Tag Archives: cat

Autumn books we love

Yes, the weather has turned to wet and miserable, but we can still rejoice at the thought of hot chocolate and biscuits, or whatever treat warms both your belly and your heart. Autumn is almost certainly my favourite season and Jane Porter‘s gorgeous illustration seemed to perfectly illustrate the joy this time of year summons in me. Don’t get me wrong, my kids and I love summer with all the opportunities it offers to spend time outside, but I like the fact that summer is precious because it is short lived.

If you don’t feel like braving the rain and wind, or if your kids need to be convinced that autum is a great season, then read them these two lovely stories. The first of these will explain to them why leaves fall, and the second will encourage them to be patient and understanding, so really, what’s not be liked?

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When we picked up Leaf Trouble written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church at the library recently, I wondered why it looked familiar to me. Then once home, I realised that Caroline Jayne Church had made a series of books that my son adored as a baby and toddler whose main character is a fun little puppy called Woof.

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Now in Leaf Trouble there is no dog, but a family of squirrels who lives in an big oak tree. Pip when he realises that the leaves are not only changing colours but also falling from the trees, starts to panic.

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He calls for his sister’s help and hopes that they can save the tree which is “falling to pieces”. After making a huge pile on the ground, this spontaneous rescue team tries to stick the leaves back on the branches, but of course this fails, and thank goodness their mum arrives and asks them what they’re doing!

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She then explains to them that the tree needs a rest and that when spring comes, the leaves will all come back again.

Relieved to hear this, they play beneath the old oak tree until sunset, collect some leaves to take back to their nest, and watch the gorgeous colours of the sunset which perfectly match the ones on the leaves. Seeing them happy and soaking in the scene contrasts nicely with their frantic panic and makes for a nice ending.

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This story gave us a chance to think about the change of season and what happens to trees and animals who live outdoors. If your child has ever wondered why it is that leaves change colour in the fall, read this great post by an expert who has tons of ideas to make this tangible and fun with experiments and activities.

Now for a visual feast you can’t really beat the lavishness of Helen Cooper‘s work. “Deep  in the woods there’s an old cabin with pumpkins in the garden. There’s a good smell of soup, and at night, with luck, you might see a bagpiping Cat through the window, and a squirrel with a banjo, and a small singing Duck.”

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Each of them has a special role in making this yummy soup: Cat slices the pumpkin, Squirrel stirs in the water, and Duck adds the right amount of salt. But one morning Duck wakes up early and decides to borrow Squirrel’s special spoon and to become the Head cook. Of course this is not going to work and not only because he is too short. The three friends start squabbling and arguing until Duck walks out, annoyed that no one will let him help.

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Contrary to what the Cat and the Squirrel thought Duck does not come back for breakfast, not even for lunch. The soup they make is not tasty and they don’t feel hungry anyway. So they start to look for him and to worry about where he has gone.

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After looking for a long time, they decide to go back home, see some light from a distance, and run to the house where they are finally reunited.

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My kids love pumpkin soup and understand all too well falling out with friends, so when the Cat and Squirrel decide to let Duck make the soup for the sake of their friendship, they understand why it is, believe me! And they love the look of the messy kitchen too.

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For another visual automnal feast, watch Co Hoedeman’s Ludovic who has been a favourite in our house for years. We have a DVD with several of this cute teddy’s stories but you can watch Magic in the air on the National Film Board’s website for free.

For more activity ideas, have a look at our seasonal pinterest board!

Finally here is some inspiration for those of you who like making yummy snacks together. Look at these maple roast pumpkin seeds or apple pie cups on Weelicious, don’t they look nice? I also love improvising with date-nut bites, there’s a good recipe here, but feel free to try your own combination. We like date+cocoa+walnut+almond butter, rolled in dessicated coconut to make them a bit less sticky. As long as you’ve got a good food processor, they are easy and kids love these energy balls.

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Just in case you get thirsty, why not try THE drink that says autumn: apple cider, a good old classic which makes the house smell like heaven. Here’s a link to a foolproof recipe with an option to make it plain, decadent, or even boozy.

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God save the Queen

No, this blog has not turned into a political forum which hopes to to debate the virtues or monarchy. What interests me today is the figure of the Queen that I’ve seen popping up in a couple of books that we particularly enjoy reading at the moment.

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I can’t take credit for this first book by Tom McLaughin which tells the lovely story of Harry and the cat he gets for his birthday Mr Tiddles. My son who likes to romp about in the park after school introduced me to The Diabolical Mr Tiddles a couple of weeks ago. He ran to the display shelf at the library, picked it up, ran back to me, and said with a big mischievous grin on his face “Mum, my teacher read this to us last year, I love it, can we read it again?”. How could I not oblige him? And of course we took it home and read it quite a few times since.

After Harry’s dream to get a cat comes true, he does all he can to make him as happy as a cat can be. They watch TV and play video games together and slurp yummy looking milkshakes.

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Harry even strokes Mr Tiddles’s tummy until he drifts into a dreamy sleep at night. This seems like paradise, but like any honey moon, this period of bliss eventually comes to an end. On the day Mr Tiddles decides to show his love by bringing Harry a nice fresh mouse, Harry unsurprisingly turns a funny colour.

Mr Tiddles, who is not the kind of cat to let this mishap deter him, decides to get something else for Harry. This time he brings him his favourite treat: a triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam. Who could possibly resist this? The trouble is that after that, every morning Harry wakes up to find more and more outrageously lavish gifts. Yummy jelly beans, a pogo stick, an electric guitar, a giant train set, the list goes on and on until one day he finds a horse in his bedroom!

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Harry who is both delighted and puzzled by this endlessly growing collection of things decides one night that he will follow Mr Tiddles to see where all these presents come from. And guess where he ends up?

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That’s right, the rascally moggy has decided to burgle the Queen’s palace! But the minute Mr Tiddles lays his paw on her Majesty’s crown, Harry shouts “Stop!”. Needless to say the Queen is not amused and asks her guards “to arrest these two intruders for Acts of Cheekiness Against the Crown.”

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Harry then pleads his friend’s cause and explains that he’s only been taking things because he cares about him so much. Her Majesty looks at Mr Tiddles long and hard and she tells him that it is wrong to steal. She can see that he has learned his lesson and decides that she will forget about it as long as he returns all the things he has taken to their original owners. When the two friends are finished, they share a big hug and agree that having each other is the best present ever.

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 The Queen’s forgiveness and the moral lesson she teaches Mr Tiddles are valuable. But what I like most is the ending which shows that love and affection is worth much more that material possessions. My children were wowed by the various presents that Harry got, but they agreed it was much more fun to spend time together, having a lovely picnic, with no external distraction. And because Christmas is just around the corner, I am happy to find subtle reminders that things don’t necessarily bring you long term happiness.

Now The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony is a different  kettle of fish. We went to a reading of his during half term and have been practicing drawing corgis, butlers and pandas steadily since.

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Bear with me if the panda does not make sense yet. The Queen’s Hat is a gorgeous picture book that can be read to toddlers, but that will also has appeal to older kids. The Queen who is on her way to visit someone very special, sees her hat flying away: SWISH! Breaking protocol, she and her guards start running after the lost hat which gets swept to Trafalgar Square, and all through London Zoo, and all along the Underground. The hat does not stop there and carries on all the way to the top of Big Ben.

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The fantastically detailed and fun pictures of these well known sights covered by swarms of red and black guards, the option to ‘spot the corgi or Queen’, and the fantastic floating umbrellas that bring them all to Kensington Palace are gorgeous eye candies.

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And what better end to a story than a happy baby, the one she was going to visit, her grandson (presumably).

This is a great book to read before a visit to any of London’s attractions and sights, or to offer to visitors regardless of their mother tongue since the text is easily translated. We love the guards’s shiny jackets on the cover, the fun ending, and the details of every single double page.

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If you want to learn how to draw a corgi, just start with a sausage and visit this page.

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Now for the panda reference. Steve has a new book coming out in January about manners, doughnuts, and pandas, a joyous combination don’t you think? He kindly read it after the Queen’s Hat and showed the kids how to draw a panda. FYI: the event we attended took place at Tales on Moon Lane, a great independent bookshop in Herne Hill (south London) specialising in children’s books.

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Now I won’t suggest you try to make the impressive triple chocolate cream-and-custard cake with extra banana jam as a follow up activity, but why not try these simple, tried and tested banana boats? They are yummy, easy and fairly quick too. In this house we like peanut butter, chocolate and dessicated coconut, but you could try any combination you like, by just following these instructions.

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Finally if you need a little bit of silliness after the seriousness of monarchy, then have a look at this classic camp song which includes bananas, corn, potatoes and apples. Have fun!

 

 

Embracing and celebrating diversity

The best books are sometimes the most simple and there are two that I really want to share with you today. My Nose, your Nose by Melanie Walsh, and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly by Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt are great books for toddlers, but they also work well with children who are starting to decode and read as I discovered with my four year old son. They could also be great prompts to start discussing diversity, stereotypes, and peer pressure.

I have been thinking about the post I wrote on diversity in children’s books, I have read other bloggers‘s posts on the subject, and I also looked at many of the comments and conversations on the Guardian’s website. This is encouraging but what I would like these diverse books to be above all is great books, fun books, books that my children and I will want to read again, and again, and again. This is why these two books are so dear to me.

I could write a whole series of posts on Nick Sharratt’s work, and maybe I will at some point. His sense of humour and fun characters almost feel like they are part of our family.

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I will be honest though, there has been a few times when I wish we’d lost You Choose, since it probably is the book we’ve read the most in the last 7 years! But I still feel a bit sad that we do not live closer to Sheffield because there is a great looking show devoted to Sharratt’s work on tour from October to next summer.

In Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly, Sue and Nick are friends and they’re also two different ‘characters’ (although one may wonder whether they are characters or alter egos). NickSharratCrazyHairThe text accompanying the illustrations could not be simpler as it alternates between descriptions of what Sue and Nick like. For instance, Nick likes yellow socks, Sue likes yellow ducks. Nick likes red apples, Sue likes green pears.

One thing I like in particular is that contrary to gender stereotypes, Sue likes everything blue, while Nick likes pink and orange dinosaurs. When my son comes home and tells me that he has been told off by girls in his class because he wanted to play hairdresser with them, of course I’ll explain that he can play or like anything he wants, regardless of what others say. But what’s the voice of a mother when facing those of peers?

Finally what I value in Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly is the fact that it concludes on the absolute non judgmental: Sue likes Nick, Nick likes Sue, thus showing that you are worthy of both consideration and affection whatever you like and whatever you wear.

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Now My nose, your Nose also works on juxtapositions. Its clear simple text matches its bold and bright images. While Daisy’s skin is brown, Agnes’s is white but they both have cheeky pink tongues!

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The book goes on comparing  these children’s hair, their eye colours, and their legs among other things.

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There is something of the simplicity of Dick Bruna’s work in My Nose, your Nose, and I love this, certainly because it reminds me of my childhood.

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But among all these comparisons, Walsh keeps coming to a common ground whether it is their love for chocolate cake, their energy, or the daily rituals that they experience.

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I wish I had known about this book earlier since we only bought it a couple of years ago. I can see how it would be a great baby book, one that a child can grow with, and appreciate year after year. We regularly go back to Walsh’s ‘lift the flap’ books and we’ve had them for years in French. Like My Nose, Your Nose, they are simple, colourful, and fun.

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Additional ideas:

Now if you want to do more than just reading these two books, how about a game of colour match or colour hunt as suggested in the lovely blog It’s All About Stories?

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You could also try to make a batch of coloured rice! Jackie’s recipe from Happy Holligans is foolproof and you can be sure your children will have a ton of fun.

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Additional readings;

As for other reads, how about challenging gender stereotypes a bit more? Rosie is a brilliant and inspirational girl engineer, read about her in this review, isn’t she irresistible?

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And finally here’s Raffi, a boy who’s a little bit different, who loves knitting, and who after a while finds people who recognize his talents. See it reviewed here.

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Our top 5 spooky stories for Halloween

After the post I wrote on Zouk, the feisty little French witch, I thought it would be nice to rummage through our collection of books with subjects loosely related to Halloween.

My list will not be as long as this elaborate one where you will find great suggestions by age range. But our top 5 contains five tried and tested books that you can trust will please young readers in search of a not too frightful reading session.Room-on-the-Broom

First, I thought we should start with one of our favourite witches in the classic Room on the Broom by Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson. Do I really need to introduce Julia Donaldson considering the Gruffalo has sold over 6.5 million copies? I’m really not sure. My son’s currently obsessed with Superworm that he read at school, and I have read with him and his sister the Gruffalo, Zog, Stick Man and the Smartest Giant in Town countless times.

In this book, the witch loses her hat, her bow, and a wand, but luckily finds three animals: a dog, a frog and a green bird willing to help her find her possessions. For each loss she gains a new friend and each time she makes room on her broomstick and whoosh flies away. That is until the broomstick snaps in two, and they all tumble in a bog. Suddenly alone and face to face with a hungry dragon who’s eager to have witch and chips, she manages to escape thanks to her new group of friends. The care with which the story is written, its rhythm and its rhymes are a delight. No review can do justice to a reading, so here is a link to one that I like:

Now the fact that I have a child who’s allergic to cats does not mean that we don’t love feline creatures, quite the contrary actually. At the moment, we all have a bit of a crush for Wilburn, Winnie’s companion in the series of books Winnie the witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul. In Winnie Flies Again, my two kids love seeing Winnie both puzzled and scared when she turns her broomstick into a bicycle and later a skateboard in order to avoid the dangerous flying machines that she keeps facing in the sky. I’m not giving away the end as it is hilarious and unexpected, but trust me, this is a good one!

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A more recent discovery for us is Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock and Ali Pye. It is a mouse’s first night at school and it’s going to take all the patience of her teacher and the kindness of the other pupils bat, cat and owl to make her feel less shy. This album is full of exquisite details that my children love: the jars and books of spells on the shelves of the classroom, the tables and chairs that are just right for each of the creatures, and the shiny bits on the cover. You can see how welcoming the classroom is on the illustration I chose for the whole post.  This book would also be a great choice for kids starting school, one to read with their parents during a peaceful summer at home.

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Finally the last two titles we chose are quite different. If your children like books like Where’s Wally? and challenges, they will love The Best Halloween Hunt by John Speirs. Fear not and enjoy the mazes! All the answers are at the back if your little ones get too frustrated. This one is great to keep them busy on the train, or when you’re waiting for a meal at the restaurant.

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And last but not least, here is another book by Rebecca Cobb titled Spooky Sums and Counting Horrors.  I know I have already reviewed another book by Rebecca Cobb, but this is such a hit with my son who loves counting that I could not keep it off this list.

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Slightly older readers will delight in the gruesome details of the feast’s preparation. Look at these cocktails, aren’t they delightful?

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My son adores the ten dancing monsters all in pairs. the yeti, the mummy, the dragon and dracula are clearly having the time of their life. I like the fact that at the end of the party, the little ghosts, exhausted yet happy, and needing their beauty sleep go to bed like everyone else.

If your kids are into numbers, you should try some of these Halloween maths games. I like the idea of spooky sums almost as much as that of Frankenstein puddings (although in the case of the later, I would probably change the recipe for a pistachio flavoured custard and homemade double chocolate cookies).

For more Halloween ideas, see my thematic board on Pinterest and have fun this Halloween!

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Zouk, notre sorcière préférée

Je sais bien qu’Halloween n’est pas une fête traditionnelle pour les Français (de France) et que nous en sommes encore loin côté calendrier, mais l’école de mes enfants organise une ‘spooky night’ la veille des vacances et nous nous sommes donc replongés en famille dans des lectures saisonnières. Ce plongeon m’apporte une belle surprise à savoir que mon petit de 4 ans se révèle non seulement un fan de BD, mais aussi un amateur de  sorcières.

Zouk, la petite sorcière qui a du caractère, est le fruit d’une collaboration entre Serge Bloch et Nicolas Hubesch, et ses aventures sont aussi publiées dans la revue Les Belles Histoires. Si la patte de ses deux créateurs vous dit quelque chose, c’est que vous êtes peut être familier avec d’autres albums du prolifique Serge Bloch qui n’est autre que le ‘père’ de SamSam, Toto et Max&Lili.  Je ne peux donc pas m’empêcher de vous donner à voir, l’épique épisode de SamSam intitulé l’attaque des Pipiolis, un classique de chez classique pour les petits de 3-4 ans, à savourer si vous êtes en pleine phase de transition entre les couches et les culottes.

Mais revenons à nos moutons, Zouk est une petite sorcière pleine de peps qui ne se laisse pas marcher sur les pieds et qui fait aussi pas mal de bêtises! Dans le volume intitulé Danger Public par exemple, elle transforme une boule de neige en montagne géante, manque de faire manger ses amis par une bande de crocodiles, piranhas et araignées géantes et fonce à travers la ville au volant de la voiture de ses parents avant de s’écraser lamentablement dans un immeuble.

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Heureusement sa maman Salsepareille, la sorcière la plus forte du monde, veille au grain et n’est jamais très loin en balai magique! Et toujours et encore, après s’être fait gronder, Zouk promet de ne plus recommencer…jusqu’à la prochaine fois. Je ne sais pas ce que ma grande aimait le plus chez Zouk, peut être était-ce le fait qu’elle ne se laisse pas faire ou commander par qui que ce soit, mais clairement mon plus jeune se délecte des bêtises de Zouk. Il aime imaginer qu’il a des super pouvoirs comme elle. Parfois il me menace de sa baguette magique et semble vouloir me faire disparaître, à d’autre moments il me dit avec un grand sourire qu’il aimerait lui aussi savoir transformer les gens en gateau ou en tonneau.

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Dans tous les cas, si vous êtes en manque de tours de magie cocasses ou de lectures ou les sorcières sont bien plus sympas et moins effrayantes que d’ordinaire, je vous conseille d’essayer un de ces albums.

Et puis tant que vous y êtes faites-vous une baguette magique, ou inventez des formules rigolotes. Un petit tuto pour vous aider ici, même si en improvisant avec un pistolet à colle chaude, un bâton choisi avec soin, de la laine, et du papier coloré, on peut se faire quelque chose de très convaincant, croyez-moi!

 

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I know it is a bit early to celebrate Halloween, but my kids’ school has a spooky night coming up and this always gets them excited, so we’ve been following their hearts and reading seasonal books with Halloween and spooky themes.

The Zouk series is what I would call a cartoon for young readers, with usually 6 stories in each book. My daughter took to them when she was 6 years old, and it seems that my younger son (who’s now 4) loves them just as much.

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Zouk lives in a city that looks very much like New York with her mum and dad, and she is opiniated and full of mischief. Her faithful companions are a talking pumpkin Monsieur Potiron and her black cat Noyau. Like most children, she is spontaneous and outspoken which sometimes gets her in trouble. At the playground, when two  boys she plays with forbid her to climb on the equipment and threaten to turn her in girl’s juice, she retaliates by transforming the little bridge in a fragile structure suspended over scary crocodiles, piranhas and rats.

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In another of her adventures, Zouk sees joggers in the park, and decides that she wants to do the same. But she soon realises how tiring this is and decides to hop on her magic broom instead. But flying in this park is forbidden and a policeman close by immediately tells her so. If only the poor little witch could remember how to stop, maybe she would not end up crashing in a tree.

Zouk is a stubborn and fun character, who often needs her mum’s help to sort out the havoc she’s created and this is partly why, I suspect,  my son loves her so much. She is adventurous and disobedient but more often than not she means well. So how could you possibly remain cross with her?

In short, if you have a little mischievous wizard or witch in your house, you should definitely check Zouk’s books, or watch her happily fly on your screen.

 

 

Swimming in a gigantic bowl of creamy milk, what a dream!

I wish I’d had this dream, but this is Colin’s, the cute and fun cat in Leigh Hodgkinson‘s book Colin and the wrong Shadow. My son picked it  up at the library and decided that reading it twice was not enough (which I guess is always a good sign). Since then (a mere 10 hours ago) we’ve probably read it another six or seven times, and I would not be surprised to hear that his father has also been solicited! I am not sure what my son prefers in this book but here is a list of the things he has appreciated and underlined as we read together:

1-the cereal shaped ‘o’ going from Colin’s head to the giant bowl full of milk he is dreaming about      

2.the giant elephant shadow and the little pink mouse Vernon

3-the bouncy flowers that make Vernon jump like a super-dooper star and his tuba&mask at the end of the story

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From this list you would not know that this book is all about Colin’s search for his lost shadow, but it is. After realising that the funny feeling he has when waking up is due to his new mouse-shaped shadow, Colin tries to ignore the sniggering of other cats. But this is really hard. Finally sad and frustrated, he manages to spot his original shadow and chases it down. It turns out that Vernon, a little pink mouse, has ‘borrowed’ his shadow while he was sleeping. But Colin is not happy with this switch-swap and wants his shadow back. After a heart to heart conversation, Vernon and Colin finally come to an agreement and swap shadows again before having a lot of fun together.

While my son was curious about the interchangeable shadows and the details of the collages making up part of the illustrations, I could not refrain from admiring the various levels this story could be read at . You can look at it as a simple lost&find type of adventure, but the story is also about appearances and the way individuals perceive each other and act accordingly. The fun these two improbable companions eventually have proves everyone wrong in the end, which is a relief.  The ‘all is well that ends well’ cuppa that Colin and Vernon share was a highlight for both my children, who seem to understand instinctively that this special tea&cheese break stands for both resolution and comfort .

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As for me, I loved the attention to texture, layers and details of Hodkinson’s illustrations. Colin’s soft looking fur, Vernon cracker-sofa, and the fun camembert on the back cover all added to my enjoyment. There are several other books by this author including one starring Colin again, so I suspect we will be reading more of these this summer…and you may read more about them in another post.

(To be continued)