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.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781925059748

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Sage Cookson is an ordinary girl. However, her parents are television chefs and their TV show takes the family all over Australia. Sage has a knack for finding adventures while her parents are busy with their TV commitments.

In Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth the Cookson family travels to a bakery on Harmon Island, off Tasmania, to film the latest episode of the TV show. After meeting the bakery’s owners — sisters Babette and Bettina — Sage enjoys sampling the pastries and breads.

Then disaster strikes. Bettina’s emerald ring goes missing and she thinks Sage is the thief. Sage decides to find the ring and clear her name. While her mum and dad are in front of the cameras, Sage searches everywhere inside and outside the bakery. Eventually the ring turns up in the last place anyone expects …

This is the second book in the Sage Cookson series and these quick-paced early chapter books will appeal to readers aged 7+. Chapters are short and each features a black and white illustration as a hint about what will happen next.

Extras: There’s a recipe for beef and mushroom pies at the end of the book. The series also has its own website featuring sample chapters from the books, more of Sage Cookson’s recipes, and activities related to the books.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Smart About Sharks

Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey (Walker Books) HB RRP $27.99
ISBN 9781909263918

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Get ready to learn everything you ever wanted to know about the fascinating world of sharks in this beautifully illustrated compendium.
Smart About Sharks is overflowing with detailed information and fascinating facts that will answer every question you ever had about the most feared and misunderstood creatures of the sea.

Did you know that sharks can detect electrical currents from other creatures? Or that the average shark has 40 to 45 teeth? These are just some of the amazing facts featured in this wonderful book.

Smart About Sharks covers topics such as what sharks eat and how they hunt. It also takes a look at the more unusual species of shark including the carpet shark, frill shark and pyjama shark, and features a scaled diagram that compares the sizes of different sharks.

This book is the brainchild of talented, award winning illustrator Owen Davey, who has managed to create an incredibly informative reference book that is also a pleasure to read. It is his second book devoted to a single animal. Last year he released the popular Mad About Monkeys, an illustrated guide to the world’s 250 species of monkey.

Smart About Sharks is perfect for readers of all ages. It is a beautifully designed book and will be a fabulous addition to any library.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Adventures of Pipì the Pink Monkey

The Adventures of Pipì the Pink Monkey by Carlo Collodi, retold and expanded by Alessandro Gallenzi, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Alma Books) PB RRP $­19.99
ISBN 9781847495594

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Lovers of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio will be thrilled to see this beautiful fairytale translated into English for the first time. In fact, Pipì, a mischievous monkey with a passion for copying humans, is a lot like his famous wooden predecessor:

‘*I won’t do it again,” he added, looking up with eyes that said the exact opposite.’

Pipì breaks a promise to his father and leaves the safety of the forest. When a crocodile bites off his tail, he feels too ashamed to go home. A series of crazy adventures ensue, leading him to Master Alfred, a boy who wants Pipì to be his personal servant. Pipì promises to stay with him, but sneaks out of the house that night to bid his family farewell. Ticklythroat, an evil bandit with a promise of his own to keep, catches him.

Just as Pinocchio’s nose returned to size when he stopped lying, Pipì got his tail back when he kept his promise. But though Pinocchio got his wish to become a real boy, Pipì decided he’d rather stay a monkey.

The story of Pipì was written immediately after Pinocchio and is connected to it in a few ways – some obvious, others less so. Readers will no doubt recognise the mischievous monkey’s dishonesty and disobedience, along with the zany adventures. Appearing in both stories is the Turquoise Fairy, who guides Pinocchio and Pipì with her wisdom. The greatest connection lies in the character of Master Alfred though, who (in one giant clue) even reads ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi’ to Pipì. Though not explicitly stated in the story, an amusing letter by Collodi to his fans (included in the back of the book) reveals Master Alfred to be Pinocchio himself!

The endearing illustrations by Axel Scheffler (illustrator of The Gruffalo) are immediately recognisable. Inside, they appear classically, in sepia, though Pipì is delightfully coloured pink throughout. The book includes a section at the back with background information about the story, a list of famous fictional apes, a short quiz and a glossary of ‘monkey language’. This story will appeal to children aged 8–11 years, though any fan of Pinocchio will appreciate it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

An A–Z of Creatures

An A–Z of Creatures written and illustrated by Karen Allen (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $16.95

ISBN: 9781925117738

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

I’m not sure it was intentional but there are three pages in this book about animals that it’s possible for the reader to colour in: the legendary unicorn and the X-ray of a triceratops and the gorgeous dragonfly.

This is a vibrantly hued and intricately patterned alphabet book of a wide range of creatures—some extinct, some common to the Australian bush, some found far away and some lost in the mists of legend. 

Although the book advises it’s for a target age group of 3–6 years old, I have no doubt that older children and adults will enjoy this vivid and informative bestiary.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Cassowary’s Gift

The Cassowary’s Gift by Pam Skadins, illustrated by Kathryn Lovejoy (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117578

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

After another — yes, another! — sign appears in the rainforest about protecting the cassowary, the birds and animals all wonder why it’s so special. The pitta, the quoll, the wallaby, the brush-turkey, the scrubfowl want answers and they aren’t backward in pursuing them. Just why is the cassowary such  a V.I.B.? (Very important bird.)

Although the cassowary is notoriously reclusive, they decide they’re going to keep after it until they’ve got it to give up its secret.

Now, there are some 3–6 year olds who are going to love the answer. It’s poo! The cassowary’s scat fertilises the forest and keeps the cycle of life going. The music is given for the cassowary’s song as he describes his ‘gift’ to the world.

I’m a big fan of poster-edge style art so I really loved the finely executed illustrations.