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Time for Bed, Fred!

It’s 8 o’clock, and time for Fred to go to bed.  He, not unsurprisingly, has other ideas.

Published in 2013, this is one of those books that is worth having as a work of art if nothing else, but it also has a funny and engaging narrative.  The incorrigible Fred tries all manner of delaying tactics to avoid bedtime but ultimately gives in.  What lifts Yasmeem Ismail’s story though is that it’s written as one half of a dialogue; the other participant being a silent (and unco-operative) Fred.

That’s not your bed, Fred!

That’s not your bed, Fred!

That’s not YOUR bed, Fred!

Oh Fred, that’s MY bed!

The repetition and the rhyme will have young listeners in fits of giggles, intensified by the scruffy illustrations of the disobedient hound.

Reading this in a voice of increasing mock-irritation is great fun and although simple enough, children of a variety of ages would enjoy it. For the very young there is plenty of language practice to be had discussing all the things that Fred does instead of going to bed.

Excellent for toddlers and pre-schoolers and good for less confident young readers to read themselves.  A fun bedtime story if you trust your child not to emulate Fred’s behaviour!

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How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth

This catchily-titled offering by Michelle Robinson and Kate Hindley is great fun.  There are a few things I don’t think work, but overall it’s a creative, original book which will appeal to a wide range of ages.

The premise is simple: washing a woolly mammoth is a real challenge, among other reasons because “wool is notoriously tricky to clean.”  (You will know from experience that I approve of any book that doesn’t talk down to young readers and this one maintains a mock-serious ‘instruction manual’ style which is quite sophisticated and adds to the humour of the story.  There are even diagrams labelled ‘fig 1’ and ‘fig 2’.)  The book is presented as the title suggests as a ‘how-to’ guide, except that we are also given a sense of the failures likely to occur when tackling this ‘mammoth’ task.

The illustrations are quirky and attractive, and the manner in which the mammoth fills most pages is very effective in implying his size and weight.

Linguistically the mock-imperative style works well and is deliberately set alongside and occasionally against the illustrations.  There are several funny moments, especially when the mammoth accidentally gets soap in his eyes, and the next instruction: “to get a wet woolly mammoth down from a tree you need a very strong trampoline” will give you a sense of the appealingly absurd flavour of the book.

Funnily enough, after all that he isn’t that clean any more…

However although there is undeniably humour here and even profound wisdom (“if all else fails, there is always cake”) there are a few jokes which fall flat.  One of these is the grid picture showing the mammoth’s different hairstyles.  For one thing these aren’t really distinct enough to be funny, but more significantly the style ‘names’ are way beyond the understanding of a small child – and in some cases even an adult.  One particular quiff is nicknamed ‘The King’, a reference that was lost on both my children. Sillier, clearer pictures here would have been much more effective; as it is I always feel this page falls flat.

My favourite aspect of this was actually the back cover, and my five year old very much enjoyed reading the labels of the products to herself.

The end is neatly done and quite a cosy, cuddly finish, making this actually a surprisingly effective bedtime story.

Overall, this was very popular with its target audience, but disappointing from an adult perspective.  It promises much, but the best jokes shouldn’t be the ones on the back page.

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Kiss Goodnight, Sam

It was a dark and stormy night on Plum Street

The wind is howling outside the little white house on Plum Street as Sam goes to bed.  Mrs Bear is putting him down for the night and asks him if he is ready to sleep.  “Oh no,” is always his answer, “I’m waiting!”  He has a story, a glass of milk, has his blanket tucked round him and all his toy friends popped in with him, but still he is not ready.  Mrs Bear is (or pretends to be) confused, until she finally remembers.  “Oh I know.  Kiss goodnight Sam.”

This is a story about security, safety, love and ritual at bedtime.  The noises of the rain and the wind outside serve to heighten the sense of warmth inside the little house, and Anita Jeram’s rich illustrations in cosy gold, red and brown complement that perfectly.  The text, by Amy Hest, is lyrical without rhyming, and its undulating rhythm captures the tenderness of Mrs Bear.

Mrs Bear poured milk in two glasses and they both drank milk and it was warm sliding down.”

When she finally remembers what he is waiting for the story becomes almost interactive.

And she bent way down, kissing Sam once, and twice, and then twice more.

“Again!” cried Sam.

And she bent way down, kissing Sam once, and twice, and then twice more.”

It is almost impossible not to suit the action to the word at this point, and for children who are reluctant to go to bed this walk-through of the process may be especially effective.  And nearly all toddlers will love being kissed in kind as they hear the words!

As a bedtime story this is ideal: short, gentle, on topic, and ending with a kiss.  Nothing fancy or clever, but perfect for its purpose.

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One Ted Falls Out of Bed

This is a lovely book from Julia Donaldson and Anna Currey.  It’s a rhyming, counting book set at bedtime in a child’s room.

One Ted falls out of bed.  He tugs and pulls the bedclothes BUT…

Two eyes are tight shut. He jumps and shouts and makes a fuss,

Till three mice say, ‘Play with us!’ “

There are six kind dolls and seven trolls, nine frogs playing tunes and five bright stars in the sky.  The numbers build to ten and then as Ted attempts to get back into bed his staircase breaks and everything counts back down again.  The ending works beautifully, as, in response to the noise:

Two eyes open wide,

And one ted…

Is back in bed.

The final picture shows the sleeping child in bed, fast asleep, with Ted’s bright eyes peeping out from under the covers.  There are some lovely rhymes and the slight shifts in the rhyme pattern change the pace of the story effectively at different times.

This is a well-crafted, simple, but effective book, with touching and appealing illustrations.  It is an ideal bedtime story.

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Harris Finds His Feet

This is a well-deserved winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, which it picked up in 2009.  The drawing is absolutely exquisite and the whole book is a work of art.

Harris is a young hare with very big feet.  He asks his Grandad why they are so large and Grandad teaches him about hopping, running, and staying clear of wolves.  Harris learns all about the world he lives in, until one day he is left to go on by himself.  He hops back to Grandad and asks why he isn’t coming too.

Because I am growing old little Harris.  It is your turn to run.  The world is yours to explore.”

A clear analogy for a child’s journey towards self-sufficiency and the eventual loss of adult support, the central message of the story is clear and worthy, but it is a little too obvious and too sentimental.  The ending, however, as Harris leaps through a beautifully drawn field of grass and asters, is incredibly positive and celebrates opportunity and freedom.

And Harris ran, leaping over streams and bouncing through meadows on his big, strong feet that would take him to the end of the world… and back home again.”

It isn’t a book for those who dislike a more saccharine story, but it has charm and good intentions, and Catherine Rayner’s pictures are a delight.

If you like ‘Guess How Much I Love You’, this may be a good companion piece.

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Lullabyhullaballoo!

The sun is down.

The moon is up.

It is bedtime for the little Princess.

But outside the castle…”

Outside the castle all kinds of noisy things are happening. A dragon is roaring,  knights are clanking, ghosts are ‘ooo-ooo-oooing’ and “the trolls and the goblins are guzzling and gobbling and slurping and burping.”  But the Princess is trying to sleep, so all these people need to be told to ‘SHHH!’

Part prose, part poetry, this unusual book is an enjoyable read.  As each character is asked to ‘shh’ they query ‘Who me?’ and the answer is ‘Yes you!’  Mick Inkpen varies it slightly each time whilst preserving the rhythm and rhyme.  Our favourite is the giant: “Should I take off my boots? Yes, do!” There is also plenty of onomatopoeia and a lot of noisy participles which are brilliant for small children.  Eventually all the shushing wakes up the princess who needs a lullaby to go back to sleep, and there is a funny little twist at the end too.

The illustrations are as detailed and sweet as you would expect from Mick Inkpen and the foldout pages (to reveal the character’s guilty faces) are an unusual and effective feature.  Children will love listing to the sound of the story, especially all the repetition, and it’s not so long as to be tedious for an adult to read.

A creative enjoyable read for children who like the sound of words.

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A Kitten Called Moonlight

“I’d like my story again,” Charlotte said.

“Which story?” asked Mummy.

“The one I like best, about Moonlight and me,” Charlotte said.

“I thought that’s the one it might be,” Mummy said.

A Kitten Called Moonlight tells the story of how Charlotte and her Mummy found their kitten.  Charlotte sees the kitten’s eyes shining in the dark one night as she comes home from a party, and asks her mother to help her find it.  But her Mummy doesn’t believe her and hurries her indoors to bed.  Later she finds Charlotte sitting and gazing out at the shore, still insisting that something is out there.  To help put her mind at rest, Charlotte’s Mummy suggests they go out and look on the beach, and see if they can see anything.  Of course there is something there – a tiny white kitten, shivering on the rocks.  Charlotte and her Mummy rescue him, and the little girl carries him all the way home.

This is a very sweet book, told in an unusual way.  The story is their own, and so it is partly narrated by Charlotte and her mother, although still in the third person.  In addition the omniscient narrator describes their talk and how they interact with each other in the telling of the story.   This gives the written story the flavour of an oral one, which is surprisingly effective.

“Something like that,” Mummy said.  “Her Mummy searched all over the house.”

“I like this bit,” Charlotte said.

The style is simple and clear, and well-pitched.  Including Charlotte’s voice gives it the language of a young child and makes this a very accessible story.  However, reading this one as an adult improves with practice, as the complex narrative structure means that it can be easy to misunderstand who is talking sometimes.  It needs clearly distinct voices for Mummy, Charlotte and the narration.

Christian Birmingham’s pastel drawings are detailed and realistic, and the delicate white kitten glows brightly on the page.  The scale, too, of the tiny animal and the boats and rocks that surround it, complements the text well.  His pictures of Charlotte are full of character; there is a particularly wonderful page where she catches sight of the kitten from the car window and her eyes are wide with surprise and wonder.

The book shows the intimacy of the relationship between mother and daughter.  Although she doesn’t really believe her, Charlotte’s mother is willing to take her down to the shore to make sure that there really is nothing there.  Small children will love seeing that Charlotte was right after all.  There is a selflessness in going out at night to rescue the kitten which is also a valuable lesson. It is probably a book that will appeal more to girls than boys, but all cat-lovers may be interested.  The calm, measured tone makes it an ideal bedtime story.

A little sentimental, perhaps, but a heartwarming and carefully told story made visually striking by quality of the illustrations.  Worth a look, particularly for girls of around three to five years old who like animals.