Thursday, 3 September 2015

Finding Monkey Moon

Finding Monkey Moon by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9781921720734

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The stunning illustrations in this gorgeous picture book are created with acrylic paint. The dark and muted colours add mystery to the story, and deepen the sense of urgency that the text creates as soon as the story begins. The mood is one of sadness and gloom, because Monkey Moon, Michael’s favourite toy, cannot be found.

It is bedtime and Michael calls to Monkey Moon that it’s time to go upstairs. But he isn’t in any of his favourite places. Dad and Michael search everywhere and come to the conclusion that he must be still at the park.

Both boys put on their hats, coats and gumboots. Torch in hand, they head out into the dark night. Michael calls a reassurance to Monkey Moon that he’s coming, so he won’t be frightened. You can feel the fear in the boy as he calls to dad ‘wait for me’. It’s juxtaposed with the fear he feels for his friend.

I can feel their breath in the cold air; feel their anxiety.

They enter the park. An owl’s hoot echoes. “It won’t be long now, Monkey Moon’ Michael shouts, more to himself. There are shadows everywhere.  Dad puts Michael on his shoulders. ‘There you go, young fella’.

The swings are silent. The ducks are sleeping. Past the pop corn truck, into the picnic ground they go. Michael calls to Monkey Moon. He checks under dry leaves. Tiny animals scurry from their resting places. The boys check behind tall trees, in the playhouse, around the sunken garden. Michael calls and calls, but darkness is his only answer.

‘Michael’s lips tremble’. He turns to go. What was that in the bushes sparkling?

This is a beautifully moving, and poignant story of loss and recovery. There are two human characters and Monkey Moon, the lost doll to carry the story. But endless other things are occurring around them. Their journey is one of discovery - of the natural world and all it holds at night, and that of the lost object. Then there’s what the reader discovers in it all.

This picture book will be read again and again, for there’s so much in it. The main theme is the loving relationship between father and son. Perhaps equally as important, is the relationship between the boy and his beloved playmate. It appears that both father and son have lost something more. This is not referred to, but they feel the pain of loss strongly. It shows in the desperate and urgent search for Monkey Moon. It’s what is left unsaid that makes it so poignant and deeply moving.

This book is a joy from beginning to end, and ideal for 5 -105 age groups.



Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Two Tengu Tales from Japan

Two Tengu Tales from Japan retold by Duncan Ball, illustrated by David
Allan  (Christmas Press)  HB RRP  $19.99 ISBN 9780992283865                                                                                                                                                                                    Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Thank goodness for Christmas Press which works hard to introduce young Australian readers to legends, myths and folklore from other countries! Here is its latest offering, a lively retelling by a well-known children’s author of stories about tengu, magical beings from Japan who grant wishes to those who ask them. However, tengu are tricksters…

In the first story, ‘Kenji’s Magic Sandals’, a small boy cares for his sick, bed-bound mother. When the money runs out, Mum tells Kenji to go to Uncle Gozo to ask for medicine; she will repay him when spring comes and Kenji and his mother can sell their crops. However, after Gozo refuses, Kenji is visited by a tengu who gives him gold – but with a condition attached. Happily, it is a condition that exacts revenge – against the selfish uncle!

In the second story, ‘The Invisible Cloak’, we are introduced to Hikoichi, a sneaky and lazy fellow who meets with a tengu who has the ability to make himself invisible. Hikoichi tricks the magical being – but meets with mischief himself after he commits crimes against others. A humorous – and embarrassing -- ending to a man who deserves it!

This is a gorgeously presented book, well-designed with illustrations in the Japanese tradition which are so attractive they make you want to pour over them. In keeping with other Christmas Press folklore titles (go to http://christmaspresspicturebooks.com) the cover is presented like a series of woodblock shapes with illustrations from inside the book. These beautifully rendered illustrations are contained within blocks with fine line and wash realistic pictures. Occasionally, such as when the tengu appears – an ordinary, bearded man wearing wings and sandals – a double spread is employed. Even the fly pages in this wonderful book are interesting, with black, white and grey Japanese masks.

This is a book which will be enjoyed by all ages. Duncan Ball, David Allan and the production team at Christmas Press have done a splendid job!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Too Busy Sleeping

Too busy sleeping written by Zanni Louise, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781742979625

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Eleanor has a new baby brother, Reuben. She is eager to play with him, however is told, ‘The baby is too busy sleeping’. Patient at first, Eleanor waits and waits for Reuben to wake, passing the time playing with her grandparents and with her toys. Eleanor’s frustration grows as it dawns on her that little Reuben doesn’t do much aside from eat and sleep. Her fluctuating emotions are wonderfully depicted in a spread where she sits, flushed and cross-armed in an empty bathtub, and realises Reuben might not be the playmate she was hoping for.

There is a whimsical, old-fashioned quality evident in Pignataro’s illustrations – not only in their style but through the types of play depicted. Eleanor builds with blocks, makes a sandcastle in the backyard, holds picnic-style tea parties and has a tyre swing. There are floral and gingham patterns used throughout, including the endpapers, which add to the timeless feel.

The tale takes a heart-warming turn as Reuben remains awake just as Eleanor asks her Mum for some one-on-one story time. Rather than complain, she takes the opportunity to finally play with Reuben. The last charming page reveals that Reuben’s not the only sleepy one.

Two to five year olds will find much to love in debut author Zanni Louise’s sweet story of adjusting to a new baby, containing themes of change and acceptance.


Monday, 31 August 2015

Mr Huff

Mr Huff written and illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Viking) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780670078042                                                  
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Contained in the pages of this wise picture book is a wonderful idea which is sure to appeal to many children (even adults)! Bill is a boy who’s having a bad day. Absolutely nothing goes right for him at home or at school. When he awakes it’s ‘cloudy, with a chance of rain’. Hovering over him, like a storm cloud is a black shape – like a cloud, one which follows him all morning. By recess at school, the cloud has grown into an enormous size and has tiny feet that continue to follow the poor boy.

Bill’s unable to articulate the thing that’s following him.
Relentless, the thing – given the name Mr Huff – follows Bill to bed and – hatefully – is there the next day. Bill wants to be rid of it, and it is only when he accepts Mr Huff, taking it by its puny hand, is he able to do so. Next day, happily, ‘the day was cloudy, with a chance of sunshine.’

For any child who is finding life difficult – indeed for anyone suffering the blues or even a black depression – this book was especially written and illustrated for them. As with most people in Bill’s situation, the sufferer does attempt to be rid of the heaviness. But as you read on, the gentle message of this book is revealed: only when you confront your feelings are you able to go forward as Bill does.

In keeping with the heavy mood Bill feels for most of the story, Walker has kept her watercolour palette dark and simple. There are splashes of colour and even some humour (the enormous Mr Huff sleeping under Bill’s bed, determined to stay in his life) so there is always hope.
This is a splendid, poignant book which can be read simply as text, or it can be used by parents and/or therapists to help a small child overcome his or her unhappiness. My only criticism of the book is that the typeface is far too small, especially for young readers.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Bravest Dugong

The Bravest Dugong by Alec Trost, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117370

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A dugong leaves the sea and goes dancing, parachuting, surfing, visiting a zoo, painting and cooking Cos Lettuce Pie (a dugong favourite). Charlie D is the dugong and he’s off on an adventure to see the world.

 

The gorgeous, high-energy illustrations are the highlight of this story, which is seeded with environmental facts as it moves through Charlie D’s activities on land.

 

Two final pages on the ‘Gentle Giants of the Sea’ are particularly useful for those interested in more information about dugongs. This section of the book provides handy teacher notes to help early readers negotiate the text.


 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bucket Sheep

Bucket Sheep written and illustrated by Jemma Phillips (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117387

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A theft, a chase, a sneeze, a happy ending.

 

This simple story features a sheep with a cunning plan: to gain an entire blue bucket of hay for herself. While the farmer isn’t looking, this sheep tries to gobble as much feed as possible. But, in its haste to get to the very last titbit, the bucket gets stuck on its head.

 

The world goes blue and the sheep sets off in fright.

 

The farmer and his wife try to help but, every time they get close, the sheep runs away. Eventually the tickle of the remaining hay gets too much and the sheep sneezes off the bucket.

 

Much of the delight of this early reader comes from the realisation the story is based on a true incident at ‘Marble’s Run’ farm near Bendigo in Victoria.

 

Delicate illustrations exude a warm simplicity in perfect harmony with the gentle tone of the story. In addition, cute little Sedgwick the Mouse is hiding on every page, waiting to be found by observant readers.



Thursday, 27 August 2015

Time for Bed, Daddy

Time for Bed, Daddy by Dave Hackett (UQP)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-5381-2

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

Time for Bed, Daddy is a humorous, fun filled picture book that turns the traditional bedtime routine on its head. Bright cartoon-like images and visual jokes follow a likeable and patient little girl with the monumental task of persuading her reluctant Daddy to -- go to bed!

Parents will smile knowingly as this resourceful little girl uses every trick in the book to coax Daddy through the nightly bedtime routine with bubble bath, jokes and horsey rides. Finally, there is a quick monster check under the bed, a story to be read and a bedtime song to be sung. But, just as the little girl thinks the job is complete, Daddy appears, and he’s out-of-bed!

This delightful story celebrates the special bond between dads and their kids and will appeal to both children and adults alike. Young children will love the role reversal aspect of the story and will no doubt be inspired to act out the story (which happened in my household with hilarious results).

Time for bed, Daddy is both written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave). Dave has appeared on Australian children’s television and is a popular speaker at conferences and literature festivals across the country.  For more information visit: www.cartoondave.com

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com