Author Archives: Dinah

Delicious (Pumpkin Soup) by by Helen Cooper

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This book is pleasantly illustrated enough and the text occasionally rollicks along, but on the whole I found it a charmless tale of Duck wanting pumpkin soup but eventually (he gets very hungry) settling for orange vegetable soup instead. Though the author certainly tries hard. It’s about pumpkin soup, which is why we chose it from the library just before Hallowe’en. It’s about a fussy eater who doesn’t appreciate the effort involved in attempting to feed him, but in my opinion any moral to be drawn from that is undermined by the way he’s simply offered more and more different kinds of soup until finally he likes one. It features a substory of bugs plotting to steal the soup via a Heath-Robinson-esque contraption under the sink but it’s hard to see what they’re up to and it never seems very funny, even when they steal the only soup Duck will eat. I also found it annoying that the carnivore ate veg soup and the herbivore ate chicken soup. My daughter cheerily enjoyed it a couple of times, though.

Moon Zoo by Carol-Ann Duffy

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Moon zoo

Moon Zoo

Poet laureate Carol-Ann Duffy has written a suitably poetic, bedtime joke here. Humorously, beautifully and accurately (by which I mean matching the text) illustrated, the book is a poem about the zoo creatures of the Moon having dinner and going to sleep. The carefully developed joke is that of course zoo creatures cannot live on the Moon, but if they did, what would it be like? Starfish and chips, served by an alien Zookeeper! The poem has an unusual metre that creates a gentle atmosphere and the words will linger on in your mind after your child has long dropped off to sleep. This children’s picture book is suitable for three year-olds and up, I’d say, because younger children may not get the joke and also may not be familiar with concepts like gravity and the names of the planets. Another book by the same author makes a parallel joke about farm animals under the sea. In my opinion Underwater Farmyard is slightly more charming and easier to explain but there’s more to learn from Moon Zoo.

Two Frogs by Christopher Wormell

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Two frogs

Two Frogs by Christopher Wormell

Your child will read this at face value, and cheerily laugh whenever the frogs do, utterly missing all irony. But you, as the scenario becomes ever more elaborate and unlikely, will chortle till your sides hurt. There’s a scary pike and heron page, but fear not, the frogs hop away from harm. Excellent illustrations too. Highly unusual toddler tale, retaining internal logic (not reliably the case for many, I find) and with a tiny postscript illustration to double the punchline. Be prepared to explain what a javelin is.

Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett

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Cave Baby

Cave Baby

Cave Baby is another charming, rereadable book from Julia Donaldson (the Gruffalo lady), this time illustrated by Emily Gravett (responsible for classics such as Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear) to excellent effect. Cave mum and dad don’t appreciate Cave Baby’s ‘artwork’ on the cave walls, so, banished to bed, he dreams of artistic recognition. A baby mammoth who needs someone with fingers to decorate the mammoth home cave collects him and they journey through a prehistoric night landscape, with a mysterious scary bear shape to search for on every page. The cave paintings are delightful and so is the rhyming tale. A bit too easy for three-year-olds in my opinion.

Cave Baby in the UK

Cave Baby in the US

Cave Baby's Art

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

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The Enormous Crocodile

The Enermous Crocodile

Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake…the magical partnership that beguiled so many childhood hours, and what better example to begin with than The Enormous Crocodile? It’s pitched perfectly at toddler level, but is MUCH longer than the average toddler book, so excellent for alleviating journey tedium, but not so good for bedtime, if everyone’s tired. Great introduction to the signature Dahl theme of gleefully foiled anti-child plots – you’ll be surprised how cheerfully your child absorbs the horrid idea that crocs eat kids if they get the chance.

The eponymous enormous crocodile sets off through the jungle to the town to catch some juicy children, and on the way he’s nasty to various charmingly named creatures and boasts of his “secret plans and clever tricks”. Quentin Blake ingeniously illustrates the croc disguised as a palm tree, a seesaw, and finally a picnic bench, before he gets his well-deserved comeuppance at the hands of the largest creature he mistreated – it won’t be any use telling your child that the croc is fine really after seeing the last, hilarious page. Lots more Dahl to enjoy after this: we’re going to try The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me next. And if this seems a little scary still, try Blake’s solo books for smaller children, such as Amazing Daisy Artichoke.

You should pick up a copy…..obviously, from Amazon:


The Magic Train Ride by Sally Crabtree and Sonia Esplugas

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The magic train ride

Magic Train Ride by Sally Crabtree and Sonia Esplugas

Oh, we’re on the train again, speeding down the rails again, quickly quickly down the tracks, clicketyclickety clack! This delightful book comes with a slightly less delightful CD featuring the story sung by a slightly tense-sounding lady. This is the story of a magic train ride (who’d’ve guessed?). A couple of kids get their magic tickets and board the train with assorted fellow travellers, stopping in places such as the jungle, outer space, fairyland and under the sea, rhyming their cheery way to the final destination (a seaside castle). At each stop a passenger hops off (the alien stays on Mars, for example) and a new one hops on, so to make the most of the book read it slowly a few times first without the CD to spot all the entrancing details. The singing on the CD is not quite up to snuff, but it does have a catchy little tune which will clicketyclack in your head for days. Well worth buying, for girls and boys, even if they’re not train-mad. My daughter likes to grab a bunch of tickets that we’ve collected from the miniature railway at Roxbourne Park as a little accoutrement to really get into the story.

Buy The Magic Train Ride in the UK
Buy The Magic Train Ride in the US

Inside the magic train ride

Inside the Magic Train Ride

Hedgehog Howdedo by Lynley Dodd

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Hedgehog Howdede

Hedgehog Howdede by Lynley Dodd

I chose this one at the library because the author is also responsible for the popular Hairy MacClary series featuring improbably named dogs. This one features, instead, a wholly improbable number of hedgehogs in one garden. We have provided all that a hedgehog could desire in ours, and yet, sadly, one has not moved in. Also, they are solitary creatures most of the time. But this book rollicks along, rhyming and counting, with pictures crammed with hedgehogs (spot the cat on most pages) all hibernating away while a little girl ponders the impending traffic jam in spring. Fun enough to re-read.

Hedgehog Howdedo at Amazon UK

Hedgehog Howdedo at Amazon US

Sally and the Limpet by Simon James

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Sally and the Limpet

Sally and the Limpet

This is both funny and fascinating – and I am happy to read and re-read it. Young Sally fiddles with a pretty limpet on the beach and it “makes a little sucking sound” (insert suitable noise, to much snickering) and sticks itself firmly onto her finger. Over the next couple of days many people try many different (some horrifying, some hilarious) ways of detaching it, but the only help comes from her teacher, who says that limpets like to stay on the same rock all their lives (up to 20 years, apparently). Sick and tired of having her finger and her limpet poked and prodded, Sally escapes back to the beach and offers the limpet the chance to unstick and rejoin its rock. Perhaps suitably accessorised with cockles and mussels (not alive-o), this story has much to offer, with something of an eco-message in there too. The illustrations are pleasant enough.

Sally and the Limpet for UK based readers
Sally and the Limpet for US based readers

Katje The Windmill Cat by Gretchen Woelfle

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Katje the Windmill Cat

Katje the Windmill Cat

This is the story of a miller’s cat who lives in a windmill and saves a baby in a cradle from drowning in a flood that bursts the dike around the Dutch town they live in. The story arc is pleasantly predictable – cat used to get prefential treatment from the miller until he married and a baby was born to claim all the attention, but after the flood rescue incident, the cat is the miller’s wife’s favourite pet. Perhaps not an ideal book for a three-year-old, with its unusual setting and situations. I didn’t realise that the millstones could not be disconnected from the sails in a storm, requiring constant feeding of grain to prevent the stones forming sparks (surely this is no longer the case?), and this was difficult to explain to my daughter, especially given that she’s none too clear on how wheat turns into bread. I also found it hard to see how a cat jumping about in a floating wooden cradle could prevent it capsizing, however much one could depend on the cat to wish to stay dry, but that part didn’t bother my daughter at all. She enjoyed the baby-saving drama, and the illustrations are detailed and dreamily old-timey, but I think it’s one to try again in future years.

Katje the Windmill Cat at Amazon UK

Katje the Windmill Cat at Amazon US

The Sun and The Wind by Mairi Mackinnon

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The Sun and The Wind

The Sun and The Wind

This is a brightly illustrated re-telling of the fable of the North Wind and the Sun, who puzzlingly compete to see who is first able to make a traveller remove his coat. I also played my daughter the catchy tune also telling the tale by Julia Donaldson (of Gruffalo fame), but I fear that she was much more interested in the scenes of people having seaside fun in the sunshine, then getting blustered about. The final page shows the traveller enjoying a blueberry ice-cream and I think that was the image that stayed in her mind. Along the way we may have learned that although the wind is invisible it can be represented by a blue swirl. We’re about to try an anthology of Aesop’s Fables next…

Buy in the UK

Buy in the USA