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annotated art work . Early on we have a double spread on ‘My Lunch,’ showing a huge lunch plate with dotted lines joining each food item to its origin: tomatoes from vines, milk products from cows and chicken legs from a hen. This leads naturally to pages with some simple

lunchtime recipes : fruit kebabs and mini veggie burgers. It is made clear where an activity needs adult supervision. Some tasks are familiar, for example those on the Growing of Seedlings pages. And there is a version of the often encountered ‘Spot the difference’ puzzle inviting young

readers to point out the small differences between two similar but not identical cross sections of a family home. The many games include a rather nice version of Snakes and Ladders with flowers, bees and dangerous frogs. Whether familiar or novel all the activities are clearly described,

5 – 8 Infant/Junior A First Book of Nature HHHH

Nicola Davies, ill, Mark Hearld, Walker Books, 108pp. 978-1-4063-0491-6, £14.99, hbk

Fear not, the redness of tooth and claw is hidden here from the young reader in this first encounter with the natural world – hidden along with the fat black plastic sacks in the corner of fields, the shooting of migrating birds, and the dying-back of the ash trees The introduction has an Edwardian beauty about it, allied to a wonderful affection for their theme on the part of both author and her closely-collaborating illustrator. Nicola Davies takes us through the seasons, not in any classroom fashion but with bits of fact (birds constructing nests, worms enriching the soil) intermingled with poetical musings (which include a nice breadmaker’s variant of ‘The House that Jack built’), and the practicalities of feeding birds or making compost and blackberry crumble (an excellent recipe). It’s all held together in this large and weighty volume by Mark Hearld’s kaleidoscopic shepherd’s-hay of designs. Biological exactitude makes way for visual excitement – but I wish to goodness I knew more about those spiderlings or where I might still buy a Hocking’s Green or a Blenheim Orange.

[An even weightier volume must be recommended to readers interested in Mark Hearld’s graphic work, appropriately titled Mark Hearld’s Work Book. Including one or two contributions by Simon Martin and Peter Scupham, it outlines his career – and especially the artists who have influenced his illustrative methods – and is packed full of examples with his own commentary on techniques. The book itself is designed by Nicola Bailey. (Merrell Publishers 194pp, 978-1-8589-4586-6 £30 hbk)]


Mariella Mystery Investigates The Ghostly Guinea Pig 978 1 4440 0888 3

Mariella Mystery Investigates A Cupcake Conundrum 978 1 4440 0890 6


Kate Pankhurst, Orion Children’s Books, 176pp, £4.99 pbk

Mariella, aged nine and a half, has her own detective agency with friends Poppy and Violet. She keeps a record of each investigation in a special top-secret journal. In The Ghostly Guinea Pig, she sets out to resolve the case of teacher Miss Crumble who is acting strangely, convinced she’s seen the ghost of her dead guinea pig glowing in the dark. Soon after this, there’s a sighting in the village of another ghostly

guinea pig. Bewilderingly, the case becomes ever more complicated when Mariella and her team notice strange goings-on at the local pet shop. In A Cupcake Conundrum, Violet, alongside four other competitors, enters the arduous Bake or Break competition. At every challenge, something unusual happens, so awakening Mariella’s suspicions of sabotage. Might the culprit be one of the competitors, determined to skew the results?

The stories, or journals, written from Mariella’s point of view, show her as a feisty and sympathetic character. They incorporate a mix of fiction and non-fiction, words and pictures about the case under discussion, her daily life and preoccupations. Small chunks of text, posters, labelled diagrams, instructions, biographies and wonderfully quirky drawings work well together to create a suspenseful adventure – with, even, tips on setting up a detective agency. Divided into short chapters and with a line space between paragraphs, the stories are ideal for building stamina in newly independent readers.

AF Claude in the Spotlight HHH

Alex T. Smith, Orchard Books, 96pp, 9781444909296, £4.99 pbk

Alex T. Smith is a rising star in children’s books. The first Claude book, Claude in the City was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2012 and selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club 2011, while the author-illustrator had two books on the Kate Greenaway Award longlist in 2013. Now on the fifth book in the Claude series, we have some idea of what to expect from the charming pup in a red beret. Claude in the Spotlight does not disappoint. In this story, an ordinary stroll through town leads to Claude and his pal Sir Bobblysock joining a dance troupe and performing at a variety show in the grand theatre. But when disaster almost strikes, it is Claude who saves the day. The text is ideal for early readers, combining simple language with humour and page-turning entertainment. Occasionally complex words will not be off-putting when the book as a whole is such an attractive package. Alex T. Smith’s illustrations are smart, playful and instantly recognisable, but it is his skill in creating drama out of bright comedy that makes the book such a compulsive read.

LF When Tom met Tallulah HHH

Rosie Reeve, Bloomsbury, 32pp, 978 1 4088 3699 6, £6.99 pbk

Tallulah’s understanding of new cat Tom’s needs enables him to settle almost immediately in his new home. She shows

him how to use the cat flap and even draws him a plan indicating the best places for cat napping. So impressed is Tom that he decides he should try to learn human and so studies Tallulah’s every move. Things take an unpleasant turn though when Tom starts emulating human behaviour, dressing up in Tallulah’s clothes and sleeping in her bed. Tallulah’s playing at being a cat sees Tom popping her in a cardboard box and trading her in at the pet shop.

A touch surreal and seemingly sinister, this story is reassuringly defused for young audiences through the gently humorous illustrations depicting Tom as a cute cuddly, playful kitten and Tallulah a willing participant in feline frolics. The open-ended finale leaves readers pondering and this particular reader less than satisfied.

JB Murdoch Mole’s Big Idea HHH

Georgie Adams, ill. Chris Fisher, Orion, 64pp, 9781444008241, £4.99 pbk

Georgie Adams and Chris Fisher’s 1995 picture book, Murdoch Mole’s Big Idea has been republished as an Early Reader title in Orion’s blue band ‘perfect for reading and sharing together’ alongside titles including Twit by Steve Cole and A Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy. It is a simple, pleasing story which fits the early reader format very well. The clear text is on a white background, separate from the bright, cheery illustrations, making reading straightforward. ‘The oak tree, which had stood for over two hundred years, blew down on Monday morning’ begins the story, launching us straight into an animal world where cheeky Bert the cat convinces Murdoch Mole he is responsible for felling enormous trees and building gigantic mole hills. When Murdoch discovers that he has caused none of these things himself, he is crestfallen. ‘Murdoch felt useless. A nobody. A very ordinary mole with silly big ideas.’ But when Murdoch’s other friends convince him that there is something very useful he can do, he learns that putting big ideas into action can lead to a deep satisfaction after all.


What is a Crocodile’s Favourite Thing?


Ben Hawkes, Jonathan Cape, 32pp, 978 1 780 08022 2, £5.99 pbk

Well, what IS a crocodile’s favourite thing? It isn’t ‘doing a ballet while dressed as a princess’ or ‘riding a tricycle made of jelly on the moon’ or any of the myriad other things that this wacky picture book suggests. The author tells us ‘this is a very silly book’ and he is so right! It’s also a very funny book and the illustrations are wondrous. The animals who try to decide

just what the crocodile likes best are square at the bottom and round at the top, and while they are ostensibly a monkey, a racoon (I think), an elephant, and a lion, they are beings like no others. The whole production is so full of unusual concepts and imaginative ideas that it simply explodes with animation. And the poor crocodile must put up with all the silly ideas thrown at him! When we finally discover just what the croc likes best of all, it isn’t really a surprise, knowing what crocodiles are like! Ben Hawkes is a new talent and definitely one to watch. Oh, and I do hope his ‘dedication’ worked: ‘This books is dedicated to my love Zinia – will you marry me?’

ES We Have Lift Off! HHHH

Sean Taylor, ill. Hannah Shaw, Frances Lincoln, 32pp. 978 1 84780 322 1, £11.99 hbk

Farmer Mr Tanner abuses his livestock and pollutes the air, water and land around him. Time to do something about it, decide the long-suffering animals. They hold a clandestine meeting and come up with an ambitious plan, a plan involving building an intergalactic rocket to transport them into the clear, clean skies beyond the reaches of human beings. Having built the rocket, a test flight is needed, decrees its designer. Three abortive attempts later, the animals are no nearer their goal but then who should discover the rocket but Mr Tanner himself. Greatly amused, he takes a look inside and … 5…4…3…2..1……

Not exactly what the animals had in mind originally but before long the word has spread and Mr Tanner isn’t the only earth-polluting human bound for outer space.

Narrated by a rosette-sporting chicken that becomes the first hen in space, albeit very briefly, the whole thing is hilarious and Hannah Shaw’s madcap illustrations with their attention to delicious detail are the ideal match for Taylor’s timely tale. With its wacky way of getting across the pollution message this one will assuredly appeal. JB

Arthur and the Mystery of the Egg 978-1907912160

Arthur and the Earthworms 978-1907912177


Johanne Mercier, translated by Daniel Hahn, ill Clare Elsom, Phoenix Yard Books, 48pp, £4.99 pbk

A pleasing pair of stories for younger readers, these are ideal for those developing confidence and independence in their reading. Arthur is a happy character

Books for Keeps No.200 May 2013 23

often with numbered stages, and with clear and attractive illustrations. Not all children are lucky enough to have a back garden, but many of the outdoor activities suggested - sketching plants and animals for example - could take place in a park. MM

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