Picture Book Perusal: The Sloth Who Came to Stay…

2

picture book perusal button

Today’s picture book is a beautifully rendered reminder about the amount that can be gained from being unhurried.  We received a copy of The Sloth Who Came to Stay by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Vivienne To from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from A&U:

A wryly amusing story about a fast family who are taught to slow down when an adorable sloth comes to stay by the award-winning author of Fox and Ruby Roars.

Amy’s family is speedy! They are always in such a rush that there is no time to talk or play – until the afternoon Amy brings home a sloth. Then things start changing very, very slowly …

A timely tale about enjoying the little things in life from award-winning author Margaret Wild.

the sloth who came to stay

The Sloth Who Came To Stay by Margaret Wild & Vivienne To.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th June 2017.  RRP: $ 24.99

We all need a reminder now and again to stop and smell the roses and I can’t think of a more beguiling reminder than that found in this book.  Amy’s family like to multi-task; they shop for groceries while making phone calls, exercise while doing the dishes and always bring their work to the dinner table.  After all, if they don’t move fast, they won’t have enough time to fit everything in to their busy, busy days. When Amy finds a sloth at the park and brings him home to stay, her family’s schedule is turned upside down and in the time they spend waiting for Sloth, they discover that taking one’s time can reap its own rewards.

This book has a thorough helping of charm.  Sloth is absolutely adorable, not least because he moves so slowly he has greenery growing on his fur!  When read aloud, the text and rhythm of the book reflect the considerable slowing of the family’s life as they aim to accommodate Sloth’s pace.  Similarly, the illustrations depicting the family home become less cluttered and brighter as the family’s new slower pace of life starts to show positive results.

The mini-fleshlings immediately took to this story as a pre-bedtime read aloud and particularly enjoyed picking out details in the illustrations, such as Sloth’s lady beetle and caterpillar friends, and the unusual activities of the family over the fence, whose presence will become important at the end of the story.  The book was a joy to read and one that the mini-fleshlings asked for again and again after its initial introduction.

As well as being a delightful and relevant story for today’s busy families, The Sloth Who Came to Stay would also make a cheeky, and hopefully instructive, gift for a super-speedy family of your acquaintance.

Until next time,

Bruce

Exit, Pursued by Smugglers: The Spectacular Spencer Gray…

1

spectacular spencer gray

If you are looking for a bit of adventure to spice up your life, delivered with a side order of cute furry marsupial then The Spectacular Spencer Gray by Deb Fitzpatrick is clearly what you have been missing in your life.  We received a copy from Fremantle Press for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Spencer Gray is just an ordinary kid, but he manages to get into some pretty extraordinary situations.

When Spencer stumbles on a sinister operation in the bush, his life goes into overdrive – midnight rescue missions, super-endangered animals, hair-raising adventures.

To survive, Spencer will need to pull off something spectacular.

It’s refreshing to come across a book which is fun but touches on serious subjects, is laconic but allows the reader to learn something (surreptitiously!) and is action-packed, but also feels creepily authentic.   It’s safe to say then, that I felt refreshed after having read of Spencer’s escapades.

Before we get started, let me point out that this is the second adventure of the titular Spencer Gray, the first of such adventures having been chronicled in The Amazing Spencer Gray which was published in 2013.  Also allow me to point out that I was not aware that this wasn’t Spencer’s first dangerous outing and it made not one jot of difference to my enjoyment of the book.  This tale can certainly be read as an exciting standalone novel with no need for prior knowledge of Spencer’s situation.

The book opens on Spencer’s unwitting discovery of a bizarre, homemade setup in the bush just outside his school oval containing a collection of native Australian animals.  Spencer makes the split second decision to bring one of the animals – that he later learns is a Potoroo (google it) – back to his home, because it looks on the brink of death.  When Spencer and his mates Charlie and Leon decide they should return the Potoroo to the bush, things start to go pear-shaped because it immediately becomes clear that someone…or multiple someones…are not happy that Spencer has discovered their criminal activities.

The pacing of the story is truly Australian, in that it takes its time to warm up and the boys are remarkably laid back about (a) finding a bunch of native animals in a slapdash shelter in an unlikely place and (b) keeping an endangered animal in box under a bed.  The second half of the book however, in which Spencer’s marsupial-saving activities come home to roost in the worst outcome possible, is all go, go, go and I whipped through these chapters like a Potoroo with its pants on fire.   Although the events of the second half of the book are, when viewed objectively from an adult’s point of view, pretty far-fetched, the suspense in the writing somehow made them feel decidedly authentic and I really felt for Spencer’s parents as they waited with mounting terror for news of their son’s whereabouts.

Overall, Fitzpatrick has done a great job with balancing the adventurous and more down-to-earth elements of the story, as well as providing information to the reader in a readily digestible form about one of Australia’s most endangered animals.  And in case you’re wondering, no, I had no idea what a Potoroo looked like before reading this book.  Or that it was endangered.  In fact, after reading the book, I visited Google to run a comparison on Potoroos and Quokkas and while typing in Potoroo vs… the option for Quokka immediately came up, so clearly I’m not the only one still learning here.

I would recommend The Spectacular Spencer Gray to young readers looking for a quick yet involving read featuring an unlikely hero and the adventure that awaits in the great outdoors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bloomsbury Middle Grade Double-Dip: Dogs, Doctors and Doings for the School Holidays…

0

image

Seeing it’s the school holidays here in sunny (always, always sunny) Queensland, you should probably let your hair down and grab a tantalising treat to accompany your perusal of today’s double dip.  Both of today’s titles have been provided to us from Bloomsbury Australia for review.

First up, here’s book five in the Marsh Road Mysteries series by Elen Caldecott, Dogs and Doctors, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The final title in the brilliant Marsh Road Mysteries adventure series by hugely popular children’s author Elen Caldecott. For fans of the Laura Marlin Mysteries by Lauren St John.

Meet Piotr, Minnie, Andrew, Flora and Sylvie – the Marsh Road Mystery solvers.

Sylvie Hampshire is in hospital. She knows she’s responsible enough to take control of her diabetes medication, but now she has to prove it on the hospital ward. She’s only been there a couple of hours when Barry, a therapy dog, goes missing in suspicious circumstances. It’s time to bring in the gang! With their detective senses on high alert, the five friends set out to find Barry, but the stakes soon become much higher than they thought. Have they finally met their match? Not if Sylvie Hampshire has anything to do with it!

Dip into it for…  dogs and doctors

…a fun and funny mystery featuring dogs, doctors, a mysterious entity known as The Whiter and five good mates untangling the mystery of a stolen therapy dog.  Honestly, who’d steal a therapy dog? Well, that’s what Sylvie and her friends have to work out!  I hadn’t read the first four books in this series but I had no trouble at all getting into this one.  The relationships between the characters are explained neatly as they arise and the author doesn’t waste time lumping backstory into the action to slow things down.  The hospital setting makes this mystery stand out from the pack because it’s different and has its own set of tricks and traps to foil well-meaning child detectives as they go about their detective business.  The main characters all have their own strengths and character flaws that affect the investigation in various ways and the book even has some data sheets at the end showing each of the five kids’ stats for those who may not be familiar with them.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of meddling kids!  The only thing that annoyed me slightly about this was Sylvie’s initial attitude toward having to stay in the hospital for two nights for monitoring…but that’s just the grown up in me being sensible and boring.  Her reactions are perfectly age-appropriate and understandable if you’re a kid.

Overall Dip Factor

While not the most riveting mystery there has ever been, Dogs and Doctors is a fun light read with two mysteries left out for the kids to solve.  The ending is action packed enough to be a good payoff for the preceding detective work and Sylvie, as the main character, learns a thing or two along the way about being responsible and allowing others to come to the fore when needed.  There was nothing in particular in the story that indicated to me that this was a “final” book of the series, which may leave long time readers of the series unfulfilled, but as a standalone read this ticked all the boxes for kids meddling in dangerous situations and coming out on top.

Next up we have Andy Seed’s The Anti-Boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to Do, illustrated by Scott Garrett and just in time to combat the holiday chorus of “Muuuuuumm! I’m boooooooored!”  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Say goodbye to boredom with this fantastic outdoor boredom buster book! From the hilarious Andy Seed, Winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2015 for Best Books with Facts comes the fantastically busy Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do.

The outdoors are boring right? Wrong! Not when you’ve got Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Book of Brilliant Outdoor Things to do! Suitable for all seasons, find out how to set bug traps, create a rainbow, construct an amazing summer slide and much, much more!

But what about those rainy summer days we hear you cry? Not a problem! This book also includes awesome indoor activities about the outdoors for rainy days. Design your own mini parachute, create the worlds most amazing frisbee, or create a bird feeder to keep your feathered friends well fed!

A brilliant book bursting with amazing outdoor activities that will have you running for the door! Packed full of hilarious illustrations from the wonderful Scott Garrett, this book will keep you entertained for hours on end!

Dip into it for…  outdoor things to do

…a comprehensive collection of ideas to keep the kids busy in the great outdoors.  The book has ideas for all sorts of places, from the city to the beach, to the countryside to plain old indoors, so even if you’re headed off on holiday somewhere, it would be a handy tome to bring along.  The book is divided into the sections mentioned above, and lists a selection of activities for each environment as well as the things you’ll need to complete them and tips or instructions for how to get the best out of whatever the activity is.  As this is the book of outdoor things to do, activities range from kayaking around a lake to ball games to messy things to make and build.  For those who love their devices, there are also some photo challenges to do as well as maps to look up if your mini-fleshlings can’t go a day without looking at some sort of screen.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t immediately want to be cajoled into hiking up the nearest hill or building a canoe out of twigs and shoelaces, I suppose.  While many of the activities listed here will definitely keep the kids busy, a lot of them do require certain materials that may have the kids constantly asking, “Mum, where’s the sticky tape? Where can I find coconuts? Why don’t we have a limbo stick?” and so forth for the next two weeks.

Overall Dip Factor

There’s definitely something for everyone in these pages and I particularly like that the end of the book has a list of “challenge” activities that require a bit more planning and, more often than not, the involvement of an adult or at least a small group of conspirators.  Overall, I think this book is a great inspiration for those looking to develop more “unplugged” time as a family.

So there you are – an involving mystery and a bunch of outdoorsy things to do.  You can thank me later for making sure your school holidays are busy and booked up.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Lint Boy

0

gabbing-about-graphic-novels

Today’s graphic novel pick is a bit of a hybrid for fans of fables and weird creatures.  We received Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear live in their cozy dryer home, carefree and happy—until the day Lint Bear is snatched away by a cruel woman with a vendetta against dolls! Can Lint Boy unite a group of lost dolls to vanquish the villain and save his brother?This magical story is showcased in the stunning full-color art of this young graphic novel. A gently gothic, age-appropriate blend of Roald Dahl and Tim Burton, Lint Boy is a compelling tale of good vs. evil that will leave readers spellbound.

lint boy

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Fable

Art Style:

Quirky, gothic

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

Lint Boy and Lint Bear are born from the remnants of lint floating in the dryer. When Lint Bear goes missing, Lint Boy must venture forth from the dryer in search of his best and only friend – but will he be prepared for the wickedness in the world outside the whitegoods?

This book felt like something different right from the very first page.  The setting – the inside of a clothes dryer – and the protagonists – creatures made from discarded lint – are not the most obvious candidates for middle grade fare, so straight off the bat there was some originality apparent in the story.  The format of the book is similarly different from the usual.  The narrative style is fable-like and combines small blocks of text with graphic novel style dialogue and illustrative panels.  The book is divided into chapters but these chapters are largely driven by imagery rather than text.

The story is simple enough – after Lint Boy and Lint Bear vacate the dryer it becomes apparent that they are in danger from the particularly nasty owner of the house.  The reader is given some backstory as to who this woman might be and what her motivations are for being such an unpleasant (and downright torturous) individual.  Throughout the story, Lint Boy and Lint Bear are given opportunities to break out of their everyday roles and become leaders to a band of lost and cowed toys.  The story is all wrapped up in this single volume which makes it a good choice for when you are looking for an original, interesting fantasy tale but don’t want to commit to a series.

There was definitely something missing in my reading experience of Lint Boy and I think that something was production values.  The story reminded me strongly of Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce, a similar beautifully illustrated story about a missing toy and a bully with a tortured past, but with much greater attention to presentation and the overall feel of the book.

While the illustrations in Lint Boy are gorgeous, the formatting of the text and dialogue – and particularly the font – didn’t quite fit the gothic style of the pictures.  This may be an “uncorrected proof” issue and might be different in the final version of the book, but as it is, the mismatch of hand-drawn illustrations and computer-generated font didn’t work for me.

Similarly, I felt that the book, while a solid read, couldn’t quite decide whether it was going to be a novel or a graphic novel and so the story suffered a little in being too sparse in parts and over-explained in others.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Lint Boy’s story fleshed out a little more and lengthened into a middle grade novel, without sacrificing the excellent illustrations.  Alternately, getting rid of the blocks of text and making the tale a full graphic novel would have worked equally well to rid the tome of its “not one thing or another” feel.

Overall snapshot:

If the quality and depth of the story had matched the quality of the illustrations in this tome, I think I would have had to nominate this one as a Top Book of 2017 pick.  As it is, it’s still a quirky and original tale with beguiling illustrations and characters, but I was hoping for a meatier reading experience here.

I’m nominating Lint Boy for my Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #30: A book with pictures.  You can check out my progress toward all my reading challenges for 2017 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Fiction in 50 June 2017 Challenge!

2

image

It’s time once again for Fiction in 50, where payers attempt to create a story in fewer than 51 words based on a monthly prompt.  This month our prompt is…

a change in the weather

And I have titled my contribution…..

Predicting the Weather

It hadn’t looked like rain when Steve left the house.  Icy drops now splattered his hair as he huddled at the ill-covered bus stop.

An elderly woman, attired in rain-jacket and hat, smiled sympathetically, “No rainbow without rain.”

Steve smiled weakly back, a drip sliding down his collar.

It hadn’t looked like rain when he left the house.


I’m eight words over, but I can’t really be bothered to fix that at the moment.  The prompts for the next six months are now up and thanks to Rebecca Douglass, The Ninja Librarian, for suggesting three of the prompts.

Our prompt for July will be…

button_after-dinner

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Challenge Checkpoint #2: Halfway Through 2017

7

image

It’s halfway through the year already (*insert cliched statement about how time flies and where did the year go here*) and therefore it is time to review where I’m at with my various reading challenges.  Let’s have at it!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 – COMPLETE!

Hurrah! I signed on at Pike’s Peak level – or twelve books – for this challenge this year and I am happy to say that I have now scaled to those dizzying heights!  You can check out the books I read here.

however…

since some of the books on the list are a little thin and I haven’t yet got through all the books I wanted to finish for this challenge when I signed on, I’m going to extend my goal and try for Mount Blanc level – 24 books by the end of the year.  This *should* be manageable, but I’ll have to really focus on getting those books read.

Epistolary Challenge – Progress Made!

10 Epistolary Books To Add To Your Winter Reading List

I feel like I’ve made some progress on this one in the last few months.  I’ve also acquired some epistolary novels in print copy or as review copies on Netgalley so I think this challenge is looking up. There’s no end goal or number of books to have read for this challenge, so I’m just seeing how I go at the moment.

Colour Coded Challenge – One Category to Go!

colour-coded-reading-challenge

This was never going to be a challenge that I failed, but I’m well ahead of schedule here.  I’ve only got the final category to go – a book with a pattern or rainbow on the cover – to complete the challenge, but I might extend myself and try to find more to fit the “any other colour” category.

Popsugar Challenge – Charging Ahead!

I’ve managed eighteen out of the 52 categories for this one and I’ve tried to really focus on this challenge in the last three months.  There are a few categories that I could really fit most of my books into (eg: a book published in 2017) and some that I can’t imagine I’m going to get done (eg: a book that’s more than 800 pages).  The trickiest part about this challenge is remembering to refer back to the categories each time I read a book.  Perhaps I should print out the categories now I have printer ink…..

Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge – stalled

wild-goose-chase-challenge-button

I’ve read one book to contribute to this challenge since the last update.  That means I’ve got three categories to go.  Doable.  Again, I just have to keep the categories in mind as I’m reading.

Have you signed up for any reading challenges this year?  How are you going?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: D-Bot Squad!

1

meandering-through-middle-grade

It’s time for a change from my usual middle grade fare as today I will be bringing you the first four books in a new series for reluctant male readers.  We received D-Bot 

D-bot squad 1

Squad books one to four by Mac Park – author of the prolific and popular Boy Vs. Beast series – from Allen & Unwin for review.  Check out the blurb below:

A super-exciting series about DINOSAUR ROBOTS for first readers…

from the creators of the bestselling Boy vs Beast series. A world kids will love, using words they can read.

Dinosaurs are back, and on the loose!

It’s up to D-Bot Squad to catch them.

Hunter Marks knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs. But does he know enough to pass the computer game test and make it into top-secret D-Bot Squad?

*The first four books in the D-Bot Squad series will be released in July, with the remaining four books released in October 2017 and February 2018*

I’m going to be straight up honest here and say that series like this usually have me running in the opposite direction.  You know the ones.  The Zac Power and  Fairy Magic type series that seem to have a never-ending procession of books all with exactly the same formulaic story.  I know they’re designed to get kids reading.  I know they’re aimed at kids who are gaining confidence in reading independently.  But as a reader, they give me the shivers.

The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling however, who is six and in grade one, was immediately drawn to these books and he doesn’t even particularly like dinosaurs.  From the second the first chapter of Dino Hunter was read aloud to him, he was absolutely hooked.  He wanted to tell his friends about the books.  He wanted to bring the books to school so his teacher could read them.  He continues to be riveted by the stories and we are now onto Double Trouble, the third book in the series.

The plot is simple enough.  Hunter Marks loves dinosaurs but finds himself a bit on the outer as all his classmates prefer superheroes.  While working on a project in the library, he is shown a dinosaur cave display built by the librarian Ms Stegg, and Hunter’s adventure begins.  Drawn into a test by the D-Bot Squad, Hunter must design a robot to catch a pterodactyl that is on the loose, thereby earning his place in the Squad.  From this follows a range of adventures that see Hunter designing robots using his specialist knowledge of dinosaurs, to catch errant dinosaurs that are on the loose in present-day locations.

The books are cleverly designed to be non-intimidating to reluctant and new readers, so there are full page pictures every few pages and no more than 55 words on each page.  There is also some great continuity happening in each story.  Each book has six chapters (which the mini-fleshling somehow figured out by the start of book two) and each book finishes on a cliff-hanger that leads into the next story.  This may be a bit of a problem in that it might be more difficult to read the books out of order, but it drew the mini-fleshling in like nobody’s business and he could barely wait for the next bedtime so we could get cracking on the next book.

Each book also has one of those page-flipping animations in the top right hand page corner, that when flipped, animates a dinosaur.  The first two books featured pterodactyls – appropriately enough to the stories – that flap their wings as the pages are flipped.  The mini-fleshling had never seen these before and thought they were genius.

The best thing about the books for me was that the claim on the back of the book was actually correct.  The book features a sticker that shouts, “A world kids will love with words they can read!”  I’ve already noted that the mini-fleshling loves the world of the books, despite not being a particular fan of dinosaurs.  What about the second part of the claim? Can a six year old grade one student read these words?

Yes, He. Can.

At halfway through grade one, this mini-fleshling has mastered his Magic 300 sight words (or is it 200?).  He’s learnt all the sight words he needs to know for the year, anyhow.  And he is certainly able to read most of the words in these books with a little support.  This is an amazing revelation to me because it opens up more options for him for his own independent reading.  He need not be solely reliant on picture books anymore, but can develop his confidence on longer early chapter books with stories that he is interested in.

What a boon!

If you, or your mini-fleshling, is looking for a new series of books that really are accessible for younger kids and interesting for independent readers, I’d recommend giving D-Bot Squad a go.

Until next time,

Bruce