Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Suit Your Selfie…

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It’s time to gab about graphic novels again and today’s selection is a collection of comic strips for the middle grade set.  We received Suit Your Selfie: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan Pastis from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Gather ‘round the smartphone, kids! Stephan and the Pearls gang are back with a whole album’s-worth of jokes, jabs, and cringe-worthy puns.
 
Even Rat cracks a smile in this fifth Pearls Before Swine collection tailored for middle-grade readers. Witty, wacky, and occasionally wise, Suit Your Selfie is more kid-friendly fun from the New York Times best-selling author of Timmy Failure.

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Humour, comic strips

Art Style:

Cartoon

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

I hadn’t come across this series before so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect the sophisticated level of humour in the comic strips, given that the blurb says that this is aimed at middle grade readers.  Perhaps they mean upper-middle grade….right at the upper end…because a lot of the content seemed a bit too grown up to appeal to middle graders.  I don’t mean that it was inappropriate for kids, but that some of the topics – like getting the address for an aunt’s funeral, the creator of the comic having a mid-life crisis and a goldfish worried about its own mortality – just seemed aimed at an older audience.  I found myself having a hearty chuckle at some of the strips because they were absolutely relatable to the struggle of adulting. The struggle is real!  Some of the vocabulary seemed too advanced to be credibly aimed at a young audience also.  This certainly didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the book.  In fact, I found most of the comics to be hilarious or at least chuckleworthy – I’m just mildly baffled as to why it has been labelled as “middle-grade”.

Overall snapshot:

I thoroughly enjoyed this little collection as an adult reader, so don’t be put off by the middle grade tag.  There’s plenty here for those who like their jokes one comic strip at a time…in fact, it’s exactly the kind of thing we old-timers who read newspapers would happily flick straight to the back page to read over morning coffee.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book Perusal: Two Titles That Deserve a Closer Look…

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This post should probably be a Reading Round-Up, but the two titles that I have for you today are worthy of a slightly more specific examination.  We received both from Allen & Unwin for review and there are some absolute delights here that drew the mini-fleshlings in and had them fully engaged in the reading experience.

Allow me to introduce to you Neon Leon, a chameleon with a slight camouflage-skills issue and a TOP BOOK OF 2017 PICK recipient from we Shelf Dwellers!

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Neon Leon by Jane Clarke & Britta Teckentrup.  Published by Allen & Unwin, February 2017.  RRP $19.99

Created by Jane Clarke & Britta Teckentrup, this delightful book is chock-full of subtle interactive prompts and colour bursts that will knock your socks off.  The picture above doesn’t really do the cover justice, because Neon Leon is most definitely an eye-burstingly bright pinky orange neon colour in the flesh, so to speak.  From the endpapers, that are so bright fluro they will make your ears bleed, to the hilarious incongruity of Leon sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb in various environments, this is a book that begs to be viewed again and again.

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I got a bizarre shiver of delight looking at each new habitat and appreciating how the illustrator has juxtaposed the stark stand-outedness of Leon with the skillful camouflage of his friends against beautifully textured backgrounds of leaves, rocks, sand and moonlight.  Aside from all the other interactive elements of the story (which I’ll get to in a minute), it would be great fun for mini-fleshlings to see if they can find all the non-Leon chameleons hiding in each page spread.

Now, about that interactivity!  This story isn’t your typical picture book story.  It is narrated in a style that truly involves the reader by asking questions and inviting readers to join in by guessing where the chameleons might be going or what they might be feeling.  There are also prompts for readers to say or do particular things at certain points in the story.  The youngest mini-fleshling in the dwelling, at three years old, absolutely LOVED whispering to Leon, “Don’t worry Leon, everything’s going to be okay” when instructed during a slightly sad point of the story and subsequently clapping and smiling with Leon as he finally finds what he is looking for. As well as being a fun read aloud between parents and mini-fleshlings, the interactivity of the reading experience makes this one a perfect choice for library or classroom storytime.

The final few pages will blow you away with the scale of the brightness in the illustrations and it’s almost impossible not to feel uplifted with such a whimsically charming ending coupled with the glorious colours.  We on the Shelf highly recommend Neon Leon as one of those rare and special picture book experiences.  In our opinion, it’s unmissable!

Another interactive book that has definitely piqued our interest is Town and Country: A Turnaround Book) illustrated by Craig Shuttlewood.  This innovative title is designed to be read both right side up and upside down, allowing youngsters to compare and contrast two different environments – in this case, the urban, town environment and the country.

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Town and Country (A Turnaround Book) by Craig Shuttlewood.  Published by Murdoch Books Australia, February 2017.  RRP: $19.99

 

The cover of this one basically sums up what you can expect from this book.  Look at the book one way, then flip it upside down and hey presto – a new scene emerges!  The book is designed a bit like a search-and-find tome, with each spread featuring a box with a selection of “town” or “country” things to find in each respective illustration.  In a clever twist, some things can be found in both the town and the country scenes, prompting discussion on how these particular things might be used (or, in the case of animals, be behaving) differently in each environment.  For instance, a rabbit in a country setting might be spotted frolicking in the woodlands, whereas the same rabbit in an urban setting might be seen inside a hutch.

The double spreads each have a different focus – occupations, trees and flowers, food, machinery and so on – so by the end of the book, readers will have absorbed a significant amount of non-verbal information about the two different environments.  The illustrations are absolutely adorable and there is plenty of humour to be found hidden in each image.

Initially, I began using the book as intended with the two mini-fleshlings, trying to find each specific image and discussing what was different about the two settings, but the elder mini-fleshling (six years old) quickly lost interest in that and we instead had a whale of a time poring over each image with the mini-fleshlings trying to find “themselves” in each picture.  Exchanges such as the following:

“You’re the busdriver!”

“No I’m not!”

“You’re abseiling from the helicopter”

“No I’m not!”

“YOU’RE THE ELEPHANT DOING A POO IN THE ZOO!”

“No, I’m NOT!”

“Yes you are!”

– pretty much sums up the engaging experience the mini-fleshlings had while poring over the illustrations in Town and Country.  We are all for picture books with innovative and interactive formats here on the Shelf and would definitely recommend this one to classroom teachers, librarians and anyone who has a need for picture books that combine information with fun.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Top Book of 2017 Pick!

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Today’s book is one that I definitely didn’t think I would enjoy as much as I did.  It features an absorbing story, flawed characters, a bleak, unforgiving landscape and intricate, fleshed out folklore, and for these reasons and more it is our first Top Book of 2017 pick for the year!  We received our copy of The Bear and the Nightingale by debut author Katherine Arden from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

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I was a little afraid on starting this book that it would turn out to be a bit like wading through molasses, but although its a hefty tome the narrative voice is so compelling that I could have happily gone on reading for another hundred pages once it had finished.  The book begins before protagonist Vasya’s birth and the reader is made aware of the fact that there is something special about this child.  Even though her birth results in her mother’s death, we are aware that this is something Vasya’s mother chose, because Vasya will be the key to…something…in the future.  As the tale progresses we find out that Vasya has the ability to see household and woodland spirits and she, like the people of her village, ensures that these spirits are kept happy with small offerings of bread and the like.

Later, when a charismatic priest is sent to the village, the delicate balance between the people and the spirit world is upset, resulting in catastrophic changes for the village – crops fail, children die, and the muttering of the villagers begins to turn against Vasya, with the aid of her stepmother’s urging.  From here the story takes on more of a traditional fantasy atmosphere, as Vasya ventures further into the spirit world in order to save herself and her loved ones.

The greatest thing about this book is the fact that the author has remained true to the humanity of the characters while intertwining indispensable parts of the narrative that feature fantasy.  This gives the overall story an incredible feeling of authenticity even as winter demons and the walking undead plague Vasya’s village.  Real lives, innocent lives, are at stake, through folly brought about by flawed human behaviour, yet at the same time the ethereal, and the way it has been traditionally linked with the mundane by the villagers, is the key to a return to normalcy.

Vasya is a well-developed heroine, growing from the headstrong and flighty young girl into a determined young woman who is not afraid to take risks in order to secure her own path.  The women in the story are confined by the roles assigned to them by society but Vasya is different and refuses to be hemmed in, even when it seems impossible for her to resist.  Alongside Vasya are two women who are foils for each other – Dunya, the long-standing nurse of the household, who protects her charges as if they were her own children, even to her death; and Anna Ivanovna, Vasya’s stepmother, who cares more for herself than even for her own child, unless that child, Irinya, is reflecting credit on her mother through her beauty.  The male characters of Vasya’s family are both strong and gentle, fiercely protective of their daughters and sisters, yet bound to societal expectations.  The priest, Konstantin, is deeply flawed and blinded by his ego and need for attention.

While the fantasy elements of this tale, drawn from Russian folklore, are fascinating and terrifying by turns, the real heart of this story is in its humanity, and the decisions that individuals make when adversity falls in their lap.  I honestly thought that the fantasy creatures, the household spirits and the completely creepy upyr would be the highlight of the book for me but the ordinary characters were so engaging that while I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy elements, it was Vasya and her family that tipped this story over into brilliance.

I have to say that if this is the first offering from Katherine Arden, she is certainly going to be an author to keep on my watch list from now on.  If you are looking for a totally absorbing fantasy tale that never loses sight of its humanity, and have the time to devote to an epic story, I highly recommend getting lost in The Bear and the Nightingale.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Funny “Ha-Ha” and Funny “Peculiar”: A Double Dip Review That May Contain Oddity…

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Today’s double dip requires a whimsical, unexpected sort of a snack.  A snack that makes you giggle and might cause others to look at you askance while you snack upon your unlikely choice of foodstuff.  The books I have for you today are a delightful blend of the funny and the peculiar, the delightful and the unexpected…so I shan’t burden you with my ramblings any longer. Let’s dip in!

First we have Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker, which we received with glee from PanMacmillan Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A delightful and quirky compendium of the Animal Kingdom’s more unfortunate truths, with over 150 hand-drawn illustrations.

Ever wonder what a mayfly thinks of its one-day lifespan? (They’re curious what a sunset is.) Or how a jellyfish feels about not having a heart? (Sorry, but they’re not sorry.)

This melancholy menagerie pairs the more unsavory facts of animal life with their hilarious thoughts and reactions. Sneakily informative, and wildly witty, SAD ANIMAL FACTS will have you crying with laughter.

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Sad Animal Facts by Brooke Barker. Published by PanMacmillan Australia, 30th August, 2016. RRP: $19.99

Dip into it for…  

…a not-to-be-missed opportunity to revel in an atmosphere of schadenfreude directed squarely at our animal friends.  Most times, when a blurb promises that I will laugh out loud or that the contents of said book is hysterically funny, I become immediately wary that the actual level of humorous content is sadly lacking.  Sad Animal Facts did, however, have me laughing aloud within the first three pages, and by the end I’m pretty sure a little laughter-tear had leaked out.  I’m pretty sure that no matter how much you love animals and deplore your suffering, it will be hard not to have a little mean-spirited giggle at the predicaments of some of the animals contained within.  There’s the poor old long-tailed skink who embodies the shame of every hungry and impulsive human that ever lived, the gorilla who is as disgusted by your poor hygiene practices as the rest of us are (wash your damn hands, dammit!), and the downcast gnu who know exactly how multiple-birth kids feel about sharing birthdays.  The illustrations are sparse, simple and perfectly capture the various glumnesses of a menagerie of cute and crestfallen animals.

Don’t dip if…

…you can’t bring yourself to have a giggle at the woes of animals large and small.  And if that is the case, allow me to note what a sad little animal you are.

Overall Dip Factor
If this chunky little tome isn’t made into a desk-sized, tear-off calendar in time for this year’s office Kris Kringle season, then someone has dropped a huge marketing ball.  Sad Animal Facts is exactly that kind of read – one to flick through at leisure and enjoy piecemeal, savouring a few animal adversities at a time.  I would love to see a few copies of this one dropped into the waiting rooms of hospitals and, perhaps, funeral homes, to see how long it takes for someone to laugh inappropriately loudly in such a space while flicking through this book. I would definitely recommend this one to lovers of humour and illustration, and as the perfect gift for that acquaintance who likes to complain a lot about their situation in life.

Next up we have The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, which we excitedly received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. And every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami. Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $27.99

Dip into it for…  

…a quirky, funny and dreamy story that drills down on the relationships between the employees of a Japanese thrift shop.  Our excitement upon receiving a copy of this book could have been considered unseemly; Mad Martha adores thrift shops, flea markets, suitcase rummages and any opportunity to rifle through strangers’ cast-offs, so the chance to read about a Japanese version of the same was enticing indeed.  What this ended up reminding me of the most, oddly, was the narrative style of Alexander McCall Smith, with its intense focus on relationships and conversations, and a plot that is clearly secondary to the characters.  I could not help but become enamoured of Hitomi, the narrator, self-deprecating as she was, and Mr Nakano is so well described that a distinct image of him (adorned with a bobble hat) sprung immediately into my mind.  Masayo seems to be a strange yet endearing version of comic relief, often bringing up indecorous topics to be reviewed in the cold light of conversation, and Takeo…well, he seems like an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, wrapped in a shirt.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re hoping for a book with a solid plot.  As I mentioned, this story is about the characters and their interactions, and as such, nothing in particular “happens”.  The chapters work more like separate but consecutive snapshots into the lives of the characters, with a specific small event forming the focal point of each snapshot.

Overall Dip Factor

I interpreted the blurb to mean that the story would focus a fair bit on the customers of the shop, and the stories behind their items for sale or purchase, but the heart of the book really is Hitomi and her relationships with Takeo, Mr Nakano and Masayo.  There are a few other characters that influence the story – Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s mistress of the moment, is the most significant of these, but a few trading partners and customers have stories of their own highlighted throughout.  This style of narrative is certainly not going to appeal to everyone.  Some readers just need some kind of action to hold their interest.  I found that this one grew on my as I was reading and while I started off enjoying the dry and quirky humour, I remained reading because I really wanted to know what was going to happen for each of the four main characters.  This is a story that will no doubt stick in my head for a while yet.

Alas, it is now time for you to finish your peculiar snack and decide which of these books (or both!) you will be popping on your TBR list next!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Crushed Under a Mountain of Picture Books” Edition…

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On this, the second day of my very own Children’s Book Week, I have no less than five brilliant picture books for your perusal.  Let’s ride on in before they get away!

The Little Bad Wolf (Sam Bowring and Lachlan Creagh)

*We received a copy of The Little Bad Wolf from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

The Big Bad Wolf has retired and now his grandson wants to step in to take his place, causing havoc and general mischief.  Once again though, it seems like the pigs have one over on the wolves, and besides, what kind of trouble could a little wolf really cause?

Muster up the motivation because…

…the unusual formatting and detailed illustrations will have mini-fleshlings poring over the book as you regale them with the tale of one very naughty little wolf.  The story is laid out in a comic-style format, with each page featuring a number of different frames, with text in each.  The detail in some of the illustrations is impressive, and I’m sure young readers will love trying to find their favourite fairy-tale characters in the pictures.  The Little Bad Wolf truly is a naughty, naughty boy, harassing and threatening to eat Mrs Pig.  Mrs Pig looks like she’s heard it all before and laughs off Little Wolf’s antics until…he goes a bit too far, resulting in the now retired Big Bad Wolf getting involved.  There is a hilarious illustration during the scene in which the Big Bad Wolf is explaining why he gave up the pig-eating game featuring an aged woodsman on his motorised mobility scooter, still keeping an eye on his archnemesis!  In the end, it seems that Little Bad Wolf’s antics may have backfired, but it doesn’t look like he had learned his lesson just yet.  The highlight of this book for me was definitely the incredibly detailed and vivid illustrations, featuring everything from Baba Yaga and the Rock-a-Bye baby, to a bunch of elves picketing the Shoemaker for higher wages.  The complex page spreads really add depth to the world and the story.  If you are a fan of fairy tale reworkings, then this is definitely worth a good look.

Brand it with:

Historical vendettas; young rapscallions; piggy poise

Seek and Find Space (Emiliano Magliardo)

*We received a copy of Seek and Find Space from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: Seek and Find Space

Find out about space while having fun!  Search for pictures on each page while learning interesting tidbits about the world beyond planet Earth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…while this isn’t the most informative title you’ll ever see on the subject of space, it would certainly have to be one of the most fun.  The book is structured in double page spreads that each relate to a different topic – the solar system, star-gazing, the space station, for instance.  Each page features a little snippet of information about the topic, a large illustration and a selection of images that mini-fleshlings can hunt for in the picture.  The illustrations are cartoonish and wacky, and keen-eyed youngsters will find lots of things to make them giggle, such as a gondolier singing to his loved-up alien passengers, and the iconic bear-shaped honey dispenser blasting off on the page about rockets.  My favourite page would have to be that of the Big Bang, with everything from cave people to a very cheerful looking crab being blasted into existence.  Again, this isn’t going to satisfy kids who really want to find out information about space, but it is certainly a fun distraction for those with an interest in all things extra-terrestrial.

Brand it with:

Extra-curricular extra-terrestrial; new discoveries; fun with finding stuff

Sir Dancealot (Timothy Knapman & Keith Robinson)

*We received a copy of Sir Dancealot from Bloomsbury for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  Sir Dancealot

Sir Dancealot defeats monsters using his dance moves, keeping the kingdom safe.  But what will happen when one of the monsters knows how to dance too?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this boogie-tastic little book has all the fun and excitement of So You Think You Can Dance?, with the added bonus of dancing dragons and ice skating.  The illustrations are bright and bold and the cover literally shines due to some glittery accents.  The rhyming text makes this one perfect for reading aloud and the dance-mad younger mini-fleshling in the dwelling immediately requested it to be read again as soon as it was finished.  Sir Dancealot is obviously a pretty fabulous guy, looking, as he does, like a young John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, yet he doesn’t shy away from a challenge when the dragon challenges him to a dance-off…on ice!  There’s plenty of giggle-worthy imagery here to keep the mini-fleshlings happy and the twist at the end is worth waiting for.  I’d definitely recommend this to young readers who like their pre-bedtime stories fast, fun and funky.

Brand it with:

Boogie shoes; Strictly Come Reading; perfect pirouettes

Lucy and Company (Marianne Dubuc)

*We received a copy of Lucy and Company from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  28665603

Lucy loves to play with her animal friends in the woods, sharing snacks and having adventures.  But don’t wake Anton the bear!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is every bit as whimsical, joyful and charming as the cover would indicate.  The book actually features three short stories featuring Lucy and her animal friends, each one reading like a single picture book tale.  Of the three stories, The Hatchlings was my particular favourite as I found it to be the funniest and the most unexpected.  Adrian the snail steals the show, in my opinion (particularly while trying to brood some abandoned eggs!) but each of the stories is replete with warmth, adventure and humour.  The endpapers feature a gorgeous map of the woods showing where each animal lives and the illustrations throughout are filled with colour and exuberance.  I can see this being a book that young readers would ask for again and again, because even though the stories are very short, they are memorable and imaginative and fun.  I am super-pleased to have discovered Lucy and her company and I will  be looking out for any further adventures.

Brand it with:

Adventurous animals; fun with friends; don’t antagonise Anton

The Day I Became A Bird (Ingrid Chabbert & Raul Nieto Guridi)

*We received a copy of The Day I Became A Bird from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  28665602

On his first day of school, a young boy falls in love.  In order to attract the attention of his beloved, he transforms himself into the thing he knows she will love most.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this unusual and beguiling tale put me immediately in mind of the work of Oliver Jeffers, with its quirky illustrative style and unexpected subject matter.  The boy in the book falls innocently in love with the bird-loving girl who sits in front of him at school, and makes himself a bird costume (despite its obvious impracticalities) in order to attract her attention.  There is something a bit ethereal about the story as a whole and the intended audience is not immediately clear to me.  On the one hand, it is a straightforward and quite cute story about a young boy’s first love, but I also sense that there might be something deeper going on within the pages that I am missing.  Whatever the case, this is a surprising and funny story with a distinct visual style and I would recommend it to any lover of quirky picture books as one to keep an (eagle) eye out for.

Brand it with:

Birds suddenly appear; unwieldy costumery; love takes flight

Surely, SURELY, my friends, there is something in this little herd to catch your eye!  Stay tuned tomorrow for an atmospheric and creepy graphic novel perfect for lovers of mystery and magic!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about…Crochet Taxidermy!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

Tally-ho, fellow craft-lovers!  Today’s book is one for those who love crochet, animal parts and ironic home interior trends.  We received a copy of Crochet Taxidermy: 30 Quirky Animal Projects, From Mouse to Moose by Taylor Hart, with great excitement from the publisher via Netgalley.  Unfortunately, time got away from me and despite the best intentions I was unable to actually complete any of the projects in this compendium.  I have had a good old pore over it though and have formed some firm opinions, so here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Crochet Taxidermy puts a new twist on amigurumi, the popular Japanese method of creating considerably cute stuffed animals with oversized heads. In this delightful collection, heads of animals from farm and forest, sea and safari come to life with irresistible details like the drowsy eye (for the shy deer and sleepy octopus) and fuzzy yarn (for the skittery skunk’s stripe and lazy lion’s mane). Step-by-step instructions and adorable photos guide you through these 30 easy crochet patterns. Most require just one skein of yarn, so they’re affordable and quick to crochet!

crochet taxidermy

If you are a crafter with a basic understanding of amigurumi techniques – crocheting in the round, completing a magic circle, attaching limbs etc – this would be a fantastic pick for extending those skills in a way that allows for guilt-free construction of what are, essentially, plushies.  Being an avid maker of amigurumi, I know the internal conflict that arises from wanting desperately to make another cute little plushy, but feeling the guilt of not having an immediate purpose or recipient in mind for said toy.  Attaching the completed product to your wall is a perfect solution!

The book provides a diverse range of cute critters to display around the interior of your abode (or work cubicle!), with projects ranging from the quick and adorable mouse, chicken, owl and cuttlefish designs, to the more substantial moose, cow and hippo. Animals are divided into habitat categories, so if you have a particular decorating theme in mind, you can draw on a whole wall-full of inspiration.  Similarly, the patterns for related animals seem to use standard shapes, so once you have mastered one animal, completing others of its ilk should be a doddle.

I had two main issues of contention with this title though.  The first is that, as a more experienced amigurumi maker, the animals didn’t quite have the quirky facial character I was hoping for.  This is simply an issue of preference however, so I can’t really hold that against the designer.  The second issue however, which can be noticed upon close inspection of the completed photographs of the projects, is one that poked at the frayed nerves of the perfectionist in me.  One of the key features of amigurumi is the use of small, tightly woven stitches, but in the project photos the stuffing is clearly showing on a number of the animals, which means that the stitches are larger than they probably should be – or alternately, that the pieces are too tightly stuffed, stretching the fabric too widely.  This could be related to the fact that some of the projects are quite large and designed to be completed quickly, but it seemed like something that should have been ironed out before the final patterns were made up, to give the finished product a more professional look.

If you are at the beginning of your amigurumi journey though, or someone who needs a watertight excuse to make more cute, quirky plushies, this book really does have everything you need to achieve a successful and jolly faux-taxidermy look for your home.

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha