Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Texas Year

A Texas Year by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-06-4

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Another in the wonderful series by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling, A Texas Year takes young readers on a month-by-month journey through the festivals, events, games, sports, flora & fauna, quirky traditions and famous sights of Texas. Did you know that the armor-plated armadillo comes from Texas - and that Americans spell armor differently to the Australian ‘armour’? You do now.

Inside, richly populated double spreads take us into the lives of five diverse young characters. Here’s one:

Hola! I’m Luis and I’m 10. I was born in Mexico and came to Texas when I was 3. I grew up with horses and one day I want to ride in rodeos and play baseball for the Texas Rangers.

With endearing and distinctive illustrations, along with a smattering of fun facts and interesting anecdotes, this book will definitely have you smiling. Those who don’t reach for their ancient World Book Encyclopaedia volumes will no doubt visit Dr Google after reading A Texas Year.

A natural fit for boys and girls, the beauty of this series lies in the capacity of these books to incite wonder and pique curiosity. Reluctant readers too, will definitely find something here to interest and entertain.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A New York Year

A New York Year by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-07-1

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Tania McCartney is something of a goddess when it comes to picture books and this latest offering confirms that she is still worthy of the title. Her crown is firmly wedged on.

We are Madison, Alexander, Fabian, Sofia, and Jayla – and we’re ready to take you on a journey through twelve months in the life of New York’s kids.

So begins A New York Year. To open this book is to be greeted by dozens of tiny vignettes in Snerling’s distinctive, colourful illustration style. These endpapers alone will have children (and adults) meandering happily for several minutes.

Set out as a month by month prospect, the reader is introduced to the characters and invited to follow individual children through their New York lives and seasons. It is dynamic and varied – with no actual ‘narrative’ as such, but rather a clever and current design which allows the reader to wander in their own direction, through a whole new and exciting world.

A New York Year is a book for poring over by alone or for sharing with a cuddle. It’s a book for throwing down on the couch while you run to Dad’s old DVD collection to return triumphantly clasping ‘Groundhog Day’. Or it’s a book that will elicit dinner time discussion about snowmen in our summer, and inspire wider conversations around the delights of challah or the meaning of the Statue of Liberty.

Geography, history, festivals, cultural difference, acceptance, inclusion, facts and figures – all are covered in this very entertaining and educational offering.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway

Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway written by Adrian C. Bott, illustrated by Andy Isaac (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760127800

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The first title in an action-packed junior fiction series, Axel & Beast: The Grabbem Getaway centres on a lonely gamer and a robot on the run.

When shape-shifting robot Beast bursts into Axel’s room, he is desperate to hide. Beast has escaped from the destructive Grabbem Industries, and finds a likely ally in Axel, who’s endured his own encounters with nasty bullies. With the help of insider Agent Omega, Axel and Beast, band together to overcome Grabbem’s evil intentions.

Despite its emphasis on technology, gadgets and fast-paced action, the story has a feel-good factor, too. The message of fighting back against corporate greed and environmental destruction is an important one, and is ever-present in Axel & Beast’s fight against Grabbem Industries.

There are some fun secondary characters too, notably Rusty Rosie who rules a junkyard – a force to be reckoned with. There’s also Axel’s mum, Nedra, a very capable mechanic hailing from Sri Lanka whose lovely relationship with Axel is quite touching.

It would be a shame for this book to only be picked up by (or purchased for) boys, as there’s a universality to the story’s themes that everyone can enjoy.

As a footnote, the author’s moniker ‘Adrian C. Bott’ seems too good to be true – it’s perfectly suited to the subject matter!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen & Unwin)
HC RRP $29.99
ISBN: 9781742379791

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This wordless graphic novel for all ages is one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. Because the story depends on examining the illustrations/artwork carefully, the messages it carries are accentuated many times over.

The themes that make up the book are connected to loneliness: depression, loss, helplessness, anxiety, aloneness and fear. These collective feelings begin as small things that gradually evolve into a voracious appetite that consumes the sufferer.

The boy is sad. He feels like an outsider, and no-one includes him in their circle because he is quiet and withdrawn. An insidious darkness has crept over him. It is absorbed by his skin therefore he carries it with him everywhere. Others can’t see it. That makes it worse.

This darkness assumes many identities: exclusion, inferiority, sadness, fear, and heartache. These are bricks in a wall that builds around him. He feels parts of him are breaking away as he becomes more isolated and increasingly hopeless.

He has stopped thinking clearly. All he can hear is his emptiness so he prefers silence. An effort made to reach the boy can’t get past the darkness which is now a relentless force.

The boy feels like a failure. He has retreated from the world. His body is there but it’s just a shell. He feels cracked all over, feels he is falling apart, and tries to keep himself together.

He is approached by a family member who persists. She knows how the boy is feeling. She exposes her damaged self to the child – the cracks, the pieces missing. That is when he realizes he is not alone in the way he feels. Other family members assure him that it’s common for people to feel anxious, have imperfections and fears. He begins to recognize something of what he feels in almost everyone around him and feels comfort in the sameness. He finds the courage to reach out to others.

In 2008, Mel Tregonning began illustrating this graphic novel. In 2014, she took her own life. ‘Illustrator Shaun Tan completed the final three illustrations in Mel’s book in 2016’. My wish is that this review pays homage to Mel’s work.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

I Spy Dad

I Spy Dad by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Chantal Stewart (Scholastic Aust) PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 1 92505 964 9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

I spy with my little eye dads all starting with d.

But not all Dads are the same and the little girl in the story is searching for her dad. She can see a 'dashing dad' and a 'crashing dad', a 'creeping dad' and a 'sleeping dad', but where is her dad? And what is he doing?

Beautiful rhythm makes this a joy to read aloud and the rhyme is never awkward. All the activities that Dads partake in set up fun conversation starters for young children and their readers - What does your Dad do? What makes him special/different?

The colourful soft illustrations depict the playfulness of this story, showing lovely characters. We see Dad's in all sorts of situations, each having a wonderful time with their children.

I Spy Dad is full of fun for three to six year olds and with Father's Day is coming up it is the perfect time to celebrate the happy bond between Dads and their children.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Quick as a Wink Fairy Pink

Quick as a Wink Fairy Pink by Lesley Gibbes and Sara Acton
(Working Title Press) HB RRP $24.99 
ISBN 978 1 921504 86 0

Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

This is a gorgeous bedtime story featuring five little flutter fairies, Fairy Blue, Fairy Green, Fairy Gold, Fairy Red and the mischievous Fairy Pink. As the fairies do their nightly rituals, of taking a bath, cleaning their teeth, getting in pyjamas and reading a story, one little fairy is hiding.

Told in rhyming text, and with the repetitive verse
‘But someone’s playing hide and seek.
Can you see her? Take a peek.
Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink.
it invites the reader to help find this elusive fairy pink.

With simple soft pastel coloured illustrations this book will be a favourite bedside read for your little one. Not only does it reinstate all that’s involved in getting ready for bed, it also gives the chance for the reader to discover Fairy Pink in her hiding places.

A great read for younger children, five and under, although older children will also enjoy the rhyme and illustrations.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Small Things

Small Things written and illustrated by Mel Tregonning (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781742379791

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Small things turn into big things when they lack attention. Small things, small acts of kindness, can change a person’s outlook on life. Small things make an impact … and deep is the impact this book will make.

The protagonist in this story is a lonely, school-aged child, laden with social anxieties. These worries start to eat away at him, expressed chillingly in the pictures by tentacled, demonic creatures. His grades at school are affected, along with his relationship with his family. He has trouble sleeping at night. 

The story is told entirely in vivid, black and white illustrations so expressive that to accompany them with words would do them a disservice. The front cover, showing a close-up of a child’s face consumed with sadness, is stark and confrontational. It is impossible to walk past this title without reaching for it.

A comic-strip style is generally maintained for the illustrations inside. The dimensions of the boxes are pleasantly varied, as is the number of pictures on each page. This style perfectly sets the pace for the story. Readers are also treated to breathtaking double-paged spreads, allowing space to pause, reflect and empathise.

I was reminded of Anna Walker’s Mr Huff when I first started reading this, but in premise only. The illustrations in this book are extraordinarily lifelike and much darker, intended for an older age group – perhaps upper primary to early secondary.

This book is hauntingly beautiful in its own right, more so because the author took her own life before she was able to complete it. Her family collaborated with award-winning artist Shaun Tan to piece the story together, thus producing an insightful window into mental health awareness. Shaun has contributed the final three illustrations in the book. They show the character understanding that he is not alone in his worries, that such feelings are universal and that reaching out to people is the only way to keep the demons at a distance.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Born to Sing

Born to Sing by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-151-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The holidays are here again and during a family meeting Dad announces they will all be taking a special trip. He is taking the boys to Tasmania to see the penguins and Mum will take Maddie and Nan to Shark Bay to see the whales. Maddie is a little concerned when Mum says they are taking the ratty caravan, but nothing can spoil her excitement at the possibility of seeing whales. Maddie loves to sing and her favourite music is whale songs. She is super excited!

Born To Sing tells the story of the adventure Maddie has with her Mum and Nan as they make their ten-hour journey. It also shares the fun they have when they arrive, including an encounter with the huge and magnificent whales in Shark Bay.

A humorous and happy story, it is based around an indigenous family with a lovely bond and is set firmly in the Australian landscape and culture. Where else would you see an emu walking down the main street with no-one batting an eye?

Informative and entertaining, this is a great book for those just starting to extend their reading skills to chapter books. It is well written with easy to read sentences for younger readers. Lovely black and white illustrations break up the short chapters, filling the pages and enhancing the light, fun atmosphere of the story.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Song Bird Superhero

Song Bird Superhero by Karen Tyrrell (Digital Future Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780994302137

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

In a world where Supergirl and Wonder Woman are real, Rosella “Rosie” Bird dreams of being able to fly. And she’s not short of ideas that might help her to achieve her goal. Unfortunately, a series of dangerous engineering failures has left her parents less than supportive and with her neighbour Frank contriving to make her life miserable, Rosie feels attacked on all fronts. Only her love of singing sustains her – and that is where the fun begins. With the help of a supportive teacher, Rosie discovers that her voice is the key that will finally let her take flight.

In Song Bird Superhero, Karen Tyrrell tackles again the subject of bullying that she has explored in previous books. Children aged 7-10 will relate to Rosie and her struggle with school bully Frank Furter, who is also her neighbour. Through the book, Tyrrell allows her protagonist Rosie to solve her own problems while also demonstrating to her readers the importance of having a trusted adult to confide in – in this case, teacher Miss Darling.

Although Tyrrell promotes her book as being aligned with STEM science, it is much more science fiction than science fact. Nevertheless, Rosie’s enthusiasm for science and invention is certainly infectious and who knows how many young readers will have new engineering aspirations after reading this book?

Sunday, 21 August 2016


Shield by Rachael Craw (Walker Books) PB RRP $27.99  ISBN 9781922179647

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Get ready to be taken on the ride of your life in the latest instalment from New Zealand author Rachael Craw.

Shield is the final book in the popular Spark trilogy. The first part of this gripping young adult sci-fi series, Spark, was released in 2014 to rave reviews, followed by Stray in 2015.
In the latest book, the drama continues but this time Evie is out of options. She must comply with the Affinity Project in order to survive. Evie must obey their rules, play their deadly games and give up Jamie.
When Evie decides to help a small group of Shields trying to affect change, she finds herself in all sorts of trouble. Counsellor Knox is determined to reveal her secrets and tie her to the Affinity Project for life. To protect her family, Evie must betray those closest to her. The odds of success, and of Evie’s survival, are slim.
Shield is a fast paced, action-packed thriller that will grab reader’s attention from the very first page. It is an original, exciting story with underlying themes of friendship, loyalty, courage and love.  
Shield is perfect for teenagers with a passion for sc-fi and for anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the Maze Runner Trilogy by James Dashner.
Rachael Craw is a prolific talent as evidenced by her latest book. She has the ability to produce brilliant work that is well-written and contains just the right amount of action and excitement to enthral readers.
A great read and highly recommended.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Pattan’s Pumpkin

Pattan’s Pumpkin by Chitra Soundar illustrated by Fran Lessac (Walker Books) HB RRP $27.99   ISBN 9781910959442

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Pattan’s Pumpkin is an Indian flood story, reminiscent of the traditional Noah’s Ark tale. It is the story of Pattan, a kind and caring man who stumbles upon an ailing flower and decides to plant it near his hut and nurture it back to life. Pattan watches the flower gain strength and its yellow flowers blossom in the glorious sun.

One day, to Pattan’s surprise, he notices that the flower has transformed into a magnificent pumpkin that is bigger than the goats, bigger than the elephants, and is actually so tall that it reaches the summit of the mountain.
When a terrifying storm arrives and the waters rise, Pattan’s quick thinking and imagination help him devise a clever plan that enables him to rescue the whole village from impending disaster.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is written by well-known author, Chitra Soundar, who was born and raised in India, a place where traditions, festivals and mythology are a way of life. Over the years, Chitra has produced a wonderful array of books in various genres.

The illustrations by award winning artist Frane Lessac are striking and vibrant, and the colour palette is so rich that the images practically leap off the page.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is a sweet tale for readers aged 4-8 years. The text is easy to read and has a soft, gentle tone that will soothe young readers at bedtime and have them happily dozing in no time at all.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is a beautiful book and the perfect addition to your picture book library.

Friday, 19 August 2016

A Toaster on Mars

A Toaster on Mars by Darrell Pitt (Text Publishing) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781922182869

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

I have previously reviewed two of Darrell Pitt’s books from his Victorian era steam- punk series, The Firebird Mystery and The Monster Within. In both of these books I was swept along by the fast paced mysteries set in a magical world of airships, space steamers, a 200 mile high metro tower, lots of crazy machines and intriguing gadgets.

Now Pitt’s new book, A Toaster on Mars, is a stand-alone story set in the future- 2509. Once again, Pitt uses his excellent writing skills and vivid imagination to cleverly paint a futuristic back drop for this action-packed inter-galactic adventure.

Neo City is a multi-layered metropolis built on what used to be the east coast of the USA. The buildings are up to1000 storeys high- linked by walkways and roads. It’s a world of flying cars, buses, taxi-gondolas and helium cyclists where cars drive themselves, people eat food-flavoured pills and travel between planets. 

A Toaster on Mars will spark many interesting discussions in homes and classrooms about the future. What will the world will be like in 2509?

Bartholomew Badde is the villain of the story- a criminal mastermind. He steals the super computer- EMP and holds the world to ransom. So, Agent Blake Carter from the Planetary Bureau of Investigation (PBI) and his new partner, Nicki Steel are assigned to the case.

Nicki Steel is my favourite character. She’s a cyborg- 90% robot and 10% human. She’s strong, brave, funny and is able to process information super quickly. When Badde kidnaps 12 year old Lisa, Blake’s ex-wife, Astrid joins the team. Together they go on a wild romp through the galaxy to rescue Lisa.

I like the way Pitt injects the story with humour and clever intertextual references. I also like the way Pitt has included comments from the editor (Zeeb Blatsnart.) These comments start with Zeeb says: and are printed in italics. This is a unique way of explaining certain terms and concepts. I think this tool works well.

There is one thing that concerns me. The main characters are all adults. Lisa is 12, but she is not a focus character. As a rule, kids like to identify with characters their own age.

That said, I believe A Toaster on Mars will appeal to many kids aged 10+ years who would love to project themselves into Pitt’s entertaining vision of our world in 2509. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Castle of Inside Out

The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson, illustrated by Chris Riddell (Alma Books Ltd)  PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781846883965

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

A girl follows a talking rabbit to a magical place where language play abounds and with word games aplenty. The magical land is ruled by pigs that have thrown the humans outside the castle and are now mistreating them in retaliation for their own former treatment of animals. Confused about which book I’m reviewing? It is neither Alice in Wonderland nor Animal Farm, but this fast-paced, gripping fantasy novel has been aptly described as a meeting of the two.

The politely inquisitive protagonist, Lorina, is on a mission to find a mysterious castle for her school project. A black rabbit offers directions, but he warns her to stay away from the ‘outsiders’, the horrible green people. He reassures her that those in the castle, ‘the insiders’, are lovely, educated and civilised. Lorina bravely sets off to find the truth for herself, wondering if her rabbit guide is, in fact, misguided. She also wants to know why there are toxic fumes spilling out from the castle.

Originally published in 1997, this novel makes a welcome return to today’s bookshelves. The illustrations by the talented Chris Riddell, Children’s Laureate, are black-and-white, deeply detailed drawings rich in texture. They manage to convey absurdity and sense at the same time, thus suiting the novel perfectly. 

Readers are introduced to a vast array of cleverly named animals, such as the ‘bureaurat’, the ‘super-viper’, a ‘farmadillo’, a ‘custoadian’ and the egotistical leader – the ‘piggident’. The writer shapes the characters’ dialogue around their animal sound. The cat, for example, says ‘niaobody’ and ‘niaothing’ and the gobbling turkey (‘turnkey’) says ‘problobloblem’ and ‘followollowollow’. There is a stand-out alliterative passage showcasing the menu of the cuckoo (‘cookoo’) that made me want to put the book down and burst into applause. This novel begs to be read aloud – perhaps a reflection of the author’s prior success as a playwright.

The story casts a satirical spotlight on government and asks the reader to question the effect of power upon compassion. Though the novel is quite whimsical in nature, older readers won’t miss its darker undertones. The emotive distance with which these issues are raised does make the story accessible to younger readers. I’d recommend the novel for readers aged 8–12.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Countdown to Danger #2: Shockwave

Countdown to Danger #2: Shockwave by Jack Heath (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 978-1-76015-963-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

What would you do if you found out a bomb had been planted somewhere on the island you were staying on? Or if you were out surfing and a giant shark headed towards you? Or if a stranger told you they were FBI and you should follow them? Would you save yourself from mercenaries or take a riskier path to try to save your friends as well?

Shockwave is the second book written by Heath in the style of ‘Choose Your Own Adventures’. The reader becomes the main character in plot and faces a series of decisions during a 30 minute high-stakes, high-adrenaline fight for survival. Take control of your own destiny as you navigate 30 different pathways leading to 30 different endings; which ones lead to a happy ending?

Jack Heath is the author of several edge-of-the-seat adventures, including 300 Minutes of Danger and the Scream series, popular with young readers in search of spine-chilling and adrenalin-pumped adventures.

This is a thrilling read for those from eight years and up.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Sydney Word by Word

Sydney Word by Word written and illustrated by Sonny & Biddy (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781760125523

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

In Sydney Word by Word, design duo, Sonny & Biddy, reflect the sights and sounds of Sydney in vibrant colour.

Each page features one, simple word, with a full page illustration providing greater nuance. For example, ‘Fashion’ features a figure resembling queen of colour, designer Jenny Kee, while ‘Splash’ accompanies a pool meets sea, presumably Bondi’s Icebergs.

The book features the best of Sydney’s iconic sites, from the Opera House and Harbour Bridge to Taronga Zoo and Cockatoo Island, interspersed with everyday scenes. Annual events, like Sydney’s Sculptures by the Sea and the bright lights of Vivid are also pictured.

You may recognise the Town Hall steps, the QVB, the smoke stacks in St Peters’ Sydney Park, and Newtown’s ‘I Have a Dream’ mural. The scenes are mostly city and beach-oriented, with a nod to Sydney’s multiculturalism through imagery of pho-slurping and Chinese dragon-dancing. Escalators, buskers, snacks and terrace houses provide snapshots of urban life.

Overall, Sydney Word by Word captures the energy, colour, beach vibes and must-sees of Sydney, and can be used as a ‘first word’ type book for toddlers through to all-ages gift book. A Melbourne title illustrated by Michael McMahon is also available.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Noisy Nights

Noisy Nights by Fleur McDonald, illustrated by Annie White (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92505-966-3

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Farmer Hayden cannot sleep. All the animals on his farm talk all night. It is just too noisy! What can he do to get them to quieten down so he can have a good night’s rest?

The text is lovely to read aloud. It has a nice soft rhythm with some repetition and new noises added as the story builds and each night is ‘noisier still’.

The solution/conclusion comes gently with Farmer Hayden, and all his animals, sleeping peacefully – he on a battered old chair on the front veranda and the animals scattered around him.

White’s illustrations echo this soft tone. Her character’s expressions convey the emotions of the story -- especially Farmer Hayden’s which are priceless. Among my favourites are the ones of him pulling his bed cap over his eyes with the mouth and body gestures fully conveying his exasperation, and the picture of him dozing, slumped against the cow he is milking, who looks both concerned and surprised.  

Although a book about noise, this sweet picture book is quiet enough to become a favourite bedtime read for young pre-schoolers – 3 to 5 years - with plenty of animals to look at and noises to explore.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Here Comes Mr Postmouse

Here Comes Mr Postmouse by Marianne Dubuc (Book Island) Translated by Greet Pauwelijn HB RRP $26.95 ISBN 978 09941282 1 8

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

A label on this book’s cover says that the originating publisher (from Canada) won the title of ‘Children’s Publisher of the Year’ in the Bologna Oceania Awards. By the creator of the picture book, The Lion and the Bird, this is a picture book which won the 2015 Best Picture Book of 2015. Thus one comes to the book with high expectations.

The artwork, in muted watercolours, has a child-like quality about it, but it extends the written text in ways that any child would find fascinating and would spend many hours pouring over. This is because there are many elements to each page, both pictures and cut-aways of places such as a house, underground, even in branches of trees.

On Monday Mr Postmouse loads his parcels onto his cart and sets off to deliver them. His first delivery is to Mr Bear’s house where we see Bear eating breakfast with a small girl (maybe Goldilocks?) Here is the first cut-away: we see into a room of Bear’s house with its hive on the roof with a pipe running into a tap that drips honey, as well as Bear’s library and his furnishings. At the next stop, the Rabbit family, there’s an illustration of the house with its underground warren of rooms (with two seven layer bunk beds for all the rabbit children.)

Mr Postmouse delivers to numerous birds, to a squirrel, and a dragon (with whom he lunches), and on to a mole, and then a nest of ants (with queen ant on her throne). When he delivers to Mrs Turtle, we can even see into her house which she carries, of course, on her back. There are many more deliveries to many more types of animals until finally the over-worked mouse arrives home at the end of the day to be greeted at his own home by his wife who has organised a birthday party for him.

There is no doubt that small children will love this book and will spend many hours ‘reading’ the illustrations. My only quibble with this book is that the text typeface is far too small for small eyes (even for adult ones!) Suitable for ages 3+ year.s

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Fox and Goldfish

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters (Book Island) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780994128218

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Originally published in Belgium, this picture book for ages 3+ years is about pets, friendship and loss and is said to be created to help children understand the loss of a pet.

The cover shows Fox holding up Goldfish in his bowl so that the friend can view the world from high on a mountain. In the first page Fox, in only one of a few places where he speaks, says that he fears that Goldfish’s ‘time has come’ and that he ‘can’t just let (him) you go like this.’ Thus he starts off on a quest to show his friend the world before death descends.

The Fox and Goldfish venture to many places which are shown in double-page spreads – through meadows, into the ocean (Goldfish frolicking in the water, no longer in his bowl), through deserts, near volcanoes, through jungles and even suburban streets. How a goldfish can survive in ocean waves and even in a puddle defies nature, let along in the snowfields, but would a child be concerned? Probably not.

Fox even holds up Goldfish so that his friend in his bowl is also at the end of a rainbow. In the last illustration, before Fox finally says, ‘Okay, my friend, now you can go,’ the two of them are seen on the moon in chairs looking back at planet Earth. 

In the final double-page spread fox is seated in front of a gravestone with reads, ‘Here lies Goldfish. He saw the entire world.’

The illustrations in Fox and Goldfish are very bright, rendered in coloured pencil and pencil with broad – and sometimes garish – strokes.

Fox and Goldfish

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters (Book Island) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780994128218

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Originally published in Belgium, this picture book for ages 3+ years is about pets, friendship and loss and is said to be created to help children understand the loss of a pet.

The cover shows Fox holding up Goldfish in his bowl so that the friend can view the world from high on a mountain. In the first page Fox, in only one of a few places where he speaks, says that he fears that Goldfish’s ‘time has come’ and that he ‘can’t just let (him) you go like this.’ Thus he starts off on a quest to show his friend the world before death descends.

The Fox and Goldfish venture to many places which are shown in double-page spreads – through meadows, into the ocean (Goldfish frolicking in the water, no longer in his bowl), through deserts, near volcanoes, through jungles and even suburban streets. How a goldfish can survive in ocean waves and even in a puddle defies nature, let along in the snowfields, but would a child be concerned? Probably not.

Fox even holds up Goldfish so that his friend in his bowl is also at the end of a rainbow. In the last illustration, before Fox finally says, ‘Okay, my friend, now you can go,’ the two of them are seen on the moon in chairs looking back at planet Earth. 

In the final double-page spread fox is seated in front of a gravestone with reads, ‘Here lies Goldfish. He saw the entire world.’

The illustrations in Fox and Goldfish are very bright, rendered in coloured pencil and pencil with broad – and sometimes garish – strokes.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $34.99
ISBN 978-0-545-44868-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Marvels is one of the most beautiful, satisfying and absorbing book I have had the pleasure reading in a long time. The unusual format - the first half is told entirely in pictures, the second in prose - was the first surprise and had me instantly hooked.

Exquisite black and white illustrations fill the pages with such detail and life that I forgot I was not reading words. The occasional newspaper headlines or theatre bill helps keep this illusion while providing any additional detail such as dates and names.

This illustrated first half tells the tale of Billy Marvel, the only survivor of a shipwreck in 1733, whose stories inspire the painting of the ceiling in a new theatre being built in London. Billy makes the theatre his life, and so too do the generations after him, until one year disaster strikes the lives of all.
The second, seemingly unconnected, story is entirely told in prose.

This tale takes place in 1990 when Joseph runs away from boarding school to take refuge in the home of his mysterious Uncle Albert. This house is the most astonishingly unconventional home Joseph has ever been inside and he is determined to get to the bottom of his Uncle’s strange behaviour.

The shift from illustration to text is not as unsettling as I expected it to be. The prose is just as beautiful as the illustrations, providing imagery as effortlessly as the illustrations prove ‘words’. Also, by the time I had reached this midpoint, I was so involved as a reader that the change in form seemed a natural expression of the shift in the story’s focus.

Reading The Marvels is a rich experience. Even holding the heavy hardback volume with its gold edged pages seems like the beginning of a journey. Go with it!

Shipwrecks, high theatrical drama, family tradition and conflicts, this is a book to be savoured. Don’t let the size put you off. Once the pages are opened any reader will be enchanted, drawn into the story, and not want it to ever end.

This is a marvellous read for those as young as nine or as old as ninety.
Brian Selznick is the bestselling author of The Invention of Hugo Caberet and Wonderstruck.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The Super Lettering Book

The Super Lettering Book written by Samone Bos, produced by Amanda Shaw, designed by Kristy Lund-White (Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760128715

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Super Lettering Book is a spiral-bound activity book jam-packed with crazy, fun and fancy fonts, and instructions on how to recreate them. Word art tips and tricks abound, from reflecting a place via lettering, like Hollywood and the Taj Mahal, to incorporating creatures in each letter of the alphabet. There’s inspiration overload for party invitations, and a very fun page of ‘creepy stuff’, perfect for all things Halloween.

Along with lots of ‘how-to’ advice, the book also encourages experimenting with your own variations on fun lettering. Every themed spread contains a list of suggested words that readers can try and put their own unique spin on. Towards the back are some sturdy, cardboard stencil pages for tracing, too.

From foodie fonts to street art to space-themed lettering, this book explores the world of word art in a kid-centric way. It would make a great gift for those in mid to upper primary school.