natural world in all its moods and seasons, from the ‘mucky’ wet city to a peach-pink country sunset. Birdsong is a warm and deeply story with the air of has

sensitive something that been honed

and crafted until it shines. As a celebration of the creative force, our connection to nature and the value of true friendship, it helps children see change and loss in a wider context, and feels utterly authentic. CFH

Under 5s Pre-School/Nursery/Infant continued Would You Like a Banana?


Yasmeen Ismail (author and ill.), Walker, 32pp, 978 1 4063 7584 8, £12.99 hbk

This hardback picture book is about Gorilla. He is rather hungry but does not want to eat a banana. When asked to try a teeny taste, he says no! He is asked in lots of ways if he would like a banana and you’ve guessed it, he is very stubborn and refuses to eat a banana. You will have to read the book to find out if he does eat a banana in the end. I know you are not supposed to

judge a book by the cover, by the banana yellow cover is stunning. The illustrations are bold and beautiful, my favourite is one with Gorilla with delicious looking food piled on his head. Some of the images look like real food such as fruit and some of the images just make me laugh. This book is perfect to read aloud

A story about Afiya HHHHH

James Berry, ill. Anna Cunha, Lantana Publishing, 32pp., 978-1-911373-33-9, £14.99 hbk

This poem by James Berry, written in 1991, has been re-imagined by Anna Cunha, with the approval of James Berry’s partner Myra Barrs. ‘Afiya has fine black skin that shows off her white clothes, and big brown eyes that laugh and long limbs that play.’ Her name in Swahili means ‘ health’ and she wears a pure white dress, which she washes every night. Each day, the dress ‘picks on something to collect, strangely’. The dress may have an imprint of sunflowers, red roses, or butterflies, each illustrated on a double page spread. Then Berry explains that every night the imprint stays on her dress when washed, ‘yet, next morning, every day, the dress is cleared and ready, hanging white as new paper’. Her dress takes on the pattern of a flight of pigeons, tigers from the zoo, and fishes from the sea. ‘She walks between round and towered

boulders and takes

them away, pictured on her’ and the book finishes with her amazement to find herself ‘covered with windswept leaves of October, falling.’ This poem has no rhymes, but

the writing is beautiful, and Brazilian illustrator Anna Cunha has produced some equally beautiful chalky

pictures in

inspiration for children to illustrate their own experiences

colours. This could be an on their

clothes, or just to enjoy the idea – a book to treasure. DB

to under 5s who will enjoy the humour of the book, the gorgeous illustrations and the rhyming pattern of the story may encourage them to join in with the story. I have shared this with a group of 3 year-olds and they laughed every time I said ‘No I won’t eat a

banana’ in my best Gorilla voice! KK I Have to Start School Today

Simon Philip, ill. Ged Adamson, Simon and Schuster, 978 1 4711 6465 1, £6-99, pbk

‘I have to start at school today. “You’ll have such fun!” my parents say.

I know they think I’ll be ok, but what if things don’t go my way?’

Thus begins this picture book on the well-tried theme of the anxiety that haunts little people about to start school. This little girl is very nervous, imagining all the things that might terrify her at school. These fears are compounded by an older brother who frightens her even more with tales of

ghastly happenings. Grandma

saves the day by telling her, ‘Your silly brother’s telling lies’, reassuring her that school’s better than it might appear, that school might be a nice surprise. The illustrations add much to the tale, showing terrifying bears, rhinos, all demons besetting the little girl; also a baboon who plays the bassoon … who turns out to be the kindest of friends! There is Mum looking at her mobile phone photo of her daughter, with a tear on her cheek, and the book case houses a wonderful selection


titles; Gift Ideas for Teachers, Worms, School

Survival Guide, Train that

Brain. Printed on reinforced paper to withstand

frequent little hands

and greasy fingers, this book should reassure parents and children alike. GB


Pug Hug HHH

Zehra Hicks, Hodder Children’s Books, 32pp, 978 1 444 94997 1, £12.99 hbk

Pug really wants a hug from the little girl who has just left for school, but his requests are met with excuses. Cat isn’t keen on hugs; hamster runs away; rabbit is too busy; and fish – well you can’t really hug a fish, can you? Everyone else seems to be asleep, except for crocodile, who has ulterior motives! Pug must wait until the little girl comes home, and then there is a wonderful hug for Pug and for everyone else – except crocodile. Full colour pages with individual animals on each one and lots of double-page spreads add to the fun, and little ones will enjoy Pug’s attempts. For lovers of hugs everywhere. ES

Love from Alfie McPoonst HHHHH

Written by Dawn McNiff, ill. Patrice Metola, Walker Books, 32pp, 978-1-4063-6991-5, £12.99 hbk

‘Dear Izzy, I’m a Sky Dog now. I live in Dog Heaven, because I died….’

For anyone who feels a little wearied by the allusions and metaphors of some issue-based titles, a picturebook

contemporary language to talk about death.

Don’t expect

using clear a


approach, though – this funny, tender and appealing book invites us to explore a perplexing theme in ways that make imaginative sense. Written as a series of letters from

Alfie McPoonst, newest arrival in Dog Heaven, to the quietly grieving Izzy, this book will help children process and express their feelings about loss. Dog Heaven (as described by Alfie) is a place of endless sticks and parks; where ice cream vans sell to dogs, not people, and roly-polies are allowed in flowerbeds. ‘I watch you through a star peep-hole,’

says Alfie. ‘It makes my tail very waggy’, and at last Izzy feels able to write back. ‘P.S. I love you forever,’ she says, as the final endpapers reveal a new (distinctly dog-shaped) constellation. With its flower-filled landscapes and

dawn-pink palette, Patricia Metola’s stunning artwork matches the mood perfectly, then takes us somewhere we didn’t expect. Wordless spreads invite contemplation and exploration, and suddenly the line between the here-and-now and Alfie’s otherworld begins to feel extremely thin. Dawn

McNiff’s lively text is

unashamedly emotional. If it’s good to cry when you’ve lost a pet (or even when you haven’t) then Love from Alfie McPoonst will generate many therapeutic moments and will be particularly appreciated by families experiencing grief and loss – although some may find the references to Heaven challenging. Its wider appeal will depend on the reactions of adult gatekeepers, who may see it solely as

here’s and

a ‘bereavement book’. But Alfie has a way of charming his readers, who laugh and wonder and maybe a cry a little, then find themselves thinking about love and loss and change and hope. That kind of book matters, and should – and will – be valued. CFH

I am Brown HHHH

Ashok Banker, ill. Sandhya Prabhat, Lantana Publishing, 32pp, 978 1 911373 94 0, £11.99 hbk

Through role play scenarios, young readers see that brown people can be presidents, astronauts or writers, they might be skilled crime solvers or rocket ship designers. The range of experience

of brown people is

explored, they may come from all over the world, speaking a wide range of

languages. They may differ in

appearance, live in different homes, wear different clothes, enjoy different hobbies and eat different food. They may be your friend, your boss, your teacher

or your for classmate. They

may offer you love, friendship and happiness.

The simple repetitive text would be great

repeated readings.

The detailed artwork may spark conversations, about different foods for example. Don’t miss the end papers which are particularly lovely and lively, depicting an apartment block

full of happy young brown

faces. The warmth of the beautiful illustrations enhances the affirming, insightful message,

whatever the

colour of a young reader’s skin. SMc Rhinocorn


Matt Carr, Egmont, 32pp, 9781405296885, £6.99 pbk

Ron does not enjoy life as a Rhino. He doesn’t want to charge at things and he certainly doesn’t want to be grumpy and have no friends. Yet this seems to be the way life is going to be for poor old Ron. Until, that is, he takes matters into his own hands and changes his external appearance to better reflect who he is inside. The captivating disco feel of the illustrations hook you in so


much that you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the plain grey rhino who lies within. The reader therefore shares Ron (and his meerkat friends) delight when he transforms from a plain old rhino into a glorious technicolour Rhinocorn! This is an exciting and engaging

story of how being different doesn’t have to make you sad. An original take on a tale for our times, breaking down taboos and opening our arms to difference. Even the other rhinos, unified by their displeasure at Ron’s new way of life, accidentally make friends and help to rip apart the old rhino rule book. A delightful read that

readers alike and may even captivate boys more than the pink cover might suggest! HK

20 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020

will engage young and older

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