but seemingly he’s the only one without a best friend. What Bear does have however, is a special talent for topiary. So, as he snippety snips and clippety-clips to create special tree pictures for each of his pals, Bear is deep in thought pondering on the special quality of each one. His artful snippings are so successful that he is soon inundated by requests for personal portraits, though there is still no sign of that elusive best friend. Then, just when things become overwhelming, Bear hears a small voice behind him, an ursine voice no less and its owner has another special quality: ‘Twirly, swirly, curly, cuddly, huggly, snuggly hair’ – just perfect for a best friend!

JB Oh Dear, Geoffrey! HHH

Gemma O’Neill, Templar, 32pp, 9781-84877, £10.99 hbk

Poor Geoffrey is so tall he cannot fit onto a page, and so ungainly he keeps falling over his long, spindly legs. With childlike openness he twists himself into knots trying to make friends in the jungle, only to scare everyone away. It is not until he explores his own lofty world around his head that he meets arboreal creatures who love him just the way he is. In a book that celebrates being who you are, this charming character wins the affection of us all.

Written and illustrated by Gemma O’Neill, the text is fresh and original and the illustrations are vibrant. For a newcomer O’Neill shows a mature knowledge of type and layout; the text is given room to breathe and the pictures have lots of airy, white space contrasted by the explosive use of pattern and splashy texture. Boldly confident, the pictures are cleverly cut to emphasize Geoffrey’s height, while the energetic action appears to be an exciting use of Photoshop (though one can never be sure).

Accepting your differences has found a delightful champion in Geoffrey. JNH

Naked Trevor HHHH

Rebecca Elliott, Templar, 32pp, 978-1848773233, £6.99, pbk

This delightful picturebook makes readers privy to a well-kept secret - all birds are naked, but cover this each day with feathered clothes appropriate for different species. But Naked Trevor rebels at this; he doesn’t want to wear any outfit, especially not that of a sparrow, the choice of his parents and many relatives, all of whom we see perched on the family tree. Trevor goes in search of his own outfits, but being

young and so far, poor at flight, his crash-landings ensure that he acquires a coating of mud to which leaves and flowers adhere. This convinces him he’ll have to start wearing a feather costume, but so impressed are all the other birds at his startling plumage that by acclaim, they agree he should keep his wonderful costume and cast off their own traditional coverings to rejoice in being naked.

The colours are appropriately bright – except for the sparrows , emphasising Trevor’s reluctance to join the flock. Fold-outs on a couple of pages intensify the surprises of his attire, and the text gracefully leads readers from page to page as Trevor’s story unfolds. The underlying message about being different is nicely concealed under the covering of an entertaining story with an attractive hero.

VC Lion vs Rabbit HHHH

Alex Latimer, Random House, 30pp, 978 0 552 56541 7, £5.99 pbk

The animals on the African savannah have had enough. Lion is a bully who specialises in wedgies, sticking silly notes on other animals and stealing lunch money. But their pleas to Lion to stop fall on deaf ears. Then the animals have an idea – they’ll post an internet ad asking for help.

At first this doesn’t go well and a range of animals respond to the advert only to leave quickly with their tails between their legs. But then Rabbit arrives ... Is he a match for Lion? Is he brave enough, strong enough or smar t enough to teach Lion a lesson? And how can Rabbit show the other animals that there’s safety in numbers?

Detailed, vibrant images tell the story independently of the text, which is ideal for emergent readers. When you have finished reading the story, it’s worth going through the book again to find the key to Rabbit’s success and the clues that are given about the twist in the story. Check out the cover, too!

This book is not only fun for young children and early readers, it also contains a positive message about standing up to bullies and the value of team work.

GR I Got a Crocodile HHHH

Nicola Killen, Simon and Schuster, 32pp, 978 0 85707 578 9, £6.99 pbk

A small child’s wish for a brother or sister results in something of a surprise – a crocodile one no less. Initially, this new ‘sibling’ is fun to have around but soon causes terrible trouble at teatime. Bathtime and bedtime are equally bothersome and there’s nothing worse than being tailed by a crocodile (even an imaginary one) everywhere you go. Despite all this, crocodile and our young narrator become totally in tune with one another’s feelings so

reviews Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant

perhaps, friendship and fun are more important than trials and tribulations. There’s lots of lovely alliteration in this book and I’m sure that very soon its cute child narrator won’t be the only one charmed by crocodile; with his bright green bubblewrap print skin and red striped jumper, he’s irresistible. JB

Prince Charmless HHHH

Jeanne Willis, illus Tony Ross, Andersen Press, 32pp, 978-1-84939-512-0, £10.99 hbk

From the award winning team of Ross and Willis, here is another royal minor who rocks the once peaceful palace with his naughtiness. With zippy action, colourful deftness and bold shadows, Tony Ross’s characters splash across the page so fast, we feel their pace in each energetic line; Willis’ clever words and situations will tickle readers young and old.

From the moment he is born nothing is good enough for the precocious little Prince Charmless. Like babies many have known, he is ornery and contrary, shrieking demands and complaints from the moment he is born. ‘I don’t want toast soldiers! I want toast sailors!’ ‘I don’t want those old donkeys, I want six white unicorns!’

With a nod to that other ghastly royal, the Red Queen, the overworked chauffeur paints the shining black stallions white and attaches walking stick horns to their heads, but of course it’s not good enough. Hilariously sending up parents who give in to their offsprings’ unreasonable demands, the parents and palace staff twist themselves into pretzels attempting to accommodate the little monster. Cleverly getting into the minds of children who are trying to make sense of the world and their place in it, Prince Charmless demonstrates that kids can have the power, if they’re loud and determined enough.

Thank goodness it has to stop. The palace workers pack their bags leaving the squalling Prince to his own devices. But hey ho, it’s all a big surprise as the slowing down brings unexpected pleasures to the little prince, who turns out to be charming after all.

At a time when government officials are telling us UK children are being too babied, and their imaginations stifled with too many organized activities, this book is a timely reminder to allow children the freedom to learn from their own mistakes.

JNH Lunchtime HHHH

Rebecca Cobb, Macmillan, 32pp, 978 0 230 749535, £6.99 pbk

A little girl is so absorbed in drawing animals she doesn’t want lunch, but Mum makes her sit at the table. Arms crossed, she stubbornly contemplates her soup, sandwich and apple; then, magically, the animals she has drawn

all appear around her, hungrily eying her food. Crocodile, bear and wolf soon polish it off – it’s much nicer than eating small children - and back to playing she goes. But hunger soon sets in and later every scrap of dinner is eaten, despite the hungry faces of the threesome who reappear, hoping for another snack. Cobb’s line is sketchy and scratchy and her colours match those found in a child’s paint box. Plenty of white space also contributes to the sense that the child’s own art and that of the picturebook maker coincide and allows for the imaginative intrusion of the helpful animals. All we see of Mum is a pointing hand, her absence reinforcing the sense that this is the nameless girl’s own story. A nice conclusion on the back endpaper and back cover show her bearing a tray with milk and goodies for her waiting helpers. Just shows, picturebooks don’t always end inside the covers! VC

Superfrog and the Big Stink HHH

Michael Foreman, Andersen Press, 32pp, 978-1-84939-516-8, £10.99 hbk

Superfrog is the jet-propelled hero who saves the day when the big city is becoming too polluted and his once pretty pond too clogged up with stinking rubbish. Tapping into the bathroom humour of young readers, Superfrog emits super farts so strong, they send him into the sky. Pied Piper like, Super frog is then followed by an ever-growing army of children who cheer him on, as he flies to the tallest tower where the villain of the piece does his dirty business.

‘Stop spoiling our world!’ the children shout and when the nasty little man tries to ignore their request, Superfrog points his bum at him and threatens to blow him away with his supersonic farts. So the leaking pipes are mended, the rubbish recycled and the river cleaned. Superfrog returns to his sparkling pond, forever keeping a weather eye on the now improved city.

Micheal Foreman’s watercolours are a perfect conduit for this nature-loving story and there is some evocative writing which demonstrates his undoubted

Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013 21

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