Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781406365726

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Most Wonderful Thing is a gorgeous fairytale, made so much more by Angela Barrett’s exquisite illustrations. They transcend the text. She expands her view to what surrounds the characters and where things are happening, then looks even further.

Here is the story of a king and queen who realize they must find a husband for their only child, a girl who will one day rule the kingdom. Sheltered within the castle for years, Lucia knows nothing of the world outside.

They depend on the wisdom of Old Angelo to guide them in choosing the right man. His suggests they find a young man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world.

Lucia mustn’t realize what they are planning. They want to distract her, but she gets in before them. She decides that as she will be queen one day, she must go out into her kingdom.

Each day Lucia goes out with Salvatore, Old Angelo’s grandson, to explore the city without him knowing who she is. Each day the suitors present their idea of the most wonderful thing to impress the king and queen, to no avail.

Can Salvatore show the royals what the most wonderful thing is?

This book is perfection. The artwork is sublime and it’s obvious that Angela Barrett takes time with her work. Breathtaking and detailed, Barrett’s characters, their clothing, the background buildings and the animals, all come alive on the page. Suitable for ages 6-106.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


Circle by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books)
HC RRP 29.99
ISBN 9781406338010

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jeannie Baker is famous for the exquisite collages used to illustrate her work. I always know that when I hold a book of hers, there will be something special waiting for me between the covers. Here, beginning ‘in a place where mud and sand become sea’, we follow the migratory path of the bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri).

The godwits are migratory waders that begin their journey north from Australia, in March-April. In April-May, they stop in the wetlands of the Yellow Sea to feed and rest. May-June sees them arrive in their breeding ground in Alaska. In August the godwits are found along the coast of the Alaskan Peninsula, fattening up for the journey south, as they have by now, lost half of their body weight. They must leave before the Arctic winter sets in. Their 11,000 kilometre journey is the longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world. 

In October-November, the godwits are in their Australian and New Zealand feeding grounds. (See migration map at the back of the book)

This book educates and creates awareness about, not only the plight of godwits, but also other migrating shorebirds and creatures that depend on places to rest and feed.

Unfortunately, many of these resting places are disappearing due to reclamation and development. Circle brings us face-to face with the reality that everything is inter-connected; how all that we do influences everything around us, extending to the other side of the world.

Presented simply, but with a powerful underlying environmental message, Jeannie Baker’s book will hopefully reach into our consciousness and remind us of the constant threats to our planet. I hope it will be widely used as a teaching tool to ignite children’s passion for preserving the environment, as they become familiar with the term, the Circle of Life.

Monday, 30 May 2016


Together… by Emma Dodd (Nosy Crow 2016) HB RRP $15.99
ISBN: 9780857635792

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Together… is a small, beautifully designed padded picture book, perfect for little hands. Emma Dodd partners simple, rhyming text with touching images of a sea otter mother and baby in their ocean home in a story that explores the special relationship between mother and child.

We meet the otters at the end of the day – a special, dreamy, joyful, perfect day – as they reflect on all of the things they did together such as watching the sun rise or the clouds float across the sky.

Dodd’s stylised sea otter illustrations couldn’t be any more endearing. They radiate warmth and love against the silvery green blue ocean and the star-filled night sky.

Together… reminds us to treasure the moments shared with a child and speaks to the simplicity of just being together without the distractions that everyday life can bring.

This is a perfect choice as a bedtime book to share with young children, or a thoughtful gift for a new mum.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy by Chris McKimmie (Allen & Unwin 2016)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN: 9781760291334

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Me, Teddy is instantly recognisable as a new picture book offering from wonderfully quirky author illustrator, Chris McKimmie.

In this, his vibrant, joy-filled scrapbook, Teddy – a big, black Labrador – shares his journey from tiny puppy to boofy-headed dog as a much-loved member of the McKimmie family.

He is cheeky, loyal and adorably comfortable as top dog in a house full of humans where he revels in meal times, shoe theft and snoozing on his half of the king-sized bed.

In his own words, Teddy is no goody-two-shoes, but there’s a strong sense that no matter what mischief he might get into, he will always be loved.
His story is a celebration of unconditional love that is sure to resonate with anyone whose family life has been enriched by a treasured pet.

Me, Teddy oozes warmth and humour, and the drawings of Teddy contributed by family and friends enhance McKimmie’s lively collages and further pull the reader in Teddy’s glorious world.

A feel-good read for the whole family and a must for dog lovers.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia retold by John Heffernan, illustrated by Kate Durack (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780994234049

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

Long ago, in the swirling mists of Time, there lived a mighty king by the name of Gilgamesh….

What reader, no matter their age, could resist the promise of mystery and adventure conjured by such a tempting opening as this featured in the latest offering from Christmas Press? The publisher was set up in 2013 with the express aim of bringing young Australian readers in touch with a range of rich and evocative legends, myths and folklore from around the world. In this case, it’s the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, located in modern day Iraq, Syria and Kuwait that has given rise to some of the world’s great heroic sagas, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In this thrilling and lively retelling, author John Heffernan brings to life for young readers two tales from the Epic, while the striking work of new illustrator Kate Durack, who took inspiration from ancient Mesopotamian art, perfectly illuminates the world inhabited by the heroic brothers.

In the first story, The King and the Wild Man, readers meet the brave, fierce and frightening Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. Two parts god, one part human, Gilgamesh is a tyrant whose people fear and resent him. One day the gods decide to teach the power-mad king a lesson and they create another man-god to rival Gilgamesh. The result is the rough and wild Enkidu, fashioned from a piece of clay.

News of this wild man living, who lives in the forests, reaches the king and he sends his army out to capture and deliver Enkidu to him. But the wild man is far too strong for the soldiers and easily evades capture.

After a disturbing dream, King Gilgamesh is told he will meet his brother – a star, born from the heavens, and one who will never let him down. ‘Together you will fight evil,’ the king is told.

Meanwhile, the wild man Enkidu arrives in the city to overthrow the cruel King Gilgamesh and the pair battle one another in a violent struggle that lasts all day and into the night. Finally, the king overwhelms the exhausted wild man and just as Gilgamesh is about to deliver his fatal blow, he realises that the wild man Enkidu is the brother from his dream, arrived to light his way. The king vows to change his destructive ways and the pair agree they will now unite ‘to fight against evil wherever it may be’.

In the second story, Brothers Battle the Beast, the pair does just that when they set out to vanquish the ferocious horned Bull of Heaven, Humbaba, who has been terrorising the villages of Uruk and countryside. The brothers set forth with specially made weapons and armour, in a chariot drawn by four magnificent war steeds.

The man-god brothers and Humbaba meet in a dramatic and furious life-or-death battle, featuring snorting, roaring, stamping hooves and roars that ‘shake the trees to their roots’. Eventually Humbaba is vanquished and the warriors stand in ‘a soft golden light’ that shimmers through the leaves of the forest.
Heffernan’s treatment of these epic tales results in a truly magical pair of stirring, page-turning stories that will engage and delight all ages.

Durack’s rich illustrations and Heffernan’s tight and descriptive text combine to produce what is a great introduction to the epic sagas of ancient times that also include lessons about good versus evil and the ties of family.

A great read, highly recommended.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Three Magic Balloons

Three Magic Balloons as told to Julianna Margulies and her Sisters told by Paul Margulies, illustrated by Grant Shaffer (Piccolo Nero) HB RRP
ISBN 9781863958370

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Julianna Margulies is a world-famous award-winning actress. The story re-told in this picture book by her brother was one originally told to her and her two sisters when they were children by their father. It’s a story about three children who every Saturday go with their dad to the Children’s Zoo in a city park (probably Central Park in New York). Dad offers them money for a treat, but instead they choose to buy foods for the animals. One day, a mysterious man gives them a small reward for their kindness – a different colour balloon for each of them. At night they dream that their respective beds – to which their balloons are tethered – float through the sky where they meet three angels who grant them wishes.

It must have been wonderful to have such a loving father who was also a storyteller. But would this picture book have been published if written by an unknown author? I wondered this as I found this story sweet and sentimental but not memorable. It also contains Americanised words which might not be familiar to Australian readers.

Nevertheless the story has a certain charm and the illustrations are bright and amusing. The story’s message is: ‘Magic is everywhere; you just need to know where to look’ – which, after all, is a great message for anyone. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Chook Doolan: the Newest Pet

Chook Doolan: the Newest Pet by James Roy, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford (Walker Books)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 9781922244949

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A new illustrated chapter book series for the 5+ year age group introduces the lovable character, Simon ‘Chook’ Doolan. He has been named Chook, because he’s chicken (as in not very brave). Chook has two pets: Flexy-Lexi the cat, and Bruce a goldfish he inherited when his cousin moved overseas.

It’s ‘bring a pet to school’ day. Chook’s mate Joe doesn’t have a pet, so Chook tries to find him one for the day. This is a big step for the not very brave Chook, even if it isn’t successful.

When Chook takes Bruce to school with the idea of sharing him with Joe, to their delight, there is an amazing development.

This is the first of the series written by the award-winning James Roy. Talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford has created delightful and expressive characters in pencil, ink, crayon, marker and watercolour, to complement Roy’s text. The series is produced in bright, different coloured covers. The first two titles are available now with two more due in August.

Themes of confidence, being brave, family and community are blended together to create a lively story for early readers.