I know, I know, I’m a week late, but what I have for you this week is definitely worth the wait. As you may or may not know, last week was Children’s Book Week in Australia and, never one to let the party end once the official celebrations are over, I am happy to announce that the rest of this week will be Children’s Book Week around the Shelf! Woo hoo! You can expect new release (and a couple of older titles) perfect for the younglings in your life, right here, every day until Friday.
I am also pleased to announce that we’re kicking off with THREE (count ’em!) TOP BOOK OF 2016 PICKS!!
As well as an International GIVEAWAY!!
Before you explode with excitement, let’s crack on!
Today I have three eyeball-burstingly attractive books for you from Australian authors. One is a heartwarming book about numbers for the littlies, one is a steampunk cautionary tale for the tweens, and one is a jaw-droppingly incredible, atmospheric and significant piece of wordless storytelling for pretty much any age reader. We should begin with heartwarming, don’t you think?
*We received a copy of this title from Scribble Publishing for review*
This joyous debut from well-known writer and editor Jennifer Higgie (Frieze Magazine) celebrates both the individual and the diversity of the world around us. In kaleidoscopic colour, Higgie takes young readers on a journey from some of life’s most important things (baked beans!) to some of life’s biggest wonders (stars!). The perfect early picture book for budding art lovers!
To give you an idea about how different There’s Not One by Jennifer Higgie is to your typical “counting” book for preschool aged children, here’s a glimpse of one of the double page spreads:
So much for the “One monkey, two bananas, three chunks of poo being flung” format you were expecting! There’s Not One bypasses the smaller numbers and makes a beeline for those things which are, in many ways, quite difficult to quantify. Raindrops, for instance. Stars. Colours. Methods of transportation. This book will attempt, in the most gentle way possible, to stymie your little one’s counting finger and open their mind to a broader perspective on number. The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling seemed to take the phrase “too many to count” as a personal challenge and repeatedly attempted to count the individual stars on the star-counting page. He happily gave up after a few attempts, and turned his attention to the page with “a zillion” baked beans instead, so in that regard, this is a great book for occupying the attention of the more stubborn younglings of your acquaintance.
There is a completely unexpected twist at the end of this book that is the perfect way to round out the imagining of numbers of such large scale. The aforementioned mini-fleshling, on hearing the last few pages of the book, stared off into the distance for a few silent moments, before slowly smiling in a way that indicated a revelation of incredible magnitude had just slithered into his consciousness. It was quite the most heartwarming thing this stony old gargoyle had seen in quite a while and made the reading experience completely worthwhile.
I would recommend this heartily to those aged between three and maybe seven years; those children who are of an age to get a grasp on the fact that some things come in quantities to large to be counted with a child’s pointing finger. Having said that, those younger than that will adore the bright colours and patterns, even if they don’t quite grasp the concepts being relayed.
Judging from the mini-fleshling’s reactions to There’s Not One, we have to note that Higgie is on a winner here.
*We received a copy of this title from Five Mile Press for review*
In this field guide from the future, a dashing explorer—Miss Liberty Crisp—details amazing creatures known as Mechanica: human-created life forms designed to replace extinct species.
Set in the twenty-third century, the book describes how Earth could no longer support wildlife. The warnings had been ignored. Corporations continued to expose the environment to chemical and radioactive waste, and many Earth species began to disappear. By 2200, vast areas of the world had become uninhabitable and wildlife extinct. In place of the lost wildlife species, the corporations began to create Mechanica. But the Mechanica escaped their confinement, and started to develop in the wild on their own. Filled with inventive and awe-inspiring images and details, this book is sure to spark readers’ imaginations! Kids will marvel at the steampunk-inspired renderings of mechanical bugs, birds, bats, snakes, and more!
Who doesn’t love awesomely inventive creatures repopulating a post-apocalyptic landscape? No one, that’s who! Mechanica, with its slightly larger than average hardback format is sure to pull in both reluctant and unstoppable readers alike. The book begins with a few pages detailing the world in which the mechanica thrive and the circumstances in which they were brought about. Each page spread features clear and detailed images of the mechanical creature under discussion, plus a brief description of how it came to be and where it is commonly found:
The effective use of white space means that younger readers shouldn’t become overwhelmed by the amount of text per creature, and the handy index at the back means that youngsters can look up their favourite mechanica in a snap. As an adult reader, this is quite an absorbing picture book, given the history and background that has been created for each creature. The brief descriptions bring to life the environmental chaos that has resulted from the actions of humans and the overall sense of the book had me bringing to mind the “life finds a way” mantra/warning from the original Jurassic Park film!
This book has so many applications for the upper primary classroom that teachers would be foolish not to pick it up. Off the top of my head I can think of curriculum links for art, history, geography, science, drama and both creative and nonfiction text creation. Curriculum links aside, though, this is quite simply a beautifully produced text with original and engaging subject matter that will draw the eye of discerning readers of any age.
*We received a copy of Small Things from Allen & Unwin for review*
On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self. An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. With no words, only illustrations, Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with worries but who learns that help is always close by. An extraordinary story, told simply and with breath taking beauty.
Even before opening this book, it’s obvious that it’s going to be an eye-popping reading experience. Perhaps it’s for the best then, that this is a wordless picture book and one from which readers will take their own diverse impressions. Small Things follows a period in the life of a young boy who is obviously struggling emotionally at school and home. Given that there are no words, it is not explicitly stated that he is suffering from depression or anxiety, but for those who have experienced these afflictions for themselves, the visual cues will be obvious. As the book continues, the reader is given glimpses into why things might seem so bad for the protagonist – but there are also clues that hope and support are around the corner.
The page spreads range from single page illustrations to the more typical graphic novel format of multiple frames to a page:
I found that these multi-framed pages required a bit of time and energy to peruse, as I didn’t want to miss anything that might be tucked away in the corners of the images, or misinterpret the story because I was skimming. The monochrome colour scheme is essential to convey the atmosphere of the boy’s headspace, but I found that it too required a more focused approach to “reading” the story.
Despite the end of the story offering some sense of hope and normalisation to the boy’s experience, I was left with a lingering sense of dread that may or may not be related to the personal mental health experiences of the she-fleshling in our dwelling. Because I jumped straight into the book without first reading the press release that accompanied it, I was unaware that this book is published posthumously to the author’s suicide, and the final illustrations were completed by that giant of Australian story-telling, Shaun Tan. I left the book with the feeling that the story was poised on a knife-edge, even though the boy’s demeanor indicates that things might be looking up for him. This ambivalence is no bad thing I suspect, because the complexity of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety invite such contradictions and this is something that needs to be openly discussed and acknowledged.
Although I would recommend this for older children, say upper primary and above, as well as adults, I think readers will engage with this book on their own level. The more disturbing nuances of the imagery will probably go over the heads of readers at the younger end of the age bracket, but they should still appreciate the need for a sense of belonging and support that the book conveys. Similarly, older readers will be able to uncover much more complex themes in the visual journey. Whatever the age and maturity level of the reader however, this is a story that deserves a conversation – so be sure to share your opinion once you have drunk it all in.
One winner will be able to choose one of the above books as their prize!
This contest is open internationally – hooray!
To enter, answer this question in the comments below:
Which of these books would you most like to win and why?
Giveaway will run from the moment this post goes live (now!) until midnight, Sunday September 4th, 2016, Brisbane time.
I will select one winner from the pool of eligible comments using a random number generator. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen. I will not be responsible for prizes lost or damaged in transit.
Until next time,