Saturday, 1 November 2014

Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs

Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs by Kel Richards, illustrated by Glen Singleton (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-056-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dinosaurs are endlessly fascinating, especially to young children. And this Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs is perfect for small dinosaur fans. With exciting page headings such as Attack! and Dinnertime! Children will be flipping through the pages to discover all the facts and legends attributed to these prehistoric creatures.

Focussing on the dinosaurs who roamed Australia, this fabulous book talks about the fastest, slowest, oldest, youngest, biggest and smallest Aussie dinosaurs. The author compares them to animals such as chickens and whales so his young audience will understand comparisons immediately.

The text is humorous and informative and there is a gallery at the back of the book to help with pronunciation of dinosaur names and what they mean. There is also a small section explaining how we know what we know about them.

A large hardcover, this book is a great size for little hands. The short nature of picture books means the bites of information about each dinosaur is just right for the focus of the very young.

The humour in the text is emphasised in the illustrations. Bright and attractive, they hook the reader in straight away. They also give added meaning to the facts in fun and silly ways. A Skartopus is scaring a postman, a Muttaburrasaurus with its round snout perfect for smelling with holding a very stinky sock, and Australia's youngest dinosaur, Wintonopus, holding balloons and a birthday cake with one candle. 

Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs is entertaining, informative and easy to read and understand. A must for young dinosaur fans from 4 years and up.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Pig the Pug

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-477-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is an absolutely delightful book. Pig is a pug dog who will not share. He is selfish and rude and in the end receives his comeuppance in a most unexpected, humorous and satisfying way.
Told in rhyme which rolls off the tongue smoothly, the sing-song rhythm creates an atmosphere of immediacy and just begs to be read aloud over and over again.

    He lived in a flat
    with sausage dog, Trevor.
    But when was he nice to him?
    I’ll tell you – NEVER.

Young children will identify with the behaviours displayed by both Pig and Trevor, recognising which ones are unreasonable and antisocial.

The illustrations are big and bold and funny. Trevor with his glorious toothy smile will grab hearts immediately, while fat wrinkly Pig with his big eyes and big frown hugs his bowl of food or toys to his chest. It is a story which could be followed through the pictures alone which emphasise the humour of the text on every page. I cannot remember loving an ending to a picture book more and the concept that pigs cannot fly is used so effectively without it feeling like a cliché.


Ultimately a story about sharing and bad puppies coming to a sticky ending, this is such a fun book. I giggle each time I get to the end. Children from the age of three and up will appreciate the humour, the concept and the cheekiness of this fabulous rollicking story.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Last Thirteen : Book 7

The Last Thirteen : Book 7 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-190-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
Sam's search for the Thirteen Dreamers leads him next to the Grand Canyon and to Cody, Dreamer number seven. But as the stakes grow more desperate, so does the enemy. And it is getting harder for Sam and his fellow dreamers to tell friend from foe.
This 7th instalment of the fast paced series is a scramble across America to once again be ahead in the race for the Dreamer’s Gate. Alex has been given his first mission and comes up against Stella's offsider, Matrix. Sam is following his newest nightmare, racing to get to Cody and the next gear while Lora and Eva are racing to save Sam after Eva's dream that he and Cody are walking into a trap.
This group of Dreamers need their dreams and nightmares to guide them, to lead them to the next destination. But dreams are not always reliable, their interpretation not always obvious, they can mean so many different things. And, as Sam and his friends have discovered, expected outcomes can be changed by situations in real time being altered.
Will the Dreamers feel more in control, or more scared for the fate of the world when they uncover what Stella and Matrix are really up to?
This book sits right at the midway point of the series. It is impossible to read at a leisurely pace. Pages packed with dialogue and action, and chapters with changing viewpoints, ending in cliff hangers, all accentuate the sense of urgency. The ambiguity of the dreams and their meanings, along with the swing of allegiances of some of the players, make this an addictive series.
The physical package is attractive as well. Each volume is slim, a different colour and has subtle clues on the cover as to what lies within the pages. The spines, lined up together on a bookshelf, announce the countdown.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom by David Baldacci (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-0-54529844-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Thirteen year old Dan Cahill and his older sister Amy are running out of time. This will be their last chance to save their friends, family and ultimately thousands of people from Vesper One's horrific plot. In a desperate race from Washington DC to deep in the Cascade Mountains, the siblings need to decide who they can trust to keep them safe whilst following the twists and turns - led by fate and Isabel Kabra.
Each book in this popular 39 Clues series is written by a different author, giving each instalment a slightly different feel and this title does feel a little younger than the previous few. This is probably mostly due to the dramatic writing tone and atmosphere that Baldacci brings to Day of Doom, the final instalment in the Cahill's vs. Vespers series. David Baldacci is a writer well known in the adult action/thriller genre and he certainly keeps the action pumped and the reader wound tightly right up to the final denouement.
Another aspect of the writing I enjoyed is the way the recap of characters and events is woven into the beginning of the story. Baldacci has cleverly reminded the readers who is being held hostage, who is on the Cahill's side and how the plot has been progressing, without retelling or going over previous ground. And this recap is needed. By the beginning of this book there are many characters, some of which have switched sides and allegiances countless times.
This is an action packed finale which will keep readers on their toes, unwilling to put the book down.
Day of Doom comes with six clue cards which can help intrepid readers become part of the adventure on line at www.the39clues.com.
After the pages close on this final Cahill vs. Vespers adventure, a new one starts immediately with Nowhere to Run, the first book in Unstoppable, the third series in The 39 Clues.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 by Celeste Walters and Adele Jaunn (Little Hare Books)
ISBN 978-1-742977-16-4
PB RRP $14.95 
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

On the surface, this picture book by author Celeste Walters and illustrator Adele Jaunn simply rhymes its way up to ten and back, accompanied by cute illustrations of puppies playing. However, that isn't all there is, not by a long way. There's also an element of mystery, education about different dog breeds and a huge variety of verbs. Then (although this reader wasn't observant enough to notice it on the first read through) there's also a 'spot the bone' activity. This is a book with a lot of things to keep young children busy!

Billy the Bitzer has hidden his bone and is worried the other puppies are going to find it. First one puppy comes racing and chasing, then two romping and stomping, up to ten, when Billy the Bitzer is feeling unhappy and snappy. No wonder. So he decides to get rid of the puppies, one by one. First he starts grunting and growling, then hooting and howling, until there's one little puppy, sneaking and peeking … who finds the bone. And it's been in view the whole time.

The different breeds of puppy are depicted beautifully by Adele Jaunn, who also illustrated Baby Bilby's Question by Sally Morgan. A poodle, a collie, a samoyed, a great dane and others. All have joyful, inquisitive expressions on their furry faces. Each page is covered with happy little dogs, always on the move, as puppies are. In fact the illustrations convey movement extremely well and this is a real strength of the book.

Celeste Walters has written several books for young adults and children, including A Certain Music. Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 uses repetition with skill and clever rhyming. Lots of fun for adults and kids to enjoy together, this is a book can that can be re-read, with something different to notice each time.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood : Pictures by Anna Pignataro, story by Charles Perrault, Retold by Margrete Lamond (Little Hare)
ISBN 9 781921 894879
HB $12.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Once Upon a Timeless Tale is a series of beautifully presented hardback editions re-telling classic stories including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Ugly Duckling and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Little Red Riding Hood starts with …' in the days when wolves could talk and should have known better …' The familiar story, told with a humorous slant, is accompanied on each page by illustrations, full of colour and character. With a red spine decorated with pictures of delicate dandelion seeds, the book feels nice as well as looking it, inviting the reader inside.

In this series, the illustrators are showcased, with only their name on the front page. Anna Pignataro, Melbourne based illustrator and creator of over fifty children's books, has provided  pictures which deserve this attention. Rosy cheeked Riding Hood skips through colourful pages filled with interesting details that will definitely appeal to young readers and listeners. There's even an illustration of the inside of the wolf's stomach containing poor Grandma and Riding Hood and later on, when the woodcutter has replaced them with stones.

This is the traditional story, with no sugar coating at the end, when it comes to the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is a bit precocious, but in a good way. The best line in the book comes right at the end.
        "'That should teach you,' said the grandmother,' not to talk to wolves.'
        'That should teach the wolf,' said Red Riding Hood,' not to talk to little girls.'"
        And you can't argue with that logic!

This is a great book to introduce a new generation to a story that will never get old. Recommended for children aged five and above.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont UK)
ISBN 978-1-4052-7188-2
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

First published in 1982, this special edition of War Horse has been reprinted for the centenary of World War one, with a new introduction by the author. The book was already well known, being the basis of the 2011 Stephen Spielberg movie (nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs) and a highly acclaimed international stage show. War Horse is a story for children aged 10+ about a horse who goes to war, told from the unique perspective of the horse.  

The story starts off on a farm in Devon where a young horse is bought home to fifteen year old Albert, by his drunken father. There is an immediate bond between Albert and Joey, as he calls the horse, which develops into an unbreakable  friendship. However when war breaks out, Albert's father sells Joey to the army and he is shipped off to the trenches in France. Albert is broken hearted but vows to find his horse again when he is old enough to enlist.

In France, Joey sees battle, injury, death and finds friends on both sides of the trenches. He pulls carts of wounded soldiers and ends up in No Man's Land, where the soldiers stop fighting so he can be rescued. Being a horse, Joey has the ability to understand people no matter whether they are English, French or German, so transcends language barriers. Although in parts a very sad story, eventually Joey is reunited with Albert and the book does have a heart-warming ending.


Through the very effective character of Joey, the concepts and hard truths of war are explored in an adventure type story. The writing has some denser passages and longer words, which may not suit all young readers, but this style fits in with the historical tone. A highlight of this war story is that it is told from such a neutral perspective, which could be an important reason for its continued popularity.  Over a million copies of War Horse have sold since 2007.