Ben Mantle, Best Birthday Present Ever

Macmillan, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4472-6689-1

Squirrel is very excited about his best friend Big Bear's birthday bonanza. First though, he must choose a suitable present, and it's not easy. Big Bear already has so much. The other animals go to the toyshop, but Squirrel suddenly has a different idea. He will bring Big Bear a stick. After a meticulous search he finds the perfect one, wraps it lovingly in stripy paper and ties it with ribbon. But when Big Bear opens his other gifts - gifts like a marshmallow cannon and a pop-up castle tent - Squirrel gets nervous. Big Bear is at first surprised by the stick, then tells Squirrel it's just what he always wanted. 'A stick this perfect can do absolutely anything', he explains to everyone. All week he and Squirrel play with it. It makes an excellent marshmallow fork and a great flag post for the castle. Even better, it's brilliant for poking things. They poke it into squelchy puddles, into a pond, into seed heads and into a mysterious hole. Then the stick breaks. Despondency beckons, until they realise that with the two sticks the break has produced, even more games are possible. Now they have the two best birthday presents ever.

Young children will enjoy this story and the author's own stylised illustrations. The message that things that are expensive and glossy are not necessarily the most fun is an important one, and well handled. The book celebrates the natural environment, imaginative play and friendship.