Beneath the Trees #3: A Fine Summer – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

You know you’re in desperate need for some childlike fun when you identify with a couple of grumpy old men more than you do some rambunctious younguns.

Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad just want some peace and quiet. Mr. Toad appears to be a bit of a crankypants (crankyoveralls?), upset the neighbourhood kids are making a ruckus this summer. Mr. Owl isn’t having a hoot either.

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At least he has a very relatable reason for needing some quiet time, though. He’s in the middle of a particularly engaging book.

Maybe it’s time for these oldtimers to reclaim some of the joy and innocence of childhood.

This is such a cute series, combining life lessons with humour. There’s minimal text but the illustrations clearly tell the stories. All of the animals are expressive and I love the colour palette.

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Given the first two books in this series were autumn and winter, it would have made more sense to me for the final two books to be released in season order. While the stories are all set in the same world, they can be read in any order. 

I’m looking forward to spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s summer, and the laughter of children echoes under the trees. But for some of the older animals, the frivolous abandon of childhood is far behind them. Old Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad get the crazy idea to relive some of their youth if that’s even possible anymore…

The third book in a new series designed to paint a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this third volume, a pair of older animals set out to relive their energetic youth. A heartwarming tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

Spellbound – Jess Townes

Illustrations – Jennifer Harney

Willow is a magical only child who’s used to having her family’s undivided attention. Then Rowan is born and Willow’s family fall under his spell. 

Willow does everything in her power to avoid succumbing to Rowan’s wizardry. 

But Willow knew her spells wouldn’t last forever.
If she wanted to stop Rowan, she had to take away his magic.
And she knew just how to do it. 

I felt bad for Willow. She’s jealous of her new sibling and the adults around her are so besotted with Rowan that they ignore her. The only attention she gets is negative. When she’s not behaving badly, it’s almost as if Willow has perfected a vanishing act.

Willow ultimately discovers that siblings aren’t so bad after all but it’s probably just as important for parents to read this book so they’re reminded to be sensitive to the feelings of their children when new members are introduced to the family.

Jennifer Harney’s illustrations were really cute. The colour palette is lovely, with plenty of yellows and purples. I loved the way magic was portrayed and could definitely see myself living in Willow’s home amongst the trees.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Union Square Kids, a subsidiary of Sterling Publishing, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A funny, fresh twist on new-sibling relationships and the magic of love.

Willow’s world is perfectly magical, until Rowan is born. When her new baby brother seems to enchant everyone he meets, Willow becomes convinced he is an actual, real-life wizard. Can Willow put a stop to his hocus pocus, or is Rowan’s magic too powerful to resist?

Author Jess Townes brings fresh and expressive writing that’s sure to appeal to young children, while illustrator Jennifer Harney’s unique and colourful art style brings this wonderful, whimsical story to life.

Take a Breath – Sujean Rim

Sometimes something on your do to list starts climbing over all of the other somethings, eager to capture your attention. They think if they’re the loudest and can make you start to panic, you’ll set aside the dozen or so other things that are due first just to silence them. 

Sometimes when this happens, you might forget how important breathing is. But sometimes, just sometimes, life intervenes on your behalf. You pick up a book, look at the title and chuckle to yourself about the irony. This is that book.

Meet Bob, my new favourite feathered friend. Unlike the other birds, Bob can’t fly. Yet.

He doesn’t let being grounded get him down. He fills his time puzzling solutions to age old questions and getting to know the land dwelling locals. Bob also has good taste in music.

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I love Bob’s persistence and the creativity he applies to learning how to fly. Some of Bob’s more humorous attempts at taking flight involve a balloon, slingshot and springs.

Bob might be many things but, like most of us, he’s not immune to self doubt. What are some of the best things about Bob? He recognises when he needs help and is open to trying new things.

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Enter Crow, my other new favourite feathered friend. Crow empathises with Bob and is willing to share what helped them when they were in a similar situation. Crow is patient, kind and encouraging.

Bob and Crow teach (or remind) readers of the importance of mindfulness. By focusing on his breathing (sounds simple until you realise you’ve been either holding your breath or are on your way to hyperventilating), Bob is able to centre himself. 

The lessons in this book are easy to apply and realistic. A couple of really important things happen that make all the difference to Bob. Someone has cared enough to listen to his concerns and validated him, and the breathing technique Crow has taught him has quietened his mind and helped regulate his body. 

Do these things magically solve all of Bob’s problems? No, but he sure is in a better frame of mind to tackle them. 

Sometimes you just have to be grounded before you can fly. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An anxious baby bird who fears he’ll never learn to fly gets a lesson in mindfulness in this funny and sweetly encouraging picture book about believing in yourself.

Every morning, the birds are flapping with excitement for their first flight of the day … except for Bob. Bob doesn’t get the whole flying thing; when the other baby birds go up, up, up, he goes down, down, down. Bob can’t help worrying … what if he never learns how to fly? 

His friend Crow tells him, “All you need to do is breathe, Bob.” Of course, Bob breathes all the time, but there’s breathing and then there’s B-R-E-A-T-H-I-N-G. And it might just be the thing to calm Bob’s ruffled feathers.

A Little Bit of Respect – Claire Alexander

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The Ploofers are back! And I’m so conflicted.

The Ploofers take their rainbow cloud on an adventure and meet some new beings, whose names I don’t currently know. While they’re visiting, one of their new acquaintances doesn’t respect Little One’s boundaries, doing things like squishing their cheeks and constantly saying how cute they are. 

This makes Little One uncomfortable and angry. I loved how expressive Little One was, their usual rainbow ploof transforming into red squiggly lines.

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I was disappointed that Toasty, who was the first to recognise the beauty of the SHOOF! and was by Little One’s side as they overcame their fear of doing a new thing, was nowhere to be seen when Little One’s boundaries were being violated. I would have gotten over this because even Toasty can’t be everywhere and given what I know of them, they would have been there supporting Little One if they’d known what was happening and the impact it was having on them.

I was so excited when I started this book. I was entirely on board for the Ploofers to tackle consent. I loved that Little One had the confidence to set boundaries for themselves and the courage to speak up when they were crossed. They had every right to expect their boundaries to be respected and it looked as though all would be well.

The one who had made Little One uncomfortable listened when Little One explained how their behaviour made them feel. They validated Little One and apologised to them. 

Then everything that was good about this book and its message was undone in the final three pages and now I have red squiggly lines above my head too. 

I’m sure this is not the message that was intended but one of my takeaways, after all of the good that preceded it, was that even if you’re brave enough to stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries with someone, your voice ultimately means nothing. They’re just as likely to give you lip service and go do it to someone else. This is not okay!

If this book had finished just a little bit sooner, when the air had been cleared and everyone was sitting down for a nice picnic, this review would have been entirely different. I wish it was.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the A Little Bit Different and A Little Bit of Courage, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of self-awareness and respect.

The Ploofers are visiting a new island and are excited to meet the residents. But when one islander singles out Little One as an adorable cutie pie, Little One isn’t happy and becomes frustrated with the way he is being treated. Will Little One learn to be assertive and stand up for himself? 

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Respect picks up right where A Little Bit of Courage left off. With a subtle yet powerful message about the importance of self-respect and respecting others, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.

Fluffy McWhiskers Cuteness Explosion – Stephen W. Martin

Illustrations – Dan Tavis

Fluffy McWhiskers is cursed with cuteness. 

Yes, Fluffy McWhiskers was so cute that if you saw her … you’d explode. 

Which, if you think about it, kinda ups the danger level of reading this book.

It’s a lonely existence when no one lives long enough to be your friend. Fluffy goes to extreme lengths to save potential victims but nothing seems to work. Is she destined to be alone forever?

I am so conflicted. I don’t know whether to tell you that I laughed at the absurdity of this book or how ashamed I feel for finding a massacre of cutie patooties amusing. Granted, they were very pretty rainbow explosions, but so many adorable animals (many of which I found cuter than Fluffy) died explodey deaths all over the pages.

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I do have one question. If even seeing Fluffy’s photo in a newspaper is a death sentence, then how did the photographer and the rest of the newspaper staff survive long enough to publish that edition of the Animal Times?

Be on the lookout out for the Piggy Bank and Pizza Sloth Express.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Fluffy – an adorable kitten. So adorable, in fact, that anyone who sees her will spontaneously explode into balls of sparkles and fireworks. KABOOM! Poof. 

Poor Fluffy doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, but everything she tries, even a bad haircut, just makes her cuter! So Fluffy runs away someplace no one can find her. Find out if there’s any hope for Fluffy in this funny and subversive story about self-acceptance and finding friendship in unlikely places.

It Fell From the Sky – Terry Fan & Eric Fan

When it fell from the sky, everyone approached it differently. Some tried to figure out where it came from. Others investigated, attempting to taste, roll or hatch it. 

Everyone agreed it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen. 

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Spider decides to capitalise on the Wonder. That is, until things don’t quite go to plan.

Spider, initially only focused on how he could personally benefit from the Wonder, eventually learns a valuable lesson about selfishness. Maybe Wonders are more wonderful if they’re shared.

The illustrations in this picture book are absolutely gorgeous. The animals are so realistic that I almost expected them to crawl, hop and fly off the page. I was tempted to blow on the dandelions. 

While the pictures are incredibly lifelike, that doesn’t mean they’re without whimsy. There’s something so adorable and smile worthy about seeing critters you’d find in your garden casually wearing top hats and carrying briefcases.

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I probably wouldn’t have appreciated this as much as a kid but adult me loved the minimal use of colour in the illustrations. Initially, the only splash of colour comes from the thing that fell from the sky. Gradually, more colour is introduced. 

Beware the five-legged creature!

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A picture book about community, art, the importance of giving back – and the wonder that fell from the sky.

It fell from the sky on a Thursday.

None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.

Spider builds a wondrous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore?

But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?

Frank and Bert – Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

You know when you’re so excited about a book that you accidentally preorder it twice? I did the advanced copy equivalent of that with this book; I requested ARC’s from two publishers because I just knew I was going to love it. Then I got approvals from both publishers, so I got to enjoy both the electronic and physical copies of this book. 

So, does that mean I loved it twice as much? You bet I did!

Frank the fox and Bert the bear are best friends who love playing hide-and-seek. Frank always finds Bert though because, well, Bert isn’t the best at hiding.

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Bert’s hiding skills reminded me of those of another bear, Fergus from Mike Boldt’s Find Fergus.

Frank loves to win but he also loves his best friend. Frank’s competitive nature goes up against his desire to make his friend happy in the most adorable way.

Bert, to his credit, isn’t quite as oblivious as he first appears. The way the story resolves gave me the biggest smile (and there were many) of the book.

The illustrations are so much fun. My eyes were continually drawn to Bert’s hot pink scarf, an important part of the story that really pops in the physical copy of the book. Both animals are quite expressive, adding to the humour.

Bonus points for the accidental learning. One of the games of hide-and-seek requires readers to count to one hundred. I’d definitely be encouraging kids I was reading with to count along with me.

This story seems so simple at first but there’s such a great message about the value of friendship. 

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I can’t get enough of this book! I really hope Frank and Bert secure starring roles in future books.

If you finish this book and you’re looking for another picture book that weighs the value of friendship against winning, I’d recommend Katy Hudson’s The Golden Acorn.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to fall in love with this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A hilarious new picture book from author of The Suitcase, Chris Naylor-Ballesteros – with neon ink throughout!

Frank and Bert are the best of friends and they LOVE to play hide and seek. But Bert the bear isn’t quite as good at hiding as he thinks he is … and Frank ALWAYS wins! Every. Single. Time. But when it’s Bert’s turn to hide, and Frank has to decide between winning again OR making his friend happy, Frank learns that friendship is always the true winner.

This interactive and entertaining story about friendship is guaranteed to get children giggling!

I Don’t Have a Dog – Contessa Hileman

Illustrations – Carolyn Conahan

If you’ve ever been a dog’s human, you’ll relate to the many roles this girl’s best friend fulfils. Her best friend is, amongst other things, her alarm clock, taste tester and fan club.

My best friend growing up was many of these things but she was also my confidante, protector and a superhero. While my Halloween costumes changed throughout the years, I was always accompanied by Superdog. I guess it’s no surprise then that my favourite illustration in this book (also the cover image) involves a sidekick, complete with flowing cape.

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Carolyn Conahan’s illustrations are adorable and made me nostalgic.

Keep an eye out for the girl’s younger sibling, who helps demonstrate the dog’s powers as a vacuum cleaner.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I Don’t Have a Dog is all about … having a dog! In this picture book, a young girl insists she doesn’t have a dog, but instead an alarm clock, a vacuum cleaner, a home security system, and even a homework excuse.

Badger is Bored! – Moritz Petz

Illustrations – Amélie Jackowski

Badger, who has previously been in a very bad mood, is bored today. It’s the kind of bored that feels like it will never end. 

“I’m more bored than I’ve ever been before – ever.” 

He tries doing what he usually enjoys the most but it doesn’t help. One by one, Badger’s friends drop by. They’re bored too. After trying out all of their usual favourite activities, the friends are at a loss. Nothing is working.

Then Mouse arrives, sparking their imagination. It turns out today isn’t so boring after all.

I loved that the friends worked together, finding a fun activity where everyone could be involved. It definitely didn’t hurt that their adventure was pirate related.

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I enjoyed the illustrations but the layout could have been improved by making the text larger.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and NorthSouth Books for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Fun is just a fresh perspective away in this entertaining book about boredom.  

What a boring day! Badger doesn’t feel like doing anything. Unfortunately, Fox, Squirrel, Blackbird, and Rabbit feel the same way. One after the other, they appear at Badger’s door. Even together they don’t know what to do. But when Mouse comes over wearing an eye patch, she gets the ball rolling – or rather a pirate ship in motion – and the treasure hunt begins! Badger and his friends are finally on an adventure. 

Grumpy Badger is back in Moritz Petz’s humorous story – that could take place in any children’s room – reminding us that boredom often gives rise to the best ideas. Amélie Jackowski’s illustrations keep the laughs coming with her unique and humorous details. 

Beneath the Trees #2: Winter Chills – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

It’s winter and Mr. Fox is having a world of trouble with his scarf of misfortune. He constantly trips over it and gets it caught on things. It has the tendency to want to strangle him any chance it gets. Already frustrated and embarrassed, Mr. Fox becomes increasingly mortified when his struggles catch the attention of a pretty lady fox.

Mr. Fox gave me some Wile E. Coyote vibes. Anything that could go wrong with this scarf did and the part of me that wasn’t smiling at Mr. Fox’s expressions as his misfortune multiplied wanted to tell him that if he wrapped the scarf just a few more times around his neck, he’d be warmer and there’d be the added bonus of it no longer being a trip hazard. That would have taken all the fun out of it, though, so I stayed quiet.

There’s a cameo from Grumpf, from The Autumn of Mister Grumpf, who still seems pretty grumpy. At least he doesn’t have to worry about autumn leaves piling up outside his door anymore.

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The illustrations are just as endearing as the ones in the first book of the series. The animals are so expressive and the colours, even in winter, are vibrant. 

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I’m looking forward to finding out what happens Beneath the Trees in spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter is here, and snow covers the woods like a cold blanket. Mr. Fox has his enormous scarf to keep him warm, but it is almost TOO big – he can’t help but trip over it and get caught on tree branches all the time. But as embarrassing as that is, it is even more humiliating when trying to catch the eye of a beautiful lady!

This new series paints a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this second volume, a self-assured fox tries to stay warm with his ridiculously long scarf, but winds up having to deal with the embarrassment of getting caught up in everything … especially embarrassing in front of the pretty lady fox he’s trying to impress! A warm-hearted and simple romance tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four-book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.