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BfK Under 5s Pre – School/Nursery/Infant

officious bird flusters around, dragooning them into order. Listen as they play Word Chains and watch as they have a jumping competition. Learn to count backwards from 50,

talk about the concepts of big, small, bigger than and smaller than. Watch as the animals become increasingly impatient, then reach a double page fold out which explains what the

waiting is all for. This is an amusing book for counting backwards and forwards between 1 and 50, for talking about colour, shape and relative sizes and for learning the names of some animals who rarely make appearances in children’s books.

5 – 8 Infant/Junior Welcome to the Family HHHHH

Mary Hoffman, illus. Ros Asquith (ill.), Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 978-1-84780-461-7, 32pp, £11.99 hbk.

illustrations. This is a serious and important topic but, as in their other books, this team use humour to suit a young readership. A jolly teddybear bounces through the book making witty asides – ‘They need to make more teddies for all the babies to play with’.

Writers and illustrators of children’s stories tend to show us life in a traditional family. So this book will be an enormously helpful resource for parents and teachers who want to encourage discussion about the different kinds of family unit in contemporary times.


Frances Dean who loved to dance and dance


Birgitta Sif, Walker Books, 9781406337983, 32pp, £11.99hbk

This book, in the spirit of The Great Big Book of Families from the same team, explores the different family settings a new baby might join: conventional nuclear families, families with same sex parents, foster families and ‘blended’ families. Someone - I think it was Jerome Bruner - said that most things can be explained to even quite young children in an acceptable way. I thought of this when I read the pages with sensitive and skilful explanations of the IVF process and how two cells, one male and one female, are needed to make a baby.

Always realistic, the book does not hide the likelihood of discord which can occur at times in most families. For example, because family members understand each other so well ‘they know what will annoy you and what will get you into trouble with your parents’. And it’s down to earth about the feelings that come into play when families ‘blend’ and children have to get used to a new person acting as their parent. Children may feel anxious about the mum or dad that no longer lives with them. Airing all this will help reassure children that their feelings about such circumstances are understandable and help them empathise with others. The central message is that families take many forms and the important thing is that children feel happy in the family they belong to.

The perfectly judged text is complemented by Ros Asquith’s expressive and detailed cartoon

Frances Dean is a little girl who likes to dance. However, she is also very shy and the moment she feels noticed, she finds she cannot dance. Until one day, music in the form of song performed unselfconsciously encourages her to believe that she too could share her passion. In her first picture book, Oliver, Sif explored ideas of difference. Here she takes a similar theme; how to express oneself. Sif’s style has a pleasing quirkiness. Frances is a little girl with a great deal of character, moving from an exuberant enjoyment of moving to uncertainty and loneliness; moods conveyed with great economy of line. The wooded park setting is filled with busy people, birds and animals providing plenty of visual interest and a fitting background to Frances’ journey. A delightful and thoughtful picture book. FH


David Mackintosh, Harper Collins, 978 0 00 746303 9, 40pp, £12.99 hbk.

This is a tale of overactive imaginations. Told that there is a surprise for dinner that evening, the young narrator spends all day speculating on what it might be. A lot of ideas are put forward only to be rejected for various reasons. Then little brother Leo, reading a travel brochure in the doctor’s waiting room, decides the family has won a trip to Hawaii in a competition, and they both fall under the spell of that wonderful possibility. Relayed to all their friends at school, this fantasy becomes an established reality and even a matter of excitement for the headmaster and official celebration

22 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014

for the school. Every reader will realise, with mixed anxiety and delight, that the brothers are in for disappointment and embarrassment at dinnertime. However, it doesn’t turn out too badly and the surprise really does have a Hawaiian connection. It’s a witty and stylish picturebook with illustrations bursting with energy and fun, which will appeal to the wish fulfilment bone in every child.


What’s My Name? (The Not so Little Princess)


Wendy Finney, illus Tony Ross, Anderson Press, 978 1 84939 579 3, 64pp, £4.99 pbk

Fans of The Little Princess series by Tony Ross will be pleased to discover this book about a very popular character now a few years older. The princess’s father the King decides it is high time she knew her ‘proper’ name now she is not so little any more. The court is horrified; her real name is ghastly and the princess is likely to make an awful fuss when she hears it. The court (and the reader!) is reminded of the Little Princess’s tantrums in earlier adventures; when she wouldn’t go to sleep, wanted two birthdays and a baby sister instead of a baby brother. The princess tries to find out her real name but no one in the court will tell her. Everyone, even her annoying little brother seems to be in on this amazing secret.

As the Not-So-Little Princess wonders what her name could possibly be she considers possibilities. Perhaps it might be an endearment like the ones her parents use for each other (yucky!) or the kind of insult children say in the playground (knowing the rhyme about sticks and stones she feels she could deal with that). Talking to members of the court she finds out that names can be a problem, you might end up with a name that sounds funny like Buttercup the maid or hard to live up to like the Admiral who is named after Nelson. When the princess does find out her real name (which is truly ghastly) she is initially horrified just as everyone had predicted, but then she sees a way of making it a much more acceptable name. The princess solves the problem herself showing she really is ‘Not-so-little’ after all.

This is one of a pair of new books launching a series intended as independent reads picking up the story of the Little Princess a few years on. Tony Ross’s illustrations are excellent and the words provided

by Wendy Finney cleverly draw on the earlier series.

SM The Something HHHH

Rebecca Cobb, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978 0 230 76482 8, 32pp, £11.99 hbk

When the bouncy ball belonging to the small boy narrator of this story vanishes down a hole in his garden he is unable to retrieve it, not even with the help of his dog, or his mum. Instead he begins to imagine what might be lurking down there in the darkness. Maybe his red ball has created breakfast-time havoc in the little mouse’s subterranean dwelling or perhaps some frogs are enjoying a game with it. Or, could the occupant be something much larger and scarier like a hungry troll or a fiery dragon? We never do discover what, if anything is residing down beneath the cherry tree but it does make a good talking point with grandparents and the dog definitely enjoys guarding (and dreaming about) the hole and any inmates therein.

Cleverly conceived and beautifully portrayed: I love the subterranean scenes especially those of the troll with a red spherical object on his fork and the minutely detailed, disaster-struck mousehole with its winding staircase. Rebecca Cobb has captured the innocent voice of a child in her straightforward narrative allowing her illustrations to give full rein to his imaginings: and this they most definitely do in the views below ground. Overground, the notion of time passing is conveyed through the garden tree that goes from spring buds to blossom, full leaf, fruiting, autumn tints and winter nakedness under or beside which the human action takes place.

JB Night Sky Dragons HHHHH

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illus Patrick Benson, Walker Books, 9781406309850, 64pp, £12.99 hbk

Yazzul lives on a han on the great Silk Road, the route taken by traders moving east and west. His father is lord of the han and Yazzul must learn to be one too. But Yazzul prefers to make kites with his grandfather; a useless hobby. But when bandits attack this hobby proves to be not such a waste of time.

There is some talk about the superiority of the digital over hard copy; that young readers will naturally

First released in 2011 by Owlkids Books and titled Long, Long Line this would be an amusing addition to a pre-school or Key Stage 1 reading area.


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