Friday, 19 December 2014

Isaac's Dragon

Isaac's Dragon by Kaylene Hobson, illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780992523909

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

This charming chapter book with its quirky dragon-loving hero is the first in a series. Isaac is desperate for a dragon. He is convinced they exist, no matter what anyone says or thinks and he is determined to get one, preferably before his birthday. But when even his fairy hunting skills and the tooth fairy are not able to help him, he has to think of another way to get his dragon, and soon, it is almost his birthday!
 
Kaylene Hobson has created an enjoyable character; an optimist with a go-get-em attitude, a big dose of self-confidence, no lack of determination and a unique view of the world. Children will find him admirable and will be able to empathise with his everyday struggles of being a child trying to fit into a world of adult's logic.


I found Isaac's determination, persistence and unwavering self-belief in the face of obstacles  a great read for children who perhaps do not feel as much in control of life, after all Isaac has a solution for everything.

 The illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn compliment the story; she has done a great job bring Isaac's character to life visually.

Isaac's dragon was conceived as a bedtime tale to help Kaylene's son deal with self-confidence issues. I think she has done so superbly and created a fun confidence boosting story for any young reader. It is recommended for ages 4 to 10.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015. www.yvonnemes.com

Thursday, 18 December 2014

How Long Is A Piece of String?

How Long Is A Piece of String? by Madeleine Meyer (Windy Hollow Books)
HB RRP $25.95
ISBN: 9781922081346
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A boy wakes to the sound of his lost dog, barking mournfully in the night. Putting on his hat and stepping out the window with the help of an orange crate, he sets off in search of the wandering canine, red string in hand. (No doubt he’s learned a thing or two from fairytale of the Hansel and Gretel or that old Victorian tourism ad about visiting mazy Melbourne.)

Past a funky castle

and a teetering town

across a moody mountain

into a monster’s meadow,

the boy finds the dog on a strange, otherworldly seashore.

All he has to guide him home is that trail of red string.

A friendly and fabulously grotesque flying fish lends a hand (or maybe a fin) to rescue the boy and the dog and bring them home safely.

 As unusual and quirky as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, this wordless book shows that facing your personal monsters and getting past them to save a friend brings its own reward.

 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale: The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Joe Bauer (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-065-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

 Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale is the superhero drawn by Eric Vale when he is bored in class at school. And here finally is a full length adventure for all his fans. The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly sees Agent Dale of Secret Agents ‘r’ NOT us up against Dr Evil McEvilness.

From the opening of the story, with Agent Dale facing certain death at the hands of Countess Krystal, to the end when he bursts through Archibald Boss’s office door after defeating McEvilness, Danger Dale is placed in seemingly impossible predicaments. But being the hero that everyone knows him to be (especially his creator, Eric Vale!) he manages to bumble his way out of every dangerous situation.
The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly is a quick and easy read. Fun and light, it combines handwritten text and wordless comic strips on every page. It has the silliness young boys will love, great sarcasm, dry humour and a wonderful mix of ridiculous names.
This book is a spin off from the Eric Vale series for slightly younger readers, 8 plus, but any fan of Eric Vale will enjoy reading this.

 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Calpepper’s Place

Calpepper’s Place by Trudie Trewin, illustrated by Donna Gynell (Windy Hollow Books)
HB RRP $25.95
ISBN: 9781922081322
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

In this picture book for young readers, Calpepper is a young camel with dreams of finding the perfect ‘camely’ sort of place. ‘Not desert with its hot, hot sand. Not snowfields with their cold, cold slopes. Not cities with their crowded concrete. Not surf with its wild, wild wipe–outs.’

Luminous watercolours uplift this simple story and portray the scrawny camel train with charm and vibrancy. The theme combines the proverbs ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’ and ‘there’s no place like home’.  In fact, various motifs about the ‘grass is always greener’ are reproduced in the subtle endpapers. The combination has been done before but this is a fresh and delightful version of an old favourite.

I have just one question: who is THAT mouse? Unnamed and unobtrusive, he’s present in every scene. Is he Calpepper’s friend? Or just a random hitch–hiker who decides to tag along for the adventure? Inquiring minds want to know!

 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Anzac Ted

Anzac Ted written and illustrated by Belinda Landsberry (EK Books)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-921966-56-9
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Anzac Ted may look scary but if only everyone looked a little deeper they would see an unsung hero.  He is a teddy bear that went to war with the Anzacs and through courage, loyalty and love helped bring our soldiers home. 

Anzac Ted is a poignant and touching book.  Written in rhyme, it is the story of a child’s teddy bear that has clearly seen the worst of times.  Dirty and torn, Anzac Ted frightens other children and is seemingly only loved by his owner.  But Ted’s story is a heroic one – taken to the First World War as a mascot and surviving to come home.  It was his wartime experiences that left him scarred and damaged.
 
Visually striking, the book starts and ends with large, colourful illustrations with a transition to sepia colouring during the telling of Anzac Ted’s experiences in the war.  Interestingly, these illustrations were based, with permission, on real-life shots taken by war photographer, Ernest Brooks and the portrait of the Unknown Soldier.

I found it a little sad as despite all that Anzac Ted endured, his heroism is widely unacknowledged by the children around him.  An important message, I think, for us to remember and be thankful for the sacrifice of our past and present soldiers. 
Overall, Anzac Ted is a beautiful and important book; especially as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1 and in particular the Gallipoli campaign.  While clearly a children’s story, this is a book that is suitable for all ages; with the effect dependant on the reader’s understanding of and connection to wartime of any era.

Belinda Landsberry is a children’s author and illustrator.  She has trained as a primary school teacher, graphic designer, copywriter/art director and nurse.  She lives on the North Shore (Sydney) with her family and four kids.  Anzac Ted is her first picture book.  She can be found online at: http://belindalandsberry.com/

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Gus & Me The story of my Grandad and my first Guitar


Gus & Me The story of my Grandad and my first Guitar by Keith Richards Illus. by Theodora Richards (Orion/Hachette) CD voiceover James Langton
HB with CD RRP $28.99
ISBN: 978 1 4440 1176 0
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Theodore Augustus Dupree lived with seven daughters near the Seven Sisters Road, in a house that was filled with instruments and cake. Thus begins a charming and nostalgic picture book reflecting on the happy childhood of Rolling Stone and music legend, Keith Richards, who was greatly influenced by his granddad, Gus.

Gus was a talented musician of the piano, violin and saxophone, but more significantly, he could strum the guitar. Keith loved visiting his grandparents' home and Gus loved giving Keith his time. He took him on long walks and hummed all kinds of tunes as they went. He took Keith to the workshop of a London music store and Keith was fascinated, not only by the workers who plucked strings or tested drums as they fixed broken instruments or made new ones, but by the instruments themselves, particularly the guitars going slowly around on a conveyor belt. That's when he fell in love with musical instruments.

Gus kept a guitar on top of the piano but Keith was not tall enough to reach it. He kept trying and one day his granddad handed it to him, showed him the major chords and taught him to play the classic piece "Malague┼ła". This was the stepping stone to his musical career.

Keith's artist daughter, Theodora Richards, has enhanced the simply worded story with lively dashes of colour, some in streams across the page, or e.g., capturing just the legs of Keith and Gus with the family dog, Mr Thompson Wooft. Stars and musical notes abound, and the pen, ink and collage illustrations on the crisp white background have an exhilarating effect. Hand-drawn letters of all sizes have been incorporated, and a couple of pages of these were drawn by Keith himself. Part of the musical score of Malague┼ła is on the inside and back inside covers. Unusually, a loose cover accompanies the picture book giving it a classy touch.

Keith Richards wrote the text with Barnaby Harris and Bill Shapiro and a very warm and loving story has resulted. Many family photos are included, and as an extra bonus, a CD of a reading of the story by actor James Langton, along with a spoken introduction and additional guitar music from Keith.

Gus & Me is an impressive picture book and would make an equally stunning gift.

 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

You Are (Not) Small

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang Illust. Christopher Weyant (Hodder Childrens/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 978 1 444 91830 4
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

I loved this picture book! The most words on a page are 12; some have none; and often just one or two, and yet it gets its message across beautifully.
Two furry creatures are comparing their size. The big one thinks the little one is small and the little one thinks the big one is big. Things get very heated. But then someone even smaller and someone even bigger arrives -- and that settles the issue of size.

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are a husband and wife team. Together they have produced this very amusing and succinct picture book which is a delight to read. Anna's sparse text is complemented by Christopher's bold and lively illustrations and his experience as a cartoonist has been put to excellent use. He has used a restricted palette to great effect and the plain yellow inside and end sheets continue the theme. The font size is large and easy to read, and the bright red cover with its super-large title and black-nosed orange head of the fuzzy larger creature demands a second glance.

Children will thoroughly enjoy You Are (Not) Small and before long, will be able to read the short sentences by themselves.