Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Scary Night

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504631
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Once upon a scary night,
three friends set out on a journey.
Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel.

But where were they going in the dead of the night,
tip-toe creeping in the pale moonlight?
It was a mystery!

This cute story tells the tale of three friends, Hare, Cat and Pig journeying out one scary night. They encounter snapping crocodiles and roaring grizzly bears on their way. 

Were they scared?
Did they shake?
Did they hide? You bet they did.

Did they give up?
Of course they didn’t!

This book not only has charming rhyme and repetition, it gently tells children that it is okay at times to be scared. To shake and even scream (love the double page spread when all three ‘let it rip’).  As long as you don’t give up. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Lucas and Jack

Lucas and Jack by Ellie Royce, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504662
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Every week Lucas’s mum visits Great Grandpop at the nursing home.
And every week Lucas waits for her outside.
Waiting is boring! Until Lucas meets Jack.

Jack cheats when playing Snap, he’s tricky but he’s also fun. It’s also Jack that introduces Lucas to a new way of thinking with his game ‘what do you see?’

With simple text this book shows children that old people were once like them. Having similar interests and pets, even similar favourite foods.

It is a great way to encourage children to be interested in the people around them. To ask the question ‘what did you do before you were old?’

Combined with McLean’s warm and inviting illustrations, this book gives children the chance to understand that every elderly person has a story to tell.
All they have to do is ask.

I watch Pop play cards. I see an old, old man. But I wonder.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Tottie and Dot Blog Blast!

Jim’s Lion

Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books)
HC RRP 19.95
ISBN 9781406346022
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jim’s Lion was first published in 2001 by Walker Books. That edition was illustrated by Ian Andrew. In this new edition, Alexis Deacon has created a stunning interpretation of the late Russell Hoban’s work. Its themes include strength and courage, overcoming fear and weakness, and the power of dreams.

Jim is sick and afraid. His dreams are filled with places he goes to in his sleep. He fears that when the doctors put him to sleep, he will lose those places and dreams.

He needs to find the inner strength to overcome whatever is hindering his recovery. His nurse suggests he look for his animal finder; the animal that can bring him back from wherever he will go when the doctors put him to sleep. She also gives him a don’t-run stone. Now it’s up to Jim.

These are the tools Jim needs for an optimistic state of mind. He discovers his finder is a lion. He must be like the lion; fearless, powerful and strong to fight his fears and overcome his sickness. His lion is always there to save and protect him from the threats, dangers and the darkness he has to travel through. Jim is sheltered and protected until he becomes the lion.

Powerful and full of symbolism, Jim’s Lion is an extraordinary work of art in every sense, and a collector’s delight. Hoban was called a genius. This book once again reinforces that truth.

Sunday, 31 August 2014


Caminar by Skila Brown (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763665166
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning verse novel is Skila Brown’s conduit for the real life events of the era beginning in 1954 when the first democratically elected government of Guatemala was overthrown. The Guatemalan Civil War raged between 1960 and 1996. It left more than 200,000 people killed or never heard of again. This book is dedicated to their memory.

The setting begins in Chopan, Guatemala, 1981. When the soldiers arrive, they encourage the hungry villagers to betray the ‘communists’ for money. The word communist is unknown there. But they reinforced their message in their language, by hanging a man with the word communist a necklace around his neck.

Carlos is a boy forced to become a man to survive because work made a boy ‘step away from child, and step into Man.’ Later the villages are razed to the ground and people are slaughtered like sheep.  On the day his cousin is born, Carlos’ mother sends him into the jungle to pick mushrooms. ‘I could not see the village. And it could not see me.’ He follows his mother’s orders to set out for the mountains if the soldiers come and ‘in the woods, eyes closed, ears open’ he listens to the slaughter and death behind him as he hides in trees like a monkey. We accompany his travels and fears, his growth and his mourning.

This verse novel is poetic and powerful, heartbreaking and mournful, but stops a breath away from being desolate. The author has used the power of the elements, emotive language and metaphor to portray all that we see, hear and almost smell. The plants, streams and forests must surely be as familiar to her as breathing for they appeared as strong visual scenes before me throughout the book. This is a feast of language of the highest quality; a work of incredible depth.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Goldilocks on CCTV

Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781847804990
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Award winning playwright, poet and children’s author (a few of his many talents), John Agard is an overall performer of the written word; a master of language. This is reflected in his new edition of poetry which follows his wicked The Young Inferno, which updates to modern, Dante’s magnificent work.

In Goldilocks on CCTV, Agard transmogrifies in a surprising and eloquent way, familiar childhood fairytales into rap, or hip hop rhythm, with a new slant on each tale. He begins by stripping away the original framework of the tale, to build a new one with the same basic equipment for modern verse lovers. Imaginative mixes, wordplay, role reversal, imitation, and re-evaluation of all you read in your childhood takes place here.

Totally magical and creative, he brings the past into the now and assuredly will draw further on the new audiences that are drawn to this modern style. This out-there verse is perfect for performance when captured or spoken in the correct rhyme and rhythm.

The fantastic, bizarre and inventive art/illustrations in black and white by Satoshi Kitamura, are shadows to the clever lyrics/text.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Alexander Altmann A10567

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 18.95
ISBN 9781922179999
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Alexander Altmann at fourteen years old loses his name and becomes a number at Birkenau. Separated from his mother and sister by the wire fence, he pretends to be sixteen and is put into the men’s section to work.

Shattered at learning his young sister has gone to the gas chambers, and not knowing what became of his parents, he clings to ‘just get through the day’ as a lifeline. He watches as other boys get shot or kicked to death and he is determined not to be next.

When Alex is moved to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, his farm life and experience with horses, places him in the Horse Platoon to care for the animals. The decision to keep to himself and feel nothing for no one is fuelled by the smoke, smell and sight of death that constantly surrounds him. Even the friendship offered to him by the persuasive Isidor, another young horse-handler, is totally rejected.

It takes a new horse, a wild, frightened being, very much like himself, ‘to teach him how to be human’ again. As the Russian troops draw nearer and freedom is in sight, Alexander Altmann reclaims his name, along with many other things that were taken from him.

This deeply moving novel is based on the real life story of a Holocaust survivor. Suzy Zail has built powerful, heartbreaking images of the brutal life in concentration camps. The hunger, inhumanity and deprivation are presented in strong visual narrative. Suzy’s previous novel, The Wrong Boy, set in the same era, was short-listed for the 2013, CBCA Book of the Year Award.