Wednesday 10 April 2019

LEAP FROG by Jane Clarke and SHHH WE HAVE A PLAN! by CHRIS HAUGHTON. Reviewed by Penny Dolan

Two picture books today! The titles have been out a year or more and they were copies I selected from the children's library book-boxes ready for an Under-Fives Storytime session last Monday.
Any book I choose for an Under-five Storytime has to be
- fairly simple in context
- have a clear ( and possible predictable) plot stucture
- have a touch of suspense and drama - not jut one object after another per page.
- include opportunities for joining in through sounds and/or actions
and attract and interest me a lot. 
So here are my choices:

Who Woke The Baby? | Nosy Crow

My first book was LEAP FROG by JANE CLARKE and BRITTA TECKENTRUP, published by Nosy Crow. (2019) The setting is a bold collage-effect rain-forest or "jungle." 

Felix the little tree frog, made obvious by his bright green colour is trying to find someone or some place he knows. However, being only little, he is scared by the many noises he hears in the jungle. He meets three frogs, a friendly turtle, a beetle walking across the leaves, monkeys throwing down their nutshells and . . . a swooshy-whooshy snake! Luckily, Felix escapes up a tree-trunk, meets a woodpecker and then  -  making the reader turn the whole illustrated spread vertically - finds his way up the tall tree trunk. At the top, there's another noise but Felix is not scared this time. He knows that noise is his Daddy waiting for him at the top of the tall tree. 

What I liked was the way the text speaks directly to the reader with invitations to join in or repeat lines, whether the scary sounds - Pitter Patter Rustle! Rustle! - or involvement in the action of the story: "Don't worry little frog, there's nothing to be scared of" or counting our way up the 10 branches of the tall tree.  By the way, I took along a small toy frog and a turtle to introduce the story which also helped me to start by talking about the book. It was fun!

Chris Haughton +++++++ - SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN

The second book SHH! WE HAVE A PLAN! by CHRIS HAUGHTON (Walker Books 2015) made me laugh when I found it and read it through. The unsuccessful "plan" of the title had such echoes of Blackadder that I took it home as well, to do a couple of small practice try-out reads. It was also NOT a sweet story about cuddly animals and bedtimes, of which there seem to be plenty, and had an eccentric cartoonish look. The pages, a collage of deep blues and purples, creates a sense of night-time. 

A small gang of jokey baddies appear, trying to creep soundlessly through a wood. We see the trio simply: just dark shapes with worried expressive eyes and gloomy blue faces and I'd suggest the fate of the plan is evident from their whole appearance. Each character - one big, one middle-sized, one smaller - carries a net  and we soon see that they are planning to catch a small brightly-coloured bird.

Each attempt begins badly, because the gang have a tiny fourth person - or child? - with them who chirps "hello birdy" at the start in a friendly but noisy way. I found each stage of the storytelling wonderfully repeatable in its simplicity, such as these lines the first time they see the bird:
shh shh we have a plan
tip toe slowly tiptoe slowly now stop shh. 
ready one  ready two  ready three

Charlotte's Library: Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton

This storybook is very good for reading dramatically and for some enjoyable joining in - along with reassuring asides like "I don't think they'll catch the bird, will they?" if necessary, because, of course, when the characters do get close enough to the bird, things don't go quite as expected. 

It is also quite short, so it could be quite good to read again a second time, I'd guess - if you hadn't already over-run with the songs and instruments.

Thank you, all you authors and illustrators. I was very pleased to have such good reading fun with these two books!

Penny Dolan


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