Friday, 24 March 2023

What a Wonderful Word

What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Little Tiger) HB ISBN 9781848576453

This is a peculiar picture book. Each double page is devoted to a word which is untranslatable in the country from which it comes. For instance, in Finland there’s a word, ‘Poronkusema’ which means the distance a reindeer can walk before needing the toilet. A Serbo-Croatian word widely used across the Balkans is ‘Promaja’, meaning the much-hated draught created by wind blowing between two open windows. The English word ‘whimsy’ means playfully quaint or fanciful behaviour or humour.

Under each page entry are columns of (very small) text which expands on the word meaning. Again, these entries are odd. For instance, under ‘Whimsy’ there is a column about the World Worm Charming Championships, started in 1980 in England, now an annual event where competitors try to coax as many worms as possible from their 3 X 3m patch of grass in twenty minutes. The other columns talk about other whimsical annual events such as a cheese-rolling contest, a bog-snorkelling triathlon, and underwater Ludo.

Opposite each page of information about the wonderful word is a full-page illustration which matches the text. For instance, opposite the whimsical entry is a page showing contestants in the worm charming contest with a girl playing a violin, a man playing a flute, and a boy playing a harmonica. Up you come, worms!

The book is very informative and offers wide range of words from countries all around the world. However, it is difficult to ascertain its market. It’s certainly not for small children, and being a picture book, it’s not ideal for adults. Perhaps the readership is likely to be children aged 12 years and older.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

The Glow

The Glow by Sofie Laguna, illustrated by Marc McBride (Allen & Unwin). PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781761066825

Reviewed by Kerry Gittins

Megan is not like her other sisters. They are loud and love sport, whereas Megan is quieter and loves to draw. It’s not that she doesn’t love them, or her mum and dad, it’s just that the broom cupboard offers a quieter place to get away and draw her fantastical creatures. So does her friend Li’s place. Ever since Li moved in across the road two years ago, the girls have been inseparable. Li is an only child with a single mum, and things are a lot calmer at their house. Plus, Li is a creative too. She loves to write, especially about aliens, and brings Megan’s creatures to life by giving them their own names and backstories. Then one Friday, everything changes.

A blue glow takes over the town and everyone in it, except for Megan, Li and Megan’s dog Callie. People stop and quietly stare in a zombie-like state. And when Megan tries to draw, it seems the pencil takes on a life of its own and she can’t control her hand. The same happens when Li writes her stories. On their way to get help, Callie leads them to the Talora Caves where they see an eerie blue glow emanating from the cavern. It tries to capture their minds and pull them in. The girls will have to use all their courage and awaken their fantasy beasts to defeat the creature that is The Glow.

This is a fast-paced tale of adventure, friendship, and heroism, set against a background of creativity and fantasy. Two ordinary girls are caught in an extraordinary situation and must use all their creative skills to save their town. The story is extremely well written with short chapters, engaging language and plenty of mystery and excitement to keep the reader wanting more. The illustrations, especially those of the creatures, are very intricate with a hint of danger and menace and will have huge appeal to those who liked the dragons, orcs, and other beasts from Middle Earth, Harry Potter and Hayao Miyazaki.  As a lover of fantasy, I couldn’t put this one down and highly recommend it for upper primary and middle grade readers.

Friday, 17 March 2023

Avatar The Last Airbender – The Rift

Avatar The Last Airbender – The Rift Created by Gene Luen Yang, Art & Cover by Gurihiru with Lettering done by Michael Heisler (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781761293665

Review by Sarah Tegerdine

Avatar The Last Airbender – The Rift is part one of a three book, graphic novel omnibus series that immediately picks up from the fall of the fire nations empire, of the original comic.

We follow Avatar Ang and his friends celebrating a new order under a coalition government. Ang is full of optimism and hope: however, his friend Tosh is dubious. During the height of the festivities Ang is visited by a former incarnation of the Avatar: they are unable to communicate fully.

A series of these cryptic spiritual sightings propel Ang forward to discover an imbalance between humans, earth and the spirit world at a refinery that is sacred to the airbenders.

Much unravels, traditions vs progress, friendships, tempers erupt, and when sides are taken, they all find themselves in grave peril when a powerful and vengeful spirit awakens with only destruction on their mind.

Important themes are explored lightly and makes a compelling narrative with lots of action that ultimately provides a satisfying conclusion. The artful storytelling is reflective of the nickelodeon tv series and was visually entertaining throughout.

Recommended for children aged 8 to 12 years of age, perfect for reluctant readers and children drawn to visual storytelling, comics, and graphic novels.

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

The Leftover Lemon Dilemma

The Leftover Lemon Dilemma by Dannielle Viera & Paula Deuber (Loose Parts Press) PB HB RRP $28.00 ISBN 9780645532548

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

At Mandy’s house there’s an abundance of lemons on their lemon tree. Mandy knows that there’s only so many things you can make and bake with lemons so what can she do with the leftover lemons? With help from her neighbours, Mandy discovers a unique way to turn lemons into something sweet.

This is Dannielle Viera’s debut picture book, and it works a treat. Her story is a clever multicultural celebration of food and community. She has crafted a story that shows children they too can be creators and innovators. Her characters and words are full of warmth and childlike wonder. As the reader follows along with Mandy, they are encouraged to think about what to do with all the lemons. ‘What are we going to do with all these lemons?’ asked Mandy. ‘If we don’t use them, they’ll go to waste.’

The story arc is logical and engaging as Mandy attempts to solve the lemon dilemma. The language used suits the readership and plays on the lemon theme. As Mandy munched on a bun, a juicy idea zinged into her head. Taste palettes and the flavours of food are explored. Mrs Chan cheered. ‘Now I can cook lemon chicken for my family,’ she said. Even the quiet street is called Green Place. Paper bags are used instead of plastic ones. Without giving away too much of the story, other foods and cultures are introduced. The ending is satisfying and it’s a nice to know that the message of food wastage is gently brought to attention in this story.

Paula Deuber is an artist and illustrator who focuses on nature, sustainability, and food. Her illustrations are mostly worked in watercolours and ink. Her love of nature shines in her illustrations in The Leftover Lemon Dilemma, with green and yellow strongly featuring. Deuber mixes double-page spreads with single page spreads and vignettes. This allows the visuals to share much information about the neighbourhood and the people who live there. Her images are a celebration of family life in the suburbs of Australia. She beautifully captures the bond between Mandy and her mother. I love the spreads that show Mandy gently leading her mother whose eyes are closed. Life is always sweeter with family, friends and food and Deuber’s delightful watercolours celebrate this beautifully. 

The Leftover Lemon Dilemma is a gorgeous picture book for children 4-8 years that will appeal to both children, families, communities, and schools. Children who love nature and the environment will particularly enjoy this book.

Sunday, 12 March 2023

When Ice Cream Had a Meltdown

When Ice Cream Had a Meltdown by Michelle Robinson (Scholastic) Picture Book ISBN 9 781760 260118

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

It’s hard to resist a freezer full of various ice creams, and when my kids saw the attractive end pages of this picture book, they just wanted to dive right in.

What a fabulous concept for a storyline – ice cream having a meltdown! This story is told from the point of view of a plain, soft-serve vanilla cone. The goal in her life, like the other ice creams in the ice cream truck, is to please her consumer, and to please she needs to be selected by someone. Customer after customer comes to the truck and all the fancy ice creams are selected ahead of her. She tries to stay positive – someday she’ll be chosen. But it becomes too much for her and she loses her cool. In the end, she gets her wish, and she feels fulfilled. Mind you, there’s no mention of what awaits her next!

The book pops visually. The mouth-watering end pages are superb with the selection of ice creams that are screaming “choose me”. I loved the inclusion of their respective prices – I could ask my kids to practice reading out the dollars and cents. We could also play a game about which ice cream was the most expensive and ponder whether it would be worth it.

Ice Cream’s increasing frustration is built up nicely through the storyline and the illustrations of her tantrums are fun, especially when she kicks over a jar of sprinkles in an eye-catching double spread. However, the solution to her dilemma is light: there’s nothing she herself does to better influence her ability to be chosen other than wait. The story is told in rhyme, but the rhythm is off in places where the natural emphasis would be on the wrong word and the verse structure is inconsistent. This makes it tricky to read out loud the first time through.

Would my kids recommend this book to their friends? A big thumbs up! The strength of the concept and the illustrations certainly prevail.

Friday, 10 March 2023

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance by R. A. Spratt (Penguin Random House Australia) Paperback RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143779247

 Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

R.A Spratt, is an award-winning author and television writer who lives in Bowral, NSW, with her husband and two daughters. She has created many best-selling series for children. This book is number 11 in her best-selling detective series, and it does not disappoint. It’s a ripper.

This enthralling read takes a reader to Paris into the world of the Louvre, one of the most famous art galleries in the world. Friday Barnes goes undercover as an art student along with her partner in crime-solving Melanie, and her seriously good-looking boyfriend Ian. Over one hundred years ago someone stole the Mona Lisa, and a recently uncovered letter reveals that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre may be a fake. This means that the real Mona Lisa could be anywhere.

R.A Spratt has created a super smart girl detective who is good at solving mysteries. This book is perhaps one of the best in the series. It cleverly weaves non-fiction into a fictional narrative so that the reader absorbs lots of information about the art world. I really loved this. ‘The Louvre Museum is a revered institution in France. It has great prestige in the art world, but it is also a financial powerhouse for tourism. Ten million tourists go the Louvre every year to see the Mona Lisa.’

The topic Spratt has chosen is both timeless and engaging. Her characters are well-formed, real, and flawed which makes them lovable and relatable. The dialogue is true to form for each character and moves the story along or naturally provides the reader with more story information. Spratt has also created smaller mysteries within the text and the ending is both satisfying and surprising. The reader is kept actively thinking throughout the whole book. There are both humorous moments and more serious ones with a touch of teenage romance. Around Ian, there was a bevy of girls. They had their backs to the sculptures. They were focused purely on him. Friday had no idea what the girls were saying, but from their body language – constant self-grooming and lots of unnecessary head tilting – she could tell they were flirting with her boyfriend.

Friday Barnes: Last Chance is a fun read for children nine years and older who will enjoy learning about the comings and goings to the Louvre. This book can be read as a stand-alone or it can introduce a reader to the series. Those already hooked on the series won’t be disappointed and I am sure they will be eagerly awaiting book 12 in the series.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Indigo in the Storm

Indigo in the Storm by Kate Gordon (Riveted Press) Middle Grade / Young Adult RRP $19.99 ISBN 9 780645 218039

Reviewed by Susan Hancy

I’ve been looking forward to reading Indigo in the Storm – Kate Gordon’s latest companion novel to the 2021 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, Aster’s Good Right Things, and the recently announced 2023 CBCA Notable, Xavier in the Meantime.  My daughter and I both agreed – Indigo in the Storm is equally as enjoyable as Gordon’s earlier books.

Indigo is first introduced in Aster’s Good Right Things as an intriguing character who you want to know more about, and in Indigo in the Storm, Kate Gordon has treated us to a private viewing of what makes Indigo tick. It can be read and fully appreciated without having read the first two books because important elements of Indigo’s and the other main character’s backstories have been included.

Twelve-year-old Indigo is a wild loner at a fancy, hippy school in Tasmania. The things she says to others are not particularly nice, she often feigns disinterest, and she only believes that Aster and Xavier are her friends because they have to be. There is constantly a storm brewing inside Indigo, but she’s taking her medication every day and that takes the edge off the intensity of her emotions. And she knows from Aster’s Aunt Noni, who is currently fostering Indigo, that the medication won’t stop her being herself.  That’s a good thing because she wants the storm inside her to erupt. She wants to make a statement as large as the sky. She wants her mother to see it and come back.

Despite years of mistreatment and neglect by her much-gossiped-about mother with dubious habits, Indigo still loves her and believes she’s been left behind because she’s not worth being cared about. Reluctantly – because she isn’t the type of person who needs friends – she allows a new boy at school, Liam, to befriend her.  Like Indigo, Liam has a natural talent for art, and Liam also knows how to attract attention.  Indigo wants to learn from him how she can do something so bold and revolutionary that her mother will see it from afar and return for her. But when she lets down her wall to allow Liam in, he betrays her trust and, like a hurricane, Indigo spirals out of control.

When Indigo is at her most broken, Noni tells her something which could really cut her to the core. As the reader, I wondered why Noni would choose this vulnerable moment. Perhaps she did so because she knew Indigo had those who truly loved her close by her side. This event allows the story to be drawn to a satisfying conclusion, while still leaving the reader wanting to know more about some of the side characters like Sam and Liam in future books.

This book deals with strong feelings and mental health issues and is appropriate for readers aged 10 to 12 years. It would also appeal to YA readers.