A Middle-Grade Mystery Double Dip Review: Best Mistakes and Girl Detectives…

1

image

I hope you won’t have to search out your snack to accompany today’s double dip review, because that’s exactly what is happening in today’s two middle grade mysteries…although, technically, it’s not snacks that are being hunted down, it’s secrets and trickery.  Let’s jump straight in with a girl detective, shall we?

We received The Great Shelby Holmes: Girl Detective by Elizabeth Eulberg from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet spunky sleuth Shelby and her sports-loving sidekick Watson as they take on a dog-napper in this fresh twist on Sherlock Holmes.
Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Sherlock Holmes gets a fun, sweet twist with two irresistible young heroes and black & white illustrations throughout in this middle grade debut from internationally bestselling YA author Elizabeth Eulberg.

Dip into it for… shelby holmes

…a fun and tongue-in-cheek mystery featuring a strong yet quirky female protagonist and an honest and down-to-earth narrator.  I will absolutely admit that when this landed on my shelf I immediately rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh sweet baby cheeses, not ANOTHER Sherlock Holmes spin off”, but I genuinely enjoyed this tale and quickly warmed to the characters mostly, I think, due to the endearing and self-deprecating voice of John Watson, the narrator.  John felt like a pretty authentic young lad who has just moved to a new city (again) and is faced with the task of making friends (any friends) to avoid having to think about his dad’s disappearing act.  Shelby is supremely annoying in some parts, in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, but the author does a good job of pointing out (through John’s observations) her vulnerabilities and desire for camaraderie.  The story deals with a mystery involving a wealthy family and a disappearing dog which is solved eloquently in the end, leaving everyone something to think about.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like Sherlock Holmes rebooted for youngsters?  This story certainly wouldn’t have made it onto my TBR had it not been sent to me for review, but I will happily admit that this would have been my mistake.  Even if you are a bit over re-hashed detective concepts for middle grade readers, this one is genuinely warm and worth a look.

Overall Dip Factor

I would certainly recommend this to young readers who enjoy mystery mixed with humour in a setting that allows real-life issues – like making friends, dealing with parental separation and moving to a new city – to come to the fore.  The characters are well-developed enough to give the story a bit of depth and the mystery is interesting enough to have youngsters guessing along until the big reveal.  This is definitely one of the more accomplished Sherlock Holmes homages I’ve seen about.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge 2017Popsugar Challenge 2017 under category #27: a book featuring someone’s name in the title.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Next up we have a tale of vintage cars, dog-walking and another set of quirky friends in The Best Mistake Mystery by Sylvia McNicoll.  We received a copy of this one from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? To find out, Stephen will have to count on all of his new friends.

Dip into it for… best mistake mystery

…a multi-layered mystery that can only be pieced together by someone who spends their time scanning the neighbourhood under the cover of dogwalking.  Stephen is a conscientious sort of a boy and Renee is a loyal friend with a rebellious streak.  Both kids need a friend and it turns out that hanging out with the “weird” kid needn’t be a bad thing.  The mystery in this one unfolds slowly, with different elements added as the days go on and it is not clear to Stephen and Renee – or indeed, the reader – how, or even if, certain pieces of the puzzle fit together. Every character has a backstory here, as one often finds in a small neighbourhood, and there are plenty of people who had the opportunity, if not the motive, to drive a car into the front of the school.  The same is true of the threatening texts that Stephen begins to receive – plenty of people could have had the opportunity – but why would anyone want to hurt Ping and Pong?

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dogs.  I’m serious.  There is a lot of dog-walking, dog-feeding and general dog-tending going on here, and that’s before Ping and Pong come under the threat of dognapping.  I will admit that this became tedious after a while.  I understand that Stephen, as a character, is totally committed to his doggy clients, but I didn’t feel like I needed quite that much detail as to how he went about looking after them.

Overall Dip Factor

This is certainly an original story with a mystery that will have even the most committed mystery-readers puzzling along with the characters.  There are plenty of red-herrings thrown in and lots of possible motives for all sorts of characters, and in the end things aren’t exactly as our two protagonists imagined them to be.  I enjoyed watching the friendship between Renee and Stephen grow.  The author has done a good job of letting the trust build slowly, while the bonds between the two are forged through trial.  This wasn’t an outstanding read, in my opinion, but definitely worth a look if you can handle lots of doggy description and enjoy a complex, neighbourhood-driven mystery.

I hope if you have a canine in the house that you provided them with a nice treat while you read the preceding review, but I suppose if you didn’t there’s still time to do it now.

We’ll wait.

So, do either of these take you fancy?  Are you sick of rehashes of famous detective stories too?  Have you ever read a dog-walking mystery before?  Let me know!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Yetis, Ants and Unruly Hair…

3

image

It’s a Bloomsbury Australia triple-dipping rodeo today with three new release picture books guaranteed to delight and amaze your mini-fleshlings!  Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.

I’m Going to Eat This Ant (Chirs Naylor-Ballesteros)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i am going to eat this ant

A hungry ant-eater is determined to eat an ant but has trouble deciding which delicious method he will use to prepare his snack. Meanwhile, the ants have ideas of their own and anteater’s snack isn’t going to be quite so easy as that!

Muster up the motivation because…

…from the seriously sinister look on the anteater’s face to the enormously imaginative ways that he dreams up to prepare his ant meal, young readers will be able to tell at a glance that the main character of this book is one nasty customer.  The creative culinary mind of said anteater, while inexplicably fixated on the letter “s”, takes in every possible method of food preparation, from sauteeing, to smoking, sandwiches to drinks with straws.  One of the highlights of the book is surely the look on the unlucky ant’s face as he is mentally sloshed in sauce and sizzled on a stick.  Our favourite page would have to be that on which the poor little ant is depicted sliced like a salami – I will always marvel at how illustrators manage to convey so much emotion with just a few slashes of line!  We particularly enjoyed the final endpapers depicting the ants marching along with all the anteater’s imagined foodstuffs and utensils…and the cheeky surprise as you turn over the very last endpaper page!  As the methods of dispatching the ant become nastier and nastier, it was somewhat of a relief to note that the other ants in the nest have a cunning plan to save their comrade and see off the nasty anteater.  The ending will no doubt have mini-fleshlings cheering as the anteater gets his comeuppance.  This is a wickedly funny picture book for young ones who enjoy subversive humour.

Brand it with:

Ant-i-establishment; the circle of life; alliterative eats

Henry and the Yeti (Russell Ayto)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  henry and the yeti

Nobody believes Henry when he says he is off to find a Yeti. With determination, a little mountain climbing and his trusty camera, Henry is sure that he can provide the evidence his headteacher needs to prove that Yetis exist.

Muster up the motivation because…

…summing up the oft-touted exhortation of “pictures or it didn’t happen”, this story is a fun, reverse take on the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Rather than pretending that something exists when it doesn’t, Henry is adamant that Yetis are real and what’s more, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and go on an expedition to prove it.  Young readers will no doubt find something to relate to in the early scenes of the book, in which Henry is ridiculed for believing in something so outlandish, but with determination and his trusty camera by his side (for evidence, of course) Henry backs himself and sets off to glory and beyond.  After a mishap with his camera however, it looks like Henry’s successful mission might be in jeopardy…but a friend in need is a friend indeed and a surprising ally turns up in the nick of time to support Henry’s claims.  This story is replete with dry humour – “Now the headteacher is having a little lie down” says the text, with the illustrations showing that he has clearly fainted – and bears a wonderful message about believing in yourself.  We particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrator didn’t overstretch himself in creating the character of the Yeti.  (That was dry humour too).

Brand it with:

Cryptozooloogy in the classroom; documentary evidence; expeditionary forces

I Don’t Want Curly Hair (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  curly hair

A girl with unruly curls tries everything to make her hair straight, with no success.  Upon meeting someone with a different outlook, both girls start to appreciate what they have.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it’s the age old tale of wanting something that everyone else has, before finding out that what you have ain’t so bad after all.  This isn’t the most original picture book getting around the place – which is surprising, given that Anderson is the creator of The Phoenix magazine’s brilliant Evil Emperor Penguin comic series – but its message, and the protagonist’s daily struggles to tame her wild curls, will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to brush a child’s curly hair without the assistance of a detangling spray, detangling brush and several litres of spray-on hair anaesthetic.  The rhyming text and the inventive ways that the girl comes up with to solve her curly problem will have little ones entranced and giggling along and the ending clearly demonstrates how the greener grass – or in this case, the straighter hair – isn’t necessariily the boon that our protagonist thinks it is.  Overall, this story has been done before, many times, but the humour and rhyming text make this worth a look if you have a mini-fleshling with wild, untamed curls.

Brand it with:

Getting things straight; tangled tales; opposites attract

I hope you’ve found something to herd into your book-pen!  What have you been rounding up to read lately?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

On For Young and Old: Activity books from wicked to wonderful…

3

If you (or your mini-fleshlings) are already twiddling your thumbs and the school holidays haven’t even started yet, allow me to avail you of some fantastic activity books that will give your thumbs, and indeed the rest of your hand-based digits, something to do.  Let’s start with something for the grownups, shall we, with…

The Wicked Plants Colouring Book (Amy Stewart and Briony Morrow-Cribbs)

which we received for review from Scribe Publications

wicked-plants

From Goodreads:

A colouring book with a dark side

In The Wicked Plants Colouring Book, Amy Stewart and artist Briony Morrow-Cribbs bring colouring enthusiasts the 40 most menacing botanical atrocities from their New York Times bestseller Wicked Plants. Morrow-Cribbs’s exquisite etchings are now finely rendered colouring-book art and are paired with details from the original book.

Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, and written with Stewart’s trademark wit, each wonderfully creepy spread offers a fascinating portrait of the evildoers of the plant world, from the vine that ate the South (kudzu) to the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother (white snakeroot) to the world’s deadliest seed (rosary pea).

If this time of year generally has you making a list (of people who have wronged you during the past year) and checking it twice, then you are definitely the sort of person for whom the colouring of deadly plants could be a relaxing and educational experience.  I was woefully unaware of the original nonfiction title that spawned this black and white spin-off, but Wicked Plants is now definitely on my TBR list.

As well as providing some gorgeous and detailed line drawings of the aforementioned floral evildoers for you to wile away the hours colouring in, each plant picture is accompanied by a short paragraph of text explaining the specific wickedness of said plant and providing tidbits of scientific information about it.  The cover star of the book, in case you are wondering, is the Betel Nut, a highly addictive nut prized for its chewability, but a chief cause of mouth cancer and asthma.  A small selection of the 40 delightfully deadly plants included here are the innocent-seeming Water Hyacinth (waterway clogger extraordinaire), the highly toxic Death Camas (well, the name did warn you), and the completely-poisonous-except-for-one-tiny-bit (can you guess which one?) Yew.  The plants are listed in alphabetical order, with a foreword from the author at the beginning, and some blank pages at the back for you to draw your own plants.

I think the most charming thing about this particular activity book is that it bears a “This book belongs to” stamp at the front, so that budding poisoners can ensure that nobody makes off with their tome of flowering death.  If you are, or you know, a green thumb who is also quite at home with the dark side of plant life, this would make the perfect gift.  Other than that, perhaps you could keep it beside your list of enemies, for when you need a light break.

Next we have one for the middle-sized fleshlings of your acquaintance…

Doodles Activity Book 

which we received from Allen & Unwin for review

doodles-activity-book

Doodles Activity Book Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November 2016. RRP: $16.99

From Allen & Unwin:

A hilariously funny activity book filled with wacky drawing ideas. DRAW-SNAP-SEND-LAUGH – submit your drawing directly to the interactive animated comedy series Doodles, now screening on ABC3.

Take a monster selfie, untangle a robot’s wiring or create your own UFO in this comic and appealing activity book with loads of child appeal. Full of hilarious drawing activities, funny dot-to-dots, zany find-a-words, wacky mazes and other mad-cap activities sure to spark a child’s creativity, this book from the creators of the successful television show of the same name will be a winner for Christmas.

The interactive television show, Doodles, in which kids’ drawings are turned into micro movies is now screening on ABC ME. Kids can submit their drawings to the television show by following the instructions in the activity book.

As with the previous title, I had absolutely no idea that this book is based on a TV show currently screening on ABCMe (formerly ABC3).   At first glance, this book doesn’t appear to be anything too different or special when it comes to drawing prompt-type books for kids, but having had a quick look at the website for the show, which encourages kids to send in their drawings, which are then made into short animations, this activity book starts to make a lot more sense. I would definitely encourage you to use the book in conjunction with having a goggle at the show, to provide inspiration beyond what’s provided in the pages here.  Don’t panic if you think you’ll forget the website for the show – all the social media addresses are included in the book – and there’s even a little instruction page detailing how kids can submit their drawings for the show.

The book itself is a satisfying A4 size, and divided into sections based on different themes – dinosaurs, superheroes, aliens, technology and robots, and magic and fantasy.  Personally, I think this is a great idea because not only does it allow the user to flick to whatever interests them first, but it but it also provides a focused prompt and allows users to practice one particular type of drawing before moving on to the next.  As well as lots of doodling prompts, each section has a range of other activities, such as colouring by numbers, decoding puzzles, crosswords, funny labelling activities and mad libs style fill-in-the-blank activities, so even if your mini-fleshling isn’t a drawing desperado, they should find something to keep them busy inside this book.  

The final section of the book is a “Make Your Own Movie” chapter, in which users are guided through the process of creating a story from start to finish.  Page prompts detail how to create characters, decide on a conflict and push the story through to an exciting ending.  This is a great way to keep the mini-fleshlings busy for more than just a few minutes, as they plan and create a story, rather than just fill in an activity page.

On closer inspection, I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the prompts found in the Doodles Activity book.  If you are looking for a way to get your kids away from their screens without cancelling all screen time, this book could be a great middle point as it uses the TV show as a starting point to fire kids’ imaginations.

And finally, we have one for the whole family, whether you’re snowed in or sweating it out…

The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book (Andy Seed & Scott Garrett)

which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia

anti-boredom-christmas

From Bloomsbury Australia:

Warning: This book will cure all boredom!

Christmas is everyone’s favourite time of year. But it can also get a bit boring from time to time. Those long journeys to see Aunty Periwinkle can seem to drag on forever! But look no further because Andy Seed’s Anti-boredom Christmas Book will cure all those Christmas boredom blues!

Find out how to say snow in 16 different languages; discover who banned Christmas carols; act out your own wacky routine of the Twelve Days of Christmas… and much much more!

This fantastically festive witty and wacky book is bursting full of laugh-out-loud facts, games, quizzes plus heaps more for hours of fun. Packed full of Scott Garrett’s hilarious artwork, this book is sure to keep you entertained for hours of festive fun! 

“So how is this different from other Christmas activity books, Bruce?” I hear you ask.  Well, for a start, The Anti-Boredom Christmas book is far less focused on using the book as the starting point for the activity, rather encouraging people, both young and old, to share their ideas, likes and dislikes about all things Christmas.  Divided into a range of handy sections which cover everything from snowfall to festive music to Christmas around the world, each section features jokes to tell, objects or events to rate, challenges to complete individually or with family or friends, riddles to solve, games to play and contentious topics (like whether real or fake Christmas trees are superior) to debate.  My favourite bit (being a bit of a nerdy nerd) was discovering a list of Toy of the Year winners from 1965 to 2015, although I had a bit of a chuckle at a collection of real and made up festive place names from around the world (did you know the US boasts a town named Santa Claus?), and I thought hard over a would-you-rather game involving Christmas films.  The only downside to the book is that it is quite Northern Hemisphere-centric, and even Britain-centric, and younger Aussie readers may not quite get the references to Pantos and such.  

The book is quite a small size, which makes it super-handy for travelling, but ensures that the text is packed onto the page, so a quick flick through really gives the impression that there is plenty to get one’s teeth into to ward off holiday boredom.  It’s also beautifully formatted so that you can just open it at a random page and have a go at whatever you happen to land on, be it joke-telling, snowflake crafting or playing a Christmas-themed guessing game.  I think the best part about this book is that most of the activities within it beg to be shared with others, encouraging interaction rather than isolation on screen or over page.  If you are going on a long boring train, plane or car trip, or expect some drop-outs to your Wifi this holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is a great solution for when you need ten festive minutes to fill.

Hopefully one of these books has taken your fancy and we on the Shelf have once again assisted you with your gift-buying needs.  Or, you know, just helped you add a few extra books to your teetering TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Beautiful, Beastly Double Dip: Gift Books about Repitilia (and other unusual creatures)

1

image

You may have noticed that it is getting to that time of year when it will be impossible to avoid the urging of others regarding choosing the right gift.  If you are looking to escape such urging, you have come to the wrong place, for today I have two beautifully presented books that would make the perfect gift for young readers of your acquaintance with a penchant for dinosaurs and other beastly creatures.  We received both of these tomes from Bloomsbury Australia for review and they have already been pored over by the mini-fleshlings, to the accompaniment of much “Ooohing” and “Ahhing”.

First up, we have Discovering Dinosaurs by Simon Chapman and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This is the the most thrilling, adventure book, ever! Written by a real-life adventurer, Simon Chapman, be prepared to live your dream and imagine you discovered the dinosaurs. It’s your chance to battle blizzards with swarms of vipers in the Gobi Desert with Roy Chapman Andrews, join the race across the the Wild West of America with bone-hunters Cope and Marsh.

Along the trail of discovery you’ll unearth a time when monsters really did rule the world – DINOSAURS.

You will find them all in here: Triceratops, Pteradactyls, Iguanodon, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and many more. It’s crammed full of stats, wild pictures, a brilliant pop-up (don’t get eaten!), realistic artworks, journals, flaps and even the insides of dinosaurs. You’ll discover what makes a dinosaur, when and where they lived, what they ate, why they fought and why they became extinct.

Dip into it for… discovering-dinosaurs

…a vividly illustrated adventure into the prehistoric world, with flaps to lift, notebooks and letters to flick through and one whopping great pop up!  If you have a mini-fleshling interested in dinosaurs, this would certainly be a winning choice for gifting.  The book is large with a satisfyingly chunky cover and solid cardboard pages, all the better to provide a sturdy base for the artifacts inside.  Beginning with a double page fold-out map of the world as it was during different geological time periods, the book is divided into double page spreads that focus on particular geographical regions in which certain species of dinosaur have been found, alternating with double page spreads on a range of “favourite” dinosaurs.  The book finishes with some information on fossils as well as an intriguing little flip-up notebook piece which is enticingly titled, “How to Find Fossils”.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of dinosaurs, I suppose.  Age-wise, the text was a bit advanced for the eldest mini-fleshling in this dwelling, at nearly six years old, but but he spent plenty of time flicking through the various flaps, pull-outs and bits to see what was in, under and around.  I would have to say that this is best suited to the seven and above age group, if you are looking at them actually getting to grips with the information in the book, rather than just having fun with the pictures and pop-ups.

Overall Dip Factor

The best recommendation I can give for this book is that the mini-fleshling double-checked whether this book would be remaining in the dwelling after it had been reviewed, and if so, could he claim it as his.  There are plenty of books on various topics in this type of engaging format around, but they certainly do make for a fun and tactile reading experience.  If you don’t know any mini-fleshlings with a particular interest in dinosaurs, this would make an equally appealing gift for any primary school teachers or children’s librarians of your acquaintance.  It’s the kind of book that will be on high rotation during silent reading.

Next we have A Miscellany of Magical Beasts by Simon Holland.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Enter an incredible world of magical beasts, dare to draw near to their captivating powers, and discover the spellbinding stories of sixteen favorite mythical creatures from around the world. Venture into this world and you’ll discover why griffins collect a gem called agate, how to put out dragonfire, how mischievous elves can cause terrible nightmares, and much, much more.

A Miscellany of Magical Beasts is a beautiful, luxurious gift book showcasing a fascinating menagerie of creatures from the world’s timeless mythologies and legends. Presented in an incredible package with spectacular cover finishes, it is sure to be treasured by fantasy enthusiasts.

Dip into it for…  miscellany-of-magical-beasts

…a feast for the eyes and a scratch for the fantastical beast itch.  Apart from being nicely timed to coincide with the release of a certain movie about certain fantastic beasts and where to find the same, this is the kind of book that will spark the imagination of even the most literal and pragmatic of young readers.  The cover image gives a good indication of the high quality of illustration throughout the book and each page is awash with colour and fine detail.  The book has several illustrators contributing, so while all the illustrations are stunningly gorgeous, there is a bit of variety in style, which is an interesting touch. Tucked within the pages are a few fold-outs and cut-outs and because they are not included on every page, add a little extra to the reading experience for those who go the distance.  A wide range of beasties are covered, from the unicorn to the chimera and from elves to werewolves, with each creature receiving at least a double-page spread of information in a blocks of text that don’t overwhelm.  Some of the creatures also get a little extra attention, with sections such as “How to Outwit a Werewolf” and a “Guide to Dragons” filling out some of the informational gaps and providing variety.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for information on gargoyles.  They aren’t included.  Similarly, if you are looking for a whiz-bang reading experience with pop-ups and flaps to lift you will be disappointed because this book is more of an information text, albeit a beautifully presented one.

Overall Dip Factor

If you know a mini-fleshling with a vivid imagination, who is into fantasy fiction, or is simply ripe for pushing into tabletop fantasy RPG games, this book will certainly whet their appetite for the magical.  It has a lovely large format that is perfect for enjoying with others and the illustrations really are something else.  Once again, if you are, or know, a classroom teacher or children’s librarian, this would make a brilliant and coveted addition to any school or classroom library.

As they say, the first bite is with the eye (or something of that nature), and if you have a reluctant reader or a mini-fleshling who would rather eat glass than wake up to find a book in their Christmas stocking, either of these tomes might change their mind.  On the other hand, if you are related to a voracious reader, either of these books in their stocking will reinforce for them why getting a book for Christmas is the greatest thing ever.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Halloween’s Over, You Say? Then it Must Be Time for a Festive Christmas Double-Dip!

2

image

It’s time to break out the fruit mince pies and sugar-crusted almonds and rustle up that Christmas feeling, for today’s double dip is all about everyone’s favourite most stressful time of year.  Luckily, today’s books for mini-fleshlings are not stressful in the least and should actually contribute to the heightening of joy and happiness in your dwelling.  Let’s crack on then, with an Aussie Christmas picture book, Christmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson, which we cheerfully received from Five Mile Press for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Let’s decorate your branches…

The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and the neighbourhood Christmas lights blaze against a warm December sky.

It’s Christmas time at home — the very best time of the year.

An Australian Christmas tale.

Dip into it for…christmas-at-home

…a delightful romp through the lead up to Christmas and Christmas Day itself, that pulls no punches as to how festivities really unfold in a land in which the only snow to be seen is of the type that is sprayed out of cans to fancy up one’s window display.  The text is based on the classic carol, O Christmas Tree, and each page spread focuses on a typical Christmas activity – wrapping presents, visiting neighbourhood light displays, cooking on the barbie, and general family shenanigans.  The illustrations are absolutely fantastic here and I particularly love the way that aspects of contemporary life, such as two lads discussing something on the iPad with grandma, a lady taking a selfie at a light display and dad trying to fly his new remote control helicopter are all present, but peripheral to the main events.  The best bit about this book for me however was the fact that the illustrator has obviously paid close attention to inclusion and representation in creating the characters.  Although the protagonist family are fair, white (and slightly sweaty!) Australians, every scene that depicts other people includes characters who possess a range of skin tones.  Just at a quick glance it is possible to spot an Indian couple, a number of Asian families, a Maori family and a family that, judging by their outfits, may be from West Africa.  There’s even an Inuit family friend who for some reason has chosen to wear traditional cold-weather clothing for reasons that aren’t explained.  Representation aside, there’s plenty going on in each illustrative spread for keen eyed mini-fleshlings to spot.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after a “traditional” Christmas story, for this one is a celebration of modern family life.  Other than that, if you aren’t a fan of changing the words to well-known Christmas carols, then this might not be for you.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a story that seems simple at first glance, but has more layers to uncover every time you look through it.  The illustrations, obviously, have much to do with this.  The most memorable page for me is one that notes that on Christmas day, “every place is bursting”.  The pages feature a number of different social groupings, mostly showing families, but also with a few touching asides.  I will admit to getting a little stab in the heart as I noted one of the pictures shows an old lady dressed in jaunty Christmas bonbon hat, putting food out on Christmas themed paper plates for about half a dozen cats.  While the lady herself looks perfectly happy (and there’s no indication that she hasn’t just popped out from family festivities for a moment), I felt like this was a little reminder that others may not be celebrating with a large, jolly social group.  Whatever the case, as well as providing a cheerful Christmas read-aloud for the mini-fleshlings, there are also other aspects of the book that will no doubt start conversations about diversity and how others do things.

Recommended. Especially for those in a cold climate, who no doubt won’t be thinking of us southerners at all as we sweat it out over our Christmassy summer.

Next up we have a fun little boredom-buster for primary school aged kids and beyond.  It’s My Lovely Christmas Book and we received a copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Bloomsbury:

Have a crafty Christmas this year: cut and glue, make beautiful pages, pockets, frames and other charming creations. Use your creativity to make lists, make notes, write poems, short stories, diary entries and add other things to make it yours. You can draw and colour, write and doodle. This is your book, made by you and for you.

Dip into it for…  my-lovely-christmas-book

…a sweet, creativity-inducing tome that really is as lovely as it claims to be.  The perfect gift for crafty pre-teens (or for yourself, if you rejoice in the anticipation of the days before December 25th), My Lovely Christmas Book is part diary, part photo and memory album, part activity book and part craft kit.  Apart from diary pages themed around each of the twelve days of Christmas, the book is structured so that the reader can flick through and pick the activities that take their fancy – and what a selection of activities there are!  On a quick flick from front to back I spotted mazes, cut-out-and-stick activities to make decorations, gift tags to cut out and use for gift giving, thank-you note templates, places to stick photos, doodling pages and search and find pages.  On a more studied examination, other features include beautiful papers that can be used to wrap small gifts, festive colouring pages, pages that can be cut and folded to make a pocket inside the book for holding special things, little journalling prompts, and a space to plan (or record!) a Christmas menu.  Honestly, it’s so chock-full of interesting things to list, make and do that any parent, upon hearing their offspring whine “I’m bored!” during the Christmas holiday period, could easily just growl, “Go to the book!” and everyone’s problems would be solved.

Don’t dip if…

…you are the kind of person who just cannot bear to write or draw in a book, let alone take to a book with a pair of scissors.  The only downfall I can see with this tome is that it is so aesthetically pleasing, that some readers may not want to spoil that beauty by actually using it as intended.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this book being a fantastic companion for a young one who loves to create and record, and as a finished product, something that will be kept for years to come – who doesn’t love looking back on their own (often hilarious) jottings from childhood?  I would certainly recommend this as a book to accompany Christmas time travels, to keep that sense of Christmas close even though one is away from home.  Being one of the aforementioned readers who is often unable to deface beautiful books, even if that is their sole purpose, I am in two minds about whether to have a crack at some of the activities myself or leave this one in its pristine state.  You, however, should search this one out immediately – even the grouchiest Grinch will feel a flutter of Christmas cheer on flicking through these lovely pages.

There now.  Aren’t you feeling more festive already?  Well that’s great, because apparently there are only seven and a bit weeks til Christmas.  You’re welcome.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “New Release Picture Book” Edition…

8

image

Following on from yesterday’s theme of visual stunnery, today I have four new release picture books for you.  I must warn you, one of them features guinea pigs dressed up as Victorian-era orphan boys.  On that note, let’s saddle up and get into it.

Oi Dog! (Kes Gray & Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Oi Dog! from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  oi-dog

In this thrilling sequel to Oi Frog!, Frog decides to change things up a bit.  But what on earth will the animals sit on now?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you loved the word-twisting, rhyme-busting, sit-a-thon that was Oi Frog!, you will definitely appreciate the humour (and the fairness of the new rules) presented in Oi Dog!  Without giving too much away, this is essentially the exact same story as the earlier book, with animals coerced into sitting on objects that rhyme with their name, capped off with a funny, off-beat twist at the end.  I had forgotten how funny the facial expressions of the various ill-seated animals are and that provided a good laugh throughout.  If you are planning to read this one aloud, make sure you have a good lung capacity (or a ventolin inhaler to hand), because some of those compound sentences will really give you a vocal workout.  The mini-fleshlings loved this book and since it has been a while since we borrowed Oi Frog! from the library, they didn’t particularly twig that the humour and style was the same as a book they had read before.  Apart from the poor animal that has to sit on smelly pants (can you guess which?), the funniest part of the book for the youngest mini-fleshling was to be found in the endpapers, wherein resides a tiny picture of the dog on the cover passing wind.  The book was asked for repeatedly just so the mini-fleshlings could point and laugh at said flatulent dog, so really, it could be said that every inch of this book has something to enjoy.

Brand it with:

Seating arrangements; animal stories; challenging the status quo

The Sisters Saint-Claire (Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie)

*We received a copy of The Sisters Saint-Claire from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016. RRP: $19.99

A family of mice love to go to market every week, but Cecile, the youngest, is just too small to go along.  She is also a dab-hand at making pies – could these be the key to the family’s fortune?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this delightful little tome is as cheery and uplifting as a successful trip to a boutique artisan makers market in the south of France.  It may surprise you to know then, that it was actually cooked up by an Aussie author.  Everything about this book screams charm and whimsy, from its sweet little protagonist family of mice, to the dreamy, old-fashioned illustrations.  The rhyme and rhythm of the text is absolutely spot-on, which will be a blessed relief to those reading aloud (although you may want to test-drive the few French words in your head first!) and the story feels just a touch longer than your average picture book, so this is a great pick for the 5 to 7 year olds.  The text is broken up with plenty of individual illustrations, and this, combined with the full page spreads, mean that there is plenty of imagery to examine for those who like to spot cheeky little details going on out of sight of the main illustrative action.  To top off the satisfying and cheerful ending, the author has included a recipe for Croque Monsieur, so that budding little foodies can whip something up with their grown-ups and extend the story further.  I’d recommend this to young readers who like gentle, colourful stories that demonstrate how little people can do big things.

Brand it with:

Le mice!; farmers markets; royal seal of approval

A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist (Tess Newall & Alex Goodwin with Charles Dickens)

*We received A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  guinea-pig-oliver-twist

It’s Oliver Twist with guinea pigs.  What’s not to like?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you can’t find something to like in a book replete with cloth-capped and lace-bonneted rodents acting out scenes from one of the most-loved pieces of literature in the English-speaking world, then I truly weep for your loss.  Really, who can’t go past a bit of guinea-pig related silliness? Not I, that’s for sure.  As the first few pages and A5 format suggest, this is an abridged retelling of Dicken’s classic, Oliver Twist, featuring guinea pigs photographed in front of teeny replicas of Victorian streets.  The book begins with a very handy image of the cast of characters, helpful if you want to keep your Fagins and your Dodgers straight, and I couldn’t help but have a giggle at the appropriately surly and common-looking guinea pig that had been selected to play the scoundrel Bill Sikes.  I am quite surprised, in fact, by the lengths that the authors have gone to in selecting guinea pigs that embody the natures of the characters that they are representing.  Mr Bumble is chubby and just a bit unkempt, as one would expect, while Mr Brownlow (played ably by one “Molly”) has a regal sort of bearing.  The guinea pig version of Fagin even has black markings across his face, making him (her, actually) look appropriately sly and conniving.  The story is divided into sections, relaying Oliver’s travels to, and outside of, London, and there are no more than two paragraphs of text on any page, making it easy to get through quickly.  I will admit that I much preferred the end of the musical, in which Fagin and the Artful Dodger skip off into the sunset, singing jauntily, to the end that Fagin meets here, but I suspect it might be tricky to photograph guinea pigs in full dance mode, given that guinea pigs are not known for their high-kicking abilities.  If you are a fan of guinea pigs, or indeed Oliver Twist, this will be a quirky and cute addition to your collection.

Brand it with:

Rodents of Victorian London; classic literature (with rodents); bonding with your pets

The Pruwahaha Monster (Jean-Paul Mulders, Jacques Maes & Lise Braekers)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  pruwahaha-monster

A boy and his father go to play on the swings; the boy’s favourite activity.  Will he be safe when the Pruwahaha monster spots him through the trees?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an unusual tale that isn’t what it seems.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the story once I’d finished reading it, but overall I think it hits just the right note of mystery and adventure.  The illustrations are gorgeously creepy and eerily simple, with a sense of movement that captures the atmosphere of the weather and the mood of slight danger that accompanies the boy as he swings.  The text is short and matter-of-fact, and as the monster creeps closer to the boy, it looks as if all will be lost in a quick snip-snap of monster jaws.  There is a twist at the end that will allow readers to make their own interpretations of how the story goes, which is a good thing to see in books for this age group as it requires young readers to construct their version of the story based on what they can pick up from the illustrations and the text.  All in all, I think this is one that will be asked for again and again, as readers will want to go back to the beginning and see if they can spot clues that they might have missed the first time around.

Brand it with:

childhood pastimes; fathers and sons; if you go down to the woods today

I refuse to believe that amongst these gems there is not at least one that you wish to hunt down and make your own.  Which of these beauties do you have your eye on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norse Mythology Never Looked So Good: Odd and the Frost Giants Illustrated Edition…

3

odd-and-the-frost-giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by literary all-star Neil Gaiman was originally published in 2008 and made it onto my ever-growing TBR list round about the time I started blogging – so roughly four years ago.  In all that time though, I have never made any effort to actually get my hands on a copy and read it.

That is, until this stunning illustrated edition came along, courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.

Perhaps it was the “come read me” expression on the giant eyeballs visible through the beautifully tactile cut-out cover, but Odd suddenly jumped straight to the head of my reading queue.  Before I get too caught up in the visual treat that this book provides,  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear . and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods .

This rich and layered tale of courage is told with humour and in breathtaking style by two creators at the height of their powers: from the author of modern classics such as American Gods, Coraline and The Sleeper and the Spindle, Odd and the Frost Giants will leave you spellbound. Lavishly produced and packed with Chris Riddell’s glorious illustration enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.

I’m not going to lie to you.  I probably would never have bothered to hunt this book down and read it had it not been released in this gorgeous illustrated format.  I put so many books on my wishlist that unless there is something particularly special about a book (or unless I find it on special – ha ha ha), there are too many new books rushing into my consciousness to bother hunting down one I had a passing interest in a number of years back.

Having said that, there was absolutely no reason for me to be putting off picking this one up because it is a super-quick read, coming in at between 100 and 120 pages, depending on which edition you choose. The narrative style is that of the all-seeing narrator, with Gaiman’s signature quirky wit and there is no filler at all in the plot.  From the moment we meet Odd, all words are directed toward the adventure upon which he is about to embark.  The story itself isn’t anything earth-shattering, being a re-imagining of some aspects of Norse mythology, but it is fast and different and engaging enough to keep younger readers interested throughout.

The illustrations though, are something else.  It seems like Chris Riddell’s work is on every second book cover at the moment – deservedly so, because his style is so distinct – but I did feel a bit as though I was reading The Graveyard Book over again once I opened this one.  Odd and Bod are similar in name and looks, and I kept expecting Silas or some gravestones to pop up here or there!

In terms of presentation, this is a high quality offering.  I’ve already mentioned the cutout front cover design, which, apart from being delightfully chunky, makes for a great game of peekaboo for those of you who are into Instagram and the like:

bruce-and-odd

I think I look quite regal there…

The text is set out on plenty of white space and the glossy page finish makes the book feel a bit luxurious.  Every second page (or thereabouts) is adorned with a full-page illustration, like this:

odd-page-spread-1

Every so often we are also treated to a double-page spread illustration like this:

odd-page-spread-2

…so in terms of this being an “illustrated edition”, you are certainly getting plenty of bang for your hard-earned buck.  The large size of the book means that this is a perfect choice for gifting (for when you want to really impress and show a youngster of your acquaintance that books are cool presents after all), or for family read-alouds, where everyone can crowd around and appreciate the illustrations.

I would highly recommend this edition of Odd and the Frost Giants to readers who like having an experience, rather than just scanning words on a page.  The fable-like quality of the story and the calm, stoic nature of Odd are perfectly complimented by the bizarre characters of Bear, Fox and Eagle, who need the help of a human if they are to escape from the pickle in which they find themselves.  Apart from all that though, this is a book that you can absorb in just a few short sittings, so if, like me, you have had this one languishing on your TBR list for a while, bag yourself this gorgeous edition and jump right in.  You won’t be disappointed!

Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for providing us with a copy of the book.

Until next time,

Bruce