Friday, 27 November 2015

The Decorating Disaster

The Decorating Disaster by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB $14.95 ISBN 978176006 7229

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Part of a series called Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds, this is a beautifully presented and designed – and very reasonably priced – picture book for young readers. The series is centred on two delightful but different friends, the highly spirited, opinionated girl Bree and the slow, plodding Pickles the bear. In this book, Pickle and Bree, who live together, decide to redecorate their house.

As with any home-restorations, there are disagreements. One wants wallpaper, the other paint. However, when the two decide to work separate, more problems arise. Pickle is daunted by sticky wallpaper which results in him becoming wrapped in it! Bree, whose paint is a pea-green, gets stuck on top of a ladder – and calls for her friend. However, a compromise is soon reached and the friends even clean up together when the jobs are done.

This is a book which extols the virtues of teamwork. It cleverly and subtly shows how listening to the other person’s point of view and working together to brain-storm can result in shared ideas that lead to success. It invites readers to accept that sometimes others have different ways of doing things, that there is no one way of get something done. Overall, the discovery to be made is that friends can be friends even when they are totally different.

Aimed at children aged 5 to 8 years, this well-written picture book with lively and appealing illustrations, has more text than most so it would be ideal for an adult to read and discuss the story. To sum up: Reynolds and Butterley’s book is entertaining, educational and uplifting. It’s also highly recommended.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Birthday Party Cake

The Birthday Party Cake by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB $14.95 ISBN 9781760067236

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Pickle is a big brown bear, Bree is a tiny girl and both are best friends who live in a double-storeyed house (Pickle in a ‘cave’ under the stairs). Like all friends, they sometimes have misunderstandings and disagreements which is the basis of this book for readers 5 to 8 years which is one in a series.

In this book, Bree is happy and ready for fun, but Pickle is grouchy. When Bree finds the big bear making a honey cake for his friend Jason’s birthday, she realises that there’s no invitation for her to the party but Pickle reassures her she’s welcome. Bree makes a three-layer chocolate cake while Pickle’s honey cake is lopsided. At the party, Pickles and the birthday boy play Bear Bump and are not really interested in Eyespy, but they give in. When Bree’s chocolate cake is not what Jason wants, Bree (who has been practicing) triple-somersaults into the cake and then pours honey all over it. Later, Bree is scorer for Bear Bump, and she teaches Pickle how to somersault.

The relationships in this book are basically about people making compromises. Sub-titled Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds, the story reminds young readers that although people (and bears) are different, it is possible, by working hard, to find solutions when there is some kind of incompatibility. At the back of The Birthday Party Cake the author has included a list of ways in which children can settle differences with others – such as accepting others’ points of view and listening to what they have to say.

This is a lovely book with a bright and breezy text that gets its message across without seeming in the slightest didactic. The full-page illustrations with colourful backgrounds and delightful pictures set indoors -- sometimes featuring small break-out pictures (such as Bree somersaulting and the bears tummy-bumping) -- are joyful and full of fun. All in all, this is a delightful book for parents to share with their young children.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Making Mindful Magic

Making Mindful Magic written and illustrated by Lea McKnoulty 
PB RRP $14.95 

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book is quite different from the norm insofar as it doesn’t tell a story and it has no characters, except for the reader. Through its calm text and muted coloured illustrations, its creator invites the reader – young or old – to develop the habit of mindfulness. In the back of the book she describes mindfulness as a practice which makes one more grounded; and, too, it brings inner calm and clarity of thought which leads practitioners to live authentically and happily. All of which sounds like a very sensible recipe that could possibly lead to not only personal peace, but community and even national and international peace!

The mindful experiences include sitting quietly or meditating -- living in, and appreciating the moment. Alternatively, one is encouraged to ‘take as long as you can’, great advice for anyone trying to multi-task and consequently getting stressed. The focus here for the reader is to concentrate on one activity at a time, until it is finished.

In gentle, simple free verse, each page narrates a way of being mindful, whether it is following a bird, walking barefoot on grass, taking the time to enjoy the mightiness of the heavens (finding stars) or watching waves. Exploring one’s creativity – ‘paint’ – helps heal the mind, not worrying about the product but becoming ‘lost’ with paint, brush and paper.

Here is what McKnoulty writes on the page titled ‘go walking in nature’:
‘A track leading somewhere/ The somewhere doesn’t matter/   on-the-way discoveries matter…’                                                                                                                                         
Each double-page spread featuring one mindfulness activity is accompanied by a subdued pastel illustration. The quality of the pictures varies but some are very appealing, such as a child’s bare feet on grass with a cloudy sky background, and a lone bird in a tree. It seems the book’s creator follows her own advice of creating for the experience, not for the product.

Making Mindful Magic is a book which can’t be rushed. It sets out to, and succeeds, in making the reader take her time. One can open at any page and follow that activity or move on to another activity. Or a parent might like to check out the back pages where suggestions are given in prose on how to apply the practices to one’s child.

This charming book is recommended for anyone, child or adult, who wants to remedy a life that is too busy and stressful

The book is available from selected bookstores and Lea McKnoulty’s website

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is the third in the series set in an Australian wilderness forest that focuses on the adventures of Daisy, a finger-sized fairy who has recently earned her wings. In another gentle and charming story, the reader learns how Daisy helps her musically talented older sister, Maggie, get ready for a concert. Maggie is to go into a Songbird Duet with the magpie Melody, so Daisy, trying to surprise her, decides to embellish a beautiful black dress made by Aunt Acacia with corella feathers. Unfortunately, this proves to be a disaster – but aunt steps happily steps in to remedy the problem.

Just before a performance, Daisy’s friend Pea – a recurring fairy character in the series – introduces her to musicians including Boronia, Grebe, Lark and Ash who are all to perform as well. As events progress, Daisy is forced to use her wand to smooth events which threaten to spoil the rehearsal. Then, when Grevillia -- Boronia’s overzealous mother -- threatens to sabotage Maggie's duet with Melody the Magpie, Daisy has the chance to save the day and redeem herself.

Once again, the Australian bush setting brings a unique aspect to the story and the characters are real and lovable, and unlike many book series for children – they are memorable. For a reader aged 6 to 9 years, especially a girl, this book is a page-turner with lots of action and adventure. 

The whimsical ink sketches by one of Australia’s leading illustrators capture the delightful tone of the book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

In Daisy’s Quest, the first exciting, event-filled book in this series of chapter books for readers 7 to 9 years, Daisy gained her feathery new wings. Daisy finally feels like a true fairy but she will need all the strength, bravery, resourcefulness and persistence she showed in that quest in order to learn how to fly.  First, though, Daisy needs bigger dresses in order to accommodate her wings, so Mum’s sister, Aunt Acacia, a seamstress, gets to work. First she takes her niece into the forest to point out potential dangers for a flying fairy – webs, thorny bushes, snakes and currawongs. 

Then Daisy – with the help of her best friend, the beetle Vu, needs to build up her shoulder muscles, which requires lots of exercise practice.
Like other young children learning a new skill, Daisy needs to learn patience and how to deal with disappointment and frustration. Her first attempt to fly, encouraged by her fairy friend Pea, results in a fall from a tree branch. Luckily, Dad, who is a healer, is able to help Daisy to recover. Kerry Millard, the illustrator, who faithfully captures the spirit of the Wilderness Fairy’s stories, has beautifully captured, in simple lines and wash, many tender moments in the books, including one of a tearful Daisy being consoled – and encouraged – by her aunt after this first failure.

Learning ways of moving – from hovering to gentle fluttering to powerful flapping – Daisy gains concentration and focus. Her first solo flight is wild and unpredictable but ultimately successful. The next book in this wonderful series will surely be about Daisy’s attempt to find her ‘Calling’.

In this – and the previous book – the author Jodie Wells-Slowgrove – has created a whole new world which is fantastical and yet utterly believable. She has captured the atmosphere of forests which are so familiar to Australians. Even within Daisy’s life her close-knitted family seems real as they gather together to dine on lilli pilli cake, roasted seeds, native cherries and wattle seed damper. 

The books give readers insight into the lives of native animals and their habitat. At the end of this book there are notes purportedly from Daisy about how to make bush music, about Sydney Green Wattle and Nelli, a ladybird which are featured in the story.

This series is sure to find a strong following with children who appreciate page-turning adventures and characters which one can care about.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Quest

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Quest by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As a child aged 7 to 9 years I would have read this book and taken it to bed with me every night. And, too, my imagination fired, I would have gone into the bush time and again looking for the Fairy Wilderness in hopes of catching sight of Daisy.

Daisy at the start of this book series, of special appeal to girls, is a wingless fairy waiting for the Fairy Queen to grant her wings. Her older sister Maggie has wings and a Calling (she is musically gifted); Mum’s Calling is horticulture and Dad’s is healing. Armed with her magical wand and travelling shoes, Daisy now goes with her special friend, the beetle Vu, on the quest for her wings. She has numerous encounters along the way, first with a Monarch butterfly that leaves her a Telling Tube which is opened by a Painted Lady butterfly following advice given to her by Pea, an awkward winged fairy.

Next, Daisy faces danger when she is trapped under water by waterlily pads, but once again she is helped by nature in the form of a water nymph. The persistent and brave Daisy goes on, but in her final struggle to succeed, she uses kindness which in effect results in spoiling her whole mission. Eventually the hapless fairy child meets Queen Jasmine. But although she failed the task, does Daisy still get rewarded for her courage, persistence and kindness?

This is book full of exciting, fast-paced adventure with frequent cliff-hangers. It is also full of magic and secrets, peopled by characters who are genuine, three-dimensional fairies that one cares about. Daisy faces disappointment and frustration, but she remains full of hope and joy. At the front of the book is something many children love – a map showing places where action happens and where people in the story live. During her quest the reader can consult the map as she ventures with Daisy into the Australian wilderness which is full of familiar – and not so familiar – flora and fauna. 

The end of the book offers interesting notes for the reader – in this case how Daisy gets her name (from the Golden Everlasting or Paper Daisy), also how to make Lemon Myrtle Cordial (featured in the story), and about the endangered beetle for which Vu is named.

It is so good to see a book about fairies that young readers can engage with and who are Australian to boot. Most readers of this first book in the series will be hanging out for the next – will Daisy successfully learn how to fly? Highly recommended.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party  by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 17.99
ISBN 9780763665111

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Princess Magnolia is anticipating the perfect Princess party. She’s put a lot of work into this perfect day and as she waits for the guests to arrive, her glitter-stone ring warns her of a monster attack. Princess Magnolia has an alter ego that surfaces when she gets into the broom closet and slides down the chute as the Princess in Black!

Even her trusty steed has a secret life. His metamorphosis takes place in the hollow of a tree that leads to a secret passage. He enters as Frimplepants and exits as Blacky.

Twelve Princesses are on their way to her party. In fact, they are at the gates. With her magic sceptre she fights the goat-eating monsters, and quickly jumps on Blacky and flies back to the party.

But each time they start to open the presents, Princess Magnolia’s ring goes off and off she goes giving some excuse for her sudden departure.

Will the smart and observant Princess Sneezewort catch her out? With all her monster battles raging, will her perfect Princess party have a happy ending?

Pink and frothy, funny and entertaining, these girlie thirteen chapters are ideal for 6+ readers. It can be read all at once, or picked up and put down. The illustrations are gorgeous and so is the bewitching Princess Magnolia. It is beautifully produced with a jacket cover and ideal for a special gift.