Captain Sparklebeard written by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Sam Lloyd

I have to admit that I was not quite taken with Captain Sparklebeard at first. I found the Cinderella style opening a bit old fashioned and I thought it all might be too wacky for Little P to understand. But I could not have been more wrong! This is one of those special books that immediately engages preschoolers.

By day Peg works hard for her wicked step great grand Auntie (!) but at night she reads books filled with pirate stories. She dreams of heading off on her own pirate adventure and when the pirates come to town she sees her chance of escape. But when Peg asks Captain Hairy Ears if she can join his crew he just laughs. Who ever heard of a small, polite pirate who reads books! And she doesn’t even have a beard!! This makes Peg more determined then ever so she gets to work making a pirate costume from curtains and a beard from the sweeping brush. A little extra sparkle from her Auntie’s jewellery box and Captain Sparklebeard is born.

When Captain Sparklebeard turns up in her boat made from books Captain Hairy Ears and his crew are unimpressed. Who ever heard of a boat made from books?!! But Peg is certain she will find the treasure before the pirates. Using her ingenuity and her reading skills she makes her way through whirl pools, past sea monsters and over underwater volcanoes. Finally she reaches Treasure Island where X marks the spot. Captain Hairy Ears and his crew are so impressed, even when they find out that Captain Sparklebeard is really a little girl, they beg her to teach them to read and let them join her crew. And so a small little girl who reads books becomes the greatest pirate that ever was!!

Little P LOVES Captain Sparklebeard and so do I. It’s a truly child-centric book with so many positive messages that never interfere with the fun of the story. The illustrations are brilliantly bold and provide another element of the story with perilous maps and cheeky sea creatures. This has to score a ten out of ten on the P-OMETER. OOH-ARR!!

Captain Sparklebeard written by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Sam Lloyd is published by Egmont. ISBN: 978-1-4052-9131-6

Bedtime Picture Books

My initial reason for choosing Firefly Home was the fact that it is illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. Little P has already fallen in love with her beautiful night time images in Mole’s Star.

Here her night illustrations tell the story of a little lost firefly in this wonderfully interactive book by Jane Clarke. Firefly sees lots of different lights in the night sky, including a lighthouse and a speeding train, but none of them take him home. The reader must encourage firefly along his journey until at last the sparkling lights of other fireflies appear to finally guide him home.

This is a gentle bedtime story perfect for reading aloud. It encourages plenty of chat and interaction with a lovely comforting conclusion.

Firefly Home written by Jane Clarke and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup is published by Nosey Crow. ISBN: 978-1-78800-490-9

It may be bedtime but Ella, Barney and Olive are getting ready for a night time adventure. Barney wants to see pirates and Olive is hoping to visit the jungle but all that Ella wants is to meet a real live dragon. They travel to faraway magical lands but when their hot air balloon crashes a huge shadow swoops down from the sky to help. Finally Ella finds her dragon.

This story has a wonderful dreamy quality and although it is exciting there is a gentle wind down to a sleepy ending.

Wishing for a Dragon written and illustrated by Becky Cameron is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1-444-93623-0

The Light in the Night is the ideal picture book for little ones who may feel nervous in the dark. Cosmo, the bear in Betty’s storybook, is afraid of the dark. When he pops out of the book and into Betty’s bedroom she decides to take him on a little trip to soothe his fears. Into the darkest cave they go to see the most spectacular light show from the fireflies. ‘We need the dark’, explains Betty ‘to see the light’. But when Betty can’t remember the way home through the dark forest it is brave Cosmo who leads her back home. Together they find the light of courage that shines within.

Cosmo and Betty are charming characters and the illustrations capture the magic and beauty of the night perfectly. This book would certainly help to allay any night fears.

The Light in the Night written and illustrated by Marie Voigt is published by Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 978-1-4711-7326-4

Lots of Frogs written by Howard Calvert and illustrated by Claudia Boldt

Frogs are the creature du jour in our house at the moment. Mostly because they can jump, make funny noises and they start life as squishy looking frog spawn! Anyway it was inevitable that Little P would make a grab for Lots of Frogs when she saw it in the library. And it didn’t disappoint.

The story of Tom and his box of frogs is told in short and snappy rhyme and it’s a lot of fun to read aloud. Tom brings his frogs to school all safely tucked away inside their box. Unfortunately Tom sneezes and releases the entire box of frogs to create mayhem. They leap around the classrooms landing on desks and jumping on teacher’s heads much to the amusement of Tom’s classmates. Luckily a bright yellow space hopper and a net prove to be very effective frog catching devices. Eventually Tom manages to get all the frogs back into the box. Until he…………coughs!!

This story is crazily chaotic and the illustrations reflect it perfectly. They are bold and bright with lots of movement, pen lines and brush strokes. Each frog has it’s own unique personality created by Claudia Boldt using googly eyes and giant smiles.

Little P loves the madcap antics of the scampy frogs and the fact that the whole adventure starts all over again at the end of the book makes her laugh every time! This scores a seven out of ten on the P-OMETER.

Lots of Frogs written by Howard Calvert and illustrated by Claudia Boldt is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1-444-93964-4

Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals created by Aga Grandowicz and Rob Maguire

As a child I remember so many wonderful wildlife books around our house by authors such as Éamon de Buitléar and Geritt van Gelderen. When I saw the cover of this compelling compendium I was reminded of them all and I knew that Little P would love it. She is fascinated by the animals, birds and sea creatures she sees daily and is full of questions about them. This book provided plenty of answers and was an education for both of us.

Every double page spread is full of information laid out in a most accessible fashion with a large detailed illustration. The full name, Irish name and class of each creature is included along with a descriptive paragraph written in witty conversational style by Rob Maguire. There is a list of essential facts such as size, diet, home and expected lifespan. Each page also contains text boxes with interesting points about where in Ireland the creatures can be found or what their name actually means. There are also smaller illustrations of baby animals, details of paw prints or depicting the actual size of the tiny creatures like the pygmy shrew.

The sheer size of Aga Grandowicz’s illustrations mean that every anatomical structure stands out. The robin’s feathers, the stickleback’s fins and the dragonfly wings are all expertly drawn in fine detail. It’s the next best thing to having the actual creature sitting on your kitchen table!

Not surprisingly Little P gets loads of fun out of this book. She really enjoys spotting the creatures that she is familiar with like the hermit crab, the fox, the hare and the seagull and we are already making plans to seek out the ones we haven’t seen yet. First on the list is the natterjack toad! This scores a solid nine out of ten on the P-OMETER.

This is a fun and accessible reference guide to the wild creatures that every Irish child is likely to see in their environment. Whether in the countryside, city or suburbs seagulls and squirrels, badgers and butterflies can be easily spotted. A book that is worth having in every house to foster the innate curiosity and fascination that all children display for the natural world.

Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals created by Aga Grandowicz and Rob Maguire is published by Little Island Books. ISBN: 978-1-910411-94-0

Cáca don Rí written by Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde and illustrated by Steve Simpson

We weren’t specifically looking for a book as Gaeilge but when we spotted Cáca don Rí by Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde Little P was instantly drawn to Steve Simpson’s vibrant illustrations. Rúbaí Rua is a star baker bunny and people come from miles around to sample her macaroons, her meringues, her pancakes and her pies. She has some special mouse pals who love living in the bakery with Rúbaí but they don’t get much chance to help because she insists on doing everything by herself.

Rúbaí is particularly famous for her birthday cakes and when she gets a visit from the king himself looking for one of her special cakes for his birthday there is great excitement in the bakery. Rúbaí creates a real showstopper for the king’s birthday on her own of course as she refuses all help from the mice. After bedtime the mice can’t resist coming out of their hole for one last peek at the cake. But as they climb onto each other’s shoulders disaster strikes! They take a tumble and knock the king’s birthday cake onto the ground in smithereens! Rúbaí hasn’t got enough time to make a new cake by herself so she finally accepts some help from the mice. They all work together right through the night to make an even more impressive cake just in time for the king’s birthday.

This is a wonderful story about the benefits of cooperation and learning to work as part of a team. If you have decent Leaving Certificate Irish you will have no problem translating the story for little ones who are just learning. Meanwhile primary school children will enjoy the easy to read Irish (not to mention parents like me who want to expand their cúpla focail). The illustrations are so vibrant and full of detail. Little P spends ages poring over them. She loves hearing the story over and over again particularly when disaster strikes and the cake crashes to the ground! Cáca don Rí scores an eight out of ten on the P-OMETER.

Cáca don Rí written by Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde and illustrated by Steve Simpson is published by Futa Fata. ISBN: 978-1-910945-29-2

The Hug written by Eoin McLaughlin and illustrated by Polly Dunbar

It’s very special to read a picture book to a child and watch the emotions play out on their faces as the story unfolds. The Hug had that very effect on Little P. It contains two stories, one at the front of the book and one at the back, read separately but both coming to the same heart warming conclusion in the centre of the book.

The first story is about hedgehog who really needs a hug but all the animals that he meets find an excuse not to give him one. Then he meets Owl who explains that maybe the other animals are put off by hedgehog’s prickles. ‘But don’t worry there’s someone for everyone’ Owl tells the sad little hedgehog.

The second story is about tortoise who ALSO really needs a hug but all the animals that he meets find an excuse not to give him one. Then he meets Owl who explains that maybe the other animals are put off by tortoise’s hard shell. ‘But don’t worry there’s someone for everyone’ Owl tells the sad little tortoise.

Finally destiny intervenes and brings hedgehog and tortoise together in the warmest, cuddliest, happiest of hugs. Owl was right there really is someone for everyone!

Polly Dunbar brings all the characters to life with her vivid illustrations in Eoin McLaughlin’s wonderful story about emotions, love and empathy.

It was a joy to watch Little P get lost in this book. She fell in love with hedgehog and tortoise, full of sympathy when they had nobody to give them a hug. When they finally meet and hug each other she has the widest smile on her face every time we read it! She also gets a lot of fun from the two stories in one book. The Hug scores a nine out of ten on the P-OMETER.

The Hug written by Eoin McLaughlin and illustrated by Polly Dunbar is published by Faber & Faber. ISBN: 9780571340019

Billy and the Beast written & illustrated by Nadia Shireen

The test of a really good book, in my opinion, is how long it lives in a child’s imagination after the last page is closed. In this case Billy and the Beast passes with flying colours. Ever since we first read this story (and we have reread many times!) it has featured solely in Little P’s role play. She alternates between playing Billy (when my considerable acting skills are employed as the beast) or thoroughly enjoying her role as the fierce (but slightly dimwitted) beast.

Billy is our big haired heroine who sets off for a walk in the woods with her beloved pet Fat Cat. Along the way they meet their pals the hedgehogs, the fox, the mice and the adorable fluffy bunnies. But when they return along the path everyone has disappeared. Suddenly it all goes dark and Billy and Fat Cat find themselves in the cave of the Terrible Beast. Beastie is making his Terrible Soup and planning to use all of Billy’s friends as the ingredients! Luckily brave Billy is a quick thinker and comes up with plenty of clever tricks to deter the beast and save her pals. Finally the adorable fluffy bunnies trap the beast in his own soup pot and roll him off down the hill.

This story is full of wonderful surreal moments (Billy stores donut snacks in her big hair for Fat Cat) along with comforting familiarities (when their adventure is over they all head home for chips). Shireen’s illustrations are bold and full of character. It’s perfect for pre-schoolers who enjoy a gentle scare and the smart, unflappable Billy is super cool.

We have read this so many times and acted out the story everywhere from the playground to the beach. Little P even makes Terrible Soup for her Dad! Billy and the Beast has to get a 9 out of 10 on the P-OMETER.

Billy and the Beast written & illustrated by Nadia Shireen is published by Penguin Random House. ISBN: 978-1-780-08068-0