Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

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Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

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If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

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

 

 

 

Fiction in 50 March Challenge!

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Fiction in 50 NEW BUTTONIt’s Fiction in 50 for March, where we create a piece of writing in 51 words or fewer based on a prompt and then share it with the community!  If you’d like to find out more about Fi50, just click here.  This month our prompt is…

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And due to the proliferation of bird life around our way at the moment I have titled this month’s effort…

Morning Interlude

He’s back! 

Sat there, proud as punch.

Singing out now, not caring a jot for the peace of the neighbourhood.

They say you shouldn’t feed them but life would be a little greyer if he didn’t come to visit.

I’ve got some chicken mince today, my beauty. 

Only the best.


Next month we will be working on a “fill in the blank” prompt.   I always love seeing what people come up with for these ones.  April’s prompt will be…

born to...

(You fill in the blank!)

Don’t forget to add a link to your efforts for this month’s post in the comments below!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review: Owls…

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Who doesn’t love the bug-eyed, stealthy swoop and quiet wisdom of the majestic owl? Nobody, that’s who.  Today’s book, as you may have guessed, is devoted to these mystical, mysterious, mouse-eating birds and as it is a factual tome, I am submitting it for the Nonfiction Reading Nonfiction 2015Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader.  Keen-eyed readers will know that I’ve already technically completed this challenge, but I’m going to see how many nonfiction books I can knock over in the remaining months of the year anyway.

But we were discussing owls, weren’t we?  We received the delightful little illustrated tome, Owls: Our Most Charming Bird, by Matt Sewell, from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In this beautiful follow-up to Our Garden Birds, Our Songbirds and Our Woodland Birds, street artist Matt Sewell captures the world’s most evocative bird: the owl. In his much-loved pop-art watercolours and accompanied with his whimsical descriptions, Matt Sewell expresses the individual characters of owls as never before.

From tiny Elf Owls to huge Eagle Owls, from the mysterious creatures of the night to an impossibly fluffy baby owl, they are undoubtedly one of the world’s most intriguing feathered friends. These wise, magical birds are otherworldly in their striking colours and stature, and it’s not just birdwatchers who are obsessed. With 50 hand-selected, hand-painted owls, this is a delightful gift which appeals to owl lovers, bird-watching enthusiasts, children, adults and art and design fans alike.

Owls

So here are five things I’ve learned from

Owls: Our Most Enchanting Bird

  1. Owl facial expressions can be unintentionally hilarious.
  2. “Flammulated” is an evocative and exciting word which should be used far more often.
  3. “Flammulated” means red-hued.
  4. The Flammulated Owl is reddish.
  5. Owls tend to creep people out and as a result, have become the basis of many myths and legends.

This is a fetching and enchanting little book featuring short, witty descriptions and gorgeous illustrations of some fifty types of owl.  Not being possessed of a great expanse of knowledge about owls, this was the perfect, whimsical introduction to these masters of nocturnal stealth.  The descriptions of each owl are only one to two paragraphs in length and so the book is perfect for dipping into as the fancy takes you, but is equally suited to a cover-to-cover type of attack.

My favourite, in case you hadn’t guessed, was the Flammulated Owl both for its stimulating name and its interesting reddy-brownish colouring.  The illustrations in this book are just wonderful and perfectly compliment the light-hearted tone of the text.  Apart from our flammulated friend, I was also quite taken with the Collared Scops Owl (looking set for a walk-on role as an alien in a Doctor Who episode), the Greater Sooty Owl (a mystical looking Australian owl with excellent night camouflage) and the Crested Owl (unmatched in eyebrow prowess).

The last few pages of the book are devoted to a spotter’s checklist, featuring smaller pictures of each of the owls, so that keen readers can tick off the exotic owls as they spot them.  This is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feature I suspect, but fun for inspiring the latent bird-watcher inside the armchair enthusiast.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge: 12/16 

Until next time,

Bruce

An MG Haiku Review and Double GIVEAWAY!: Nightbird….

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Good morning my well-read poppets! Today I have a syllabic haiku for a lyrical story as well as TWO copies of said story to give away to TWO of you lucky well-read poppets! The book for today is a beautiful, uplifting, mysterious, questing sort of story perfect for the middle-grader in your life, or the middle-grader in your psyche.  Nightbird by Alice Hoffman is that rare creature of modern publishing: an original story featuring the familiar themes of magic and friendship.  I was lucky enough to receive two copies of the book from Simon and Schuster Australia – one that I won, and one for review – and so I now have two copies of this sweet little tale to pass on to you.  Let’s crack on!

From Goodreads:

Twig lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell.nightbird

In dappled moonlight

an ancient curse finds freedom

hidden things revealed

I shan’t give anything away about the tale, but if you look closely at the cover you may be able to pick up some hints about the magical twist that keeps Twig separate from the other kids in her town.  This was a really unexpected read as the blurb doesn’t reflect the many complex goings-on in Twig’s life that started two-hundred years ago with a witch’s curse and are still being played out in Twig’s day-to-day business.

Hoffman has created a tale that is both tightly woven and lyrically expressed in Nightbird.  The story is a strangely satisfying hybrid of ordinary “odd-kid-out-finds-friendship” fare mixed with “magic-and-witches-and-curses” in small town America.  I particularly enjoyed how the author hasn’t tried to over-reach with trying to make the book action-packed or overly exciting – the tone and pace perfectly match the laid-back vibe of life in the country for a kid who’s a little bit lonely, and acutely aware of the reasons why her family must stand apart from the ordinary goings on of town life.

Nightbird has all the elements of a good “this truly might have happened” sort of magical tale.  There’s the historical influence, of ancient acts that are still being played out by innocent parties, there are spells, and a mysterious journal that could help solve all of Twig’s problems, as well as one or two adults who might be more than they appear. I’d recommend this for lovers of middle grade fantasy that has a gentle pace coupled with a spirited heart.

Now, to winning!  I have two print copies to give away – one for international readers and one specifically for Australian readers.  Aussies, you can enter the International giveaway too if you want to double your chances! To enter, click on the relevant Rafflecopter links below:

For International Readers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For Australian Readers

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I can’t wait to share the love and send these little babies off to some new forever homes, so get clicking and entering.  Good luck!

Until we meet again, may all your happy dreams grow wings and take flight,

Mad Martha

Starting 2015 with a Bang (and a few shrieks!): A Murder of Crows…

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Welcome to my first review of 2015! Are we all rested after that 24 hour break? I am. I always get a nice early night on December 31st, but some hooligans in the area always think it’s funny to let off fireworks at midnight. Rapscallions!

I’m a great subscriber to the old exhortation to “start out as you mean to go on”, so to start the year I bring you a highly intriguing and very well-constructed anthology of short stories with a horrorish theme.  A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters and the Macabre by DeAnna Knippling is a frightfully good collection of scary stories weaved into a larger narrative framework that in itself is positively unease-laden.  Allow me to explain.

When Machado the crow and his flock save a young girl from the questionable magic-based antics of her mother, they drive out the cold by telling her stories.  Admittedly, the stories aren’t necessarily what one would consider appropriate for children, but telling stories is part of the crows’ culture and this particular child has seen many things that would not be considered age-appropriate.  When a mysterious monster known as the Crouga is released into the flock and begins to wreak murderous havoc, it signals the girl’s moment to take revenge on her mother.  But the thing that her mother has unleashed may be stronger than even the Crouga – and even if the girl survives the damage her mother has wrought, will she ever be able to heal?

Murder of crows

I have read quite a few short story anthologies and collections that are interwoven about a central narrative, but I have to say that this book is an extremely good example of the genre.  Putting aside the content for a moment, Knippling has created a tight, thoughtfully constructed collection here that subtly links each story to the greater narrative and covers a great variety of horror-themed tales.  There’s a nifty little zombie narrative, in which humans and the undead coexist in an uneasy sharing of geographical space, stories of changelings and fey interference in human affairs, tales of summoning what should not be summoned, particularly where revenge is involved and stories featuring objects imbued with a power not their own.  I was surprised and impressed by first the number of stories included here, as well as their quality – while the content of some was a little beyond my horror-tolerance, they were all remarkably well written and engaging, something that is not always the case in longer anthologies.

As the subtitle suggests, there are seventeen short stories within the greater narrative and they are all quite hefty in themselves and therefore the reader won’t be left wanting in terms of reading time.  Like I mentioned, some of the stories, especially toward the end became a bit too realistically violent for my tastes, but I suspect they will please more experienced horror-buffs than I.

I particularly enjoyed the characterisation given to the various crows, from the elders to the chicks, and the backstories that coloured both the stories the crows shared and their attitude to the unfolding monster-based crisis.  Machado particularly had a very relatable voice and I enjoyed his musings between the short stories.

This was an out-of-the-box, quality find for me and I will no doubt end up seeking out some other examples of Knippling’s work in the future.  If this tome is anything to go by, I will not be disappointed!

I received a copy of this title through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Until next time,

Bruce

BirdCatDog: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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Welcome, bookish creatures of all persuasions, to this Maniacal Book Club review.  Today we are discussing the wordless graphic novel BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling and Meritxell Bosch.birdcatdog2

BirdCatDog is a wordless picture book that follows three animals (guess which ones!) simultaneously as they go about their daily errands.  For each animal, there is at least one surprise in store and as paths cross and some other animals from the wild side of the fence make an appearance, things become very tangled indeed.  All ends happily enough though, and the reader is left with the message that no matter who the “main character” portrayed in the story happens to be, we are all the heroes of our own little tail tale.

 

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Creatures of flesh, creatures of stone – it matters not.  What matters, dear friends, as is pointed out to us in this tale-with-a-hidden-message is that perspective is all important!  Each of us sees the story in our own way, but if we look at it from a different angle, we may notice something we haven’t seen before.

This book will help you to look at things from a new perspective.  Perhaps if Messrs Nordling and Bosch were to follow us all around and document our daily doings in such a way as they have for these lucky animals, there would be much less conflict in the world.  It is possible.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There is a wolfish big dog, and a hawkish bird of prey and a nasty looking mountainish cat, so if you mashed them all together they would make a pretty cool predator creature.
I liked the way the stories get all mixed up at the end and how each animal gets into scary trouble and gets chased around by bigger, nastier animals.

There’s no words either, which is good because sometimes it’s better just to look at the pictures really closely and make up your own story.  It would be better if there was at least a small dragon in it.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

A dog, a cat, a bird

form a story and each gets a third.

So keep your eyes peeled

once they’re further afield

or you may find your path becomes blurred.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

Take it from me folks, this book is going to be a hit in upper years primary classrooms, because there is nothing more fun than a wordless book with a complex story.  BirdCatDog is unusual in that it sets up a challenge for the reader right at the very beginning – do you try and “read” it like a normal book and take in the story in its entirety, page by page, or do you follow the handily colour-coded strips and take it in one animal protagonist at a time?  And if you pick the latter option, which animal will you choose to follow first?

The genius element to this book is that it demands rereading.  In order to appreciate the overarching story, you simply have to flick back to the beginning multiple times, so this will be a great choice for engaging those reluctant readers in a book-based activity. 

The art is beautifully done in a cartoon style, with the colour-coding followed throughout to lend continuity – blue for bird, green for cat and yellow for dog.  The imagery in each vignette is deceptively simple, but when taken together at the page level, creates a complex visual experience that demands closer attention. 

Another engaging element of the book is the questions posed by all the characters in the story – who is the hero of the story? Are there multiple heroes? How can that be?  There is so much potential here for the classroom in opening up discussion about storytelling and bias – whose perspective is important and who gets left out? How do we decide whose perspective is the most important?

Leaving the classroom applications to the side though, this book is simply a visual treat and will provide plenty of entertainment for readers young and old as they unravel and then retangle the threads of each creature’s escapades.  I definitely recommend having a look at BirdCatDog if you are a fan of stories told in a visual medium (and even if you aren’t!).

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley*

 

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