Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.

Busting! By Aaron Blabey

Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.

Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.

Scholastic Press March 2017

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson Continue reading Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

When it comes to captivating reads that snag interest and capture long-term readership, serial stories take the cake. Relatable incidents, swift moving plot lines and plenty of reasons to hang out with characters who become as close as real life friends all add up to serious series appeal. This winning combination works just as well for readers new to chapter books, too. Here are a few junior novels for younger children, chapter books if you will that are sure to tantalise.

Ginger Green Playdate Queen by Kim Kane and Jon Davis

Ginger Green is a foxy little minx in her first years of primary school. The thing she is most adept at this age is throwing playdates. Her winsome and extrovert personality allows her to make friends easily although not every person she tries to befriend has similar virtues.

Continue reading Getting Serious About Series – Junior Novels for Little Misses

Double Dipping – Friendships lost – picture book reviews

Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.

Molly and MaeMolly & Mae by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.

Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught.  Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.

Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.

Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.

Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.

Little Hare Books HGE October 2016

Ida AlwaysIda, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.

Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.

The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.

In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.

Ida Always illos spreadTouching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.

Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.

Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.

Koala Books Scholastic September 2016

 

 

 

Review – Sad, the dog

Sad,the dogTrying new things can be an exciting, daunting and ultimately rewarding experience. Just ask Sandy Fussell, author of the acclaimed Samurai Kids series. She is venturing into the fastidious and fascinating world of picture book writing and I have to say, has come up trumps.

TogetheSandy Fussellr with illustrator, Tull Suwannakit, Fussell has brought to life one of the most endearing little dog tales I’ve read in a while. Sad, the dog is a title immediately provoking thought and possibly interpretation as nothing more than a smaltzy, over-sentimental excuse for a cry. It does in fact start a little unhappily at least for poor pooch, Sad so named because his well-meaning but blatantly non-dog-people owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps neglect to give him an identity of his own.

Tull SuwannakitSad receives the basics from them but in spite of his doggedness to impress them with his dogginess, he is largely ignored and tragically unloved. Then they up and go, and leave, without him!

Misery and loneliness pile up around Sad like mounds of autumn leaves until a little boy named, Jack enters his life. Jack is patient and kind and is exactly the sort of little boy Sad needs. Ever so slowly, Sad learns to like his new situation and especially Jack, so much so that he re-discovers his inner dog and a new whisper in his heart that helps him banish his sad moniker forever.

Sad, the dog is a picture book that invites repeated readings because each time you do, you will fall in deeper in love with the indomitable black and white canine and comically drawn characters.

Sad dog illo spreadSad represents the unquestionable loyalty and willingness to please that dogs possess and suggests that they experience the same sense of rejection and loss as keenly as humans do. When Sad’s beliefs are shattered and abandoned, it takes him a while to forget his fears and learn to be brave enough to try that ‘something new’ again. However, with the help of a new friend, he does. Sometimes, that’s all it takes; a special someone to tease the real you back out into the open again.

I love this intimation and heart-warming message that permeates throughout this picture book, and is captured so beautifully by Suwannakit’s glorious watercolour illustrations. Muted tones, appealing detail and ridiculously funny characterisation (I was reminded of Gru from Despicable Me at times) provide plenty of balance and personality, and exude love in an otherwise sad tale about an unwanted dog.

Sad eventually finds love after hiding beneath his pile of unhappiness. It is red and wonderful (and incidentally the colour of Jack’s hair and the falling leaves) and is anything but sad. You and young readers from the age of three onwards will feel it too whether dog lovers or not. Highly recommended.

Fellow blogger, Romi Sharp is interviewing Sandy Fussell, soon. Be sure not to miss her revelations and insight into Sad’s creation.

Walker Books August 2015

 

Review – Nightmares!

NightmaresNothing beats the morbid delight begot from a good old-fashioned bad dream. It’s the stuff memorable horror movies are made of. There’s no denying, being tantalised and terrified go hand in hand. But what about those bad dreams that leave you thrashing in a bed of sweat-soaked sheets and screaming for salvation? Nightmares can plague a kid’s sleep and wreck their waking world. Fortunately, there is a thrilling new series available to primary aged kids to help keep the bedtime beJason Segelasts at bay.

Nightmares!, by writing partners, Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller is the substantial first book in a new series, which dares you to go to sleep. Good luck with that. There’s way too much skittish action, adventure and horror to bore even the most critical mid-grade reader.Kirsten Miller

Eleven-year-old Charlie Laird is in the middle of his own real-life nightmare. Still dealing with the loss of his mother three years ago, he now also has to contend with living in a purple house that he is not keen on with a step mum he believes is a witch and a father he feels has forgotten him. Feeling alone and vulnerable, Charlie goes to extreme measures every night to stay awake. He is terrified of falling into slumber because each time he does, he enters the Netherworld, a place where his most terrifying nightmares torture him with sadistic regularity.

Living in constNightmares Charlie illo spreadant fear jeopardises Charlie’s schoolwork, blurs his logic, and transforms him into a person that scares even him. Then one afternoon, an opportunity to discover more about his dubious step monster leads to a nail-biting adventure in the Netherworld, one Charlie is not sure he’ll ever be able to emerge from.

Nightmares is thrilling on every level. I was curious to see how well comedic actor and star of films like Despicable Me, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Muppets Movie could write. I was far from disappointed. Segel executes his penmanship (along with Kirsten Miller) with exquisite strength and accuracy, slicing through the mundane to reveal a voice of tremendous depth and humour and expose worlds that readers are instantly familiar, if not one hundred per cent comfortable with.

Nightmares Charlotte illo spreadTheir characters, including those who frequent the Netherworld, possess a mixture of Chucky-style surreal horror and emphatic warmth, which keeps readers engaged whilst never quite certain of who to trust. It’s spellbinding stuff.

Nightmares propels us into those creepy, fearful places we are always relieved to wake from but simultaneously suggests to young readers that in order to truly surrender your fears and leave them behind once and for all, we must face them. If we can be as brave as Charlie can, we may just be able to learn that nightmares are really just the stuff of dreams.

I love the slightly psychotic sense of satire, the horror, and the comedic parody in Nightmares. The notion that ‘what can’t kill us and what we fear can make us stronger’ is just one of the many reasons to read this story. I can’t wait for the next nightmare to begin – due out in August 2015!

Meanwhile give yourself a delicious fright with Nightmares, available here.

Random House Children’s

First published by Corgi Children’s September 2014