Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bridie’s Boots

Bridie’s Boots by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Sara Acton (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504723
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

For her fifth birthday Bridie is given a pair of gumboots wrapped in rainbow paper. She loved these boots; they were the best boots ever.

When it rained they kept her feet dry as she crossed wild rivers.
When the sun came out she twirled on tiptoes and splashed in puddles.

Bridie wore her boots all that winter, but then the weather warmed and she put them away. For days, weeks, months and almost a year.  And when winter returns her boots won’t fit. She’s grown out of them, but now is the time to send them on an adventure of their own.

To someone, somewhere, on the other side of the world.

This is a charming story of a little girl who dreams of adventures, and when her boots no longer fit, she sends them on an adventure too. To a little girl on the other side of the world, who will love them just as much as she did.

Sara Acton’s soft and delightful illustrations add to this story of passing time and passing things on.  The simple addition of a seed being planted, then watered, flowering then dying back to nothing is a great visual of the passing of time.

Recommended for pre-schoolers,  this would be a good book to read before that ‘yearly toy clean out’.  Keeping the notion that someone else, somewhere in the world, will love your boots – or your toys - just as much as you do.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Augustus and his Smile

Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press — Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-84506-283-5
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Augustus and his Smile is an endearing story about a tiger which goes looking for his smile. Writer and illustrator Catherine Rayner captures the essence of the main character from the very first picture on the cover: the friendly face of a tiger (Augustus) with a blue butterfly on his nose. Open the book and paw prints on an orange background lead you, the reader, to the first page.

The story is a simple but important one. Augustus is sad and travels to different places to cheer himself up. He goes under some bushes, to the top of the trees, to the crests of the mountains, the bottom of the oceans and through the desert. All the while, to the observant reader, his smile is growing. It isn't until he is caught in a shower of rain and sees himself in a puddle, that Augustus notices this, too.

At the back of the book are some tiger facts, including information about the endangered Siberian tigers (the kind of tiger Augustus is). Contact details are included for the World Wildlife Fund, for those interested in helping. This is a lovely book to enjoy reading aloud and has a good message about finding happiness in the world around you.

 UK children's author Catherine Rayner has shown a great talent for drawing animals in her previous books, for example Harris Finds his Feet (about a hare) and Sylvia and Bird (about a dragon). With his wistful face and ready smile, her newest character Augustus is impossible not to become attached to. Preschool children will want to read this book over and over, just to see the tiger's happy face. 


Boy21 by Matthew Quick (Headline/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99 EBook $9.99
ISBN: 9781 4722 1290 0
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Matthew Quick has embarked on a dark and quirky story set in a poor North American town where drugs, filthy streets, and danger abounds.
Finley's life is no bed of roses. His mother died when he was just a kid and he lives with his Dad and Pop, an invalid with no legs who ever-mourns the loss of Finley's grandmother. He attends Bellmont High and the highlights in his life are basketball and his girlfriend Erin who also attends the school. She is a significant member of the girls' basketball team. Her older brother Rod assumes the role of protector and has a fierce reputation among the white and black residents of the town. The reader quickly gets the impression that it is a place you only live in if you have no choice. Both Finley and Erin have dreams of using their basketball prowess to give them tickets out.
The Coach burdens Finley with the job of companion to recently orphaned Russ, a high-profile high school basketball player from L.A. who copes with his trauma by claiming to be a space alien, Boy21. Finley is given information about Russ which he is not allowed to divulge to anyone. Finley speaks very little in any case, due to his own negative experiences, but he is not happy when he realises Russ plays his starting position in the basketball team. Right now Russ does not want to play basketball and Finley has been tasked to encourage him back into the game. If he is successful, he may have to forfeit his place and number in the team as Russ is also number 21. Surely that is too much to sacrifice.

Boy21 is an insight into lives that are oppressed by shadows of the past and which threaten them still. But it also shows how families battle along together and that some sacrifices are worth it. Quick has tackled a number of emotional and external problems to reveal a deep understanding of the way young people are affected by trauma and how friendship can help turn things around. Finley and Russ's story reflects the concept of keeping on in difficult circumstances and may encourage readers who are also finding life impossible. Boy21 demonstrates that things are never static; at some stage there is a breakthrough, often when you least expect it.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by Julie Anne Grasso, illustrated by David Blackwell and Samantha Yallope (Julieannegrassobooks)
PB RRP $10.00
ISBN 978-0-987372-54-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
First impression of this chapter book was that it would be perfect for boys age 7 -10. The cover illustration of our young detective Frankie, in front of a mysterious building, surrounded by ‘clues’, invites the reader to open the cover and investigate for themselves. I was reaching for this book over others in my ‘to read’ pile and I am sure the cover would have a similar effect on kids.

Julie Anne Grasso’s story of young Frankie and his search for his missing cousin Kat has many twists and turns, the ending is of course satisfying, but not at all expected. The setting for the story, Enderby Manor, is a strange building filled with strange characters and bumbling Inspector Cluesome whom I assume will be a consistent character in future Frankie Dupont stories. The story is written in a way that children will relate to. The lyricism in the text will sound wonderful to a read-a-loud ear and will capture a confident reader’s imagination.

Julie’s writing is flavoured with recognisable smells, sounds and sights and is a delight to read. “Frankie took a bite and his whole mouth tingled with delight as though his taste buds were giving a round of applause.”

The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. The illustrations are a big part of the book and keep the story flowing nicely giving affirmation to the younger reader who may be a little unsure. Each black and white illustration is strong and appears to be full of life and colour.

Young readers will enjoy this book and I very much enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of The Bear Said Please picture book and the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Story of World War One

The Story of World War One by Richard Brassey (Orion/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
EBook $12.99
ISBN 9781444010855
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Richard Brassey's explanation of World War I is an entertaining and informative picture book children will find captivating. The heartbreak of slaughter has been omitted in his colourful and precise illustrations but there is plenty of action and insight to glean. He uses topics throughout the book, e.g., The Home Front and the Role of Women, and Weapons and War Machines, and the text is supported by maps and cartoon-style strips together with fact boxes. I found the Trench Warfare double spread showing a section of trench layout and why it was constructed that way absolutely fascinating. Information about trench foot, shellshock and even the trench coat which later became a popular item of clothing were among the other interesting snippets included in this section.
There is a naivety in Brassey's drawings which reflects the innocence of the times. Never again in war would opposite sides down tools to play footie together in no-man's land on Christmas Day as they did in 1914. The text gives a concise, easy to understand explanation of the events leading up to, during, and the ending of the Great War, and reflects the courage, resilience and decisions, often unwise, of those involved. His side facts which include why the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day give a wonderful balance to the more sobering events. The prediction that only one in ten English girls would marry because of so many young men being killed thankfully did not become a reality.

The Story of World War One is a timely release to co-incide with the centenary of the opening year of the event. My impression is that children will have a much better grasp on this period in history, and appreciate the significance and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom because of the skill and creative talent of the author. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Elephants Have Wings

Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
HB ISBN 978-1925000399
PB RRP $16.95
PB ISBN 978-1925000405
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When writer Susanne Gervay and illustrator Anna Pignataro teamed up a couple of years ago to deliver the impeccable book Ships in the Field it was evident that their union was destined to bring deep thought on important topics to the picture book world. Their latest offering, Elephants Have Wing, cements them as a powerhouse duo, bringing something different to the page.

Elephants Have Wings, is a beautiful tale rich with the tapestries of ancient storytelling, spirituality and mythology. Placed in the Asian-Indian region, the book starts with two children asking their father to tell them the story – their grandfather’s story. The father commences, telling the wide-eyed children how their grandfather sent him and the other children out one night to look for “the secret”. All of the children saw different things and argued about who is right and who is wrong, until the grandfather came out and circled his light through the night, revealing a majestic elephant and showing that all the children were right but wrong at the same time.

The two children ask their father to tell them what their grandfather’s secret was, but he tells them that they must discover it themselves. The children spur each other on, willing on the vision of the elephant, who takes them on a journey through the air, over the wilderness, red desserts and snowy peaks, and through the sparkling stars to another place, high and faster and farther away. Bringing them home, only when the children have learnt their grandfather’s secret: “Everyone is different, but we’re the same, too. The elephant is in all of us.”

In many ways, this is a complicated picture book that explores rather esoteric themes, often difficult to articulate. What Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro do so well together, is bring these themes to life in a magical way that taps into children’s natural ability and openness to journey through the terrain of social inclusion, spirituality, unity, empathy and understanding. With roots in the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, Elephants Have Wings is a wildly imaginative tale that is multifaceted. While younger children can lose themselves in the imaginative and magic journey of the children riding on the back of the elephant, older children can lose themselves in the mythology and modern importance of this tale.

And like Ships in the Field, Susanne has penned effortlessly poetic words that take us right through the sparkly stars with the children and Anne’s illustrations perfectly compliment this poeticism with pages of expressionistic watercolours and collages, whimsical in tone, that capture the peace, serenity and ethereal nature of this book.

A must read for those with a thirst for something different, unique and beautiful.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Poppy Cat

Poppy Cat by Sara Acton (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-016-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Poppy is a playful cat, a copy-cat, and this is just perfect for her young owner. She and her little girl spend the day doing things together but sometimes Poppy can be a little mischievous.
I love Sara Acton's picture books and this one is no exception. The companionship between the girl and cat are brought out wonderfully in the simplicity of the story, the gorgeous illustrations and the way the words roll off the tongue. 'Poppy is a copy cat. She follows me wherever I go.'
This would make a lovely bedtime story with it’s gentle nature and lovely rhythm. Also with the way the story 'holds' the day - beginning with the girl and cat rising to dress and ending with a calm cuddle; the little girl’s pink spotted pyjama's making lovely bookends to the story.
Acton's illustrations are painted and messy, giving a sense of movement and fun, but with gentle colours, not hectic. She doesn't fill the page with colour, but let's her pictures wander to any part of the page. A cheeky feather in the corner of a page teasing Poppy, or the delightful picture of a small cat followed by little blue paw prints after an incident with paint. This is a picture book where words and pictures come together to create the story a child experiences.
I think young children will respond to this book immediately, with affection and the intimacy that comes from relating to, and living in, a story.

A beautiful book for toddlers and up.