A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

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It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha

 

Walk on the Wild Side: A KidLit “Five Things I’ve Learned Review”…

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Today I have the perfect illustrated tale for those who love a good ramble, hike, bushwalk – whatever you call it in your part of the world – and who like to read stories about animals who share human hobbies.  I received Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland from the publisher from Netgalley ages and ages ago and I’m only just getting around to it now.  That’s probably alright though because it was only published on March 1st, so technically I’m still ahead of the game.  Because it IS a competition.  Even if you don’t know it.

Beaver, Moose and Bear are out for a bit of a ramble in the great outdoors when they decide to make their walk a competition – just to make things more fun.  Whoever gets to the top of the mountain first, wins.  Along the way, the leaderboard changes as each animal finds parts of the terrain more suited to their natural abilities, and then….DISASTER!  By the end of the walk, these wily wild creatures may just realise that competition can be fun, but working together has a charm all its own.

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So here’s….

Five Things I’ve Learned From…

Walk on the Wild Side

1. Things are always more fun when they are made into a competition. No, wait, I mean a collaboration.

2. Beavers, bears and moose (mooses? meese?) are not the natural enemies I thought they were.

3. When going on a bushwalk, hike, ramble (whatever you call it in your part of the world), always wear sturdy shoes and tell someone where you’re going. Unless you’re an animal. Then just do whatever and hope for the best.

4. Tiny saplings that grow out of dangerous cliffs are not designed to hold the weight of more than one large, hairy mammal at a time.

5.  All natural, sustainable, beaver-carved ladders are almost certainly going to be the next big thing in eco-decorating, for their usefulness and rustic appeal.

From the cover reminiscent of the Beatle’s Abbey Road album, to the map-like trail of the three animal friends, to the straightforward plot narration, this book reminded me fondly of Chris Judge’s Lonely Beast series.  I really enjoyed this little foray into the wilderness with these three intrepid (if mildly competitive) friends and I was surprised to note that this book is actually part of its own series, with other books by Oldland featuring the characters individually.

The story here is pretty simple stuff with an obvious moral – three friends decide to have a race and then realise that, when all’s said and done, sometimes it’s just better to enjoy time spent together instead of setting up winners and losers.  The star in this book is the artwork, with the wry expressions of Beaver complimenting the sometimes pleasantly vacant expressions of Moose and the earnest consideration of Bear.  An observant little pink bird also makes an appearance on each page and younger mini-fleshlings will have fun trying to spot it.  I think the subtle humour contained in the imagery will make this book a favourite with early primary-aged kids, and it is one of those books that deserves a second, third, and fourth reading.

I will certainly put Oldland’s work on my radar, and I wouldn’t mind getting my paws on Up the Creek – I can’t get over Moose’s slightly surprised expression on the cover, so will have to chase down some more of this unlikely trio’s adventures.

Now that you’ve all been enlightened by my insightful learnings, you should probably go take a walk on the wild side to your favourite book-selling emporium to pick this one up. Don’t forget to wear sturdy walking shoes, and tell someone where you’re going.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Widows and Random Body Parts” Edition…

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imageWelcome to another Reading Round-Up pardners! Today I have an eclectic collection of bookish beasts so hopefully there’ll be something to satisfy even the most fussy lariat-wielding reader.  I received all of these books from their respective publishers (two via Netgalley, one via Simon & Schuster Australia – thanks!) for review.  Let’s ride read!

Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (Leslie Bulion & Mike Lowery)random  body parts

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This one does exactly what it says on the box: you guess which body part a cheeky verse is describing.  Some are blindingly obvious, and some take a little more deciphering, but all in all there’s a lot of fun to be had here mixing science and literacy.

Muster up the motivation because:

…it’s fun, funny and pitched perfectly for the middle to upper primary age bracket.  There are also plenty of illustrations, and a glossary and annotations so there’s a lot going on visually for those who get bored looking at print on a page.  Really, this book harnesses the brilliant (and educationally useful) idea of linking two subject areas that rarely see the light of day together, except in picture books for the early years, and executes it with vim and vigour.  *My kindle version did have a few problems in the formatting of the imagery with the print, but I got a good overall impression of the book despite this.  I would also love to see the finished version in print because of this*

Brand it with:

innovative educational text, shakesp-ears (and eyes and brains etc), poetry in motion

Read my Goodreads review here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1207887128

I’m also submitting this one for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge in the category of books with an odd language element.  To find out more about the challenge and join in, just click on this cute little button:

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 My Daylight Monsters: A Gothic Novella (Sarah Dalton)my daylight monsters

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Mary has been seeing visions of creepy ghosty-zomboid monsters since a devastating accident in which she lost some of her friends.  She checks herself into a psych ward for teens to get some respite, but it appears her monsters follow her even into the safety of daylight.

Muster up the motivation:

Overall this is a solid, psych-ward adventure-drama, with all the expected patrons in attendance and some unexpected ones also.  The ending got to be a bit unlikely for my tastes but the bulk of the storytelling is done well with some interesting twists and reveals.  As a novella, it’s also a quick read and a great opportunity to try the series before committing to the full length novels featuring Mary in other adventures.

Brand it with:

unhelpful helpers, daytime hauntings, tall-dark-mysterious strangers, take your medication

See my Goodreads review here!

 

 

The Widow’s Confession (Sophia Tobin)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  widows confession
Two American sisters come to Broadstairs, Kent in 1850 to hide from a secret in their past (and enjoy the bracing sea breezes and picturesque painting opportunities – obviously).  When the corpses of young girls start turning up, more than just sand is churned up as the townsfolk try to keep the past buried.

Muster up the motivation because:

…there’s plenty of broody atmosphere to go round, as well as a piecemeal approach to the reveal of past secrets as each chapter is preceded by parts of a letter of confession.  As a period piece and murder mystery, all the tropes are there – the holidaying dapper young gent, the worried vicar, the cold-hearted physician and the mysterious foreign lasses with a shady past.  If you are looking for a book that will make you feel like you’re really there, wuthering on the clifftop (being wuthered? Not sure of the correct verb usage there!) then cosy up with The Widow’s Confession and be blown back and forth with the changing tides as characters’ secrets are revealed.

Brand it with:

An American in Kent, pretty young things (deceased), blustery clifftop strolls, historical fiction

Read my Goodreads review here!

So there you have it. Three rather different books, but hopefully something there has piqued your interest.

Progress toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge goal: 4/16

I’m a quarter of the way there! How are others going in the Oddity Challenge? Anyone else want to join in? There’s plenty of time. Come on! Get on it!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Tomes from the Olden Times: Grandad’s Gifts…

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image Welcome, young and old to Tomes of the Olden Times, the feature in which I discuss books that I particularly remember from times long past.  Today’s gem is an exquisite short story/long picture book from that genius of Australian short-storytelling for children, Mr Paul Jennings.  If you have never read anything by Paul Jennings, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Go and correct this at once. No, actually, wait until you’ve read this post, THEN go and correct this in a timely fashion. Today I wish to discuss Grandad’s Gifts, written by Jennings, hauntingly illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe and first published in picture book form in 1990.  That’s 25 years ago folks. Yep, it makes me feel old too. The book tells the short but spook-laden tale of Shane, a young lad who moves with his family to live in the house of his late grandfather.  While there, Shane opens a forbidden cupboard, uncovers a long-hidden secret and sets about righting a wrong in his family history.  Here’s the (rather spoiler-filled) blurb from Goodreads: This is a chilling picture book with a twist in the tail, as Paul slowly brings a fox back to life by feeding its fur with lemons from the tree above its grave. But it’s the lemons above Paul’s grandfather’s grave that give the fox its final gift, sight… grandads gifts When Grandad’s Gifts suddenly popped back into my consciousness many moons after first encountering it, I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about it for so long.  I immediately tried to hunt it down but had a great deal of trouble finding it in print.  Then, one glorious day, as I was rifling through some second-hand library books I spotted it.  Not the cover that I remembered, but still, that title and that author and I knew I had found it.  And pretty darn pleased about my little score I was too. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this story so mystical and memory-worthy, but I can assure you that it is one of those special books that you really should endeavour to get your hands on.  Trust me on this. When first I was introduced to this story, in a classroom setting, I remember being stunned by the …well, stunning…illustrations.  So realistic, so engaging, so erring on the side of the magical in the realm of magical realism.  Here’s one:  image And here’s another: imageAnd one more, for luck:

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Boo! That one got you in, didn’t it?!

I think the realism of the artwork really gave this story its spook-factor.  There is something haunting about these pictures that embeds itself in the memory and brings the story right off the pages.  They are the perfect accompaniment to Jennings’ particular brand of quirky strangeness.  Any young Australian worth their salt (and any Australian teacher worth theirs) would be familiar with the hilarious and weird short stories of Paul Jennings.  Some of these, notably his Round the Twist stories,  were later turned into a television series, whose theme song will no doubt still be stuck in the heads of some.  *Mentally sings: Have you ever…ever felt like this? When strange things happen, are you goin’ round the twist?*

Apart from being deliciously creepy though, the book is also remarkably touching, as we get carried along with Shane’s mission to free his furry, cupboard-strewn friend.  This is one of those stories that proves the power of story-telling – it’s one I did actually forget about for a period of time, but once I remembered it, the experience of first hearing it came back in vivid detail from the depths of decades past.

I would highly, highly recommend hunting this book down if you can and reading it with any kids in your vicinity aged around seven or older.

Until next time,

Bruce  

Fiction in 50 February Challenge: Sincerely Yours…

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fiction in 50Welcome to the February edition of Fiction in 50, where young and old, novice and master, serious and slightly silly, gather to share their golden nuggets of micro-narrative. If you’d like to join in, simply create a piece of fiction or poetry in 50 words or less using this month’s prompt and post a link to your work of genius in the comments of this post. If you want to share on twitter, don’t forget to use the hashtag #Fi50.  To find out more about the challenge and future prompts, simply click on the large attractive button at the beginning of this post.  This month’s prompt is…

imageAnd I have titled my contribution:

Shuffling Off This Mundane Coil

Shaz,

I can’t go on.  Don’t try to stop me. I’m going to a better place.

Jodz.

Dear Jodie,

I have received your resignation and we at Kwiki-shop Groceries wish you the best in pursuing an acting career.  We will all say we knew you before you were famous!

Sharon

(Manager)

Keen-eyed readers will note that this is actually 51 words (again!).  The last time I asked for editing suggestions I received a slew of excellent thoughts, so feel free to pitch in and let me know where I could lose a word or two and get under the required 50 words.

Next month’s prompt will be…

kernel of truth

Looking forward to seeing everyone’s contributions this month (especially any newbies!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Graphic novel Double Dip…and an Fi50 Reminder

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Welcome to an illustrative double dip review with a side order of odd.   Before we start noshing on with graphic novels however, I must remind participants and lurkers alike that Fiction in 50 for February kicks off on Monday.  This month’s prompt is….

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To participate, simply  create a piece of fiction or poetry in less than 50 words, post it somewhere, then add the link to the comments section of my Fi50 post on Monday.  It was great to see some new players last month, so if you’ve been dithering about whether or not to join in, the time is NOW! For more information and future prompts, just click on the Fi50 button at the top of this post.

To the Double Dip! I received both of these titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley, and it would be tricky to find two more different works. First up, for the young and young at heart we have Gronk: A Monster’s Adventure by Katie Cook.

Gronk is a little, not very scary monster.  After leaving Monsterland, due to her lack of scaring ability, Gronk is picked up by Dale, a human lady, and taken home to live with Kitty (Dale’s cat) and Harli (Dale’s Newfoundland dog).  We join Gronk as she negotiates the joys and terrors of the human world and tries to fit in as just another creatuimagere in a houseful of interesting ones.

Dip into it for:

…a cutesy, episodic tale featuring a cute little monster.  Gronk is undeniably adorable and there are some chuckles to be had as she tries to join in with various human activities with varying degrees of success.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for something with substance.  This really is just a bit of fluff for those days when you need a dose of cheerful monsterism to brighten your mundane existence.

Overall Dip Factor:

To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed with the overall Gronk experience.  As it is based on a web comic, the book follows an episodic format, jumping around to different incidents in Gronk’s human-world experience.  While this suited the cartoonish, cute feel of the character, I tend to prefer a more linear storyline to make things a bit more meaty.  The undeniable star of the book for me was Harli, the massive dog.  He’s an absolute scene-stealer.  Recommended for monster fanciers and those looking for a non-calorific distraction.

Now to something for the grown-ups and a definite contender for my Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge under the category of odd subject matter.  I speak of Suffrajitsu: Mrs Pankhurst’s Amazons by Tony Wolf.

In London, 1914, the Suffragist movement is alive and well.  Women are prepared to fight, go to jail and hunger strike in order to secure the right for women to vote.  The last line of defence in this fight is an elite band of women trained in the martial art Bartitsu and the time is coming when these suffragettes aren’t just in danger from the police, but a conspiracy that reaches further then they could have imagined.

Dip into it for…image

…feminist ninja activists! Honestly, if that doesn’t convince you then nothing will.  The story is a socio-political, action-adventure, historical mystery, so if you like a bit of genre-mashing you should appreciate this one.

Don’t dip if..

…you don’t like non-cartoony art styles or blood-splashing violence. This is a graphic novel with a serious tone, so if you’re looking for a bit of light humour this might not fit the bill.  Also, as this is only the first volume the tale ends on a cliffhanger.

Overall Dip Factor:

I would be very interested in seeing where this series goes, as feminism and martial arts are two of our interests on the shelf, and quite frankly, we are pleased someone decided to put the two together.  The level of illustrated violence is probably at the top end of my tolerance level, but I was certainly drawn into the mystery that was revealed at the end of this volume.  Give it a go if you like your graphic novels with a social history twist.

Perhaps, these graphic novels have inspired some ideas for Monday’s Fi50? We’d love to see you join in!

Progress towards Oddity Odyssey Challenge Goal: 3/16

To find out more about the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge (and jump on board!) click on the image at the top of the post.

Until next time then,

Bruce

 

 

 

A New, Revealing Feature: Bruce’s Shelfies!

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Welcome to my new, shelf-centred feature: Bruce’s Shelfies! Seeing as I spend all of my time here, and it informs so much of my thoughts on books that make my acquaintance, I thought I would introduce you to some of the special nooks and crannies of my domain over the course of a few posts.

Regular readers will be aware that the shelf has recently moved, so I thought I’d start by showing you around my new abode.  This is not an exhaustive tour of the Shelfdom – think of it more as a sort of highlights package.  Come on in!

Here’s my new perch:

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You can see that I’m looking rather smug in my new home.  Mad Martha shares this exalted spot with me and we decided that we would fill our top shelf with all our favourite fantasy and paranormal books.  Most of these have been mentioned at some point on the blog and therefore might look mildly familiar.

Underneath us, is our “classics and re-readables” shelf:

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I have recently culled my Doctor Who collection, but a few remain.  You might also note a range of well-clawed Red Dwarf books, which will be the subject of a later Shelfies post.  Notably missing is a hardback set of The Lord of the Rings and another hardback set of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Both were too big to fit on this shelf, so they occupy a special place on another shelf.

For some zany reason, I decided to group all my books (that weren’t already at home on the previous two shelves) by authors from the UK together and these occupy the next shelf down.

Now, my TBR shelf:

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I have ALWAYS wanted a shelf of books arranged according to colour, so I just went ahead and did it with my TBR pile.  You can also see my Good, Sad and Quirky guys (and friends!) perched upon their corresponding colour piles. Guru Dave and Toothless also occupy this shelf in order to keep their claws on the pulse of what is entering our reading world. Please let us know if you’ve read any of the books on my TBR shelf, and what you thought of them!

In other news, the fleshlings have bought a dog in order to make the house a home (awash with dog hair). Her name is Rosie and so far, has shown no interest in de-perching me, but some interest in chewing the mini-fleshlings’ board books.  Here she is, reclining:

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And finally, here are the newest additions to the shelf, picked up by Mad Martha this very day at a local book sale:

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She was particularly excited to stumble upon the Ian Sansom tome (on the left), as this had been on our radar as a potential candidate for our Monday is for Murder feature.  Or at least, the author is. I’m not sure there is any actual murder in the Mobile Library series. Nevertheless, gaining this one for the bargain price of 45 cents was something of a coup.  Mad Martha also snagged a short story collection by Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series (which we haven’t read), that looks as if it might be odd and creature-filled. Bliss! To the TBR pile they go.

Next time I think I might do a bit of “Show-and-Tell” with some of my more valuable tomes…signed editions and such.  If there is anything you would like me to reveal in future editions of this feature, please do let me know and I will do my best to accommodate.

Until next time,

Bruce