Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs [with CD] by Peter Combe, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-064-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The four songs in this picture book are catchy, fun and wildly silly. They are also about things preschool children are often fascinated with and will relate to well - the postman, sheep, traffic lights and the transformation of tadpoles to frogs. The silly humour will hold great appeal for pre-schoolers.
In Juicy Juicy Green Grass, a hungry sheep fantasises about eating fresh green grass, Summer’s been so dry, turned you into brown. Will you come back? Juicy juicy green grass.
In The Silly Postman, the postman starts off by putting a letter in the letterbox on Monday, but on Tuesday he puts in a frog, and then each day after that he puts something just as inappropriate in the letterbox.
Tadpole Blues tells the tale of a tadpole’s confusion as he starts to grow legs, and Red Says Stop is a catchy tune about traffic light colours and what they mean.
The bold illustrations by Danielle McDonald make every page pop. They are bright with prominent coloured backgrounds. They are uncomplicated with wonderful characterisations, from the hungry sheep with his tongue hanging out to the confused tadpole/frog.
The accompanying CD is performed by the author, Peter Combe, whose timeless songs have been entertaining children for two decades. These are silly ditties about common things and will have everyone singing along instantly.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Follow the Firefly

Follow the Firefly by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)
PB RRP $18.00
ISBN 9780994109828
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Cute and engaging: these are the two words that came to mind as I turned pages from the front to back of this wordless picture book. The story, Follow the Firefly, starts with a question, ‘Excuse me, have you seen a flashing light?’ and moves onto a scene of a campfire around which sits a variety of animals. On the right-hand side page is what looks like an electric bulb with a golden end. This is the firefly which moves through the book, from different parts of a forest wherein there are different animals (such as gorillas), and on to a town with busy streets. In the final picture, the firefly has discovered – and fallen in love with – an amber traffic light.

But that’s not all, folks! There’s yet another book! Turn the pages from back to front and you follow a rabbit in Run, Rabbit, Run! Doubtless a small child would have noticed what I missed: in every one of the firefly story’s pages, there is a white rabbit. His story can be ‘read’ as well. He leaves the town and returns – pursued by a dog -- to the campfire by the end of his story.

I really liked this book! It’s so much fun and it’s sure to be ‘read’ and ‘re-read’ countless times by children aged 2 to 6 years. The artwork is unique and distinctive with Carvalho using full-page vibrant watercolour washes and paintings. There is a real naivety to his animals and especially to his people that put a smile on my face. The pictures of the town are chaotic, compared to those of the various landscapes, which include forest, jungle and wetlands.

Book Island is a New Zealand publishing house which describes its company as ‘home to stunning picture books in translation.’ It is wonderful to see books which are so different! Highly recommended.



Sunday, 23 November 2014

EJ Spy School: Deep Water

EJ Spy School: Deep Water by Susannah McFarlane, illustration by Dyani Stagg (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-164-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Swimming day at school is coming up and 8 year old Emma Jacks does not want to go. She is scared of deep water. Luckily for her she gets a call from SHINE, the top secret agency where she is training to be a spy. As EJ10, she takes the mission tube and zips off to another spy class - at the beach. If she wants to earn her underwater spy badge she is going to have to face her fears of the deep water after all.
EJ10 is trained in underwater spy work with the help of Bubbles the dolphin. Then they set off to clean rubbish which is polluting the sea. But when Bubbles is trapped, is EJ10 ready to dive deep to save her new friend?

The EJ Spy School series is written for beginner readers. The text has large font, basic words and short chapters. The content is exciting, mission based and mostly focusses on overcoming fears, environmental concerns and rescuing animals. There are plenty of fun spy gadgets too.
The pictures are sweet and often used in the place of text – to illustrate what is worn underwater or to show EJ’s spy profile. Young girls will love this series.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Sandy Feet

Sandy Feet by Nikki Buick. (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5315 7
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

For most teenagers, the thought of an extended Australian road trip with family and no access to electronic media would be sheer torture. Hunter is no exception. But as the story unfolds, we find that he is not just a self-absorbed adolescent and this story is so much more than the ‘live a simpler life to reconnect with family’ theme that is so overused it is now a cliché.

Hunter has had a lot to cope with. Grief, his mother’s mental health issues, a sister with special needs and a new step-father and baby half-brother suddenly entering his life, on top of having survived an accident in which others were killed.  The journey is presented to him as a chance for his new blended family to bond and recover from past wounds, but Hunter gradually suspects there is more to it than that.

As the story unfolds Hunter learns that the adults in his life have lied to him. He still resents his father for abandoning them when he was younger but also misses him deeply following the tragic accident. Buick has skilfully adopted the voice of a young adult male; the resentment tempered with humour, whilst keeping the self-pitying to a realistic minimum.

This is ultimately a story about parents learning to have faith that their children can make healthy decisions for themselves, and that running away never solves anything. Along the way, Hunter learns to deal with his longing and grief in tandem with his own growing self-awareness and eventual forgiveness for the adults in his life, who are as flawed as he is.



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Where are Santa's Pants?

Where are Santa's Pants? by Richard Merrit (Little Hare)
ISBN 978-1-921541-50-6
PB $9.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Where are Santa's Pants? is basically Where's Wally? with a Christmas theme. The introduction explains the predicament : Santa has lost weight (he's been dieting) and now his pants keep falling off. The reader's job is to find Santa's pants on each page —he's got a few pairs in different colours. Also there to find, are the reindeer and a lucky sixpence, if you're extremely observant.

There's a reason this book is recommended for kids five and over — these things are not easy to find! The illustrations are packed with colour and detail so it will keep the children quiet for some time as they search for the various objects. Each page has a theme which has something to do with Christmas, starting with the North Pole, the beach, the ice rink and the department store, to name a few. The last page is a vibrant looking apartment block, where different people are celebrating the festive season in their own unique ways.

There's quirky humour such as a giraffe in a taxi, a mermaid watching a Christmas concert and two snow people getting married. There's someone who looks like Wally on one page as well. Kids can have a lot of fun while getting into the Christmas spirit. For those who get stumped, or even those who want to cheat, the answers are on the last few pages. Small versions of the previous pictures are dotted with circles showing the location of the pants and reindeer.

This is a reprint of Where are Santa's Pants? which was originally put out in 2010 and reprinted in 2011. Available now as well is a follow up book called Where is Santa's Suit?  also illustrated by Richard Merrit.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Alien Wizardry

Alien Wizardry by Antoinette Conolly 
PB RRP $25
ISBN 9780977586042
Reviewed by Sandra Park

Author Antoinette Conolly was compelled to write Alien Wizardry as the readers of the Cauchemar Trilogy would ask her what happened next. Alien Wizardry is the first book in a sequel trilogy and once again Zachary travels to Cauchemar. He is called to the magical world by his friend Mactavish, a ginger cat and Zachary’s previous travelling companion who remained in Cauchemar and is now a powerful wizard. However, one of the most powerful wizards, Malfactorius, is intent on destroying Cauchemar through an ancient prophecy.

According to the prophecy, though, alien help will save the world. And that is where Zachary and his new cat companion Taffy come in. Through the powers of a magical stone, they travel back to the Cauchemar and link up with old friends and new including Magenta the witch, Bijour the dragon and Ulysses the unicorn to thwart the prophecy. They travel to lands which have the most unusual inhabitants such as musical instruments and walking flowers. It is in these lands that the solutions to the prophecy are found and they are linked to the senses. However, it is the final sense that is the most difficult to work out. It is only at the very last, when it seems that Malfactorius has indeed triumphed, that they work out the final sense – a sense of humour! 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

State of Grace

State of Grace by Hilary Badger (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 9781760120382
PB $19.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

 By the co-creator of the Zac Power series, State of Grace is a young adult book about a girl called Wren who lives with a group of other teenage creations in a paradise, not unlike the Garden of Eden. Wren spends her time swimming in the idyllic lagoon, hooking up with her friends and worshipping their creator, Dot. Despite this perfect world, Wren begins to have flashbacks to another life in a different world. She tries to fight it, as she wants to get to 'completion night' and be chosen, but when a boy called Dennis arrives from outside, everything changes.

This is a story where things become clearer as the book progresses, but it is obvious from the outset (to the reader, at least) that things are not as they appear. The little world Wren lives in is actually a trial for a drug called Grace, given to a select group of people with depression and other psychological problems. The world created uses religion for happiness and a sense of purpose. Blaze is the only other person apart from Wren who questions the reality of the world they live in, as he also experiences memories of another life.

 The language of this world is very effective: 'sungarb' for clothes, 'tatas' for breasts, 'dotly' for good and never using remotely negative words, just putting a pre in front, such as prenormal (different), prehealthy (sick) and prelight (dark). The revelation of the drug is not until right at the end, so most of the book has a rather creepy undercurrent, especially when Gil, one of the creations, tries to take charge and make new rules. A group called the Circle who is against the Grace trial also surfaces at the end, and there is action as they help Wren (real name Viva) and Blaze (real name Luke) escape to the real world. Viva gradually remembers the pain in her past and is able to live with it.

Like popular novels Divergent and The Giver, this is a young adult story about a utopian world, which turns out to be not as good as it seems. It's also about facing reality and the benefits of doing that. These are interesting concepts to explore and the well written State of Grace should go down very well with the readership.