Beneath the Trees: The Autumn of Mister Grumpf – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

All Mister Grumpf wants to do is clear his doorstep of leaves. His neighbours keep interrupting him, though. They all want help, either with preparations for winter or when things go wrong.

Mister Grumpf, despite his grumpiness, is there for his neighbours, helping them with their problems while his own continue to pile up.

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There’s minimal text in this picture book but the illustrations clearly tell the story. The animals are all expressive, especially Mister Grumpf. I especially liked the glimpses inside the characters’ homes and the autumn colours.

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This book reminded me of Steve Smallman’s Kind Mr Bear, where an elderly bear is always there to help his neighbours until he becomes ill and needs help himself.

I’m planning on continuing this series through the seasons.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter is fast approaching and all the animals in the forest are in full preparation: storing food and provisions, dining on the last worms with the neighbors, etc… All the animals but one: grumpy badger Mr Grumpf just can’t finish sweeping the dead leaves off his doorstep with everyone coming by to disturb him! Grumpf!

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 first volume, we meet a very busy badger, who may admittedly be a little slow, but who never refuses to lend a paw to help his neighbours. In time, his generosity will be rewarded!

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.

D is for Drool – Amanda Noll & Shari Dash Greenspan

Illustrations – Howard McWilliam

I love alphabet books and bedtime stories, and this book is both. I wish I’d learned the alphabet this way. There’s no boring A is for Apples in this book; A is for Arms, enough that you will need to use all of your fingers to count them.

I would have giggled my way through this book as a kid and would have had fun calling out what each letter is for. The monsters aren’t scary at all; they’re actually quite adorable. Howard McWilliam’s illustrations pop with colour and all of the monsters are expressive.

I enjoyed the continuity throughout the book. When you turn the page you get to see the tail end of the monster from the page before. Oftentimes you’ll see snow or ooze on subsequent pages from the more messy monsters.

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I loved the baby Jaws making a snow angel but my favourite monster was the one with green pigtails and pink tutu.

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Howard McWilliam’s alphabet is amazing. Not only does each letter match the colour scheme of each letter’s monster, many of their attributes are also represented.

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I would love to see a special edition of this book that includes an alphabet wall border. It needs to be on my wall.

I definitely need to get my hands on the I Need My Monster series.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flashlight Press for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Ethan can’t sleep, he doesn’t count sheep – he says his ABCs. But in monster-loving Ethan’s alphabet, A is for Arms, B is for Belly, C is for Claws, and D is for Drool! 

Kids will love pointing out the alphabetical attributes on the silly monsters that parade across Ethan’s room – like earlobes, noses, spikes, and wings – and discovering where all of those monsters are headed. 

By the time Ethan gets to Y, he’s Yawning. And by Z, kids will be ready to sleep as Ethan does, surrounded by the tails, tentacles, and drool sticking out from under his bed. ZZzzzzz

D is for Drool is a monstrously magnificent ABC book that offers a new way to fall asleep. With the perfect balance of giggles and shivers, it is a captivating companion to the award-winning I Need My Monster series.

Ham – Dhana Fox

Illustrations – Anna Demchenko

It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with this picture book. I first borrowed it from my library six months ago. Since then I’ve renewed it as many times as the library would allow, then returned it only to immediately reserve it again.

I lost count of the amount of times I’ve read it months ago. Every reread remains udderly adorable. I love Ham and his friends, and I don’t think I will ever get sick of visiting them.

The story is so simple but so enjoyable. Ham, Satay, Chops and Stew are loving their lives on the farm until one day when they make a horrifying discovery. They’re not beloved pets after all. They’re on the menu!

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The animals knew that to save their own bacon,

a grand plan was needed before they were taken.

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The chickens come up with an especially clever way to disguise themselves. Or so they think.

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Nothing these friends try works until they realise they have the ability to help generate another food source, one that won’t put them on the chopping block.

The rhyming text added to my enjoyment of this book. Anna Demchenko’s illustrations turned a really fun premise into one of my favourite picture book reads of the year. The colours are vibrant and the animals are expressive. Even the flies are cute!

Be on the lookout for a brave fly saving its friend from a spider web.

I know at some point I’m going to have to return this book to the library for the final time. That’s probably not going to happen until I purchase my own copy, though.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

What happens when Ham and his crew discover that they’re destined for the dinner table?

Ham is a hilarious farmyard romp, with lovable characters and bright illustrations. The farmyard animals, Ham, Satay, Chops, Stew (and a few chickens) must work together to save themselves from their inevitable fate – the dinner plate! Everyone knows bacon is delicious, but are there any other food options for us to discover, and could there be another purpose for these adorable animals?

Mindful Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt lives her life on fast forward and her middle name is a bit of a misnomer. Her new friend, Mr. Sloth, is, well, a sloth and let’s face it, algae doesn’t typically grow on your fur if you’re quick enough to outrun it.

This friendship of opposites has the potential to either be the best thing ever or a super fast/super slow disaster in the making.

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Katy Hudson is one of my all time favourite illustrators. She’s the picture equivalent for me of that one author you’re certain could transform a shopping list into a literary masterpiece. I’m sure I’d be captivated if Katy drew a stickman.

Which made it disconcerting when I didn’t immediately fall in love with Sasha. I’ve adored every character I’ve met in Katy’s previous books and I loved Mr. Sloth at first sight. I read and reread this book until I finally figured out what the problem was. Me.

It turns out I have a bias where picture books are concerned. I can tolerate, and even find cute, all types of bad and/or potentially annoying behaviour from animal characters but apparently I judge humans differently. Not that Sasha was going around chucking tantrums or anything but her impatience frustrated me time and time again. I thought back to when I read Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle, where Squirrel is the speedy equivalent of Sasha, and not once was I frustrated by Squirrel.

Having done a deep dive into my soul, I reread this book once again, with a new understanding of myself as a reader. This time Sasha was simply a young girl with a lot of energy, someone who doesn’t realise she’s missing out on a variety of amazing things because they’re a blur to her. Once she slows down enough and pays attention, she discovers the beauty that surrounds her and learns that some things are best enjoyed at a different speed.

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Once again, the illustrations in this book were absolutely gorgeous. Bonus points for the cameos of the author’s previous books.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sasha has one speed – fast. She loves to do lots of things, all at once, as fast as possible. Mr. Sloth has one speed – slow. He loves to do things one at a time, at a nice, easy pace. Can Mr. Sloth’s mindful ways teach Sasha to slow down and enjoy life? Best-selling author Katy Hudson gently weaves a mindfulness theme into this unlikely friendship tale between an energetic girl and a sloth, encouraging children to stop, breathe, and be present in every moment.

A Little Bit of Courage – Claire Alexander

The Ploofers are back and they’ve continued to add some colour to their lives thanks to the SHOOF! Ploofer from A Little Bit Different. Now the Ploofers are ready to try something new. But Little One is scared of attempting this new thing.

Luckily Toasty, my favourite carb cheerleader, is also back and ready to provide Little One with some much needed support. I absolutely love that Toasty acknowledges Little One’s anxiety and reassures them that everyone gets scared.

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Little One isn’t left to face their fear alone. Toasty remains by their side, supporting and encouraging them as they bravely attempt the thing they didn’t think they could do.

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Toasty reminded me that it’s okay to accept help, that you don’t have to face the scary things in life alone.

My favourite part of Little One’s story is that he doesn’t overcome his fear on his first attempt. It is through perseverance that Little One succeeds. His fear doesn’t magically go away because he decides to try the scary thing; doing the thing even though you’re scared is what being brave is all about.

I need more of Toasty and the Ploofers in my life!

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the beloved picture book A Little Bit Different, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of fear and finding courage.

The Ploofers have just learned a valuable lesson in celebrating differences and trying new things. They’ve been practicing something very special again and this time it requires extra teamwork… But Little One is too scared to go on this new adventure. Will some kind and encouraging words from Toasty help him find a little bit of courage?

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Courage picks up right where A Little Bit Different left off. With a subtle yet powerful message on overcoming anxiety and finding the courage to live life to its fullest, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.

A Little Bit Different – Claire Alexander

The Ploofers all PLOOF! Except for one, whose PLOOF! is a SHOOF! This Ploofer loves the thing that makes them different … until the rest of the Ploofers question it.

The other Ploofers all think the SHOOF! is weird. It’s outside of their comfort zone because they haven’t seen a SHOOF! before.

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The judgement of the other Ploofers makes the SHOOF! Ploofer sad. They wonder why the other Ploofers aren’t accepting of the thing that makes them different.

It isn’t until Toasty recognises the beauty of this Ploofer’s SHOOF! and encourages them to embrace their difference that the SHOOF! Ploofer regains their confidence.

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I loved the SHOOF! Ploofer and the message that it’s okay to be different. It can be scary to have the courage to be yourself, especially when the way you express yourself is outside of the norm, but there will always be those like Toasty who will value you for who you are.

Although the other Ploofers originally shy away from what is new, eventually they realise that different doesn’t automatically equal bad. By accepting the Ploofer who is different, the rest of the Ploofers learn acceptance and in doing so their own lives are brightened.

I naturally rebel against any system that asserts that because this is the way we’ve always done something, that’s the only way it can be done. You shouldn’t have to hide your unique gifts just because some other Ploofers are unwilling to think outside of the box. Meaningful change can come when we open ourselves up to possibilities we haven’t considered before.

I’m all for anything that celebrates diversity. In this book, it’s diversity of expression that’s addressed but this can be applied to all forms of diversity.

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: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A light and fun story depicting the journey from ignorance to acceptance and celebration. A Little Bit Different by Clare Alexander is a beautiful story exploring acceptance and joy in being different. 

Meet the ploofers. The ploofers have been practicing something special which they all want to do at the exact same time – but wait! What’s that? One of them does something different! When one little ploofer goes against the usual flow of things, the rest of them turn their backs on him. But all it takes is for one person to recognise the beauty in being different to spark a change in attitude of everyone.

With simple and striking illustrations, A Little bit Different is a joyful reading experience for both you and your child, with the opportunity to spark more meaningful discussions about people’s differences and how we accept and value them. 

Pumpkin Heads! – Wendell Minor

The illustrations are everything in this book, so detailed and realistic. Each of the pumpkin heads have so much personality, providing inspiration for cute, creepy and whimsical designs. The text is very sparse, making this an ideal book to introduce young children to this aspect of Halloween.

There‘s a pumpkin snowman (I want to frame this picture), scarecrow, witch and cowboy, along with those that are expressing a variety of feelings.

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I particularly loved the witch

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and the haunted house.

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Halloween is time to pick pumpkins and carve them into pumpkin heads – jack-o’-lanterns of every shape and size!

Award-winning author and artist Wendell Minor uses simple language and striking autumn settings to celebrate pumpkin heads in this reissue of a Halloween classic.

Princesses Wear Sneakers – Sam Squiers

Illustrations – Annabel Cutler

I absolutely love stories where it’s the princess who saves the day. Princesses no longer have to suffer the indignity of being cast as damsels in distress, waiting for someone else to rescue them. While I’ve read about princesses who have outsmarted villains I’ve never watched a princess use her athletic ability to outmanoeuvre a baddie the way Princess Ellie does.

Princess Ellie’s love of sports is not encouraged in the kingdom. She dreams of being an Olympic sprinter and playing in the World Cup, but no one understands her passion. Instead she’s expected to adhere to the kingdom’s expectations of how a princess should behave, someone who attends balls and wears uncomfortable glass slippers.

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It isn’t until Ellie saves the kingdom using the skills she’s learned playing various sports that the king and queen realise there’s more than one way to be a princess.

I love that Ellie stays true to herself, continuing to play the sports she enjoys, even though she’s defying the expectations of everyone around her by doing so. She’s confident in her abilities and is able to apply her skillset to a new situation.

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When I was growing up there was a sporting gender divide. Girls played netball, learned gymnastics and danced; some played basketball but that was about as adventurous as we were allowed to be. I remember strangers trying to shame me for enjoying skateboarding when I was a kid because it wasn’t considered feminine.

It wasn’t lost on me that the sports Ellie enjoys include those I didn’t get the opportunity to play as a kid, including football, cricket and rugby. I love that sport is so much more inclusive now!

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Annabel Cutler’s illustrations highlight Ellie’s strength and agility. All of the characters are expressive but it was Ellie’s determination that really stood out to me.

Thank you so much to the author and Little Steps Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Princess Ellie loves playing sports, but she has a little problem … nobody seems to think that her sporty interests are very princess-like!

When disaster strikes the kingdom, Princess Ellie sets out to prove that princesses definitely wear sneakers.

The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep – Adam Gustavson

I love the concept of this book: a group of frogs who try to get out of going to bed using increasingly imaginative excuses. Parents are already well versed in the usual suspects: another story, another glass of water… The froggies come up with much more interesting scenarios to postpone their bedtime.

Kids will love seeing these realistic frogs acting out a series of unrealistic froggish activities, from shooting themselves out of cannons while singing opera to flying spaceships.

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The illustrations are very detailed, with some fun things to discover, like a frog who’s been drinking a bottle of Croak. Kids will enjoy the humour of the illustrations and may be inspired to come up with some better excuses themselves for why they can’t possibly go to sleep yet.

This book is marketed as a bedtime story and given it’s about frogs at bedtime, that should make sense. My reservation is that it’s not a soothing bedtime story. I’d expect kids to be more hyped up after having this book read to them, which defeats the purpose. I’d be testing this one out well before bedtime first to see how the kidlets respond.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Charlesbridge for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Prepare for a different kind of bedtime book – a zany, imaginative adventure to send your little froggies off to dreamland. Not since David Weisner’s Tuesday have frogs had so much fun!

Why go to bed when you can play the accordion, dance underwater ballet, and hold burping contests with strange alien lifeforms? For every kid who ever came up with an outlandish excuse for why it can’t be bedtime yet, these froggies’ antics will delight and entertain. Acclaimed illustrator Adam Gustavson’s raucous authorial debut shows parents there’s more than one way to do bedtime.

So You Want to Build a Library – Lindsay Leslie

Illustrations – Aviel Basil

I’ve loved libraries for as long as I can remember. They provide access to books that you’re allowed to take home with you for free (!), whose pages allow you to explore infinite worlds, learn and escape from reality for a while. Any building whose primary purpose is to help facilitate reading is already a magical place, so what could possibly make it better? If a child had the opportunity to build the library of their dreams.

One young reader shows us how they would go about creating the “most MIRACULOUS library ever!” From the location to the types of books that would fill the shelves and the inclusion of pretty much everything you’d need so you’ll never have to leave, including a sundae bar and trampolines, this book encourages you to let your imagination go wild.

I loved the dragons and pie-baking snail but my favourite illustrations included the roller-skating sloth, who seemed to be having the time of their life.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There is no better place in the world than a library. Especially a library that kids create! A million stories high? Sure. Bathtubs? Absolutely. A full-service sundae bar? Of course. Everything is possible in this library – just like in books!