Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast retold by Alex Field, illustrated by Helene Magisson (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059809

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

This is a retelling of the well-known fairytale in a picture book format. The text of the story is in large clear type with lots of white space. The pared back narrative occasionally feels more like a story summary than storytelling — however, this simpler format might enable younger readers to have a go at reading the story for themselves.

I’m already a fan of Helene Magisson’s work as an illustrator and her illustrations glow with fairytale magic. The use of birdcages and butterflies in the background to symbolise imprisonment and then freedom will delight the observant child reader. The end papers give an extra twist to this element.

Beauty and the Beast is just one title in the Happily Ever After series and will be in bookshops from 1 March 2017. This is a beautifully presented hardcover book.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine. rebeccanewman.net.au

Monday, 24 April 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760295592

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week at Buchanan School in this, the fifth installment in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series. Chase Cooper’s multi-talented cousin, Zoe, is busy organising a school talent show. She is stressed about her to-do list, and asks Chase for some weekend help to set up the school cafeteria for rehearsals. His response? ‘Yeeeeeah, that’s actually right in the middle of my nap, so I’m gonna have to say no.’

Uh oh. As per previous novels, Chase has once again let Zoe down, breaking an unspoken ninja code to do ‘the honourable thing … to help family’. When a strange kid in a hockey mask ruins the rehearsal by setting a penguin loose in the school and destroying part of the unfinished stage, Zoe thinks Chase is partly to blame. If he had’ve helped, the stage would have been properly attached. It’s up to Chase to make it up to Zoe by using his ninja skills to find the culprit, find that penguin and save the talent show.

In each novel, Emerson cleverly builds on the growing list of Chase’s enemies to make it difficult to identify the culprit. In this novel, Jake (a popular, quarterback football player) is less than impressed with Chase’s decision to change the mascot to a moose. Jake joins Wyatt, Carlisle, Olivia and Sebastian as possible suspects in the talent show disaster.

There are some loose ends in the novel that will no doubt leave fans wanting to read the rest of the series. There’s a mysterious ‘white ninja’ character, a noticeable shift in numbers between Chase and Wyatt’s ninja clans, and a foreboding promotion for Wyatt to ‘Vice President of Buchanan School’.

The novel follows the same style as the others, featuring plenty of realistic banter between the students as well as over-the-top humour. The stories require a slight suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part, which won’t be a problem for the target age group of 7–12. In addition to the missing penguin, there is also a delightful group of ‘library zombies’ in this one – a tongue-in-cheek observation by the author on the
growing (over)use of smartphones! (‘Waaaaaaatch this cuuuuuute videeeeeeoooooo’!)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Big Snow Adventure

The Big Snow Adventure by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760400651

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is another inexpensive picture book in the About Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds which aims to gently teach small children how to explore the skills needed to successfully manage relationships with their friends and family.

In this book Pickle and Bree each displays poor manners by not waiting their turn in the ski shop and upsetting their friends Jason and Anna, Reggie and Lucy. Then they refuse to follow the teacher’s instructions about skiing downhill and thus cause mayhem. In a snowball fight, Pickle ignores his friends’ pleas not to throw a huge ball – and he makes Reggie and Lucy disappear.

As a result of the friends’ ignorance of manners, the others don’t want to play with them anymore. ‘Maybe I should have paid more attention to the rules,’ said Pickle. ‘Nobody wants to play with me. I’m a big, blundering, bumbling bear.’ And, says Bree, ‘I’m a pushy, pesky pain the neck.’

Luckily the others are forgiving and when the six of them go kiting downhill, Pickles and Bree take their turn so all have fun together.

This is a simply told, sweet story which offers a message to youngsters without being preachy. One can imagine the child reader and parent talking about taking turns in order to be a good friend. In the back of this book, as in all of the Pickle and Bree books there is a full page ‘Guide to Good Deeds’, a list of reasons for and outcomes of following rules which the parent (or teacher) can discuss. Great for ethics teachers in particular!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Playground Meanies

The Playground Meanies by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBBN 9781760400644

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first two things I noticed about this picture book for young children is how inexpensive it is and how beautifully produced. On the cover it reads, ‘All about being kind with Pickle and Bree’ which is what this book and others in the series is all about – teaching children how to have happy and productive relationships with others.

Pickle is a loveable bear and Bree is a high-spirited girl; they are best friends. In this book they appear in a playground to witness two grey bears hogging the equipment. The bears, Howard and Gracie, make fun of Pickle’s feet, also those of his friend Jason. It’s only teasing but both bears feel unhappy. The verbal bullying continues. ‘It isn’t nice to feel there’s something wrong with you,’ Jason says. Pickle roars his displeasure.

At the picnic in the park, there’s more tormenting about the bears’ feet. The two think about using their feet to smash the food but Bree reminds them that basically two wrongs don’t make a right.  Happily, in an incident a few moments later, Jason’s big foot saves a situation. It’s then that the teasing bears apologise.
And of course the four have fun playing together after that.

Being mean is never the answer. Of course. This is a lesson that small children (and big) need to learn. That’s what this book and other books in the series is about: using simple, humorous narrative to gently demonstrate a lesson about the value of good manners.

The book is beautifully illustrated with bright, full page illustrations showing the personable characters interacting with one another. Small children aged 4 years and up are sure to be thoroughly engaged by story and illustrations.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins (Penguin Books/Puffin)  PB RRP $16.99 ISBN9780141362939

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

I couldn’t wait to review this, the next children’s novel in the Mabel Jones series as I absolutely loved the last one, Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City. (There’s also the first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones). Generally I don’t much care for fantasy books, but Will Mabbitt is such a good writer that genre doesn’t matter – story does and so do his characters.

For a start, there are 31 short and quirky chapters, also a map at the front of the book (kids – and I – love maps in novels!) and then Chapter One title The End, followed by the words ‘Not long after you’ve finished reading this sentence, the whole hooman race will become extinct.’ But (of course), not Mabel Jones ‘who skipped the fate the rest of you will suffer, by virtue of being snatched from the present and pulled deep into the footure: a footure without hoomans.’ But maybe – just maybe – Mabel can stop it happening…

Breath-taking, isn’t it? And it's very funny, laugh-aloud and very witty. By now (and we’re not even on to Chapter two), I’ve been snatched by the story, engrossed and sucked in. I’m sure, too, that readers aged 8 + years will be, too.

Before long Mabel Jones is on her way to the city of Otom in search of the legendary Doomsday Book, an ancient document that might save you and me, the book's readers. But! Otomo is a dangerous place, packed with soldiers, spies and stinking rebels which Mabel has to overcome – that and the dreaded Grand Zhoul.

If Mabbitt could illustrate, his pictures would be exactly like those Ross Collins produces – attention-grabbing, idiosyncratic and very funny. There are plenty of Collins’ black and white line illustrations scattered throughout the book along with lots of typography – words and phrases of all sizes which again jump out to engross the reader.

Full of vigour, surprises, humour that is sometimes laugh aloud, other times simply witty, this is a book I’d give to any child, but especially to a reluctant reader because once they started reading, I could pretty much guarantee they’d be reluctant no longer. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Ducks Away

Ducks Away by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek (Omnibus Book)
HB RRP $19.99   ISBN 978-1-76015-851-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

A mother duck is taking her five ducklings for a walk when a gust of wind blows one little duckling off the bridge and into the water below. One by one, as these curious little ducklings peek over the edge, they tumble into the water also, until the mother duck is left by herself wondering what to do. Her babies suggest she jump to join them, but it’s a long way down. What is Mother Duck to do?

The last book Fox and Horacek created together was Where is the Green Sheep? a delightful picture book full of humour, quirky characters/sheep, colour and entertainment. Ducks Away is just as enjoyable and engaging.

This simple story is perfect for the very young. The illustrations are entertaining and colourful, yet simple, with nothing distracting from the central storyline. It has a comfortable, story-telling voice, with repetition in the story structure as well as a repeated, rhyming refrain quacked by the mother duck.
‘What shall I do?
Where should I go,
With four on the bridge
And one below?’

The numbers in the refrain change each time another duckling falls, adding a new dimension to the traditional counting book.

Mem Fox is one of Australia’s best loved story tellers for the very young and with this new twist to the ‘Five Little Ducks’ classic it is easy to see why. This is a wonderful book to read to babies, toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime - or anytime of the day. The ending satisfyingly tips the mother/child bond on its head and sees the ducklings giving mum the confidence she needs to make the leap from the bridge.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire

 The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire by Michael Adams (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $7.99   ISBN 978-1-74362-801-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Seven Signs is a new explosive and action packed series for middle grade readers by Australian author Michael Adams. Skyfire kicks the series off with the seven winners of the mysterious DARE competition all meeting for the first time and receiving amazing prizes. But this group of 15 year old geniuses are about to discover that there is something sinister lurking beneath the glitter, wealth and prestige of the award. That something will not only put their own lives in peril, but also the lives of those close to them. Will their combined intelligence be enough to solve the cryptic ‘signs’ being texted to them? And is there a connection between these signs and the shocking public attacks which are throwing whole countries into chaos?

By combining thrilling adventures, edge-of-your-seat action, exotic locations and unshakable friendship bonds, this series promises to deliver the same satisfying ‘teens save the world’ experience as The Last Thirteen series. The seven central characters are all likeable, not perfect and quirky enough to be interesting. Once you suspend your disbelief enough to allow for the post apocalyptic world which includes Space Skimmer ultra fast-jets, driverless taxis and other futuristic advances, it is not a big leap to fifteen year-olds who can save the world. And within this context, they do act in a believable way.

Jumping from character to character and location to location, keeps the action tight and constant. This is a book to speed-read cover to cover, with cliff hangers making it hard to put down. Skyfire is a thrilling read, perfect for adrenaline junkies and lovers of mystery, good versus evil plots and epic races to save the world.