Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Picture Books for Stubborn Kids

In typical toddler fashion, my youngest daughter (aged two and a half) has developed the “NO! I don’t like it!”, and the “Don’t want it!” approach to almost everything offered, much to the delight of her parents (that’s me). If you’re a parent or teacher of children anywhere between two and five years old, and understand the complexities of little independent, strong-willed minds, then these few books are perfect for lightening the mood and reinforcing positive behaviour.

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59AzwIZrNCEXMgjUxCkYapieGeWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuI Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner, David Cornish (author, illus.), Harper Collins Publishers, 2014.  

Shortlisted in the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (3-5 years) is the subtly coercing ‘I Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner’ by David Cornish.

My youngest child loves this book (okay maybe there’s something she likes!) with its repetitive and funny phrasing, bold and in-your-face animated scenes and familiar culinary dishes. My only wish is that Rollo would convince her to eat her meals.
I dont want to eat my dinner book image We’ve tried pretending to be hungry dinosaurs gnashing on our leafy greens. We’ve tried transforming into intergalactic smush beasts and firing carrots into our mouths like Rollo did. Alright, I admit we haven’t ridden on a chicken drumstick like a knight in shining armour. But none of these approaches seem to work. She won’t fall for it. But when Rollo (and my daughter’s older sister) are seen polishing off their dessert, my little one is always quick to want to get to that part!

‘I Don’t Want to Eat My Dinner’ is cleverly and humorously written and illustrated to have readers fascinated by the realms of imagination, as well as exploring fun ways to encourage the pickiest of eaters to gobble up everything on their dinner plate. Perhaps my little girl is still a bit young for this kind of pretend play, but parents of fussy kids from age four will relish having this savory book as a handy recipe for quenching those dinner time blues (and greens).

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az2cAk+lN53bbZBZp5k15YYKWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczuMike I Don’t Like, Jol and Kate Temple (authors), Jon Foye (illustrator), ABC Books, 2014.
Shortlisted in the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (3-5 years).  

If there’s one thing in the world that makes you happy, could it be ice cream by any chance? It definitely does for Rollo and for my little girl, but for Mike I Don’t Like, that’s about all he likes. He’s so picky about his tastes that he goes as far as disowning his own book!

When his friend kindly offers him half his sandwich, Mike berrates the poor fellow, going off about the way it smells, and looks, and his dislike for his lunchbox and books. Mike’s rant continues.
Mike i dont like book image“I DON’T like that MILK. I don’t like THAT JUICE. I don’t like ANTLERS on a MOOSE!”
Lizards, barky dogs, meowing cats, washing his hair, worms and bugs, lice, baths, flowers, cheese, pickles, tickles, bats, shoes, smells from kangaroos, carrots, gibbons squawking, kisses, crabs, blue whales, spooky barn owls, packing away and pirate parties, are just some of the few things on his ‘dislikes’ list! Until he spots that ice cream… I wonder if Mike will get what he deserves?

An absolutely hilarious performance by Mike I Don’t Like with his ranting rhyming couplets in bold and capitalised handwritten text. The big-mouthed, egg-shaped Mike with his skinny arms and legs, scarce teeth and tiny beady eyes makes for a perfect-looking brat. The punchy, eye-catching and farcical illustrations immediately get you smiling, and by the end of the book, with its clever punch line to wrap it up, you’ll be whinging about having sore cheeks.

Ingenious, hysterical and completely over the top, ‘Mike I Don’t Like’ is a sure fire way of teaching those youngsters this important lesson: Keep Calm and Be Positive.  

I dont like koala book coverI Don’t Like Koala, Sean Ferrell (author), Charles Santoso (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Now here’s a boy who knows exactly what he doesn’t like…it’s his toy Koala. Adam is horrified when he opens his gift only to discover the most terrible terrible that ever was. With his stalking, asymmetric yellow eyes and his mysterious appearances at every turn, this creepy toy would give anybody the heebie-jeebies.

9781481400688in02jpg-fb7c091d437ded6cBut what to do with an unwanted toy? Put it away…away is a lot of places. Take it far, far away…far away is closer than you think. Adam shouts, “I don’t like Koala!” but his parents ignore his pleads for help. Finally Adam comes to realise that Koala, with his terrible terrible face and his terrible terrible claws and his watching, watching eyes, is in fact, just the comfort he needs. And who is freaked out by Koala now?

Another cleverly written story that keeps us guessing, giggling, and a bit on edge is unequivocally matched with the quirky and melodramatic illustrations that add so much charisma to every scene. Santoso’s pencil etching technique and moody hues create a perfect sense of movement and verve through a tale that is somewhat dark and distrurbing.

Although Adam doesn’t like Koala, plenty of preschoolers will adore the cheekiness, frivolity and affection that emanates from this imaginative story of overcoming fear and asserting one’s independence. It’s wicked!

keep-calm-and-be-positive-62

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

Review – Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-fibberPig the Fibber, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, May 2015.  

Okay, Pig fans! He’s back! And he’s up to a whole lot of mischief…again!  

aaron blabeyAward-winning author / illustrator, Aaron Blabey, is renowned for his ability to create books with clear morals, but particularly his distinguishable style of outlandish characters in farcical situations…mostly self-inflicted! You may notice this theme in such books as ‘The Brothers Quibble’, ‘The Dreadful Fluff’ (reviews here), ‘Thelma the Unicorn’ (Dimity’s review), and our beloved (or maybe not-so) ‘Pig the Pug’.  

We first got to meet Pig as a most greedy and selfish little Pug, refusing to share with his sausage dog flatmate Trevor, and even going as far as spitting and name calling. Once again, in ‘Pig the Fibber’, Pig is just as maniacal with his protruding eyeballs and lunatic behaviour! This time, he has learned something, and it’s not a valuable lesson. It’s how to lie… big, fat lies!  

pig the fibber spreadLiterally marking his territory; that is, this book, the naughty little canine has set the tone from the outset. Pig loves to get his own way, and he’s perfectly comfortable hand-balling the blame onto his trusty victim – Trevor. He attacks pillows and smears dog food on the living room mat in a wild stupor. He breaks delicate household items in a crazed hula romp. He even tears up a wedding dress…just for fun. But Pig confesses – it was all Trevor. With absolute disregard for his flatmate’s feelings, Pig ‘lets off’ the biggest lie to be able to sneak into the cupboard to steal more food. Luckily, one dog is rewarded with the treats he deserves…and it ain’t Pig. Who knew a hard knock would see Pig wrapped up in his own head of truths?  

Again, just like in the first book, brilliantly hysterical and energetic illustrations that are so characteristically Blabey are expressed in ‘Pig the Fibber’. Be aware of facial expressions to sympathise with Trevor, as the text is so focused on Pig’s actions. The animated rhyming text seems to roll off the tongue. Perhaps it’s slightly easier to read than ‘Pig the Pug’, and it’s equally enjoyable but a hint more crude.  

We thought that Pig had changed his insolent ways last time, and he has since proved us wrong. Will he taunt us for a third time with more disturbing antics? Let’s hope so!

With another clear moral in being truthful and honest (or lack thereof), ‘Pig the Fibber’ is an inexorably amusing and crowd-pleasing book for children of all ages.  

Scholastic, May 2015.

Books of Love – For Kids

How will you be celebrating this Saturday February 14th?  Some see it as a chance to demonstrate the most romantic of gestures, showering their special ones with gifts of affection. Others only need to show an act of kindness to prove they care. Either way, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day or Library Lovers’ Day for you, this Saturday marks a day of appreciation for those we adore (including our love for books).
Here are some heartwarming stories that beautifully incorporate tenderness, charity, compassion, friendship and giving.  

514TikhmbnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hooray for Hat!, Brian Won (author / illus.), Koala Books, 2014.

Hooray for Hat! is an entertaining story that explores feelings, generosity and friendship. Depicted with a black scribble above his head and a wrinkled brow, Elephant woke up feeling grumpy. But an unexpected present at the door soon changes his mood. A marvellous multi-tiered hat immediately cheers up Elephant. Here, the book makes full use of the double page spread by turning Elephant on his side and includes large, colourful text, ”HOORAY FOR HAT!” Eager to show Zebra, Elephant discovers that he, too is grumpy. ”Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” As the story continues, Elephant carries on spreading the cheer by gifting each animal with a magnificent hat, bringing them out of their terrible mood. Showing concern for Lion’s friend, Giraffe, the group plan a spectacular surprise; a very grand, loving gesture.
With gorgeously strong and colourful illustrations, repetition and boldness of the text, Hooray for Hat! is a fun read-aloud book about friendship and compassion that young children will love.  

AllMyKissesAll My Kisses, Kerry Brown (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.  

Another book about inspiring generosity is this story of a loveable piglet in All My Kisses. Abby is very kissable. She receives lots of kisses at bedtime, and likes to collect them in a special bucket. Abby is over-protective, claiming the kisses are too precious to share around. The overflowing bucket of kisses eventually turn into bleak, grey pebbles, so she discards of them in the playground. Soon Abby discovers that her pebbles are more than just that; they are a source of joy and delight for other children, with magical glowing properties at night. Abby eventually realises that sharing her kisses makes them much more valuable than keeping them to herself.
The message of spreading warmth and togetherness flows across the pages, depicted by the soft and gently painted pig characters. All My Kisses is a tender story about encouraging affection. It is a beautiful bedtime story for toddler to preschool aged children.  

61VkdeZCUsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Julia Donaldson (author), Axel Scheffler (illus.), Scholastic UK, 2014.
From the dynamic duo that brought us The Gruffalo is Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s, The Scarecrows’ Wedding. A story of love between two scarecrows, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay.
In beautiful, sophisticated rhyme, the verses tell of their journey as they plan their big wedding day. Hunting around the farm for the necessary items, the animals are more than charitable in offering to help with the dress, music, jewellery and flowers. But when Harry goes astray on his quest, the farmer replaces him with an obnoxious, greedy scarecrow called Reginald Rake. Luckily, Harry returns to save his future wife from deadly peril, Reginald abandons the scene, and the lovebirds enjoy the best wedding yet.
Scheffler’s characteristically enticing and bright illustrations, and Donaldson’s delightfully rhythmic and humorous text, proves The Scarecrows’ Wedding to be both a fun and heartwarming read that kids and adults will love to share many times over.  

517Hb7bBBAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Spots: One bird’s search for the perfect plumage, Helen Ward (author / illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2014.

We love this story of a guinea fowl who just wants to fit in. It is a book about learning to love yourself, and spreading warmth around with something so simple… a smile.
This particular guinea fowl is missing his spots. So he orders a delivery, only to discover the spots were all wrong. As more spots arrive, he finds they are too small, too invisible, and too bright. Join-the-dots spots are not quite right, and neither are splats, dots from i’s, freckles, leopard or ladybird spots. The spots that he finally wears are certainly unique and unashamedly eccentric, and this acceptance of himself assures his happiness.
Beautifully simple text in rhyming prose, with the elements of humour and ingenuity. The illustrations are equally whimsical and expressive, and include interesting texture; both seen in the paintings and felt on the paper.
Spots is an endearing book about giving, receiving and appreciating what you’ve got, and is perfectly suited to preschool-aged children.  

the+swapThe Swap, Jan Ormerod (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Little Hare, 2013.

From the late Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner is a story of sibling love (in disguise); the award-winning The Swap. Here we have a classic case of a mother ogling over her precious baby, and an older sibling feeling the jealousy curse. Caroline Crocodile is tired of hearing how gorgeous her baby brother is, and how he takes up the room on her Mama’s lap. She just wants some smacky-smoochy love for herself. When Mama Crocodile asks Caroline to look after her brother for a little while, it is what happens next that really hooks us in. Caroline decides to take her dribbly baby into the Baby Shop, and it is one of those laugh-out-loud moments when in a surprising twist, the shopkeeper agrees to swap him for other animal babies. With all good intentions, Caroline trials one at a time, only to discover that none of them quite match the brief. With a ‘gorgeous’ ending, Caroline understands why her brother is special and accepts him just the way he is, dribbles, smells and all. She also gets the reward from Mama that she always longed for.
The warm, humorous text matches perfectly with Joyner’s illustrations, including terrific character expression, plenty of fun and interesting details in every scene, and the soft pastel colour tones and patterns that reflect a bit of a groovy, retro vibe.
Classy look, classy tale, The Swap is a true all-round classic that is irresistibly lovely for children and adults, alike.  

So which beautiful books will you be sharing with your loved ones this Saturday?  

Review – Eric Vale Epic Fail – Stocking stuffer suggestion

Kids aren’t always especially nice to each other. From the most tender of ages they are on the lookout for ways to demoralise, break-down and lord it over each other. It’s all part of your basic survival of the fittest mentality and the procurement of stupid nicknames is one small but powerful weapon in this on-going battle for supremacy.

Now, I’m of Asian descent with a skin type that deepens to ‘kalamata olive’ with repetitive sun exposure. My name is Dimity, habitually shortened to Dim. Put all three together as some enterprising class mates of mine did and you’ve got yourself a ‘burnt Dim Sim’. That little gem must have completely depleted their collective mental arsenal.

Eric Vale Epic FailMichael Gerard Bauer’s comic romp, Eric Vale Epic Fail, illustrates one kid’s classic demise, the misappropriation of a really stupid (but undeniably funny) nickname and his subsequent attempts to rid himself of it. This book did unintentionally throw me back amongst the dim sims but in a sinfully hilarious way.

Eric Vale is your normal Year Five kid who in spite of drifting off in class whenever his ‘brain goes on a hike’ which is quite a bit, manages to distil most of his creativity and genius into his action adventure stories.

He has an overactive imagination, a best mate whose idea of a bad day simply doesn’t exist, and a nemesis in the shape of one Martin Fassenbender; perfect components for a knock-me-down, tie-me-up and rescue-me-before-the-train-hits adventure. The kind of adventure in fact, that Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale encounters on an hourly basis.

Michael G Bauer Bauer deftly manoeuvres Eric through a series of epic fails with hilarious alacrity and style. Unlike the poetically funny tomato sauce incident, readers are not slathered with a thick morass of morals. Ethnicity, individualism, fitting in and good old fashioned mateship are all treated with a robust finesse but told with that in-your-face jocularity that midgrade readers find so addictive.

I really feel for Eric Fail – er Vale. Who wouldn’t? He’s the dreamer, the schemer and ultimately tenacious enough to score on many levels. And he represents at least fifty per cent of kids in the school yard with ludericous labels, like Dim Sim. But I love his best mate Chewy more. You could practically drown in Chewy’s irrepressible buoyancy. His glass is never just half full, it’s overflowing.

Joe Bauer illoIt took me a few pages to adjust to the relaxed layout and jaunty comic book style of Eric Vale Epic Fail, but Joe Bauer’s zany illustrations eased my transition into the graphic style chapter book (Grapter if you like) superbly. Outrageously daring and 100% reflective of his father’s humour, Joe’s talent is as delightfully deadly as a Big Bob head squeeze.

‘If you think you can, you WILL’ enjoy this epic read. Any 10 year olds undoubtedly will. And the best bit: Eric Vale lives on in two more books in this series, Eric Vale Super Male released April 2013 and Eric Vale Off the Rails released August 2013.Eric Vale OtR Eric Vale SM

And if that wasn’t enough, stay tuned for the spin off series featuring your favourite secret agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale. Destined to be another epic win.

Scholastic Australia November 2012

Stock up for Christmas with all of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books here.

 

 

Review – Drongoes

I was never the highest jumper or the fastest sprinter at school, and standing in the middle of a netball court surrounded by a pack of short-nailed, indomitable girls with only a thin bib between them and my trembling heart filled me with terror. No, sport and I don’t really gel well. I lacked that flame of desire to cross the line first; unlike Jack, the newest hero of Scholastic’s Mates-Great Aussie Yarns series.Drongoes cover

Christine Bongers’ freshly released, Drongoes, is a magic little yarn about confronting fears, surmounting obstacles like Corby Park Hill, true grit and above all friendship, and is faintly reminiscent of the classic fable, the Hare and the Tortoise in so much as the unexpected outcome leaves us with an immense and satisfying sense of victor victorious.

Christine BongersIt’s Jack’s last year to beat ego-inflated Rocket Robson in the Year Five cross-country race at the athletics carnival. It’s also his best mate, asthma-stricken, Eric’s chance to simply finish the race. All of Eric’s previous attempts have been thwarted by over-anxious intentions and Eric’s inability to breathe.

Eric however excels at best-mateship and together, he and Jack embark on a determined training program consisting mostly of encouragement, patience and the ubiquitous presence of a flock of spangled drongoes.

In true slow and steady style, they compete against Rocket Robson against all odds, with surprisingly hilarious and touching results.

I’ve been a fan of this ripper series for some years now. The short, Aussie flavoured stories showcase some of Australia’s finest and funniest children’s writers. Christine Bongers’ contribution is no exception.

There are dozens of little things I liked about Drongoes: the title for one – the re-emergence of a classic slice of Aussie vernacular, the strong undercurrent of mateship, the timely message that pride (and too many pies) comes before a fall, and the subtle reference to Eric’s ethnicity and Jack’s personality through their nicknames; Puff the Magic Dragon and Drongo. But it was the ultimate act of selflessness on Jack’s part that made me want to stand up and whoop along with the cheering crowd in the end. I actually shed a tear or two instead!Spangled Drongo 2

What I love about this series is how each powerful storyline is supported by equally fabulous illustrations, in this case aptly provided by Dan McGuiness. Each page is smothered in pictures, with complimentarily themed page borders and interesting fonts; perfect for magnetising the interest of 6 – 8 year olds taking up chapter books for the first time. The explanatory text at the end is a Dan McGuiness illustratorlovely informative bonus.

I still don’t have much time or talent for sport. But I do adore spangled drongoes, who fortunately frequent my backyard too. What Drongoes did for me was to bring the two unexpectedly and effortlessly together so that the resulting spark almost ignited that flame to jump up and race off into the sunset – almost.

A genuine winner.

Scholastic Mates Series 2013

Review – Ned Kelly’s Secret

It’s the Gold Rush in Australia – a time when bushrangers are rife and travellers, both local and international, are aplenty in the harsh buslands of northern Victoria and New South Wales. Young Hugo Mars and his wealthy Papa are on an intrepid voyage to Australia to research stories for a French magazine (edited by Jules Verne), when their coach is held up by none other than the infamous Harry Power – the gentleman bushranger.

Brave, smart and clever, Hugo Mars is as intrigued as his Papa by this odd, self-inflated bushranger – and this event is the catalyst for a series of incredible encounters that will take a curious 15-year-old boy into the lair of the Kelly gang and their infamous inlaws, the Quinns . . . but as a friend, not foe. It also take us through the plotting and eventual capture of Harry Power, and the convoluted associations that kept him in business so long.

This intriguing book does indeed hold a Ned Kelly secret – but even more than that, it holds close a tale of commitment to family, to betrayal and honour. Its central theme may be the power of friendship but its cleverly-crafted plot and insightful, fascinating relationships – all based on fact and factual characters – is multi-layered and richly rewarding.

Author Sophie Masson has herself admitted in her author’s notes that the aim of this book was not to laud Ned Kelly and his questionable career, but rather present an open-ended question about how, where and why, a smart, spirited, 15-year-old Ned Kelly (the juvenile bushranger) eventually turns from mere horse wrangler to murderer and questionable ‘hero’. Masson asks what the pressure of saving face and strong family ties plays in his downturn and eventual violent end – and Ned Kelly’s Secret indeed perfectly addresses this question through historical conjecture and with much diplomacy (and perhaps with a wee dram of tenderness).

I loved this book. Well-written, balanced, meticulously researched and with a cast of brilliant characters – mostly real but some imagined – I adored how Masson ran her foreign Hugo Mars character – a kid with enormous hope and promise – alongside his age-contemporary friend Ned, whose destiny was as sordid as his early days of crime. But did it really need to end this way? Is a life of crime really in the blood or is it driven by need, greed and betrayal by others? Could things have been different for young Ned Kelly?

This book makes you think, it makes you wonder. It opens your heart and it’s just all round great reading. I am only hoping Masson brings us another Kelly tale – perhaps this time about the fate of the remaining Kelly clan, whom she paints with sheer wonder.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is published by Scholastic.

A Cool Dad’s Day

Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! I hope you were spoiled and adored, as Dad should be on this very special day. In celebration of fathers everywhere, here are my picks for the best new release Father’s Day books.

My Dad’s the Coolest (Scholastic)

Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley are back in this sequel to My Mum’s the Best – this time featuring ultra cool dads of all shapes, sizes and orientation, from a strutting rooster (with tickly feathers) to a mouse-shy lion, a mud-rollicking pig and a kooky-looking penguin.

Ideal for the very young, Bruce Whatley’s divine animal friends parade across the page with typical humour and charm. Simple text makes this ideal for a bedtime read.

Dads: A Field Guide (Random House)

Justin Ractliffe’s striking, modern and totally funky book on dads is taken to great heights with Cathie Glassby’s kooky, childlike and immensely whimsical illustrations.

Dads, en masse, are totally represented in this low text book, making it ideal for tots, and I love how they are represented in totally out-there ways – from a dad who wears undies and one who wears boxers, to a dad who’s ever-smart and one a little scruffy.

Charming, colourful and fun.

What Makes My Dad Happy (Allen & Unwin)

What makes had Happy?

Well, a lot of different things, for it really depends on what dad you have.

Maybe it’s building towers or picking flowers. Maybe it’s a note, strategically placed in a coat pocket, or when he becomes a launching pad for little aeroplanes. Every dad is different and that’s what makes them special.

Loretta Broekstra’s charming illustrations make for a sweet book for the younger set.

Also in this series by Tania Cox – What Makes my Mum Happy.

 

Review – Fredrik Goes Bananas!

Fredrik the gull lives on an icy island where everyone loves fish. Fish for breakfast. Fish for lunch. Fish for dinner. Fish of all types and sizes.

It’s clearly no wonder that one day – whilst tucking into his rotten shark fin soup – Fredrik realises something. He’s sick of fish. The townsfolk are so shocked, they think he’s gone bananas.

Fredrik knows he has to do something about his fishy problem, so he sends away for some mysterious supplies and starts building a mysterious object. It has a wooden frame and glass panels and is built directly over the hot springs that pouf warm steam into the air. What on earth could he be doing? The townsfolk are baffled, his wife is verklempt – she is so dazed and upset by her husband’s antics, she can only be revived by the smell of fresh mackerel!

After some time, a very special plant grows in the mysterious greenhouse. I won’t spoil the surprise but let’s just say it’s not only Fredrik who ends up going bananas!

This is a sweet, simple story with kooky undertones – my kind of kids’ book – and of course, it’s so easy to love Cheryl Orsini’s divine imagery, as evocative and delightful, as always.

Fun.

Fredrik Goes Bananas! is published by Scholastic.

 

Review – The Terrible Suitcase

Can a suitcase can be terrible? What could be so terrible about it? Could it be the way it looks, the way it drags on the ground, its awfully bad manners? Or is it what’s contained inside?

I must admit I was little nervous about this and was intrigued to find out, but I should have known the secret would simply lie in outward appearances. Clunky old suitcases aren’t cool for just-about-to-start-school kids – no way. Everyone else has super cool backpacks. With torches and drink bottle compartments and super cute stickers.

But not our little heroine, who is inexplicably condemned to ugly suitcase hell. Golly, I truly felt horrified for this child, lumbered with this daggy old clunker for no apparent reason at all.

As her first day at school unfolds, as grumbly as can be, the suitcase soon becomes a magical focal point for our narrator and her classmates. It’s a toolkit, it’s a super computer, it’s an integral part of a spaceship game – and a vessel for those all important spacefood sticks. In this way, its super presence brings a group of uneasy first-day kids together, offering comfort as well as friendship.

This is a lovely story on not what a suitcase is but what it could potentially be, however, the ending is confusing, with no tie in to preceding text or imagery and no effective wrap-up.

Freya Blackwood’s iconically sketchy illustrations are beautifully and most typically whimsical and gorgeous, and help lend form to an otherwise charming story.

The Terrible Suitcase is published by Scholastic.

 

Review – Banjo Bounces Back

Banjo is a hoofball star. He loves hoofball so much, he can barely sleep before a game. He practises every afternoon with his friend Bella, and on Saturdays he plays with his team the Whinnies.

But one day, Banjo flies too high. He takes a tumble – and is laid up for six weeks. The worst possible scenario for a hoofball star.

During his recuperation, Banjo becomes bored. He eats too much molasses, and when he finally returns to the hoofball field, his sedentary, molasses-slurping days are on show. He gets puffed easily. His uniform is a tad too small. When he accidentally falls on the ball . . . it, er – pops.

Poor Banjo. He’s so depressed over his larger-than-life state, he becomes despondent and refuses to join in the game. It’s not until his best friend Bella gets sick and has to go to horspital, that Banjo realises exactly what must be done.

Funny and gorgeously illustrated, Banjo Bounces Back is a book with a very gentle moralistic punch. Hume’s delightful (and very equine) word play is loads of fun; his dry humour equally so. Banjo is a character many children will instantly relate to and warm to, and the spirit-of-the-team and being-there-for-each-other themes (not to mention keeping physically active) don’t present at a gallop, but rather a gentle trot.

My only small criticism would be the ending – due to the clever and humorous nature of the book proper, I had expected a similar ending, and although the ending is certainly pleasant, I just feel it could have been something ‘more’. Nevertheless, Lachie Hume, son of author/illustrator Alison Lester, certainly has book writing and illustrating in his blood.

Banjo Bounces Back is published by Omnibus.

Review – I Love My ABC, I Love My 123

Toddlers aplenty know and love Anna Walker’s gorgeous Ollie books, featuring a zebra-like softie and his charming friends, resplendently illustrated in Walker’s inimitable style that remind me of a soft shoe shuffle – gentle, heartwarming and so sweet to watch.

In these new board books for toddlers, released tomorrow, Ollie takes little ones through their ABCs and their 123s, with luscious yet simple illustrations that make you want to tear out the pages and pin them to your child’s wall (yes, this has been done in our house in the past, though I always stock up on a readable copy, too!).

Thick card pages mean longevity, and if your toddler is anything like the discerning modern toddler, who likes a little art with their ABCs, there will be a lot of page flicking going on. Cute.

I Love My ABC and I Love My 123 are published by Scholastic.

Review – Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie

So lovely to see classic characters from a classic Aussie author, consistently revised and updated and brought into the current kid consciousness. And how can anyone resist these adorable May Gibbs icons – let alone kids?

This large format, hard cover book opens with a wallpaper of character endpapers, then introduces the reader to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, high in a gum tree, resplendent in their gumnut hats and loin cloth leaves.

Through the book, readers will be treated to an abridged version of the tale, introducing us to Mrs Kookaburra, Mr Lizard, Ragged Blossom and a trapped possum, who needs help from his new friends.

Minimal text makes this an introduction children aged 2 and up can thoroughly enjoy – and Gibbs’ gorgeous images have been zoomed in on and enlarged – with each image washing over double page spreads. I love how the book ends with a beginning – ‘And so began the adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie … ‘

Meet Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie is published by Scholastic Australia.

Review – Show Day

Author Penny Matthews takes us to the country in this lovely picture book on the iconic Australian Agricultural Show. Country or city kid alike, who doesn’t love Show Day?

Lil wakes to a special day. It’s Show Day. She goes to check on Best Heifer – Princess Marigold (Goldie to the family) – then it’s into the kitchen to catch up with Dad who’s up to his elbows in his best orange marmalade yet. He’s in the wood-chopping contest today, too – and he’ll also lead Goldie into the ring.

Mum is going for the Biggest Pumpkin award. She’s also entering three kinds of jam and a plate of scones and a birthday cake. Albert the rooster has been entered in the poultry section and brother Henry is hoping Bart the guinea pig will trump Best Pet. Lil wants to submit a secret entry into Most Unusual Pet, too.

As the family enters the Show, we’re treated to iconic Show Day sites and sights, thanks to gorgeous, watercoloury illustrations by Andrew McLean. The smell of fresh popcorn, the side-stepping of puddles and animal poop, the echo of the wood chopping – it’s all here.

Mum’s birthday cake wins first prize. But she doesn’t go so well in the enormous pumpkin race. Dad wins second place for his marmalade, though all he gets for the woodchopping is a clap for being a good sport. But which spectacular pet will Lil enter into the Most Unusual Pet?

Kids will wholeheartedly enjoy this lovely slice-of-life day at the Show.

Show Day is published by Scholastic.

Review – Animal Rescue Series

Leo is an odd kid. And, alas, odd kids rarely have friends. Well, actually, he does have one friend . . . his guinea pig, Alan Nesbit Kirk; a guinea pig who believes nothing special ever happens to Leo. He even tells him so.

‘Nothing interesting ever happens to you,’ Alan Nesbit Kirk says to Leo one sunny day by the guinea pig cage.

Leo agrees. Nothing interesting ever happens when other kids think you’re weird.

I must say, being able to talk to a guinea pig doesn’t, in my book, count as weird. It kind of counts as super cool. And it’s not only guinea pigs Leo can talk to. Pigeons. Dogs. School lab rats. He can truly talk to the animals, and little does he know that Mozz – the coolest, smartest girl in school – knows this. She knows because Alan Nesbit Kirk told the cat next door who told a passing cockatoo who told Mozz’s gran’s giraffe who told Charlie the gorilla, who then told Mozz and her gran, the very clever Dr Drizzsock.

Frankly, you won’t believe what Mozz and her gran are up to behind closed doors. Astonishing stuff. When Leo is approached by a gorilla on a skateboard who leads him through a mysterious, hologramed volcano to Dr Drizzsock’s hideout, well – that’s only the tip of the iceberg in this rollicking eco-warrior adventure.

After a trip in a supersonic aircraft made of recycled drink bottles and fueled by rotting banana skins and disposable nappies, Leo finds himself on an Indonesian island, tasked with saving a group of endangered elephants, about to be swamped by a tsunami. This may all sound far-fetched, but much of the bones of this story and its sustainability and endangered-species messages, are very real.

For an early reader book, this is some highly-detailed, richly woven story, nonetheless told clearly, simply, engagingly and with a hefty dose of humour . . . a combination author Jackie French does so very beautifully.

Leo and his first animal rescue adventure is a madcap read that hones in strongly on several important messages that don’t charge at children like a spurned elephant, but rather implant themselves gently into sponge-like little heads.

I’m loving the factual references at the end of the book that add an extra dimension to this mostly-fiction tale, and I’m gagging to grapple with that gorgeous gorilla in Gorilla Grab. These books are really great fun, and I’m sure the astonishing adventures of Leo and Mozz have only just begun.

Elephant Alert and Gorilla Grab are out this month, published by Scholastic. Ideal for early readers or for kids struggling to read – ages 6 – 10.

 

Review – Scholastic Ready to Read

I can still remember laying eyes on my first hologram as a child – and, many decades later, they’re still so much fun. I’m loving the covers of this new Ready to Read (pre-level 1 through 3) series from Scholastic, written by Sarah Creese and designed by Karen Morrison.

The full front cover is hologramed, with some pretty full-on imagery (that shark is freaking me out! but isn’t that what kids love?) and yes – it features that lovely scratchy texture that scrits and scratches like a DJ on a pop rock high.

Designed for kids to read alone and introducing longer sentences and fact boxes, the books run to thirty pages and feature large text and fabulous full page photos, labeling, phonics and plenty of ‘Did You Know’s.

A quiz and dictionary at the end of each book are ideal for extension, as are references to key words. Excellent for schools, homeschooling and parents who want to extend their younger children with interesting facts.

Given the topics covered and the sophisticated information contained within, these books would be ideal for older boys who are struggling to read.

The Ready to Read series is published by Scholastic.

Ready to Read Level 1
Slithering Snakes

Bugs
Extreme Animals
Mighty Machines

Ready to Read Level 2
Sharks
Dangerous Dinos

 

HARRY’S WAR

Grandpa talks about his war adventures all the time. And Harry loves listening. His father was a soldier too, in a different war. But Harry never knew his dad, and his mother won’t talk about him. In finding out why, Harry discovers a deeper truth, one that will change his life forever.

Some wards don’t just happen on a battlefield…

Harry’s War by John Heffernan is a book about truth, discovery and consequences.

Harry is confused. His grandfather is a war hero and his father was in a war that nobody talks about. Harry’s not stupid. He knows there’s a secret about Dad that everyone else knows – that the whole family is keeping from him. Harry has a feeling it has something to do with the way Dad died.

But what’s the secret and how is Harry going to find out? And when he does, is he going to be able to cope with the truth?

Harry is a typical adventurous kid, always getting his best friend Will into scrapes and becoming increasingly unpopular with Will’s family. Lately life seems to be throwing up so many challenges, but Harry is a courageous kid who faces things head on and proves himself to both Will and his family.

Harry’s War by John Heffernan is a book about friendship, loyalty and heroes. And finding explanations that make sense, that a young boy can live with. It’s also learning how to deal with people who disappoint you.

Harry’s War is a powerful novel published by Scholastic for readers aged 10+, examining truths about family and war.

The relationships between the characters are authentic and Harry is a brash but vulnerable boy who draws the reader into the story.

Although there are many difficult things for Harry to deal with, the reader is left with a feeling of hope that Harry will overcome all the obstacles that are being put in his path. That Harry will find his own way in the world in spite of the past.

Harry’s War is a tension filled story that confronts important issues head on and presents them in a way that young readers will readily relate to.

Harry’s War is published by Scholastic.

 

 

 

 

FASCINATING FACTS AND DOWNRIGHT FUNNY

Scholastic has just released a number of books for the young fact lover and for those young readers who like a book that makes them laugh.

WEE ON A JELLYFISH STING and other fibs that simply aren’t true

It’s amazing how many half-baked notions, crazy rumours from the internet and recycled must old myths get mistaken for the truth. Many well-meaning people may not realise that what they are telling you is, in fact, complete twaddle. Maybe it sounded convincing to them, or maybe they think it’s a useful fact. But sadly, no.

WEE ON A JELLYFISH STING and other fibs that simply aren’t true busts some popular myths about all kind of things including the memory of a goldfish and  that touching a toad can give you warts.

As well as the funny bits, there’s all sorts of useful information like how to get out of quicksand and the fact that an aardvaark can half a million termites in one meal. Topics include history, health, animals, places, the human body and crazy stuff.

WEE ON A JELLYFISH STING and other fibs that simply aren’t true is cleverly written by Tracey Turner and hilariously illustrated by Clive Goddard.

EVERY MINUTE IN AUSTRALIA

In the minute it takes for you to read this, AMAZING things will be happening all over the country.

Every Minute in Australia is full of amazing facts about Aussie food, Aussie animals, Aussie sport, Aussie culture and much, much more.

Every Minute in Australia has been meticulously researched by author, Yvette Poshoglian and is full of surprising facts like ’13 litres of tomato sauce’ are consumed per minute. I’m not saying all the information is something you need to know, but it’s fascinating nonetheless and great for young readers who love collecting facts.

It’s a bit different from your normal ‘fact fest’ because of the theme of ‘every minute in Australia’. There are even some ‘only in Australia’ activities so that the reader can really get involved. Every Minute in Australia is an easy to read format with cartoon style illustrations breaking up the text.

From car racing to training your pet, there’s something for everyone in Every Minute in Australia. It’s one of those books that make for fun dinner table conversation. Every Minute in Australia is published by Scholastic.

 

 

 

 

The Friendship Matchmaker – Review

I remember Grade Five as being one of the hardest years of my school life. I’d just started at a new school and everyone already had firmly established friendship groups that didn’t seem to be able to make room for me. So The Friendship Matchmaker by Randa Abdel-Fattah was a book that really resonated with me as I’m sure it will with many young readers.

Lara Zany is Potts Court Primary School’s official Friendship Matchmaker. She is certain her Friendship Rules work. She can take the Loneliest Loser (LL) and help make them a best friend.

Lara has built herself a reputation for helping build great friendships, and helping friends get over their differences. She appears to have it ‘together’, but Lara has some friendship scars of her own – and these are what motivate her to help other people.

Although Lara’s methods aren’t always foolproof, her heart is in the right place – and although she does some things that make the reader cringe, she’s a character that endears herself to us very early on.

Lara tackles friendship problems that most readers would have come across in the playground at some time.

She’s writing a manual to help the friendless and shows empathy for fellow students, and understanding of the complexities of friendship.

She says, “If you’re reading this Manual it’s probably because you’re sick and tired of feeling lonely. Or maybe you have a friend but you’re not sure where you stand with them. Or maybe you’re the third wheel in a trio. Or can’t work out how to strike up a conversation with someone in the canteen line. Maybe you’re the one who gets picked last at sports.”

From the first page, Randa Abdel-Fattah has found common ground with her young readers.

Lara has a ‘heart of gold’ like she mentions a number of times in the book, but she runs into trouble when Emily Wong shows up. Emily breaks all the rules and to make matters worse, she has challenged Lara to a ‘Friendship Matchmaker’ contest that’s going to put her rules to the test.

Lara discovers that she has a lot in common with the socially awkward Tanya who she has to find a best buddy for if she’s going to win the challenge with Emily.

Lara has to decide whether to break one of her own rules and become best friends with Tanya. Not only that, she must decide whether she can move on from a bad personal friendship experience and whether she’s ready to take the emotional risk that comes with having a best friend.

The Friendship Matchmaker sensitively handles an important topic in young reader’s lives. Randa Abdel-Fattah uses humour to build the tension and bring the characters closer to the reader.

The Friendship Matchmaker is an entertaining read which tackles important subject matter. It is published by Scholastic.

 

Review – Wonder Struck by Brian Selznick

When I first lifted this groaningly weighty tome, I cringed. Yes, the cover was mesmerising, as was the title – but my goodness me – did I really have three weeks to wade through this brick? No, I did not.

Just as I put the book to one side, I noticed the oddly-shaded page ends. Curiously, I opened the book right to a central page, and there I was – my feet swept away from underneath me and tumbling forward through the page, expedited into another time and place.

It was instant. I was struck.

Wonder Struck, by bestselling Caldecott-winning author Brian Selznick (of The Invention of Hugo Cabret fame) is quite an extraordinary book. Comprising arguably 70 or even 80 per cent illustrations, this graphic novel come picture book come fiction novel is a feat in creativity. Striking pencil-sketched images and text tell a parallel journey between a half-deaf boy of the 1970s (Ben) and a deaf girl from the 1920s (Rose).

Ben has just lost his mother, and is pining for the father he never knew. He is living with his aunt when one dark and stormy night, he returns to his mother’s house to find a book with a curious inscription inside. He also discovers a book mark that quite possibility holds the key to finding his father. When he phones the number on the book mark, a lightning rod strikes the house, rendering the boy unconscious – and profoundly deaf.

Waking up in hospital, Ben soon plans an escape to New York, where he’s determined to pursue the search for his father – and where he uncovers extraordinary family links at the American Museum of Natural History.

Rose is the daughter of a famed movie star. Her profound deafness means she is relatively house-bound, and hardly ever sees her mother. She, too, escapes her miserable life and ends up in New York where a man named Walter takes her under his wing. But who is Walter? And moreover – what ties Rose and Ben together? And how can a fifty year separation bring them together?

This beautiful tale, told in two parts – the text talks of Ben, the images talk of Rose – is a delicately-penned story with an emotional ferocity that stuns. The blending of carefully plotted threads, images and divine historical and faunal referencing is a joy. Adults will swim in the heady detail and emotional swirl, children will be wide-eyed at the imagery and mind-challenging twists.

Enriching, clever, astonishing, and possessing the power to wrap you up snugly until the last page is turned, this film-like book renders the iPad useless.

A must-read.

Wonder Struck is published by Scholastic Press.

 

BEN & DUCK by Sara Acton

Ben & Duck is a beautiful story about a boy who befriends a curious and fun loving duck.

Written and illustrated by Sara Acton for readers aged 3 and over, Ben & Duck is the story of a boy who goes to the park and meets a duck who becomes his special friend.

Duck isn’t just ‘any’ duck. This duck squeezes under hedges, climbs trees and follows Ben everywhere…until he hops on the bus.

Ben & Duck is a story of friendship and sharing and what it’s like for a boy to have a true friend. They accept each other’s differences unconditionally and find common ground for their play and friendship. Ben & Duck are happy to play games and eat food that’s different from what their first choice might be.

With these themes gently introduced into the book, Ben & Duck lends itself to discussion both in the classroom and the home.

Ben & Duck is a very simple story with uncluttered, expressive illustrations and a gentle narrative as Ben and Duck develop their new relationship.

The beautiful watercolour images are full of movement and tenderness. This is a heartwarming story that will appeal to young readers, especially those who love animals.

Ben & Duck is published by Scholastic Australia and comes in 32 page hardback format.

 

SOME DADS

Nick Bland’s new picture book, Some Dads has been released just in time for Father’s Day.

It heralds the return of the star of the best-selling, The Very Cranky Bear.

This is another story about why Dads are special. Whether Dads are naughty, careful, in a hurry or loud, they are special to their children no matter what.

Every spread in this colourful picture book features a Dad from the animal kingdom doing fun things with their children, just like human Dads. There are bears and elephants, peacocks and giraffes plus an assortment of other animals frolicking with their kids.

Some Dads features vibrant illustrations and clever humour. Each spread shows a father-child relationship that will make kids giggle and Dads smile proudly.

This is a great book for Dads to read to/with their children.

Best-selling picture book creator, Nick Bland, brilliantly captures the simple joys all dads bring to everyday life.

Some Dads is published by Scholastic.

IKE AND THE CALAMITOUS QUEEN

Today we have a very special guest at Kids’ Book Capers. Ike, the star of the Grim and Grimmer series has promised us an EXCLUSIVE interview.  He is here to talk about his latest adventure, The Calamitous Queen.

Please be kind to him. He’s never been interviewed before and he’s a bit shy so he’s also brought along his best friend, Mellie.

1. Ike, you have been on such a journey throughout the Grim and Grimmer series. Can you tell us how your adventures have changed you as a person?

‘Thanks for asking, Dee, though I’m not sure how to answer that. I’ve never been much good with words and stuff.’ (sighs). ‘Well, here goes. Um, before I came to Grimmery –’

‘And accidentally betrayed the princess,’ Dee says helpfully.

‘I was hoping you wouldn’t bring that up. Before then I was Useless Ike. I never did anything good; never believed I could. I always gave up.’

‘What made you change?’

‘It wasn’t just me in trouble this time. The princess was going to be killed, because of my stupidity, and I couldn’t bear it. I had to make something of myself. I had to save her, no matter the cost.’

‘How did you make something of yourself, Ike? How did you change?’

‘Er, um.’ Ike struggles to remember the details, blushes, stares at his big feet. ‘Sorry, I’m no good at analysing myself.’

Beside him, Mellie groans, rolls her eyes then elbows Ike out of the way. ‘Luckily I’m brilliant. I’ve been trying to work him out ever since we met.’

‘That doesn’t exactly sound like a compliment,’ says Dee.

‘Who’s telling this story?’ Mellie snaps. ‘Ike learned perseverance under Grogire’s tree, when he refused to give up and made that brilliant, though disgusting, dung balloon. And he overcame his fear of heights when he crawled blind across the beam over the abyss to rescue me from Gorm’s hut. He’s overcome all kinds of fears since he met me.’

‘I’ve had to, the way you keep getting me into trouble,’ mutters Ike.

‘Shush!’ says Mellie. ‘What would you know, anyway? When Nocty attacked the demon, Spleen, as she was carrying us away from Gorm, you showed great selflessness by becoming a night-gaunt to save us.’

‘Great stupidity, you mean.’

‘Yes, but selfless stupidity. Need I go on?’

‘I think Dee’s got the point,’ says Ike.

‘You also learned courage, ingenuity, endurance and so forth. And at the end, you sacrificed one of the most important things in your life, your quest to clear your parents’ names – just to save me.’

‘That was the most painful lesson,’ says Ike.

‘To say nothing of the many faults you’ve learned to overcome,’ Mellie goes on. ‘I can list them, if you like.’ She laughs aloud. ‘I once wrote down all your flaws. Took three sheets of paper.’

She looks up, and the smile fades. ‘Ike’s the bravest boy I’ve ever met, Dee. He never gives up. It’s all because of him that Grimmery has been saved. That’s how he’s changed.’

2. Can you tell us what you like most about your best friend Mellie and why you became such good friends?

‘Mellie is everything I’m not,’ says Ike, eyeing her warily. ‘She’s clever and quick, and … and really pretty too, in a pixyish kind of way. She’s warm and generous, but she’s also terribly reckless, and always carrying out outrageous thefts to prove she’s the best apprentice thief as ever was. But she’s got a dreadful temper, and when she’s cranky even Achernix, the terrible Duke of Darkness, runs for his immortal life.’

Ike ducks, as if expecting her to wallop him one, but Mellie is smiling. ‘I’m not the least bit reckless. I call it bold and daring, and since it got me through my Reckoning, no one can argue.’

Ike stirs, as if to say, But I got you through your Reckoning, then smiles and closes his mouth again. He doesn’t need to say anything.

3. What is the worst thing that happened to you on your journey?

‘I don’t know how to answer that,’ says Ike. ‘Was it the competition I had, as Useless Ike, with Grogire the firewyrm (the most brilliant mind in the world) in her stinky lair? Or the contest with that sly, smirking conman, Con Glomryt, to get through the doors of the dwarf kingdom of Delf? Or my dreadful embarrassment after Mellie’s failed spell blew my bottom up to the size of a small airship, and I spent a whole day bobbing around the ceilings of Delf being mocked by angry dwarves?’

He rubs his bony jaw. ‘No, I think it was the time I had to fight the dreadful night-gaunt in Emajicka’s palace, to stop him tormenting Pook and the other Collected children and stealing their nightmares for Emajicka to bathe in. That was the most awful time I can ever remember. Yet I’ll never forget how brave little Pook was, trying to hold off the monstrous night-gaunt all by himself.’ (Ike brushes away a tear at the memories).

4. What is the best thing that happened to you on your journey?

‘Harrumph!’ says Mellie.

Ike grins. ‘A lot of good things happened, too many to count. One of the best of them was when I worked all night to make that balloon fuelled with exploding firewyrm dung, to rescue the princess. Everyone laughed at me, but when I finally put the balloon together, it floated up into the air just the way it should. It was the first time I realised that I didn’t have to be Useless Ike.’

‘Harrumph, harrumph!’

Ike gives her a sly, sidelong glance. ‘But no, the best thing that happened, the very best in my life, was meeting Mellie and plucking up the courage to ask her to help me, after she’d stolen my magical pen. Mellie’s the first real friend I’ve had, and definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me.

‘Though I wish she wasn’t so darn cranky.’

(Mellie boxes his ear, though she is wearing an enigmatic smile).

5. Where to next for Ike?

I’ll answer that, says Ian. (who has fortunately come along too – otherwise the interview could deteriorate into an Ike/Mellie war.)

Well, Ike’s a Gate Guardian now, though admittedly a very young one, and it’s his duty to guard the four gates into Grimmery and protect this brave little country from all the terrible enemies lurking outside. And none of them have given up.

The Fey Queen Emajicka still wants Grimmery back. Grogire the firewyrm still wants revenge for the dreadful humiliations Ike and Mellie made her suffer, and the Demon Spleen, who is now the Duchess of Darkness, still wants to make them pay for Mellie’s stealing the Bloody Baton and Ike’s burning a hole though the wall of the underworld.

Oh, and Nuckl never forgets. He still wants to eat Ike’s liver.

‘Thanks for asking, Dee,’ says Ike. ‘I’ve never done an interview before. I was really nervous. Hope I wasn’t too awful.’

Thanks for visiting us here at Kids’ Book Capers, Ike, Mellie and Ian. Hope you enjoy the rest of your blog tour (see details at the end of this post about where the blog tour has been already and where it’s going to from here.)

REVIEW OF THE CALAMITOUS QUEEN

The Calamitous Queen is the fourth installment in Ian Irvine’s hilarious Grim and Grimmer series for readers aged 10 +

In this final book everything comes to a head and if Ike doesn’t defeat the evil Emajicka, his good friend Mellie will perish and Grimmery will be destroyed. And even if Ike saves Mellie, has her family been burnt alive by the evil Fey Queen’s minions?

To make matters worse, Mothooliel is out to steal Ike’s eyeballs, Spleen and Nuckle want to eat Ike’s innards, and Grogire the Firewyrm plans a disgusting death for him. Then there’s the ongoing conflict between Lord Monty and his newly reattached head.

Emajicka and her army of a million Fey are marching on Grimmery, and if Aurora isn’t crowned very soon, the kingdom will be lost – possibly forever.

Ike must get the Book of Grimmery to Aurora in time to prevent this from happening, but how can he when he doesn’t even know where it is?

In The Calamitous Queen, Ian Irvine ties up all the loose ends for the reader. We see Ike come full circle and realise how much he has changed and grown over the course of his adventures from the clumsy boy who couldn’t do anything right to the Gate Guardian everyone is relying on to save the world.

Ike finds out who he really is in both the literal and spiritual sense and Mellie faces her Reckoning. There is so much at stake for all the characters in this book. Will Pook free the Collected children and how will Lord Monty overcome the ultimate act of betrayal?

14 year-old Ike has the fate of the world in his hands in this book.

As well as the non-stop action, the humour keeps coming right to the last line of the book, even finishing with a bodily function. The Calamitous Queen is a hilarious and exciting end to the four book Grim and Grimmer series.

You can find out more about the series by dropping in to the other great blogs that Ian is visiting on tour.

IAN IRVINE THE CALAMITOUS QUEEN, BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE



THE AUNTIES THREE

As you’d expect from bestselling and popular Australian picture book creator, Nick Bland, his latest offering, The Aunties Three is a riot of colour and fun.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.

Pack up your games, dismantle your toys,

practise your manners and muffle your noise.

Straighten your face, where your smile used to be,

for coming this way are The Aunties Three!

Although I have to admit those Aunties Millicent, Alma and Ingrid are downright scary, Nick Bland still manages to bring hilarity into the picture – replacing fear with awe.

Even as adults we can relate to visitors you have ‘behave’ for – the ones you don’t smile in front of, “burp or sniffle or sneeze.”

Speak when you’re spoken to, never before,

take a deep breath and open the door.

The kids in this book are full of fun until the aunties arrive. As soon as there’s a knock on the door they try and put on their best manners, but no matter how much the children try to impress, it’s just not going to happen.

These Aunties are not just scary looking, they’re bossy and demand tea, shoe polishing, foot rubs and sweets.

First the cat steals Aunt Millicent’s hat, then Aunt Alma sits on the broken chair, then there’s the cooking accident that puts paid to Aunty three who is determined to stay for tea.

I loved the hilarious and expressive illustrations The Aunties Three. There’s so much movement and liveliness in these full colour pics. I loved the facial expressions on the characters – the fear of the children, the arrogance of the aunts. There’s the quirkiness of what the kids are wearing – the toddler dressed in a pig’s outfit, the boy with the colander on his head. Added to that are the background details; the flying books, the cat drinking from the milk jug.

The rhyming text is engaging and hilarious and moves the story along at a frantic pace that will keep young readers mesmerised.

I also love the way this book ends. Nick Bland builds up the tension with the Auntie’s arrival but the ending has an optimistic resolution that would allay the fears of any child who might have been worried about fierce aunties like this turning up at their front door.

The Aunties Three is published by Scholastic for ages 4+

 

 

I LOVE MY MUM

Written and illustrated by Anna Walker, I Love My Mum is another great picture book for Mother’s Day. It’s all about Ollie the Zebra’s loving relationship with his mum,

Ollie is an appealing and distinctive character; a lively zebra who loves to play with his mum and do all sorts of things that kids love doing like chasing butterflies and playing hide and seek.

I Love My Mum goes through Ollie and Mum’s regular activities and explores the fun of their relationship.

The Ollie books are Anna Walker’s first books as author-illustrator and in them she captures the bond between mother and child as they spend special time together doing everyday things.

The I Love Ollie books are a series of books for every occasion and include I Love to Dance, I Love to Sing, I Love Holidays, I Love Birthdays, I Love Christmas, I Love My Dad, I Love My Grandpa, I Love My Grandma, I Love Easter, I Love My Baby Brother and I Love My Baby Sister.

The rhyming text is simple and easy to read and will engage young children aged 2+. They’ll also enjoy the simple but expressive full colour pictures.

I Love My Mum is published by Scholastic Australia.

 

ALPHA MONSTERS IS AN ABC OF FUN

Alpha Monsters, written and illustrated by Chris Kennett offers a fun and innovative way for children to learn their alphabet.

It’s an Alphabet book with a story. The hero, Freddy is in his tree house when lightning strikes and hurls him into  whole new world.

He lands on a strange jungle floor where he encounters a sobbing monster. The monster has a problem that kids will definitely relate to – he has lost his teddy. The sobbing monster is Monster “A” and he has twenty five friends in his world, all named after letters of the alphabet.

Freddy journeys through this amazing world with Monster “A” in search of the lost toy.

Chris Kennet’s monsters are cute and not scary and each of them is doing an action that matches their letter of the alphabet. My favourites would have to be “Poor U (upside down with his underwear freezing) and “G groaning about gritty sand in his tea.”

They are all very busy little monsters going about their typical day doing fun activities like ice skating and visiting the beach.

By visiting the other monsters at play and helping Monster “A” retrace his steps, Freddy helps him find his lost toy.

This book will appeal to small children on so many levels. There are the cute Alpha Monsters and the cheeky smiling Freddy, there’s the adventure and the lost teddy problem that is something they will have experienced. Freddy helps Monster “A” remember where he left Teddy by going over everything he did that day – this is the same method a parent would use to help a small child find a lost toy.

At the end of Alpha Monsters, there’s a colourful double paged spread showing all the alphabet monsters getting up to their special antics. So young readers can go through the alphabet in a fun way all over again.

Reader aged 4+ will love the cartoon style illustrations and the rhyming text makes this a fun educational experience for the whole family to share.

Alpha Monsters is published by Scholastic.

THE PUP’S TALE – IRRESISTIBLE READING

The Pup’s Tale is the latest book in Sally and Darrel Odger’s Pet Vet series from Scholastic.

It’s book number 6 and the story is told from the point of view of Trump, The Animal Liaison Officer (ALO) at the Pet Vet Clinic.

Trump the dog lives behind the veterinary surgery belonging to her person, Dr Jeannie and travels with her to house and farm calls. Having acute dog senses, she often works things out way before the humans.

In The Pup’s Tale, main character, Trump is in a tricky situation. She can see that Goldie the Labrador isn’t coping with her brood of fifteen new puppies and one in particular isn’t getting enough food.

Trump knows that Tiny, the runt of the litter isn’t going to survive long without help, but how can Trump convince the humans that something must be done?

Although most of the characters in this book are dogs, they’re still very ‘people like’ in their perceptions and qualities, and will be easy for young readers to relate to.

Trump is a bright, determined Jack Russell who thinks she might have the perfect solution to Goldie’s problem. Authors, Sally and Darryl Odgers often come up with ideas for books while walking their own Jack Russells so it’s hardly surprising that Trump seems so real to the reader.

The Pup’s Tale is an engaging story and it’s also great for teaching young readers about how to look after their pets.

The book has vocabulary and definitions to extend literacy skills and will provide entertainnig classroom reading.

The text is broken up by side bar definitions like Caterwauling – a loud squalling sound cats make when they’re annoyed or challenging other cats.

Janine Dawson’s lively humorous black and white illustrations are scattered throughout The Pup’s Tale.

The Pet Vet series is written for readers aged 6 + and they won’t be able to resist the cute photo of Tiny on the front and back cover The Pup’s Tale.

LITTLE MATES FOR LITTLE MINDS

Little Mates is a colourful new series from Scholastic for children aged 3 +.

There are 26 pocket-sized books designed to fit easily into a handbag, nappy bag or backpack. Each book features a letter of the alphabet so the books are both educational and fun.

The Little Mates series is written by Susannah McFarlane and illustrated by Lachlan Creagh. Susannah has been writing since she was seven and is the author of the EJ12 Girl Hero series. You’ll see when you read the books that she is a big fan of alliteration, which is something that young readers seem to enjoy too.

Illustrator, Lachlan Creagh is also a concept designer and illustrator whose work is inspired by nature. He likes to create original visions full of life and imagination and his hilarious, colourful pictures help McFarlane’s words to leap off the page.

The alliteration makes these stories fun to read aloud and each one features an endearing Australian animal. The 26 books enable readers to work their way through the alphabet in a fun way and each has the applicable letter of the alphabet on its spine so that by lining up the whole series, readers will have the entire alphabet laid out for them.

In the first book, we meet Amelia, the most athletic ant on the anthill. She is an astonishing acrobat and an amazing tennis ace. Then there is Bouncy Ben the bilby who has a batch of beaut bush buddies, and Cuddly Callum the cockatoo who has a collection of cheerful chums. Daredevil Declan the dingo likes to dart and dive and Energetic Elliot the emu is excellent at eating but his exuberance can lead to emergencies.  Finally, there’s Friendly Fred the fairy penguin who feasts on felafel and plays a ferocious game of footy.

In each book the main character goes on fun adventures with their friends. As well as introducing readers to the alphabet and fun words, these books also present personal concepts like friendliness, loyalty and ‘giving things a go’.

The first six Little Mates came out this month and the rest are due for rapid release during 2011-2012

VALUE ADDING TO PICTURE BOOKS

I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be an increasing trend to attach giveaways and merchandise to picture books. Harvey the Boy who Couldn’t Fart (Walker Books) came with it’s very own fart machine and I have seen books sold with stuffed toys, jewellery and other paraphernalia.

From a marketing point of view, this probably works otherwise publishers wouldn’t do it. I’m not sure if I like this trend or not, but then I guess I’ve never been the sort of person who buys something because of the free steak knives, or onion peelers.

To me, a well written and illustrated picture book will stand on it’s own. It doesn’t need anything else except strong words, vivid illustrations and a great story.

But there are exceptions to every rule. Some stories come with accessories that perfectly complement the kind of books that they are. New Frontier recently released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice based on the  poem by Goethe and the famous piece of classical music composed by Paul Abraham Dukas.

Written by Tom Skinner and illustrated by Annie White. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice picture book comes with it’s own CD and seeing as the book introduces young children to classical music, it seems to be a perfect fit.

It is a timeless coming of age story where the main character Rizwan battles temptation and laziness in order to learn patience. The CD fits with the story and offers the added benefit of familiarising children with classical music.

Another picture book that combines words, illustration and music in a seamless way is Never Smile at a Crocodile written by Jack Lawrence & Frank Churchill.

Published by Scholastic, Never Smile at a Crocodile is also based on a timeless story. It is beautifully illustrated by  Shane Devries and comes with an instrumental version of the story on CD.

For me, music and audio storytelling seem to be the exceptions to the ‘freebie’ rule. With picture books like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Never Smile at a Crocodile, the CDs not only add value to the books, they add a whole new experience for the reader.

I’d be interested in your comments. Have you noticed the trend to include freebies with picture books? What do you think of it?

NON-FICTION CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR BOYS

I have two boys who love  gadgets and technology but they are also avid readers. So I always enjoy buying them books for Christmas.

A lot of boys seem to be like mine, and they like to collect hundreds and hundreds of facts about all sorts of things from world’s biggest and world’s oldest to sporting facts and countries that watch the most TV.

Scholastic has a selection of books out that make ideal Christmas gifts for the fact-finder, boy or girl.

BOOK OF FIRSTS

This book is both educational and fun and covers an amazing array of firsts in areas such as Air & Space, Entertainment, Exploration, Food, Money, Technology, Everyday Things and Transportation.

It’s the sort of information that kids like to store in their brains and impress family and friends with. There are cartoon style illustrations and easy to follow text.

ASHES HANDBOOK – The Ultimate Guide for Young Cricketers

For cricket enthusiasts like my boys, this book provides a feast of fascinating facts about cricket’s ultimate contest between England and Australia.

There are funny bits, fab bits, personal bits and there’s the opportunity for readers to be a selector or to do their own quiz.

AUSTRALIAN & WORLD RECORDS 2011

Even boys who don’t read much will have their interest peeked by the this book of diverse facts.

In this full colour production they’ll find information on Australian records involving Big things and culture, sport, recreation, nature, science, popular culture, human-made records, money and mega trivia.

Who knew that more than 70 canines were used in filming Hotel for Dogs…or that most of them were rescued from animal shelters…or that the ‘star’ dogs trained for more than 16 weeks for their roles?

There are more than 250 amazing records in this book.

K-ZONE PRANK PATROL

I don’t know if you have a practical joker in your house, but I have two of them. I suppose this book might be seen to be encouraging these antics, but on the upside, it can also encourage them to be creative.

And even if your prankster doesn’t put any of the suggestions into practise (which I hope mine don’t), it will give them something to giggle about.

This book carries a warning for pranksters not blame the publishers or contributors if they end up grounded.