Friday, 30 September 2016

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl written by Stella Caldwell, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Carlton Books)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781783122158

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

2016 is shaping up to be the year of all things Roald Dahl. It is 100 years since Dahl’s birth and the year the BFG movie was released, among other initiatives from stage shows to re-released books.

A large, hard-covered keepsake, the Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl is a scrapbook of sorts. It is divided into chapters for each of his best-known titles, and full of interesting extras for fans young and old to pour over. There are anecdotes about Dahl and his quirks sprinkled throughout, too. For example, did you know he kept a piece of his own hipbone in his writing hut, post-operation? Or that he ate a bar of chocolate every day with his lunch, and added the foil wrapper to a ball that gradually grew bigger? Perhaps envisaging a certain chocolate factory at the same time?!

The book is written by an English literature scholar, Stella Caldwell, whose amassed facts, letters, overviews and excerpts provide fabulous snapshots of Dahl’s beloved books. An official book authorised by the Roald Dahl estate, the illustrations by Quentin Blake mark its authenticity.

The pages have a thick, matte feel evoking quality and longevity. There’s lots of fun extra features, too, like fold-out flaps and little booklets (like ‘A Spotter’s Guide to the Man-Eating Giants of Giant Country). There’s even an inspiring letter from Dahl himself folded inside an envelope, a little touch of magic for young readers.

This is a wonderful companion title to add to any Dahl enthusiast’s collection, and would make a wonderful gift.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi (HarperCollins) PBK RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780062421906

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Nadia Hashimi’s first novel for young readers is an emotional and moving coming –of-age story set in Afghanistan against the backdrop of war, its effects and gender inequality.

Obayda is ten years old and has already witnessed the horror of war – her father lost his leg in a bomb blast and refuses to leave his bed. The family, Obayda, her parents and sisters have moved from Kabul to a village closer to family for support while her father recovers – yet his recovery is slow. Hampered by the loss of his job, he has become depressed, depending on extended family for accommodation and food.

Obayda’s aunt has an idea which is believed to change the family’s luck – change Obayda into a bacha posh – a girl pretending to be a boy. A longstanding tradition in Afghanistan, the belief that by bringing a boy into the home, the family’s luck will change – perhaps Obayda’s father’s depression will lift, maybe her mother will become pregnant with a son. Only when the bacha posh reaches puberty do they resume life as a girl.
The village in which the family lives is a different world to Kabul – girls cannot work and the village is run by a warlord Abdul Kaliq.

Obayda struggles as Obayd – wearing pants, her hair cut short – yet it is liberating, too. Freed from chores, and given more meat to eat, s/he is also encouraged to play and explore. At school, Obayd joins the boys’ class and must participate in more physical games at lunchtime.

Luckily for Obayd, he is befriended by one of the toughest boys – Rahim, who reveals himself as a bacha posh as well. Together a firm friendship is formed and Obayd begins to adapt to his new life.
Time passes and as Rahim approaches puberty his mother indicates to him that it will be time to change again to a girl. Rahim, though wants nothing of it: ‘I only want to be what I am now.’

Rahim has an idea – based on a legend which told of the power of walking under a rainbow – girls are changed to boys and vice versa. Convinced of its truth and with the help of Obayd, Rahim is determined to locate a rainbow.  Both girls attempt a long walk to a waterfall, where a rainbow is often to be seen, but their attempt fails and Obayd is in trouble for arriving home in darkness. At school, soon afterward, Rahim does not appear and Obayd begins to wonder what has happened – particularly after hearing that Rahim’s father is mixed up with the warlord.

Obayd’s position as a bacha posh is changed when her mother becomes pregnant: now perhaps her father may also improve.
Yet bad news reaches Obayda that Rahim has been changed back to a girl – Rahima – who has also been married off to the warlord at 13 years of age.
While things improve for Obayda’s family – her father using a crutch that Obayd and Rahim had made some months prior, there is no news of Rahima. School resumes and Obayda returns to her class of girls and begins to form new friendships, just as her mother gives birth to a baby boy. 

Perhaps being a bacha posh created some luck after all. We see Obayda’s father recognise her strength and ingenuity, which perhaps being a bocha posh has given her.

The book ends on a positive note – for Obayd and her family -- yet leaves the reader with the unresolved story of Rahima. What is her life like as a 13-year-old wife? How will she cope when she was clearly identifying as a boy? While things have improved for Obayda, the opposite is not so for Rahima.
Hashimi’s first book, ‘The pearl that broke its shell’ is actually the prequel to ‘One half from the east’, yet it is also an adult novel as it explores the life of Rahimi after marriage.
‘One half from the east’ explores the reality of gender inequality in Afghanistan – life as a bocha posh may enable a girl to see her potential and raise her confidence, but what happens when they are required to change again? This would be a valuable book to share with upper primary students – both girls and boys. It is a gripping story, charged with emotion and leaving its mark upon the reader.
I believe it would be suitable for children aged 12 plus years.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

I don’t want to go to bed

I don’t want to go to bed written and illustrated by David Cornish (Harper Collins) HBK  RRP $24.99

ISBN 9781460750582

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

First introduced to Rollo in I don’t want to eat my dinner, Cornish has delivered the obvious sequel which will again be appreciated by the parents of young children. Just when Rollo’s parents think they have routines sorted, the bedtime issue raises its head.

Rollo uses the usual stalling tactics of needing a story, food, drink and sorting out the monsters. Only when these issues have been dealt with does sleep beckon and Rollo finally succumbs to tiredness.

Cornish captures the mood of Rollo perfectly in his illustrations – from heavy frown to wide mouthed hunger and timid fear. Children and adults will enjoy Cornish’s  illustrations – Rollo’s mouth ‘as dry as a desert’ or his desperate face when needing the toilet.

What will be next for Rollo? I don’t want to go to school, perhaps?
Suitable for children aged 3 years and up.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


Gwendolyn! by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton (ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins) HBK  RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780733335174

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Gwendolyn the penguin lives in the jungle and loves the humidity, the glorious flowers and her friends. She spends much of her time encouraging her friends to acknowledge the best of themselves and their surroundings.
So what if Monkey’s bananas are freckled with spots?

In Antarctica, Gwendolyn tells Monkey, penguins often go for days or even weeks without food. Her friend Jaguar says it’s too hot to hunt for food.
Gwendolyn tells Jaguar to look on the bright side – Antarctica is all snow and ice and freezing! At least in the jungle it’s hot and sunshiny.

But when Gwendolyn is asked by Parrot if she has ever been to Antarctica, she realises what she has missed and sets herself on a journey to not only find her way to Antarctica, but to find her own identity.

MacIver deals with themes of friendship and identity within the overriding theme of positivity, which young children will certainly understand and begin to appreciate. The ending is satisfying, with Gwendolyn feeling like a ‘real’ penguin, yet choosing to return to the jungle – her true home.

With detailed illustrations by Terri Rose Baynton, this will be a lovely picture book to share – whether one to one or with a class. It could initiate good discussion about belonging, being positive and proactive – certainly issues to introduce at an early age to promote resilience.
Appropriate for ages 3-6 years.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Two Troll Tales from Norway

Two Troll Tales from Norway retold by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Ingrid Kallick (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780994234056

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This authentic retelling of two traditional Norwegian folk tales does nothing to make me like trolls or forest witches any more than I did before. Not that this was Norwegian-Australian author Lamond’s intention, I’m sure.

The first tale, The Little Old Lady from around the Bend is the story of a poverty-stricken old woman who, in her younger days, makes the mistake of bargaining with and deceiving a family of trolls. She helps a mother troll give birth and as instructed, smears some balm on the baby’s eyes.  However, she ignores the instruction not to get any in her own eyes. Her reward for helping the trolls is an endless delivery of silver coins. The catch is that she is not to spend, give away or speak of her new wealth and so she continues to live in abject poverty.

When the girl sees the troll wife stealing from a local bakery, the trolls learn she had stolen some of the magic eye balm and the troll wife spitefully blinds her in one eye. The girl then gives one of her coins to a beggar, causing her stock of silver to immediately turn to a pile of dry leaves. The moral is not to disregard instructions.

The second story, The Golden Ball of Yarn, is the tale of a woodcutter who works in the forests and one day is bewitched by a forest witch, a Huldra, who attracts his attention with a golden ball of yarn. From time to time the Huldra would spirit the man away. The man later marries, but still the Huldra tries to trick him and steal him away. In order to escape, the man sails to another land. The moral is not to be tempted by seemingly attractive offerings.

Each of these stories is aptly complemented by Kallick’s rich and detailed drawings that invite the eye to linger on the page. Here is another classic offering from Christmas Press that will leave young readers wanting to explore more enchanting international folktales.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

They All Saw a Cat

They All Saw a Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781452150130

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

This is author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s debut picture book, and it’s made a major splash - think a bidding war, a New York Times bestseller list spot (in the picture books top 10), and rave reviews from all over.

A cat ‘walked through the world’, and is viewed very differently by the animals (and child) it encounters. A fascinating exploration of perception, it reveals through vibrant illustrations the way in which creatures like a bird, a bee, a mouse and a flea view the cat. We see a terrifying demon-like cat through the eyes of the mouse, and an endless forest of cat hair via the flea. The wildly different takes on the cat opens up ideas around how we see others, how they might view us, and how everyone’s unique experiences shape the way they see the world.

Rhythm and repetition are used to great effect, and the illustrations are nothing short of stunning. The cover, with its effective use of white space and simple yet striking cat image (with a glossy contrast) is pure picture book eye candy. The text is deceptively simple at times, with layers of meaning able to be extracted and contemplated, the greater the age of the reader. A captivating book destined to become a classic.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Eleanor, Elizabeth

Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780994234070

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This touching, evocative and thrilling tale of family, belonging, growing up and the Australian bush is as enjoyable today as when first published 32 years ago. With a new forward by the author and simply rendered black and white line drawings by Alvarez, Eleanor, Elizabeth is set in 1959/60.
It’s the story of 12-year-old Elizabeth and her family, who relocate to a remote farm that was home to her grandmother, Elizabeth. 

Eleanor struggles with the new situation, including unwelcoming classmates and an equally harsh climate. An abandoned schoolhouse sits among the farm’s old outbuildings. It’s full of webs, old junk and dark corners and when Eleanor decides to explore one day, she discovers her grandmother’s diary, written when she was just 13.

Through the diary, not only does Eleanor get to know her grandmother and the commonalities they share, but she learns about Elizabeth's special haven - a cave. It’s a spot that becomes a refuge for Eleanor, her brothers, and a new friend when a deadly firestorm sweeps the area. The fire is a dramatic high point and one that’s vividly conveyed as we follow Eleanor as she leads her small band to safety against many odds. The story ends with a gift from Eleanor's mother - a diary. It’s a fittingly touching gesture and one that brings the story to a satisfying end. 

In Gleeson’s new foreward, the now acclaimed author describes that she was suffering homesickness in northern Italy when writing her first draft of what was to be the first of her many awarded children’s books and novels.  It’s a fact that clearly influenced her vivid rendering of the Australian environment, as does Gleeson’s  revelation in the forward that she was impacted by her mother’s retelling of old family stories of regional settlement.

Eleanor, Elizabeth is more than a first novel; Gleeson says that its acceptance and success gave her the confidence to continue as a writer.
Christmas Press is to be congratulated for reissuing this Australian children’s classic under its Second Look imprint. Just as it did when first published in 1984, the story is sure to delight and resonate with a whole new generation of young readers.