Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 05 May, 2016 09:25PMDo Not Enter the Monster Zoo
by Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie, published by Red Fox Picture Books
One of our three year old daughter's favourite toys is a Playmobil zoo, bought for her when she was one. She still enjoys playing with it, pretending to be a zookeeper, especially feeding the animals and keeping them all in good order.
Yet, for a young imagination, zebras, giraffes, lions and monkeys are surely second best in comparison to the wonderful creations of Amy Sparkes and Sara Ogilvie found in the brilliant 'Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo'.
When a young boy receives to his surprise a notice that he has won a prize to run the zoo for the day, he sets off on his bike without trepidation. As he arrives at the strangest zoo he's ever seen, he finds that the bedraggled zookeeper is off on his holiday. He gives the boy only his best wishes, the key to the front door and his zookeeper's hat.
On departing he imparts to the boy one piece of advice: Make sure you feed the Squirgle, and if you hear its tummy rumble it means it hasn't been fed - and its favourite food is children.
The boy soon discovers many wonderfully-named bizarre beasts, including purple Gurps with their fiery burps, the growling Grimblegraw and the furry Furbles. The zoo is a complete mess and the creatures initially run amok - banging doors, stealing the boy's hat and using his broom as a cricket bat.
But through a combination of assertiveness, persuasion, bravery and guile (all good attributes for young readers to engage with) the boy soon has them under control. When the zookeeper returns, even the Squirgle is on its best behaviour, and none of the monsters want the boy to leave.
Sure enough, next day a note arrives, delivered to the boy's front door by the zookeeper and the monsters, asking the boy to please return and run the zoo again.
We love Sara Ogilvie's illustrations in 'Meet the Parents' (reviewed previously
). Here her colourful, energetic, cartoon-like style is perfectly matched here to Amy Sparkes' musical rhyme and her description of the wild-yet-sweet cacophonous creations. A bird's eye view of the zoo and a fabulous vertical double-page spread are two of our favourite scenes.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 11 Oct, 2015 09:22AMSnow Bear
by Piers Harper, published by Macmillan Children's
The first time our daughter explored this book she was just a few months old. At that time, it was the soft to touch illustrations that she found most interesting - with each character depicted in a snow white felt.
Now, more than two years later, it's the sweet story and icy world of the little polar bear that she most enjoys.
Little snow bear is at first delighted to leave his den and explore the world around him, playing all afternoon in the water with a friendly seal. As time passes, he edges further away from home, despite his mother asking him to stay close by.
Just as he starts to become fearful, a friendly reindeer helps him out of a gloomy forest. As he becomes hungry, a small Inuit girl gives him a hearty fish supper and then takes him home on her sleigh.
His mother is relieved to see him back and explains that she'd been worried. The little bear has experienced the wonder of the world, and learned what it means to be lost, deciding that home is the best place of all.
Snow Bear delivers a gentle and reassuringly familiar story depicting the fun and excitement of a child's yearning for exploration, their testing of boundaries (in this case the literal one of the water's edge) and the relief of returning home when faced with too much adversity.
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 05 Aug, 2015 08:07AMSolomon Crocodile
by Catherine Rayner, published by MacMillan
One of the many rewarding aspects of reading to our daughter is the enjoyment from experiencing the breadth of immense artistic talent on show in her picturebooks. Catherine Rayner is, in our view, one of the most talented artists working in the picturebook business. In our earlier review of Norris the Bear Who Shared, we spoke of how that book was both a wonder to behold (and also the inspiration for a bedtime lullaby tribute to the "plorringe" fruit).
Solomon Crocodile is certainly beautifully illustrated, but first and foremost it's a frenzy of fun. Solomon, a fun-loving mischievous crocodile, is causing a reptilian rumpus in the jungle. His splashing, charging and plunging in the water "shakes the bulrushes", "bugs the dragonflies" and "gets the storks in a flap".
Catherine Rayner's clever, playful language also makes this a very fun book to read aloud: "Solomon splats and slops through the mud". She is also a brilliant storyteller, bringing to life characters from nature who seem to storm from the page.
Our toddler loves when the "biggest hippo in the river" ROARS at Solomon and tells him, as the other animals have before him, that he's "nothing but trouble".
Yet perhaps what is most satisfying and unexpected about this book is how the story concludes. It would have been in keeping with the norm for picturebooks that there would be a moral to the story, and most likely this would have been that Solomon would learn the value of compromise, reconciliation and peace, curb his behaviour and learn to live in harmony.
And although that's a valuable aspiration, worthy of promotion, it's refreshingly not how the story ends. Instead, just as Solomon contemplates his ostricisation, he hears "something" making the frogs jump and "something" disturbing the tranquility of the river. What is this "something" causing the sort of mayhem that Solomon could only aspire to?
All is revealed in the dramatic final spread, which announces that it's "Double Trouble": an even bigger, naughtier crocodile to join Solomon in his rambunctious pursuits!
Adventures on land and seaPosted by Max 04 Aug, 2015 08:58AMPuffin Peter
by Petr Horacek, published by Walker Books
A few weeks ago, our daughter rediscovered a small soft toy that had been sitting at the bottom of her toy box for many months. She'd not shown much interest in it previously, but it now takes pride of place in her bed alongside her favourite cuddly companions. The toy is a little puffin, and it owes its new found VIP status to a picturebook that is now also a firm favourite, Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek.
This is the second time Petr Horacek has featured on this site (also for Animal Opposites). His distinctive, colourful and full of life animals and birds are vivid wonders to behold. Here, his illustration is combined with a charming story of Peter, a small puffin, separated by a storm from his best friend - the noisy, funny and colourful puffin, Paul.
After the storm passes, Peter sets out to look for Paul with the help of a kind whale, but his descriptions of Peter's characteristics (in turn "noisy and funny", "black and white", "a colourful beak") lead him and the whale to some close-but-oh-so-far cases of mistaken identity.
Just as Peter starts to lose hope of finding his friend they see, in the distance, some tiny islands. Our toddler loves this page, excitedly pointing to the islands every time. And someone is getting closer and closer. Could it be Paul?
This is a sweeping and satisfying adventure, filled with vistas of bold colours, and a sweet, happy ending. It's a perfect depiction of the value of friendship and persistence, and, as with Animal Opposites, a great book to introduce young children to useful adjectives through scenes from nature.