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reviews The Big Splash

Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant Nightbear


A. H. Benjamin, illustrated by Jon Lycett-Smith, Digital Leaf, 32p, 9781909428324, £11.99hbk


Rebecca Patterson, Jonathan Cape, 32pp, 978 1 780 08008 6, £6.99 pbk

There is a noise in the woods; it is coming nearer...and nearer. One by one the animals, peacefully minding their own business, flee, until they can go no further. Turning to face the monster, they discover it is...well that is the surprise.

This is a lively picture book with appropriately lively illustrations. The constant repetitions of key phrases -”The ground shook and shuddered”...”It was a terrible noise” - lends a satisfying rhythm to the text making it an ideal story to read aloud. It also heightens the suspense adding drama and finally humour when the surprise is revealed. This is further enhanced by a very effective fold out scene. Clear font that does not resort to too many distracting gimmicks and well placed text that encourages the reader to turn the page further recommend this book as one to share.

FH Pig and Small HHHH

Alex Latimer, Random House Children’s Books,32pp, 978 0 552 56543 1, £6.99 pbk

When Pig wakes up with a squeaking snout, the last thing he expects to find is a new friend. Bug is tiny compared to Pig but they are determined to be friends. Bug bakes a cake but Pig eats it in one bite, they ride a tandem but Pig has to do all the peddling. It seems their friendship is doomed. But a ninja-pirate film at the cinema gives them lots to talk about and soon they find all sorts of things they can enjoy together. Being different doesn’t get in the way of being a good friend.

Alex Latimer’s fourth picture book is another modern delight. His illustrations are fresh and funny and it’s nice to see the ninja of his first book popping up briefly here. The tale of an unlikely friendship is nothing new but Pig and Small’s story is endearing and amusing. Latimer is a picture book talent to keep an eye on, breathing new life into timeless territory.


The little yellow bear has led a tough life. Given to children who don’t love him, he is donated to a charity shop where he sits on a shelf for years. When a little girl buys him for 50 pence, he is delighted, and when they get home, he discovers she has six other bears, each of whom has a special job in the little girl’s life. Some of these jobs are difficult, not to say dangerous! Frank has to do stunts and is thrown up in the air, Betty Blue must ride on the back seat of the little girl’s bike and is often thrown off. All the bears lead a very active life, whether it is being dressed up or dancing, but the little yellow bear doesn’t have a job at all. This is sad for him, until he realises that all the other bears are too tired to be awake for her at night. She tells him stories and cuddles him, and one night when she is sick, he is there for her, to the point of getting some sick on his fur and having to be washed in the washing machine. He tells us he doesn’t mind, and now he is happy because he has a special job; he is Nightbear. The cover of this lovely picture book has night-time sparkle as well as a picture of the little girl cuddling her Nightbear, and the illustrations are a jolly treat. Full of messy pictures of the little girl doing all sorts of dire and wonderful things with her teddies, they epitomise how children play with their best-loved toys. And the little girl’s expressive face when she wakes from a frightening dream is spot on. Everyone should have a Nightbear! ES

Boom, Baby, Boom Boom! HHHH

Margaret Mahy, ill:Margaret Chamberlain, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, 978-1-84780-410-5, £11.99hbk

When Mama offers Baby a delicious lunch, she doesn’t know the animals are listening at the window. But as soon as Mama starts relaxing in her favourite pastime of banging the drums with a ‘Boom diddy-boom-biddy Boom Boom Boom’, the animals scramble for the door.

And against the syncopated rhythms of the drumbeat and musical language, the animals amble, scuttle, lollop and creep into the kitchen to feast off Baby’s lunch, thrown excitedly from her highchair. Before Mama can stop her drumming, the animals have trotted and cantered off. Fortunately for Baby, she doesn’t go hungry because her Mama gives her a lovely banana for pudding.

Margaret Mahy could make any story special with her love of language and narrative and her words are well

served by the rich, creamy-painted illustrations full of vivacity and verve. A winning partnership.


Stanley’s Garage 978 0 857 55110 8 Stanley the Farmer 978 0 857 55110 8


William Bee, Jonathan Cape, 32pp, £8.99 each

Stanley is a hamster who seems able to turn his hand or rather paws, to all manner of roles. In the first title he’s the owner of a garage and sporting a red cap, he’s at the ready to dispense petrol, pump tyres, change wheels, top up an overheated radiator and provide a tow as and when his pals require his assistance. All in a day’s work of course and what does our furry friend do then? Relax with a cuppa and a hot bath then turn in for a good night’s sleep. Ready for another day’s work as …

a farmer. Stanley has a farm too and a shiny red tractor. On this particular day he has wheat seeds to plant so it’s a good thing that Shamus shrew is there to assist. His role is to spread the muck and keep the hopper topped up with seeds while Stanley drives up and down, then Little Woo joins them to help with the watering. Later, when the wheat is ready for harvesting, it’s three pairs of paws on deck once more and then Stanley is off home to end his day in his characteristic way.

With engaging characters, introductory questions, themes that capture and sustain young children’s interest and simple, but informative storylines together with bright, uncluttered images, touches of gentle humour and tools of the trade frontpapers, these sturdily bound books are just right for the heavy handling they are likely to receive by enthusiastic preschoolers.

JB Little Answer HHHH

Tim Hopgood, Picture Corgi, 32pp 978 0 552 56778 7, £6.99 pbk

A new picture book from Tim Hopgood is always an exciting proposition. Stunning design and an abundance of creative colours mark this is out as another triumph for Tim. In Little Answer the beautiful artwork is matched with a text that is as worldly and wise as it fantastic and funny. Little Answer is lost, he knows ‘Sausages!’ is the answer to something but he isn’t sure what. Everyone has lots of questions but he doesn’t seem to fit any of them, until he meets Daisy, who is wondering about her dinner.

Great picture books inspire conversation and the very best become as familiar one of the family – it is easy to imagine ‘Sausages!’ becoming a household refrain, and the little answer to every possible

question. Fantastically the real answers to all the animals’ questions are included – but shouting ‘Sausages!’ is so much more fun! KC

Squirrel’s Busy Day HHH

Lucy Barnard, QED publishing 978 1 7817 1136 1, £4-99 pbk

A RED squirrel! It is autumn, so off he sets to collect acorns, using his old trolley. Every friend he meets wants him to play, or stop and chat, but Squirrel rebuffs them all, he has no time for any of them. He just concentrates on filling that trolley. Come the time to get his hoard home, the trolley is full and very, very heavy. What should he do when the handle snaps? Acorns fly everywhere. Exhausted Squirrel is so relieved when all his friends, previously rejected, fly or run to his rescue. There is a lovely double spread for counting; ONE acorn found under a leaf by Mouse, TWO beside some mushrooms by Fox, THREE amongst fir cones,… each character painted in bold colours within clear outlines. Once more the trolley is full, and this time all the friends help get it home. Squirrel shows his appreciation for their help, apologising for being in such a hurry earlier. Badger tells him that’s what friends are for, to help when needed, but Squirrel merrily adds, also for playing! The book closes with a page of ideas for further discussion especially talking about the importance of friendship. Children will love identifying all the creatures scattered through the book that are not main characters, and the story would be great fun to enact in the classroom.

GB Elmer and the Monster HHHH

David McKee, Andersen, 28 pp, 978 1 78344 053 5, £11.99, hbk

Elmer fans will probably guess what’s

going on here as Elmer meets animal after animal fleeing from the ear-splitting roar of an unseen monster, and the incorrigible and ever curious patchwork pachyderm goes steadfastly, though, as he says, carefully, towards the danger. The monster Elmer eventually meets is a small blue hairy ball with a face (remember the 1970s gonks?). Bloo Bloo’s deafening roar is intended to keep away all those scary jungle animals that he keeps hearing on his way home. Elmer is still the same daring, caring eccentric he has been for twenty five years. McKee’s jungle is as vibrant and busy as ever. And his storytelling is as expertly paced. You won’t be surprised to learn that it all ends with a penultimate gleeful spread of all the animals playfully jumping out of their skins at Bloo Bloo’s roar, and a final triumphant animal procession carrying Bloo Bloo home on Elmer’s back.

CB Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014 23

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