Published by Scallywag Press Ltd, Great Britain, 2021
Have you ever wondered how Santa became the jolly Santa Claus who climbs down chimneys and leaves presents in stockings at the end of our beds at Christmas time? Have you ever considered whether he had siblings or parents? Have you spent any time thinking about whether Santa enjoys his job, and just how did he get those elves and reindeer to help with Christmas gift deliveries?
No? That’s okay, Jon Agee has provided all the answers in this wonderfully creative and imaginative picture book about Santa.
We meet Santa as a young boy sitting at the family table in the North Pole, surrounded by his family, mum and dad and six siblings. He’s the only one in a red onesie, so there is every chance that you will recognise him!
All is not well; it seems that everybody except Santa finds life in the North Pole hard work, and they would all like to leave and live somewhere warmer…like Florida. On the eve of their leave taking, a blizzard traps everyone in the house under a huge snowdrift. What can they do?
Fortunately, little Santa has mastered the skill of shimmying up and down chimneys, so he volunteers to set out and find food, snowshoes, and help.
On the way, Santa makes some new friends (you can guess who they might be) and rescues his family. The new friends make a big difference to life in the North Pole, and we are left with one satisfying version as to how the legend of Santa Claus may have come to pass!
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books about Santa and Christmas:
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019
The first thing I have to say is that I want a turtle just like Truman. As big as a donut, just as sweet, and full of pluck, this little turtle has found a place in my heart.
Truman the turtle belongs to Sarah, and we discover that he has excellent manners, never growling or shrieking at anybody. Truman is just pensive, peaceful,l and thoughtful like Sarah and observant too.
When Sarah packed an extra big backpack, fitted a blue bow in her hair, had extra banana with her breakfast AND served up extra beans for Truman to eat, he just knew something was up.
Truman was right. His worst fears confirmed. Sarah had boarded the Number 11 bus going south and Truman had been left behind.
This is the part of the story where Truman’s character shines. He is determined to find Sarah, even if it means facing all his fears and venturing out into the world on his own. Truman’s progress out of his tank, across the couch, over some tall boots and through the vast pink rug that seems to go on and on, is an adventurous trek that requires steely determination, bravery, and ingenuity. Can he do it?
It takes a long time to travel that far, and by the time Truman reaches the front door, there are some familiar sounds on the other side. Could it be his Sarah?
This is a wonderful story that touches on themes of separation anxiety, finding your inner strength, getting out of your comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. It also reinforces the idea that relationships are built on trust and love and exist whether we are all physically together or far apart.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature turtles and tortoises, some fictional and others educational:
The title of this picture book caught my eye because it reminded of another book by the same title that was written earlier this year by Dr. Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey. Through in-depth conversations, they explore how childhood trauma and difficult experiences can inform and explain the way we behave as adults.
This picture book is written by James Catchpole who is an amputee himself, and there is a great photo of him at the very back of the book holding one of his daughters on a sunny day at the beach. James has one prosthetic leg, and in writing this picture book, he has given us all some sound advice about the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to asking, what happened to you?
In the story, we meet little Joe who has only one leg. He is having a great time imagining himself as a swash-buckling pirate on the high seas fighting off imaginary sharks and crocodiles. Some kids come along to join in the fun and instantly notice Joe’s missing leg.
They all want to know what happened, but for Joe, this is the last thing he wants to talk about, not today and probably not tomorrow either. So, Joe asks them to guess. The kids come up with some imaginative ideas, but not the real reason why Joe only has one leg. And after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter.
The pirate game begins again and before long, the missing leg is not important anymore, and neither is the reason as to why it’s not there.
We never do find out why Joe has one leg, because sometimes we just need to accept that we will not know the answer, that the question is not polite to ask and that maybe that person just does not want to explain it for the one hundredth time.
The illustrations perfectly complement the text, the children are endearing, their emotions are clearly expressed and, in the end, you applaud their maturity and good sense!
I can highly recommend this book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the theme of disability, the sort you can see and the sort you can’t see:
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, UK, 2021
This is a story about Moonimal, a little blue rabbit with three floppy ears, who is found one day on a shelf inside a shop full of wonderful knick-knacks. The Boy and Moonimal are inseparable. They have exploring adventures together, they pretend to be doctor and patient, and even fly into space and back again in their cardboard rocket. It feels like they will be together forever.
One day, deep in the woods, with autumnal leaves littering the ground, the young Boy trips, breaks his glasses and can’t find his beloved blue rabbit anywhere. Turning the page, Moonimal begins to tell the tale of what happens next.
Moonimal waits and waits, hoping to be found again. Instead, some woodland rabbits, who are small and grey, with two floppy ears each, find Moonimal and take him back to their underground burrows. Time passes.
In a meadow one day, Moonimal gets snatched up by a hunting owl and dropped into a cold rushing river. Swept away by the strong currents, Moonimal is found downstream by grazing deer and he stays with the herd for many more years.
Until one day, danger comes again! A dog appears suddenly, scattering the reindeer, and in their haste to flee, Moonimal gets left behind. The dog proudly picks up Moonimal in his jaw to present to his owner. Could this be the end, or has the story come full circle?
This is a gently crafted story of hope when all seems lost. Something similar happened to us many years ago when our two-year-old daughter lost her favourite teddy. We looked everywhere for it. We asked everyone we knew to look for it. I even tried to buy a new one, ringing up stores and asking friends and family to keep searching. I remember days and nights full of tears and longing. Time passed, the ache of loss eased, and my daughter discovered other favourite toys. But do you know what? A friend turned up on our doorstep about six months later, with the lost teddy in her hands!
I expected my daughter to be overjoyed, and she was, but there was another overriding emotion, cautious reserve. If teddy was lost once, then he could be lost again. It was sad to see this understanding in my daughter’s eyes, because sometimes in life, that’s just the way it is. It was my daughter’s first experience of loss and grief, sadly not the last, and one of the many lessons to learn in life.
I can highly recommend this picture for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the experience of losing a beloved toy:
Ross Collins has charmed us again with a sequel to There’s a Bear on my Chair.
But this time, the cheeky mouse is causing all the problems. He’s arrived at Bear’s house with a box. It looks like he’s moving in and hanging pictures on the wall.
There’s nothing that Bear can do to get that mouse out of the house!
Bear suggests a trip to Luxembourg, Mexico, Timbuktu or Borneo, but no, the mouse just does not want to go.
Mouse settles in and dresses up, helps himself to the food, plays loud music and takes a bath. Oh no! Just when things couldn’t get any worse, there’s a knock. Who could it be behind the red door?
I just love this playful, rhyming story. The illustrations are bright, elegant and expressive. The colours are bold and eye catching. Bear is wonderfully grumpy and at the same time, forbearing, despite being so big. Mouse is cheeky, and at the same time, endearing, full of mischief and mayhem.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more of my favourite picture book stories which feature mice…I didn’t know I had so many!
Michael Foreman has dedicated this picture book to “all creatures great and small and to the children of the world who will look after them.” It is a wonderful story about conservation, friendship and hope for the future.
In association with Tusk, an African wildlife conservation charity, the story is prefaced by Julius Obwona, a Ranger who works in Uganda protecting wildlife in the Murchison Falls National Park. There is a small photo of Julius and, underneath this, he talks about how he became a ranger and the work being done to protect all the animals in the park. Poaching has had a huge impact on elephant survival, but thanks to constant patrolling within its borders, there is hope for the future with increasing numbers in elephant herds.
In this picture book, Michael Foreman weaves a tender tale about little Noa, a young boy who takes his small boat out on to the river every day after school to catch fish for his family’s supper. Along the riverbanks, Noa encounters an amazing array of wildlife, but he especially loves watching a mother elephant with her baby. One day, Noa discovers the baby beside her mother, lying on the ground, unmoving and with her tusks removed. It is a poignant scene, illustrated in pencil and without colour.
Noa decides to take the baby elephant back to his village and they adopt it as their own, feeding and caring for it, and naming it Tembo.
One night, a terrible storm ravages the village and little Noa finds himself floundering in the river trying to save his boat from the floodwaters. Desperate to reach the safety of land, Noa feels something solid in the water bumping him towards safety…it’s Tembo!
And then little Noa makes a promise, just like Julius the Ranger:
“When I’m older, I will join my dad and the other villagers to make sure that no more elephants are shot. You are my brother. We are all one family living under the same sky, sharing the same world.”
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more picture books about elephants, some are about conservation, most are fictional, and all celebrate this amazing animal:
You can be lucky in life when wild creatures freely come to you. A butterfly might land on your shoulder and rest for just a moment, an echidna might shuffle and snuffle close to your feet looking for food, a rosella might come to the seed bowl you have on the balcony table and feed from it, knowing you are just there. And when we see these creatures up close, it’s hard not to wonder what they are thinking as they go about their business, are we communicating, is there a connection, will they come back?
In this picture book, we meet Amira and she has a magpie that comes to her railing just outside the door, and she has a beautiful description for it:
“His eyes are black pearls. The white on his feathers makes her think, perhaps, he has daubed his wings with paint, to write messages in the sky, love letters to her, because she is his friend.”
The illustrations are soft, mostly black and white and grey, and on one page we see the magpie’s eye magnified, as if it is really seeing Amira and her dreams and hopes. Amira wants to imagine her beautiful magpie soaring through the skies and flying all the way to her home and her grandfather. Amira wants to imagine her grandfather recognising the magpie as a messenger from Amira herself, letting him know that she is okay, that she is growing, that she is thinking of him and can’t wait to see him again one day.
But for the moment, these are all dreams because it seems that Amira is far from her homeland and that her days are closed in by wire fences and dark shadows of detention. So for now, Amira’s favourite colour will be blue, she will dream that her magpie is free and that it will fly back and forth between her homeland and here, singing a song of hope and freedom.
This a wonderful story about hope when days are dark and the future is unclear, Amira, with her black and white cape and soft blue hijab, bravely faces her confinement by holding on to her dreams.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore what it means to be a refugee, seek asylum, hope for a better future and hold on to your dreams:
Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2021
We all need to be reminded about so many things in life. Sometimes it’s the to-do list for the day, other times it’s the long-term plans for months in advance, and just occasionally it’s the reminders about what we need to make time for in the busyness of living.
Like a mum calling out to us as we leave for another day out in the world, Jane Godwin reminds us about all those things we need to remember; making our beds, finding socks that fit, brushing our teeth, and bringing our coats. We also need to remember other things like smiling, caring, playing, helping, and listening. And not forgetting the power of dreaming, hoping, adventuring, and celebrating.
The illustrations by Anna Walker beautifully reflect the text and bring each reminder to life with gentle clarity and thoughtful insight. The settings will be familiar to everyone, children splashing in puddles and climbing trees, running through long tall grass, and enjoying a solitary moment in front of a wide-open beach. Our collective achievements are amazing when we remember the ties that bind us together.
“Don’t forget that life is long, you’re not alone, that you are strong, and don’t forget that you belong.”
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 5-8 years and below are more award-winning picture books by this dynamic duo:
Published by David Fickling Books, Great Britain, 2020
I think I have read just about everything that Michael Morpurgo has written…I just love the way he invites the reader into the story, makes the characters come to life, draws on our collective emotional experiences of what it is like to navigate the complexities of the world and shows us the way to go forward with integrity, honesty, and respect, even as we sometimes fail and make mistakes.
This story is about something that actually happened to Michael Morpurgo when he was a six-year-old schoolboy at St Cuthbert’s in England. His mum had read Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, to young Michael so often, and he had recited it so well in class, that the teacher nominated him to play the part of Owl in the Christmas school play. This was especially wonderful because the Pussycat was going to be played by Belinda…Michael’s best friend and the first girl he had ever loved. That’s a big thing for a six-year-old boy.
There are lots of preparations for the big night, lots of ups and downs in the rehearsals, but finally the curtains open on the stage and Michael and Belinda begin the performance of their young lives, as Owl and Pussycat.
All is going well, until the Owl picks up his guitar from the bottom of the pea green boat and his mind, voice, and heart freezes. The miracle that happens next is a testament to the wonder of friendship, love and team-work.
The illustrations for this story are so tenderly drawn by Polly Dunbar, with gorgeous details on every page: parquetry floors, costumes, paperchains, a double page spread for the opening night on stage and the wonder of friendship and miracles etched in people’s faces. An added bonus is that the end pages beautifully illustrate the complete poem by Edward Lear.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and anyone who has memories of school plays and being saved by a friend. Below are more picture book titles by Michael Morpurgo, but if you have older children, please check out his other popular junior fiction books, you won’t be disappointed:
My father emigrated to Australia in the early 1950s at the tender age of 17, leaving his small Italian village and family behind. He came to Melbourne, not knowing much about the language or the country, but prepared to blend together the best of what he brought with him and what he would find here. Learning the language was hard and making a life for himself even harder. Time and work and marriage softened the differences, until it was difficult to tell if he was more Australian or more Italian, but perhaps he just became a better version of both.
In this picture book, we see a small orange bird with green polka dots peeking nervously out of a closed box. An anonymous hand places it into a bird cage and the other birds completely freak out, they are not happy to make room for the scary newcomer. They worry about the lack of space, the food that will need to be shared, and the language they can’t understand.
A marauding mouse shares a little morsel of wisdom while pinching some bird seed, Hey, birdbrains! Don’t you know you’re ALL exotic birds?
And then the breakthrough happens. One soft pink bird with a curly tail decides to be a friend and the acculturation begins, stories are shared, accents are accepted and customs are admired. Before anyone knows it, the orange green polka dotted bird is part of the group, but what happens when the next scary bird comes along?
This a very clever story about acceptance, diversity, cultural norms and friendship. Being a newcomer is daunting for everyone, whether you are making a new country your home or starting kindergarten. Perhaps not so subtly, this story embraces the idea that when we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, the more harmonious all our lives can be.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years and below are suggestions for picture books that explore the themes of migration, fitting in and belief in the value of being you!