Saturday, 27 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99   ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.


Friday, 26 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Elisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99  ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 12th Dog

The 12th Dog by Charlotte Calder, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Hachette Australia) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9780734416919

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

The delightful memories that this book brought up make me smile.
The 12th Dog is the classic Aussie kids’ street or backyard cricket match story – simple but fun.  Charlotte’s words take us on a sweet journey of the annoying ball thief who is finally recognised for his great cricket playing skills. Tom Jellett’s illustrations are adorable – especially the expressive, realistic faces the dog pulls throughout the book.

When I was growing up there were many games of cricket played in the street and dogs made really good fielders – but occasionally one would take off with the ball and there would be a stream of kids chasing the dog down the road to get the ball back.  From memory the dogs always outsmarted and outran all of us, which ended the game unless another ball could be found!  

At one stage we had a ball crazy dog named Snoopy that the neighbours used to borrow for their backyard cricket games.  They put him to the test one day in a match that lasted five hours – he didn’t let them down!

This is a really great book that both children and adults will enjoy and hopefully it will get lots of you playing cricket with your dog – they make the best players…..and the best memories!

Brook Tayla writes a blog called telltalestome@wordpress.com and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and follow by email so you get to receive all the latest reviews.




Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Where’s The Ballerina?

Where’s The Ballerina? by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Abigail Goh (Quarto Group UK)  HB RRP $19.9   ISBN 9781782404507

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Some of the greatest stories in the world are presented as ballets, but their meaning can be lost amongst young audiences. ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Swan Lake’ … even ‘The Nutcracker’ can seem confusing. When I first picked up this charming, full-colour picture book, I thought it would simply be a look-and-find, ‘Where’s Wally’ style of activity book.  I was glad to discover it was much more than that – it is also a kid-friendly reference guide to ten different ballet productions.

The ballets presented in the book are: ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Giselle’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘La Bayadère’, ‘Coppélia’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Don Quixote’ and ‘Cinderella’. Two double-page spreads are devoted to each ballet. The first is an introduction. It features a plot synopsis, setting description and full-colour storyboard, accompanied with text, depicting seven main scenes from the ballet. The second double-page spread offers the look-and-find activity for that particular ballet. The illustration for the task is always a scene from that ballet, and readers need to find 5 - 7 hidden characters from that ballet. (For example, for ‘The Nutcracker’, they need to find Clara, The Nutcracker Prince, Dr Drosselmeyer, The Mouse King, The Snow Queen, The Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger.) As an added bonus, there is always a hidden peacock lurking amidst the scene, along with a ballerina in a white tutu. The answers have been included at the back, and are cleverly presented as darkened stage scenes with spotlights shining on the hidden characters.

This beautifully presented hardcover book is suitable for 5–8 year-olds, and would make a beautiful gift for a child about to start dance lessons or who is generally interested in ballet.



Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781847809391

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Something magical is happening at Grimloch Lane … trees are being shaped into astounding animals overnight, giving the residents a new surprise to wake up to each morning. William, a boy at the local orphanage, is filled with wonder. First, he wakes up to a huge owl. Then, a cat. One day, it’s an enormous dragon, fit for climbing on. Suddenly, the trees look alive … and so do the people. Neighbours unite to marvel. No longer do they walk alone, heads down. They speak to one another. They laugh together. The crowds grow.

One night, William spots the elusive ‘Night Gardener’ and follows him to Grimloch Park. The gentleman knowingly turns and smiles at him: ‘I could use a little help.’ He teaches William his craft and, together, they work all night to create a magical zoo wonderland. The Night Gardener is not there when William awakes, but it seems the entire town has congregated in the park, in awe.

The story closes with a heartwarming message – though the Night Gardener has gone, and the leaves have long fallen from the trees, the people of the town have changed. They find other reasons to come together. And William, who received the man’s garden shears as a parting gift, continues his legacy in topiary art.

This stunning book has been written and illustrated by two brothers, Eric and Terry Fan. The illustrations are breathtaking, imbued with the perfect colours to evoke the text’s emotions. They are black and white at first, but begin to come to life as the Night Gardener works his magic. The topiary trees appear in vivid green hues, showing life against an otherwise drab town. People start to come to life too, slowly receiving colour in their clothes and facial expressions. The seasons are portrayed in realistic hues, with autumn colours, especially, leaping off the page. The entire town finally appears in colour on a striking double page spread near the conclusion. The illustrations are a combination of ink and graphite mixed with digital colours. (The detailed linework reminded me a little of the work of Ron Brooks!)

This story is a beautiful salute to the magic of nature and its power to bring people together. It will suit readers aged 6 and older.



Monday, 22 May 2017

Running From the Tiger

Running From the Tiger by Aleesah Darlison (Empowering Resources) PB RRP $15   ISBN 9780994501066

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

This is a story of true friendship. When ten-year-old Ebony meets Teena the new girl at school, she can’t believe her luck. A real friend at last. Follow Ebony and Teena as their friendship and trust for one another grows.

Darlison draws on Ebony and Teena’s growing friendship to give the reader a message of how friendship and encouragement can lead to overcoming a difficult family life.

This book for 10 -12 years old girls comes with a warning. It has a purpose of empowering those living with domestic violence. This social issue is woven tastefully throughout the narrative and encourages children to have a voice.

Ebony loves to run; it gives her freedom from her father and the abundances of chores and responsibilities he saddles her with at home. Both she and Teena among other classmates gain a spot in the zone carnival. With training commences after school Ebony dares to ask her father for permission. As the reader, you can’t help but have empathy for Ebony as she finds herself and strengths.

The climax comes when Ebony gets a chance to slips away with the encouragement of Teena, to compete at Zone level.  This book has a marvellous way of raising a difficult subject.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760127763

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Secret Science of Magic is Melissa Keil’s third YA novel. A contemporary love story with an over-arching nerdy feel (in the best possible way), it is about Sophia, a maths genius with an eidetic memory, and Joshua, a magic-trick loving, self-confessed slacker. Told via both points of view (see the handy silhouettes at the top of each chapter), we are soon immersed in their inner-most thoughts and fears.

Sophia applies maths and science to all aspects of her life – there’s a theory for everything. However, when it comes to feelings, and magic, it becomes apparent that logic and order can’t figure everything out. Joshua feels a little aimless as the end of high school is rapidly approaching, but one thing is for sure – his feelings for Sophia. Both characters are complex, intelligent and endearing in their own ways, though I did find myself with a softer spot for Josh.

A strength of the story is the dialogue – snappy, sarcastic, funny and super smart, and peppered with pop culture references. The sibling relationships felt very real, as did Sophia’s friendship journey with BFF Elsie. Joshua’s little sister Gillian, sassy and wise beyond her years, was particularly hilarious.

This is a fabulous, engaging YA novel with unique characters, much heart and a love story you really hope happens, despite Joshua’s reiteration that in life, and in magic, timing is everything.