Sam McBratney: Mindi and the Goose No One Else Could See

Illustrated by Linda Ólafsdóttir

Published by Walker Books, London, 2021

The goose on the front cover of this picture book caught my eye, mostly because my son affectionately calls me a silly goose sometimes! In my mind, a goose could never be anything to be feared, mistrusted, or avoided, unless of course that goose was nibbling my hand or chasing me around the farmyard. But that’s just it, isn’t it? The things that make me feel unsafe, worried, or anxious might not be the same for everyone. My worries and anxieties might take the shape of clawing ogres or dark looming shadows, but for someone else it just might be a big goose.

That’s the way it is for a little girl called Mindi. She’s such a sweet character, small and cute, with her yellow sweater and matching yellow gum boots. She is afraid of the goose that comes to her room unbidden and uninvited, that no one else can see. Her dad can’t find it, so he can’t get rid of it. Her mum can’t see it, so even threatening to smack it’s silly bottom won’t help.

Mindi’s parents have a problem, how can they help their beloved daughter?

Luckily for them, there is a wise old man called Austen who lives in the village nearby, perhaps he can help. When Mindi’s dad visits him on Shelling Hill, Austen gives some thought to the problem and says:

“I think you should bring Mindi to see me. Make sure she knows I live a long way away. Make sure she knows that she is going on a journey.”

Mindi and her dad make the short ‘long’ journey to Austen’s farm. Mindi greets all the animals, even two geese! But she makes a special connection with a young goat that Mindi names Black-and-whitey. This young goat has a special talent: if you give her a stone fruit, she will eat it and give you back the stone.

Herein lies the kernel of the story. Sometimes, we have to give something in return for a gift. Austen gives the young goat to Mindi, but in return, she must give Austen the Big Goose that no one else can see. It’s a decision-making moment for Mindi. As heavy as our fears and anxieties may be, their weight is familiar, and it can be hard to let go of them. What will Mindi do?

This is a wonderful story for children who might be experiencing anxiety or fear, real or imagined. It gives them a chance to read about what happened to Mindi, how she described her worries, how her family tried to help her and how they turned to the wider community for advice. It’s encouraging to know that solutions can be found, and that problems don’t have to remain as permanent features of our lives.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that explore what it is like to feel anxious, worried or fearful:

Charlie Star by Terry Milne

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous
by Keith Calabrese
Illustrated by Juana Medina

Willy and the Cloud
by Anthony Browne

What If…? by Anthony Browne

The Worry Box by Suzanne Chew Illustrated by Sean Julian

Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

Be Brave, Little Tiger!
by Margaret Wise Brown Illustrated by Jean Claude

Me and my Fear
by Francesca Sanna

Thank Goodness for Bob
by Matthew Morgan
Illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo

Anxious Charlie to the Rescue
by Terry Milne

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Oliver and his Alligator
by Paul Schmid

Wemberly Worried
by Kevin Henkes

The Huge Bag of Worries
by Virginia Ironside
Illustrated by Frank Rodgers

Lucy Cousins: Let’s Play Monsters!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books, Great Britain, 2020

The colours are so vibrant in this gorgeous picture book. Little Gabriel is three years old and he wants to play a game with monsters. We meet his family one by one as Gabriel grabs them by the hand and calls out in a repeated sing-song refrain:

Come on, Josie, I WANT TO PLAY! You chase me and I’ll run away.

Young Josie, wearing a green polka-dot shirt and green trousers, becomes a hungry beast who is green and scary (but not really!) with sharp pointy teeth. Like the gingerbread man, little Gabriel runs away as fast as he can, that munching, crunching monster won’t catch him!

Uncle Rufus is next, wearing a broad rimmed hat and pink swirly shirt, soon to become a rampaging monster, with a big grin, horns like a cow and a pink twirly tail like a pig. Watch out Gabriel, he might catch you!

Nonna might play if Gabriel tugs her hand just right, and she becomes a schloping, schlurping pink monster made of jelly and laughs with enormous round eyes, all the better to chase Gabriel as he runs away.

Kitty Cat and Flower join the chase too, but it’s Mummy with her woollen jumper and zig-zag stripes who becomes a gobbling monster with spikes on her back and jaggedy teeth that likes to eat little boys, especially their toes and noses, and she joins the chase.

You can just hear little Gabriel’s infectious laughter as all his family joins in the fun, pretending and imagining, chasing and growling, with smiles and love. It’s bedtime all too soon and monster mum does what no-one else can do, the tables are turned:

Now you be a monster with a funny green head, who is tired and sleepy and ready for bed. Monster kisses, one, two, three, I love you and you love me.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years old, the illustrations are endearing, the rhyming text bounces the story along, and little Gabriel will steal your heart away!

Below are more suggestions for picture books about monsters, in all shapes and sizes, some scary and others not so much, some familiar and some new, some funny and some cute, but all of them imaginary, because there are no such things as monsters, right?

Not Now, Bernard by David McKee

Blue Monster Wants It All!
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Jeni Desmond

The Color Monster,
A Pop-Up Book of Feelings
by Anna Llenas

That’s Not My Monster…
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Quit Calling Me A Monster!
by Jory John
Illustrated by Bob Shea

The Wardrobe Monster
by Bryony Thomson

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Alphonse, This Is Not Ok To Do!
by Daisy Hurst

Monsters Love Underpants
by Claire Freedman
Illustrated by Ben Cort

The Giant Jumperee
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

Beware the Monster!
by Michael Escoffier
Illustrated by Amandine Piu

Big Sister, Little Monster
by Andria Rosenbaum
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Leonardo the Terrible Monster
by Mo Willems

Go Away, Big Green Monster!
by Ed Emberley

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere

Shrek by William Steig

Glad Monster, Sad Monster
by Ed Emberley
Illustrated by Anne Miranda

If You’re Monster Won’t Go To Bed by Denise Vega
Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

If You’re a Monster
and You Know It
by Rebecca Emberley
Illustrated by Ed Emberley

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Illustrated by Ron Dias
and Ric Gonzalez

Jack and the Beanstalk by E. Nesbit Illustrated by Matt Tavares

Goodnight, Little Monster
by Ian Whybrow
Illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max

Gabby Dawnay: If I had an Octopus

Illustrated by Alex Barrow

Published by Thames & Hudson, London, 2021

Anything with eight legs is bound to capture the imagination. Octopuses are one of the marvels of the animal world with a swathe of fascinating features to amaze, impress and scare us, just a little bit.

The front cover of this picture book is very inviting. The cute little girl reminds me a bit of Madeleine with her blue dress and jaunty yellow hat. One half of the smiling orange octopus has four tentacles that curl around her and if you check out the back cover, the rest of its body curls around the blurb. Not scary at all.

The opening lines require some mental gymnastics as you replace pictures with words, which is great for young ones who cannot yet read because they can jump in with their own general knowledge and fill in the textual gaps.

The rhyming text bounces along quite merrily making it easy to learn that an octopus can do amazing things, like squeeze into tiny spaces, squirt black ink, camouflage itself, and that it has three hearts. Of course, it can do other things too, like cook, paint, play the drums and ball games, but perhaps that would be the start of another conversation sorting through fact from fiction.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more picture books which feature this amazing creature, some are fun, some are fictional, who knew there were so many?

Octopuses: One to Ten
by Ellen Jackson
Illustrated by Robin Page

Fourteen Animals That Are Definitely Not an Octopus
by Gabe Pyle

No Place for an Octopus
by Claire Zorn

An Octopus Came for Tea
by Nadia Mulara

Octopus Socktopus
by Nick Sharratt

Could an Octopus Climb a Skyscraper?
by Camilla de la Bedoyere Illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff

Emile by Tomi Ungerer

Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Leo and the Octopus
by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Chris Nixon

The Mermaid by Jan Brett

Miss Kraken by Nicki Greenberg

O is for Octopus by DK Publishing Illustrated by Kaja Kajfez

Octopus Shocktopus!
by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Steve Lenton

Thank you, Octopus
by Darren Farrell

Do You Really Want to
Meet an Octopus?
by Cari Meister
Illustrated by Daniele Fabbri

Oswald by Dan Yaccarino

Melissa’s Octopus and
Other Unsuitable Pets
by Charlotte Voake

An Octopus Followed Me Home
by Dan Yaccarino

Wiggle Like An Octopus
by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Simms Taback

The Octopus’s Garden
by Dr Mark Norman

Octopants by Suzy Senior

Margaret Wise Brown: The Runaway Bunny

Illustrated by Clement Hurd

Published by Harper & Row, New York, 1991

Some of us accomplish so much in a lifetime. Margaret Wise Brown was only 42 when she died, an artist and teacher from Brooklyn, New York. Fortunately, she left behind many manuscripts, some published in her lifetime and many published posthumously. This story by her, written in 1942, is one of my favourites.

The edition I have is a small board book, just right for reading, snuggled up on the couch with a little bunny of your own. You know it’s going to be an adventure because the little bunny in this story wants to run away from his mother. The mother, however, is prepared for the challenge and you can soon feel the enormous love she has for her bunny, a love that will span and overcome all kinds of distances and obstacles.

Each time the little bunny talks about how he is going to run away, the mother explains how she will find him again. We see their conversation with black and white illustrations and then, turning the page, we see the mother bunny in glorious colour becoming and doing all the things she needs to do, to find her bunny again.

The push and pull of childhood independence and motherly unconditional love gives a wonderful rhythm to the story and ultimately a sense of security and trust in the never-ending and powerful bond between mother and child.

It’s all quite majestic until the very last page when the little bunny admits that he will never really be able to run away from his mother because she will always find him. How he responds always makes me laugh…food fixes everything!

“Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” And so he did. “Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for books about mothers, their children and the bonds that tie them together:

Everything
by Emma Dodd

Mama, Will I Be Yours Forever?
by Anna Pignataro

Hand in Hand
by Rosemary Wells

Say It!
by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

I Promise
by David McPhail

I Want My Mum
by Tony Ross

I Would Dangle the Moon
by Amber Moffat

The Kiss Box
by Bonnie Verburg
Illustrated by Henry Cole

Loving Hands
by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Amy June Bates

Tell Me the Day Backwards
by Albert Lamb
Illustrated by David McPhail

Mummy Time
by Judith Kerr

There’s No One I Love Like You
by Jutta Langreuter
Illustrated by Stephanie Dahle

Someday
by Alison Meghee
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

No Matter What
by Debi Gliori

Like the Moon Loves the Sky
by Hena Khan
Illustrated by Saffa Khan

Guess How Much I Love You
by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram

The Kissing Hand
by Audrey Penn
Illustrated by Ruth E. Harper
& Nancy M. Leak

Wild About Mums
by Philip Bunting

Counting On You
by Corinne Fenton
Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Lynley Dodd: A Dragon in a Wagon

Illustrated by the author

First published by Puffin, 1988

Today is one of those days for lying down on the grass and looking up at the clouds and imagining what all the shapes could be. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Lynley Dodd’s little board book has nudged me in that direction this afternoon and I find myself looking out of the window and letting my mind wander around wishes and things that might be. 

In this little board book, Susie Fogg has taken Sam her dog for a walk along Jackson’s Stream. While she is there, with the lead in her hand and the grass and trees all around, her mind wanders and she wishes and imagines just what it might be like if Sam was something more than a dog.

“Sam,” she said,

You’re very good,

you never bark or bite.

The holes you dig

are not TOO big,

and you’re always home

at night.

But just this once

it might be fun

if you changed from dog,” she said.

“To something HUGE

or something FIERCE

or something ODD

instead.”

After these lively, bouncing, rhyming words we follow Susie and all her various imaginative transformations of Sam. He is a dragon in a wagon, a bat with a hat, a whale in a pail, a chimp with a limp, a shark in the dark and more!

But after tripping over a mossy log, Susie is glad to find her beloved Sam right there beside her. After all, we could wish our lives away and never truly appreciate what we have already.

Lynley Dodd is best known for her award-winning picture books about Hairy Maclary and his friends: Slinky Malinki, Scarface Claw, Schnitzel von Krumm and others. From New Zealand, her picture books have been loved and celebrated around the world and have sold millions of copies.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore using your imagination, making wishes, and asking yourself the intriguing “What if…?” question:

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

All I Said Was
by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Ross Collins

A Bear-y Tale
by Anthony Browne

Captain Jack and the Pirates
by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis

Gerald the Lion by Jessica Souhami

I Am A Tiger by Karl Newson Illustrated by Ross Collins

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet
by Dr Seuss, Theo LeSieg Illustrated by Barney Tobey

Imagine by Alison Lester

Would You Rather
by John Burningham

If I Had a Raptor
by George O’Connor

Not Just a Book
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross

Journey by Aaron Becker

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino

My Elephant by Petr Horacek

If I Had a Unicorn
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Alex Barrow

If I Had an Octopus
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Alex Barrow

Cheyney McDonnell: Thank you for feeding Freckle

Illustrated by the author

Published by Five Mile, 2020

While the children were growing up, we had a variety of small pets that became part of the family. Hermit crabs, goldfish, guinea pigs and one very large dwarf rabbit called Muffin. She was white, fluffy, adorable and not very smart! Having them looked after while we were on holidays was always on the list of things to do before we headed off to distant hills.

More recently I have had the privilege of looking after a young friend’s strawberry plant (Uncle Barry) while he was on holiday with his family. I was impressed when I received a short note explaining how to care for Uncle Barry. Plants, like animals, need water, sunshine, attention and just the right amount of water and food.

This interactive picture book by Cheyney Mc Donnell is all about looking after Freckle the cat and the reader is the care giver. The dates are marked on the calendar and the house is at the end of a windy road you can trace with your finger.

The key to the house is under the flowerpot and you use it to open the green door. It’s so dark inside that the reader has to clap their hands two times to turn on the light. Freckle’s food is in the cupboard and with the help of some clever flaps and folds, it goes into the bowl for Freckle to eat. Freckle needs a sleep after lunch and afterwards it’s time to play with toys before putting them all away again. Before you go, you just might see where Freckle’s freckle is! And don’t forget to clap two times again to turn off the lights.

The format of this picture book is just right for little hands and the pages are made of thick, durable paper that won’t tear easily while all the flaps and folds are investigated. The illustrations are clear and uncomplicated, complimenting the text and reinforcing the written instructions, which are expressed with kindness and care.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 1-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that encourage physical and imaginative interactivity which is especially helpful for young readers with lots of energy:

How Many Bugs in a Box? A Pop Up Counting Book by David Carter

Tap the Magic Tree
by Christie Matheson

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Wiggle by Doreen Cronin Illustrated by Scott Menchin

I Spy Little Bunnies Jean Marzollo Illustrated by Walter Wick

This Book Just Stole My Cat
by Richard Byrne

The Game of Finger Worms
by Herve Tullet

Plant the Tiny Seed
by Christie Matheson

Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

The Pop-Up Dear Zoo
by Rod Campbell

Don’t Wake the Dragon
by Bianca Schulze
Illustrated by Samara Hardy

Good Morning Yoga: a Pose by Pose Wake Up Story
by Mariam Gates
Illustrated by Sarah Jane Hindler

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle

Animal Alphabet: Slide and Seek the ABC’s by Alex Lluch

Don’t Wake Up the Tiger
by Britta Teckentrup

Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig

Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda

That’s Not My Robot by Fiona Watt Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Simon James: The Boy From Mars

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books, London, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to face reality. Especially if your reality is scary, unpleasant, uncomfortable or just too difficult to put into words. Sometimes all you want to do is fly away and leave the problems far behind. Maybe you will come back and face them another day, or maybe not. Sometimes it feels like you should sort the mess on your own but no-one else understands how you feel or how to help you.

Simon James addresses some of these issues in The Boy From Mars.

Young Stanley has to say goodbye to his mum, who is leaving for work and will not be home overnight, and he is feeling a bit lost with this idea. The first thing Stanley does is run out to the garden and climb into a big box that is his spaceship and zoom off to Mars. Fortunately, Stanley comes back, but he is not Stanley anymore. He is a Martian! And this particular Martian does not behave quite like the other boys on Earth.

Martians don’t wash their hands before dinner, they don’t eat vegetables, but they do love ice cream. Martians don’t wash their teeth before bed, but they do keep their helmets on in bed. This particular Martian doesn’t behave so well at school either. Dad is a bit worried about what mum will think when she arrives home. Of course, mum does come home and the first question she asks is whether this little Martian has been good.

What can the Martian do? Jump back in the spaceship, go to Mars and bring back Stanley!

This is a wonderful story that explores what it is like to miss someone. We all have different ways of coping with this feeling. Fortunately for Stanley, his family allowed him the space and time to work it out.

The illustrations are tender and poignant, filled with all the details of life at home, making it very accessible and familiar.

Did you know that Simon James trained as a policeman after leaving school? Fortunately for us, he was asked to leave after penguin drawings were discovered in his notebooks!

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and here are more of my favourite books by Simon James:

Mr Scruff
Dear Greenpeace
Nurse Clementine
Sally and the Limpet
REX
George Flies South