Book review: A big world, a little king and a very fat toad

There is a distinctly continental flavour to a colourful selection of new books from the rather aptly named Gecko Press.
A big world, a little king and a very fat toadA big world, a little king and a very fat toad
A big world, a little king and a very fat toad

Gecko is an independent publisher of ‘curiously good’ children’s books and is on a mission to translate books by some of the world’s best writers and illustrators. By championing strong stories, rich in language and illustration and with a strong ‘heart factor,’ they aim to encourage children to love to read.

Here we have a dad on a special world tour, a detective addicted to cakes and a king caught up in a very strange power struggle.

Age 5 plus:

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When Dad Showed Me the Universe Written by Ulf Stark and illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Fathers and sons take centre stage in this wonderfully warm and whimsical Swedish classic from award-winning author Ulf Stark.

Translated into English by Sally-Ann Spencer and illustrated by Eva Eriksson, one of Sweden’s best-loved illustrators, When Dad Showed Me the Universe is a picture book odyssey, the story of a dad determined to show his son something very special… the universe.

The time has come for one young boy to discover the big wide world with his dad. They can’t possibly embark on such a daring adventure unprepared so they wrap up warmly, gather provisions and then off they go. It’s a long walk but even before they reach the park and see the starry sky, the boy notices and appreciates the universe all around him. From the empty paddling pool in the park to the tune floating in a white cloud above his father’s head, and from a snail on a blade of grass to the stars up above, the boy gazes in wonder at it all. And along the way, they learn that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, that the biggest lessons often happen when you least expect them and that sometimes the most important things you are searching for have been right there under your nose the whole time.

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Youngsters will love this magical journey of discovery, brought to life by Eriksson’s heart-melting illustrations and rounded off with a funny, farcical finale guaranteed to tickle everybody’s funny bone!

(Gecko Press, hardback, £10.99)

Age 7 plus:

Detective Gordon: The First Case Written by Ulf Nilsson and illustrated by Gitte Spee

There’s more Swedish-style fun in a gorgeously quirky animal detective story from top children’s writer Ulf Nilsson.

Someone’s stealing nuts from the forest and it’s up to Detective Gordon, a very fat toad, to catch the thief. Unfortunately, solving this crime means standing in the snow and waiting for a long time and Detective Gordon would far rather enjoy a warm fire, a cup of tea and a few cakes, preferably with blackcurrant jam. If only he had an assistant – someone small, fast, and clever – to help solve this terrible case. Then Detective Gordon would be able to go back to doing what he does best… thinking, eating and stamping important papers. Good job then that Buffy the hungry little mouse is looking for a job.

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Friendship, mercy and justice are just some of the themes covered in a funny and warm-hearted story which comes packed with Gitte Spee’s enchanting illustrations and is ideal for reading either aloud or alone.

(Gecko Press, paperback, £7.99)

Age 8 plus:

The King and the Sea Written by Heinz Janisch and illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch

The simplest stories often pack the biggest punch… take these terrific little tales featuring a little king in a big world.

The King and the Sea is the work of international award-winning Austrian writer Heinz Janisch and celebrated German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch who together conjure up a piece of picture book magic.

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“Buzz off,” said the king, shooing the bee from his flower. “Don’t you know I’m the king?” “And I’m the queen,” said the bee, stinging the king’s nose. This is just one of the stunningly illustrated, ultra-short stories in which the king has an encounter where he tries to assert his power. But the rain doesn’t stop just because a king orders it, and tired eyelids can be much stronger than a king’s will. As the king delves into the diversity of the world, he soon realises that animals, objects and nature have their own unique place and value in a world they all must share.

Full of humour and wisdom, these are extraordinary little stories with a resonant message and a truly distinctive style, and guaranteed to charm and disarm readers whether young or old.

(Gecko Press, hardback, £9.99)