Published by David Fickling Books.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. I know it, but sometimes a cover can say so much and you know its the book for you. I knew it, as soon as I saw this in the publisher’s catalogue in the staff room a few days ago. So I ordered a copy. What else would you do?

After all, it has a chameleon on the cover.

Oh, it also has a hippopotamus, a key hole and some bees on it too.

Which are nice, however, I do like chameleons.

This is really something special. Helen Cooper is the author of a small ‘run’ of picture books about soup – Pumpkin Soup, Delicious and Pipkin of Pepper and another picture book title, The Bear Under the Stairs. This, though, is her first novel and what a novel it is.

Helen Cooper makes reference to a wide range of species in the story – there is an elephant shrew (a species I love, almost as much as chameleons),  a pygmy hippopotamus (the eponymous hippo), an okapi is mentioned…a russet kangaroo, nine giraffe (in bits), and an owl (named Flumery). The book is stuffed full of animals with simply superb characters, including the bees.  Ben isn’t sure about them. I think bees are beautiful, but I always show them respect. Actually I have learnt to give all animals respect and a little bit of space. The smallest can have the largest effect on the rest of your day… Then there are the human characters, both good and bad…including a (possible) witch in a bottle… I have learnt to give many human characters space too. Particularly any I think might be witches (especially if they aren’t in bottles)…after all two witches are supposed to be in my ancestry…so it could be said I should know a little about that.

This is a magical adventure with lovely illustrations, all done by the author. The animal characters are not the usual cat and dog types. These are different. Though there is nothing wrong with a cat and dog story…but there aren’t many stories with a chameleon called Leon in it…One of the reason for loving the book so much is that Helen seems to have investigated the behavioural traits of the animals and this is reflected in their characters and what they do – which is marvellous.

I haven’t finished it yet – only started it today when I got it at lunch…I’m up to page 138 …. but one of my favourite parts (so far) is about Leon.

Leon’s tongue shot out like a rocket and recoiled with a bee captured on one end. The bee had no chance, for a chameleon has an incredible tongue, twice the length of its body, with a bulbous ball of muscle at the end like a suction cup, which can move at ballistic speed – faster than a fighter jet. Naturally, the other bees arose in a fury.

‘Where’s your respect?’ Flummery hooted….

Leon turned his back. Languidly he plucked the bee from his tongue and dangled the struggling insect above his bucket-like mouth, murmuring, ‘Shall I swallow you? Shall I bite you in half and nibble your wings?… 

Read it out loud up to Christmas – make a tradition of reading it up to Christmas every Friday and Saturday night from the last Friday in November…till Christmas day.

Its wonderful.

I am hoping to have Helen come to Waterstones Finchley Road O2 in January to sign copies…but have only just sent an email about it to David Fickling Books. Keep your fingers crossed…