Review – Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Attributed as ‘a class act’ by The Australian.

Praised by leading industry professionals.

Acclaimed with prestigious awards.

imageHer previous title in the series, Rivertime (review), is the winner of several book prizes, including the Readings Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award, and shortlisted in the CBCA Awards, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and Speech Pathology Australia Awards. Author illustrator Trace Balla has moved us once more with her new graphic, enchanting mountain adventure novel in Rockhopping.

With its sheer gravitational pull, Rockhopping takes its readers to gripping heights (and depths as it turns out!). You’ll discover moments of both unexpected intensity and serendipitous tranquility. Any primary school kid, or adult, excited by the possibilities of a hike through nature (particularly of the more challenging kind), and also those open to fortuitous opportunities won’t be disappointed by this symbolic quest.

imageClancy and his happy-go-lucky Uncle Egg spontaneously plan another camping trip following the success of their last one canoeing on the Glenelg River. Their aim is to find the source of the river. But Uncle Egg knows it won’t be easy so he ensures Clancy is trained and prepared weeks ahead of their journey. Backpacks full of supplies in tow, the pair begin their climb at the side of the Gariwerd (the Grampians) mountain range. Their time trekking around the rocks comes with not only physical, but emotional, strains. Using all their resources they find strength, willpower, companionship and loyalty to face and overcome the setbacks (including a rigorous endurance test by Uncle Egg to rescue Clancy, and his backpack, from a fall into a ravine). But at the same time they lap up the chances to appreciate each other and the wonder and beauty of the creatures and sights around them.

imageTrace Balla‘s text and illustrations are so child-friendly with their progressive narrative, enthralling dialogue and lively sequenced images that it makes us want to have a nature adventure of our own just to be able to document it in the same way! Her research and insights into the Victorian Range region, the Indigenous people and their history, ecologists and her own up close and personal encounters with leeches, swamps and cliffs are brilliantly intertwined into this book. Just like Clancy and Uncle Egg, Balla’s inspiration stemmed out of unforeseen travels and discoveries. Her message is so affecting:

image“When you stop trying to get anywhere and just be, a whole world of wonder can open up to you… The more you look the more you find out. It’s also about realising we are part of the natural world, rather than separate to it… It is a book that reminds us about being in touch with the earth.”

Rockhopping is an enriching, magical delight with endless scope for environmental, social and historical study as well as inciting self-discovery and philosophical reflections. Certainly an adventure you won’t want to miss!

Purchase Rockhopping by Trace Balla, published by Allen&Unwin, 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Love Thy Pets – Picture Book Reviews

Why do animals feature so heavily in picture books? 1. They are so relatable. 2. They provide a sense of comfort and nurturing. 3. They reinforce positive emotions and behaviours such as empathy. Whether these animals are represented as their true natures or anthropomorphically, children (and adults) feel connected to these cute characters and regard them with affection. The notion of being responsible for one, and all the playfulness that they have to offer is one that appeals to many. Here are a few heartwarming and imaginative picture books about pets that capture the love between the most unlikely of friends.

imageBig Pet Day, Lisa Shanahan (author), Gus Gordon (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2014.
Shortlisted in 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (5 – 8 years).

What an exciting day at school! ‘Big Pet Day’ is a tale of mammoth exuberance as Lily’s class celebrate the individual qualities and talents of their pets. Much to her dismay, Mrs Dalton’s classroom quickly becomes a disorganised chaotic mess. The principal, Mr Fisher, will be judging the best pet later that day, so keeping everyone under control is of the utmost importance. There is a runaway ferrett, a pooping pony, and a cordial-drinking puppy. Lily’s pet dragon is very well-behaved though, but she is the only one who knows how special he is. In a hilarious finale, involving a squealing, hermit crab-fearing Mr Fisher, it is Lily’s dragon who is now ‘seen’ as the most deserving gold trophy winner.

The text by Lisa Shanahan is absolutely comical, with many personalities evident – the cheekiest would have to be Mrs Dalton! There is a lot to discover, with the various children and the shenanigans of their pets, and illustrator Gus Gordon covers all these aspects expertly with charm and humour. I love the page with the kids looking exactly like their pet counterparts! Gorgeous! His use of scanned images, adorable hand-drawn characters and fine details (like Mrs Dalton’s book titled ‘Pet Management’) allow for hours of perusal and plenty of giggles.

‘Big Pet Day’ is perfect for primary school aged children (and their teachers), with scope for open discussions on pets (real and imagined), classroom management, friendship and loyalty. This book is both entertaining and heartwarming. It’s a winner!

imageMe and Moo, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

Here’s another delightful story that explores the imaginative relationship between a child and his best friend, in this case, it’s ‘Me and Moo’. This pair are inseparable and it is clear from the outset that they have formed an instant bond by the corresponding t-shirts they wear (‘I’m with Moo’ and ‘I’m with Me’). Just like introducing any new member to the family, there are adjustments to be made. Once raising Moo to be a walking, flower-eating, disguise-wearing little calf, it is soon Moo who is doing the raising when he no longer fits underneath the bed. Mum and Dad set the rules, and the boy narrator dutifully takes his responsibilities seriously. He even discovers that his friends own talented, fun-loving pets, too. The animal antics don’t stop there with one final surprise that is sure to have readers hanging out for the next instalment.

Whimsical and hysterical, the text and pictures are dynamic and completely compatible, just like Me and Moo. The illustrations by Eckstrom are animated and strong, yet maintain a soft and soothing feel that exudes warmth, humour and frivolity all at the same time.

‘Me and Moo’ is a gentle and charming tale of unlikely friendships and responsible pet ownership that will have preschoolers demanding for more.

imageWhat Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Suess (author, illus.), Random House Children’s Books US, 2015.

Only just being released, I haven’t got my paws on this one as yet. From what I can gather, this book seems quite the controversial one. Having been written in the 1950s, (discovered shortly after he died in 1991) it is likely to include outdated cultural ideologies, but then again, haven’t those Suess classics stood the test of time?

It is a story about a pair of children facing the dilemma of choosing just one pet to keep. Whilst it is said to maintain some of the legend’s imaginative spirit with its whimsical poetry and a wacky, gangly-looking creature to spark our curiosity, amongst the realness of dogs, cats and goldfish there are also important, modern day questions raised in line of animal rights and seeking a life-long pet companion, and imposing such rules and decision making processes on children of this age.

When you get a chance to sneak a peek at ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ I’d love to hear your thoughts on this ‘hidden treasure’.