BfK 5 – 8 Infant/Junior continued Ed’s Choice Life is Magic HHHHH

Meg McLaren, Andersen Press, 40pp, 978-1-7834-4338-3, £11.99hbk

When his magician slips on a banana skin (literally), it is up to Houdini, the rabbit, to take over. Houdini loves magic; he is a natural. He is a great success. But life is hollow without a proper partner. Can Houdini rectify the situation?

The artist has created a lovely, lively book that begs to be picked up. The dust cover

the end pieces set the scene with some subtlety. However, remove the dust jacket and the cover is a feast of posters inviting the spectator to Monsieur Lapin’s show. If you cannot make it, there is your very own magic trick provided on the reverse of the dust cover. All this - and there is still the story. It is a lively one (well rabbits are involved)

the circus is not so much a dream as gainful employment to help his family. Freddie’s family are poor. Despite

his dad’s best efforts as a washing machine repair man, the Mole family struggles to pay the bills and mum is forced to earn a living on cruise ships. Freddy is a kind and friendly boy and his mates always make sure he is invited to parties and events but, of course, they have to pay for him. This feeling of being unequal to your peers is one with which all children will empathise, and it is described sensitively with humour and without sentiment.

entices and told

because it is the illustrations that provide all the details, expanding the text deliciously. McLaren’s palette is cool and sophisticated, eschewing over bright colours to good effect. The font is admirably clear and uncluttered avoiding the temptations of frenetic design. This is a picture book that is a pleasure to read and should be enjoyed by both children and adults. .


and impresses the ringmaster (and the reader) with his work ethic and positive attitude. It is not just Freddie

impresses. Every character has endearing qualities of kindness, generosity and open mindedness, even the curmudgeonly lion-tamer who may or may not be about to abscond to Peru. It is this optimistic and sanguine

Smith’s writing that affords his books such lasting appeal. Freddie Mole and his new colleagues show us that hard work and good friends are all anyone needs to succeed in life… even if you can only afford one and a half pairs of socks! Some readers may be disappointed by the lack of any discernible villain or threat, but children looking for action and adventure

– this is a simple, gentle, heart- warming story. SD

There is a Tribe of Kids HHHHH

Lane Smith, Two Hoots, 40pp, 978 1 5098 1288 2, £12.99

A yearning for connectedness drives us all – child and adult, something that is so perfectly portrayed in Lane Smith’s brilliantly imagined story of a single child and his journey through, and exploration of the natural world through a day and night, using a plethora of collective nouns as the building blocks. Starting on

slice of luck in the shape of a circus tent’s broken washing machine. All of a sudden, an opportunity opens up as an apprentice and Freddie never looks back. He tackles the dizzying heights of the trapeze and the daunting task of an entire circus crew’s pile

of washing up, Fate deals Freddie a well-earned

mountainside, we see the child almost hidden by a tribe of kids (goats) who leave him one by one whereupon he heads off and comes face to face with a single penguin. The penguin takes him to the colony of penguins that lead him in a merry dance, followed by hugs (from the leaf-clad child to the penguins) and some waddling. Thereafter, a cracked ice-flow sends the child plunging beneath

24 Books for Keeps No.218 May 2016 a craggy, snowy should look elsewhere quality of McCall who with admirable economy

the waters to cavort with a smack of jellyfish, then up again and right up - born aloft by one of an unkindness of ravens, only to be left stranded atop a formation of rocks. Lane shows the child’s near perfect emulation

encountered, though maybe not the pile of rubble in the middle of which the youngster performs an amazing yogic headstand, before borrowing a leaf or two from the growth of plants and following the parade of elephants that lead him ever onwards – into a jungle landscape. A downpour results in a face-to-face encounter with a tiny looper caterpillar, and here Lane treats up to a genius sequence of tiny frames depicting caterpillar and child alternately performing a series yoga poses. However, the child’s desire for the

ideal connection drives him on, even from the flight of butterflies towards an immense ocean of blue - vast and intimidating -before which he stands in the moonlight. On the shorea place to rest, to sleep, to dream and to wake once more to discover a trail of shells that lead him finally to the place where he belong. Here there is a change of tense to denote just that: for now ‘There is a tribe of kids’ – a place to be, to connect – to belong. This is creative genius at its best,

and a truly gorgeous celebration of playfulness, acceptance, of belonging and of sharing. Among the joys of this book (and

there are many) is its orchestration through shifting colours, shifting moods and shifting shapes. Another is that throughout, readers are wondering - why is the child alone? Is he lost? Left behind? Abandoned? Is he just off on an adventure? Really one wants to linger long, on every spread pondering, savouring, admiring Lane’s artistic brilliance and visual/ verbal punning; and to truly appreciate the book, you really do need to see it and look and look and … JB

We Are Not Frogs HHH

Michael Morpurgo, illus Sam Usher, Barrington Stoke, 32pp, 978-1-7811-2512-0, £6.99 pbk

How do you tell a frog from a toad? In this cosy story rooted in the real world, Alice and Jago find out when they try to collect frogs – or are they toads? This is a story told by a master and feels


real and true to life. There are no pyrotechnics, no fantasy (except for the imagined voice of the Chief Toad) – this is something any child could experience. And maybe having read this story they will go looking for toads (or frogs). Bringing the words to vivid life, are the illustrations by Sam Usher. His frogs leap off the page; his toads, evincing suitable disgust at being confused with frogs, sink into the mud; Alice and Jago are real children. Delightful. FH

Lucinda Belinda Melinda McCool HHHH

Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, Andersen Press, 32pp, 978-1-7834-4202-7, £11.99 hbk

Jeanne she is picture book perfection with Willis once again proves absolutely of each animal group

another wickedly funny story of good intentions

Belinda Melinda McCool is by far the prettiest girl at school, and she’s keen to help everyone else with their beauty regimes to overcome their ‘faults’. Tactless Lucinda picks the wrong model when she tries to give a monster a make-over, and learns the hard way that a beautiful face does not always mean a good heart. Tony Ross’s classic illustrations are

gone wrong.


a perfect partner for Willis’s sticky story and Andersen have given it a smart production with cool endpapers, a striking cover and fabulous fonts. As usual, picture books by Ross and Willis transcend general picture book age ranges,

lessons that are applicable to much older readers. They’re both masters of their craft and together they are an absolute dream team. KC

The Hole Story HHHH

Paul Bright and Bruce Ingman, 32pp, Andersen Press, 978-1-7834-4193-8, £11.99 hbk

There are holes in this book. Literally (on the cover) and metaphorically as we follow the adventures of Hermione Hole and Hamish Hole as they try to find a home. But what use is a hole? If there is a hole on a boat, the boat will sink. A hole in a sock needs mending, a hole in the ground could cause an accident. Holes have no space or use. Well, that may not be quite true as the neat conclusion to this gloriously fanciful – yet thoughtful – tale reveals. If it is Paul Bright’s imagination that has created the story, it is Bruce Ingman’s talents that give it particular life. His fluid lines and poster paint colours are the ideal accompaniment for this not-quite nonsense story that is rooted in the imagination of the child. Here is a real partnership that works; the result a picture book to delight readers young and old.

FH Dave Pigeon HHHH

Swapna Haddow & Sheena Dempsey, Faber & Faber, 160pp, 978-0-5713-2330-2, £5.99 pbk

The full title of this first book from Swapna Haddow is How to Deal with Bad Cats and Keep (most of) Your Feathers. Dave Pigeon and his sidekick Skipper think they’re on to a great thing when they are taken to a new home by a kind Human Lady cat owner with a kitchen full of their favourite food - biscuits.

cat is called Mean Cat and first they have to work out a way to get rid of it. Everything is seen from the pigeons’ viewpoint, with Skipper writing down the story under instruction from Dave, who sees himself as a bird of great talent, bravery and intelligence. When the house and garden get overrun with all the birds in the area, led by the great Selentrus Vastanavius the Fifth , Leader of the Macaw Elite, it’s time to hatch a new plan! Swapna Haddow has devised an original new character in Dave Pigeon, who’s not the cleverest at working out plans, and the dialogue between Dave and Skipper is very funny.

Dempsey’s illustrations are perfect for bringing the story alive and the

Sheena But the offering insights and

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