Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Texas Year

A Texas Year by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-06-4

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Another in the wonderful series by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling, A Texas Year takes young readers on a month-by-month journey through the festivals, events, games, sports, flora & fauna, quirky traditions and famous sights of Texas. Did you know that the armor-plated armadillo comes from Texas - and that Americans spell armor differently to the Australian ‘armour’? You do now.

Inside, richly populated double spreads take us into the lives of five diverse young characters. Here’s one:

Hola! I’m Luis and I’m 10. I was born in Mexico and came to Texas when I was 3. I grew up with horses and one day I want to ride in rodeos and play baseball for the Texas Rangers.

With endearing and distinctive illustrations, along with a smattering of fun facts and interesting anecdotes, this book will definitely have you smiling. Those who don’t reach for their ancient World Book Encyclopaedia volumes will no doubt visit Dr Google after reading A Texas Year.

A natural fit for boys and girls, the beauty of this series lies in the capacity of these books to incite wonder and pique curiosity. Reluctant readers too, will definitely find something here to interest and entertain.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A New York Year

A New York Year by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-07-1

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Tania McCartney is something of a goddess when it comes to picture books and this latest offering confirms that she is still worthy of the title. Her crown is firmly wedged on.

We are Madison, Alexander, Fabian, Sofia, and Jayla – and we’re ready to take you on a journey through twelve months in the life of New York’s kids.

So begins A New York Year. To open this book is to be greeted by dozens of tiny vignettes in Snerling’s distinctive, colourful illustration style. These endpapers alone will have children (and adults) meandering happily for several minutes.

Set out as a month by month prospect, the reader is introduced to the characters and invited to follow individual children through their New York lives and seasons. It is dynamic and varied – with no actual ‘narrative’ as such, but rather a clever and current design which allows the reader to wander in their own direction, through a whole new and exciting world.

A New York Year is a book for poring over by alone or for sharing with a cuddle. It’s a book for throwing down on the couch while you run to Dad’s old DVD collection to return triumphantly clasping ‘Groundhog Day’. Or it’s a book that will elicit dinner time discussion about snowmen in our summer, and inspire wider conversations around the delights of challah or the meaning of the Statue of Liberty.

Geography, history, festivals, cultural difference, acceptance, inclusion, facts and figures – all are covered in this very entertaining and educational offering.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway

Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway written by Adrian C. Bott, illustrated by Andy Isaac (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760127800

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The first title in an action-packed junior fiction series, Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway centres on a lonely gamer and a robot on the run.

When shape-shifting robot Beast bursts into Axel’s room, he is desperate to hide. Beast has escaped from the destructive Grabbem Industries, and finds a likely ally in Axel, who’s endured his own encounters with nasty bullies. With the help of insider Agent Omega, Axel and Beast, band together to overcome Grabbem’s evil intentions.

Despite its emphasis on technology, gadgets and fast-paced action, the story has a feel-good factor, too. The message of fighting back against corporate greed and environmental destruction is an important one, and is ever-present in Axel & Beast’s fight against Grabbem Industries.

There are some fun secondary characters too, notably Rusty Rosie who rules a junkyard – a force to be reckoned with. There’s also Axel’s mum, Nedra, a very capable mechanic hailing from Sri Lanka whose lovely relationship with Axel is quite touching.

It would be a shame for this book to only be picked up by (or purchased for) boys, as there’s a universality to the story’s themes that everyone can enjoy.

As a footnote, the author’s moniker ‘Adrian C. Bott’ seems too good to be true – it’s perfectly suited to the subject matter!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen & Unwin)
HC RRP $29.99
ISBN: 9781742379791

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This wordless graphic novel for all ages is one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. Because the story depends on examining the illustrations/artwork carefully, the messages it carries are accentuated many times over.

The themes that make up the book are connected to loneliness: depression, loss, helplessness, anxiety, aloneness and fear. These collective feelings begin as small things that gradually evolve into a voracious appetite that consumes the sufferer.

The boy is sad. He feels like an outsider, and no-one includes him in their circle because he is quiet and withdrawn. An insidious darkness has crept over him. It is absorbed by his skin therefore he carries it with him everywhere. Others can’t see it. That makes it worse.

This darkness assumes many identities: exclusion, inferiority, sadness, fear, and heartache. These are bricks in a wall that builds around him. He feels parts of him are breaking away as he becomes more isolated and increasingly hopeless.

He has stopped thinking clearly. All he can hear is his emptiness so he prefers silence. An effort made to reach the boy can’t get past the darkness which is now a relentless force.

The boy feels like a failure. He has retreated from the world. His body is there but it’s just a shell. He feels cracked all over, feels he is falling apart, and tries to keep himself together.

He is approached by a family member who persists. She knows how the boy is feeling. She exposes her damaged self to the child – the cracks, the pieces missing. That is when he realizes he is not alone in the way he feels. Other family members assure him that it’s common for people to feel anxious, have imperfections and fears. He begins to recognize something of what he feels in almost everyone around him and feels comfort in the sameness. He finds the courage to reach out to others.

In 2008, Mel Tregonning began illustrating this graphic novel. In 2014, she took her own life. ‘Illustrator Shaun Tan completed the final three illustrations in Mel’s book in 2016’. My wish is that this review pays homage to Mel’s work.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

I Spy Dad

I Spy Dad by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Chantal Stewart (Scholastic Aust) PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 1 92505 964 9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

I spy with my little eye dads all starting with d.

But not all Dads are the same and the little girl in the story is searching for her dad. She can see a 'dashing dad' and a 'crashing dad', a 'creeping dad' and a 'sleeping dad', but where is her dad? And what is he doing?

Beautiful rhythm makes this a joy to read aloud and the rhyme is never awkward. All the activities that Dads partake in set up fun conversation starters for young children and their readers - What does your Dad do? What makes him special/different?

The colourful soft illustrations depict the playfulness of this story, showing lovely characters. We see Dad's in all sorts of situations, each having a wonderful time with their children.

I Spy Dad is full of fun for three to six year olds and with Father's Day is coming up it is the perfect time to celebrate the happy bond between Dads and their children.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Quick as a Wink Fairy Pink

Quick as a Wink Fairy Pink by Lesley Gibbes and Sara Acton
(Working Title Press) HB RRP $24.99 
ISBN 978 1 921504 86 0

Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

This is a gorgeous bedtime story featuring five little flutter fairies, Fairy Blue, Fairy Green, Fairy Gold, Fairy Red and the mischievous Fairy Pink. As the fairies do their nightly rituals, of taking a bath, cleaning their teeth, getting in pyjamas and reading a story, one little fairy is hiding.

Told in rhyming text, and with the repetitive verse
‘But someone’s playing hide and seek.
Can you see her? Take a peek.
Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink.
it invites the reader to help find this elusive fairy pink.

With simple soft pastel coloured illustrations this book will be a favourite bedside read for your little one. Not only does it reinstate all that’s involved in getting ready for bed, it also gives the chance for the reader to discover Fairy Pink in her hiding places.

A great read for younger children, five and under, although older children will also enjoy the rhyme and illustrations.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781742379791

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Small things turn into big things when they lack attention. Small things, small acts of kindness, can change a person’s outlook on life. Small things make an impact … and deep is the impact this book will make.

The protagonist in this story is a lonely, school-aged child, laden with social anxieties. These worries start to eat away at him, expressed chillingly in the pictures by tentacled, demonic creatures. His grades at school are affected, along with his relationship with his family. He has trouble sleeping at night. 

The story is told entirely in vivid, black and white illustrations so expressive that to accompany them with words would do them a disservice. The front cover, showing a close-up of a child’s face consumed with sadness, is stark and confrontational. It is impossible to walk past this title without reaching for it.

A comic-strip style is generally maintained for the illustrations inside. The dimensions of the boxes are pleasantly varied, as is the number of pictures on each page. This style perfectly sets the pace for the story. Readers are also treated to breathtaking double-paged spreads, allowing space to pause, reflect and empathise.

I was reminded of Anna Walker’s Mr Huff when I first started reading this, but in premise only. The illustrations in this book are extraordinarily lifelike and much darker, intended for an older age group – perhaps upper primary to early secondary.

This book is hauntingly beautiful in its own right, more so because the author took her own life before she was able to complete it. Her family collaborated with award-winning artist Shaun Tan to piece the story together, thus producing an insightful window into mental health awareness. Shaun has contributed the final three illustrations in the book. They show the character understanding that he is not alone in his worries, that such feelings are universal and that reaching out to people is the only way to keep the demons at a distance.