Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Perfectionists

The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0434-4
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

This is one of those non-put-downable books. It is well written, the main characters are likeable, and the pacing is fast, but I have a problem.

Sara Shepard is the author of many popular books including the Pretty Little Liars series, which I confess to not having read but have heard quite a lot about. Pretty Little Liars has sixteen – yes, sixteen -- books in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I like a series, I don’t mind a little breathing space between books. I like to let the characters have a rest too, especially after a fast-paced book like this one.

But here is my problem. The Perfectionists has a lot of characters, starting with five girls plotting revenge against the school’s most popular boy slash bully; each of those girls has her own group of secondary characters, some of which are crucial to the plot. That is a lot of characters to make mental notes about.

I was enjoying this book immensely; not only are these girls managing to get themselves into all kinds of trouble - most of the time not of their own doing - but there has been a murder. Towards the latter half I found it hard to put the book down. I read faster and faster, needing to know who the bad guy/girl is and if the girls were going to be safe.

Then it ended.

Just like that.

I have no idea if these girls whom I had become so fond of were safe.

Looks as though I will have to wait for book number two; I hope it comes out fast.

The book, if read in a classroom situation, would raise healthy discussion. The serious matters of sex, drugs, bullying, suicide and revenge are raised in this story. The characters are fully formed and each has their own story to tell.

The story obviously gives room for sequels and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read.

 Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …’ learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools, a picture book The Bear Said Please, and one local history coffee table book.


The Rabbit and the Shadow

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten, translated by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island)
HB RRP $32.95
ISBN 9780994109804
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

From the outset, this picture book tells you it is a story of a rabbit, a stag, a soldier, a cat, a book and a shadow. When the story proceeds, the book is broken into sections with headings, such as the Rabbit and the Stag, the Soldier, the Cat, and so on, each section being like a short story within a larger story.

I found this a difficult book to get my head around so it is definitely not for small children except as a work of (illustrative) art. The story is written in simple sentences that are sometimes quite poignant, such as ‘One day, the Rabbit appeared. There was a slight wind. And a shadow perhaps. Little ones sometimes appear like that. Like the wind. Or sometimes like a storm.’

A Rabbit is befriended by a Stag. A Soldier also befriends Rabbit; these two then meet up with Cat. Next, Book is attacked by Soldier, after which meets Stag. At this point there is a flashback with Rabbit and Stag discussing the nature of their love and the fact that nothing is forever. There is much more, but to be frank, although I loved the simplicity of the writing, I really didn’t fully understand what the story is about. Perhaps, I decided, because Rabbit appears to be the central character, it is about it learning life’s lessons. And perhaps the moral of the story is contained in a sentence on the final page: ‘This is the story of a Stag who doesn’t feel anxious anymore and a Rabbit who has grown up.’

The illustrations – and there are many of them, usually contained within a vignette, although there are full-page illustrations -- appear to be watercolour. They display a distinctive artistic style with ample use of golden yellow and bush green. The cover, showing Stag embracing Rabbit, is quite lovely.

 Trying to make sense of the story, I came to the conclusion that author Rutten uses all of the characters symbolically – the Rabbit as child, the Stag as parent, the Soldier and Shadow as life threats, the Book as one’s search for meaning, the egg as life to come, the Cat... not sure what it represents. It would be interesting to discuss this book and what it’s about with someone else who has read it, too. All I can do is to recommend it to you if you like a book which is out of the box, very different from a mainstream picture book.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Being Jack

Being Jack written by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox (Harper Collins)
PBK RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780732296148
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

We first met Jack five years ago in I Am Jack, when, as an eight year old, Jack experienced bullying. In the years (and books) that have followed, Jack has endured his father leaving, dealt with the bullying at school, acquired a stepfather when his mum remarries and works out a relationship with stepbrother Leo.

Now in Year 6, family and school life appears to have settled, with Jack enjoying his photography and sharing a love of surfing with Rob his stepfather. The bullying issue however, again raises its ugly head, this time directed at Jack’s friend Christopher and Jack is forced to relive his experience and find a solution to help his friend.

When Jack and Christopher witness dirty play in a football scrum at school, they know that something must be done about the bullies once and for all. Bullying and unfair play are not Jack’s only concern though, as he is soon to turn thirteen and questions about why his father left and his lack of contact begin to niggle. How will he find a father who may not wish to be found? If he finds him, what effect will this have on his mum?

Susanne Gervay again has written a story that is heartfelt and honest. We feel Jack’s fear, his doubt and worries. The perfect ending to the series, we are left confident that Jack is resilient and confident to take on the challenges of adolescence. Suitable for children aged 9+ years.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Big Question by Leen van Den & Kaatje Vermiere, translated by David Colmer (Book Island)
HB RRP $28.00
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The illustrations in this picture book are fantastical, like being inside a beautiful dream crowded with animals, people and landscape. You want the dream to go on and on! Some of the pages seem to be created from paper collage, others have painted images; there are wax rubbings and inked drawings – so much to look at and take in. The cover shows a harlequin leaning on top of an elephant’s head, surrounded by all manner of creatures from a French poodle to a pink pig on an armchair to a monkey holding a small windmill. The entire story appears to happen on the landscape of the elephant’s hide.

At the start of the story, elephant has something on her mind, a difficult question, a big question. At the annual meeting (chaired by an anxious ant) all of the creatures gather to find the answer. The question really is a biggie: How do you know you love someone? The mouse declares its love for the elephant, Snow White talks about what loves does to a person. And so it goes on, each creature endeavouring to give his or her answer. Meanwhile, there are gorgeous illustrations – two otters kissing, flamingos beak-to-beak, gibbons reaching out lovingly for one another, and so on.

 This sumptuous book was made possible with financial support of the Flemish Literature Fund; it was first written in Dutch and translated into English, then published in New Zealand. It’s not really a book for young children; its appeal is more to those with a romantic soul. My only quibble with the portrait-shaped book is that it is over-sized; librarians and others will find it difficult to fit onto shelves. Despite this, it is certainly recommended!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Infinity Ring book 6: Behind Enemy Lines

Infinity Ring book 6: Behind Enemy Lines by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-54538701-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dak, Sera and Riq are this time transported to Scotland 1943, right in the middle of World War II. They will need to get close to the enemy, the Nazi Party and Hitler, to convince them that (false) papers recovered from a dead British airman are credible. If this allied plot fails, Hitler, and the SQ will win the war, again.   
But Hitler is not the only evil these time travellers are up against. Tilda reappears and she has her heart, and future, set on destroying the trio. Their Square breaks, Dak has his first remnants (an unsettling and often physically painful feeling that something is missing), and for the first time, all three children must run solo missions. They are split, in three different countries, with no guarantee of re-uniting.

Behind Enemy Lines is the sixth book in a time travelling, multi-platformed adventure series, Infinity Ring. Each book is written by a different author and continues the adventure undertaken by three children in an effort to save the world. There is a top secret clue, hidden inside the cover of the book, which may be opened at the conclusion of the story. This clue gives access to a new adventure awaiting the reader on
This fast paced, time travelling adventure series is a good one for eight to fourteen year olds.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs [with CD] by Peter Combe, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-064-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The four songs in this picture book are catchy, fun and wildly silly. They are also about things preschool children are often fascinated with and will relate to well - the postman, sheep, traffic lights and the transformation of tadpoles to frogs. The silly humour will hold great appeal for pre-schoolers.
In Juicy Juicy Green Grass, a hungry sheep fantasises about eating fresh green grass, Summer’s been so dry, turned you into brown. Will you come back? Juicy juicy green grass.
In The Silly Postman, the postman starts off by putting a letter in the letterbox on Monday, but on Tuesday he puts in a frog, and then each day after that he puts something just as inappropriate in the letterbox.
Tadpole Blues tells the tale of a tadpole’s confusion as he starts to grow legs, and Red Says Stop is a catchy tune about traffic light colours and what they mean.
The bold illustrations by Danielle McDonald make every page pop. They are bright with prominent coloured backgrounds. They are uncomplicated with wonderful characterisations, from the hungry sheep with his tongue hanging out to the confused tadpole/frog.
The accompanying CD is performed by the author, Peter Combe, whose timeless songs have been entertaining children for two decades. These are silly ditties about common things and will have everyone singing along instantly.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Follow the Firefly

Follow the Firefly by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)
PB RRP $18.00
ISBN 9780994109828
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Cute and engaging: these are the two words that came to mind as I turned pages from the front to back of this wordless picture book. The story, Follow the Firefly, starts with a question, ‘Excuse me, have you seen a flashing light?’ and moves onto a scene of a campfire around which sits a variety of animals. On the right-hand side page is what looks like an electric bulb with a golden end. This is the firefly which moves through the book, from different parts of a forest wherein there are different animals (such as gorillas), and on to a town with busy streets. In the final picture, the firefly has discovered – and fallen in love with – an amber traffic light.

But that’s not all, folks! There’s yet another book! Turn the pages from back to front and you follow a rabbit in Run, Rabbit, Run! Doubtless a small child would have noticed what I missed: in every one of the firefly story’s pages, there is a white rabbit. His story can be ‘read’ as well. He leaves the town and returns – pursued by a dog -- to the campfire by the end of his story.

I really liked this book! It’s so much fun and it’s sure to be ‘read’ and ‘re-read’ countless times by children aged 2 to 6 years. The artwork is unique and distinctive with Carvalho using full-page vibrant watercolour washes and paintings. There is a real naivety to his animals and especially to his people that put a smile on my face. The pictures of the town are chaotic, compared to those of the various landscapes, which include forest, jungle and wetlands.

Book Island is a New Zealand publishing house which describes its company as ‘home to stunning picture books in translation.’ It is wonderful to see books which are so different! Highly recommended.