Friday, 20 September 2019

Goodnight, Little Tough Guy

Goodnight, Little Tough Guy  written by Michael Wagner, illustrated by Tom Jellett. (ABC Books, 2019). HB 32 pp RRP $24.99 ISBN: 9780733339356

Reviewed by Julie Anne Thorndyke

This unique bedtime picture book has a lively, fun text by Michael Wagner, making extensive use of alliteration without being twee. All the tired little tough guys are finished saving the world and ready for sleep. Has a spell been cast over the entire hero kingdom, just as in the time-honoured tale of  Sleeping Beauty? (I wish! say parents everywhere.)
                             “The firefighters are fitting in forty fabulous winks.”
 “Cowboys and cowgirls are completely cactus.”
 These fun statements using wordplay, puns and lavish language sounds are sustained throughout the book. In a sense, the story is one extended “dad joke”. Bathing, cleaning their teeth, falling asleep over their food, our little tough guys
(and gals) are seen doing all the normal bedtime routines young children perform daily. Many of the characters have already shut their eyes, and the others are yawning.

The matt-finish of Tom Jellett’s engaging artwork—line drawings with flat colours, muted midnight-blue backgrounds, teal, black, yellow-orange areas and fluro accents—resemble early TV cartoons. The end papers are reminiscent of vintage 1950s wallpaper from a boy’s bedroom.  The square, sturdy hardback binding will withstand repeated use by your own little superhero.

This book has a masculine feel, full of trucks, rockets, planes, cricket bats,   tools and footballs, and as such seems to target boys— but there are also many suggestions in the text and illustrations that make the book gender neutral. Parents will appreciate the “falling asleep” scenarios depicted in the pictures. Although “heroes” are referenced visually there is no direct reference to the standard copyrighted superhero characters of popular culture, and the costumes worn by the children are generic. This will increase the longevity of the book.

A fun read-aloud story for little boys (and superhero wonder women) from the creators of Why I Love Footy.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Girl in the Mirror

The Girl in the Mirror by Jenny Blackford, illustrated by Fiona McDonald (Eagle Books) October 2019, PB, RRP $17.99, 153 pp, ISBN 9780648194521

Reviewed by Karen Henriks

Maddy moves to a creepy new house and starts at new school. Newcomers are not welcome and Maddy is given a hard time, so school becomes the last place that she wants to be. Her new home is old and full of secrets from the past. It has a coldness and unexplained presence that creates darkness. Maddy’s bedroom becomes her refuge but there is no real peace even there. In the old mirror in her bedroom Maddy finds her first real friend, Clarissa. There is only one problem: they are 100 years apart in time.

Clarissa lives in the very same house as Maddy. She is the girl in the mirror in Maddy’s bedroom and is from the 1890’s. Clarissa’s younger brother Bertie, who died from whooping cough, haunts the stairs in the house in each time space. The friendship helps both girls deal with frightening situations in the their respective homes. The sinister character in the story is Clarissa’s Aunt Lily who is also a frightening presence in Maddy’s world.

There is a mystery to be solved and lives to be saved and an evil force to be overcome. This time-shifting tale hooks the reader into the mystery with its clever storytelling. The reader wants to join the girls in their quest to remove the evil that lurks in the shadows of both their lives. Maddy tackles the girls at school and makes friends with Gareth but worries time is running out to save her baby brother Cory who has become ill since moving into the house. The only person she can turn to is Clarissa.

Meanwhile, Clarissa’s mother’s health is in serious decline and widowed Aunt Lily seems to control everything and everyone in the house. Her strengthening tonic made from plants in the garden seems to not be working. The two girls must use all their intelligence and work together. But will they succeed? 

This is a gripping middle grade novel that is an original and captivating read.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Hey Grandude!

Hey Grandude! by Paul McCartney, illustrated by Kathryn Durst (Puffin) HB (jacketed), PR $24.99 ISBN 978024137565

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Grandfather of eight children, Paul McCartney is known internationally for his role in the Beatles and for his musical career. Like numerous celebrities these days he’s had a go at writing a picture book text, this one for parents, grandparents and their 'little explorers'. McCartney has also narrated the Hey Grandude! audio-books himself, along with composing some original music for the soundtrack.

The title of this picture book came from one of McCartney’s grandchildren who calls him Grandude. The story is about a character with the same name whose four grandchildren (whom he calls ‘Chillers’) go on adventures with him when he uses a magical compass to find the way. 

On a rainy day Grandude takes the children to a ‘golden beach with little waves tickling their feet.’ There they ride on the back of flying fish. However, when lots of crabs scurry out of the sea heading straight towards them, Grandude uses his compass to whisk them to ‘a desert valley with spiky green cactuses.’ They ride on horses but when there’s a stampede of buffalo, out comes the compass. After another adventure (in the alps), the compass takes the children home to bed ‘dreaming of their next adventure.’

This is a simply told story illustrated with bright, attractive cartoon pictures which is sure to be enjoyed by children aged five years and up.

Monday, 16 September 2019

White Bird

White Bird by R.J. Palacio, (Penguin Random House), 2019. Hard cover. 220pp. RRP $39.99

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Here is another venture into the world of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. This time it’s a young adult graphic novel for which she’s created both text and illustrations. The sparse, unfussy drawings are an excellent medium to tell a powerful tale.  

White Bird continues the story of Julian, the classroom bully from Wonder, whose backstory was fleshed out in Auggie and Me. It begins when Julien makes a FaceTime call to his grandmother Sara and asks her to tell him more about her experience as a Jewish child in France during the Second World War.

Through her eyes we see how the Nazis gradually changed life for the French, many of whom chose to look the other way and ignore what was happening. Young Sara herself is guilty of this to some extent because she stands by while the crippled boy in her class – the original Julien – is bullied. When the Jews in the village are rounded up, Julien’s family bravely hide Sara in their barn. Sara and Julien fall in love but sadly Julien becomes a casualty of the war.  

‘Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it,’ says Vivienne, Julien’s mother. Sara realises she can and should act differently in future. And so does present-day Julien. By the end of her story, Sara has transformed her grandson from a bully into an ally. The final pages are a call to readers to resist contemporary prejudice and xenophobia.

White Bird is highly recommended as an easily accessible, deeply moving, retelling of a shocking historical time. There is an afterword, author's note, in-depth glossary with photos, a suggested reading list and a list of organizations and resources – all of which will be valuable resources for students and readers of any age. 
The white bird itself, which appears as a motif throughout the book, variously signifies hope, kindness and freedom. 

Saturday, 14 September 2019

I Love my Dad Because

I Love My Dad Because written by Petra James, illustrated by Alissa Dinallo (Pan Macmillan) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760784393 2019

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

This is an interactive picture book that a child can personalize with their dad. Once completed it would make a delightful keepsake and would make a perfect gift on Father’s Day as it can be completed together with a child to celebrate their dad: making a treasure together is bonding and caring.

Alissa Dinallo use of colour and hand drawn pages, encourages togetherness and sharing as the bright illustrations bounce off the pages. The activities encourage learning and cognitive skills as children fill out the pages with their dad and it helps a child voice love and togetherness. What I particularly like is that the book supports and applauds the unique role that dads play in a child’s life.

Petra James has created some heart-warming activities that include drawing, colouring, counting, playing noughts and crosses and making a fish.  This book can be given to a dad on any special occasion: birthday, Xmas, Father’s Day… or any. There is also I Love My Mum Because to celebrate all things mum.

We all know dads know everything and this book celebrates the king of the castle.