Picture Book Perusal: The Building Boy

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picture book perusal button

Today’s ethereal picture book is for anyone that has ever wished that they could hang on to the essence of someone they have loved and lost.  The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield isn’t just aesthetically appealing, but also moving and gently hopeful, without tipping into cliche or cheesiness.  In fact, the protagonist keeps both feet on the ground…well, his creation does, anyway…while being whisked away on an adventure.  We received a copy of The Building Boy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

All at once, it was as if the stars leapt closer.
Grandma grabbed the boy, raising him high above the rooftiles on her head.
She was alive!

The boy’s grandma was a famous architect. Her garden is still full of old building materials. Unwilling to accept she has gone, the boy builds a giant structure from the bricks and girders he finds. And then … Grandma comes to life! The boy is whisked away on an epic adventure across fields, through oceans and atop roofs. But where is Grandma taking him?

Beautiful, thrilling and extremely moving: the extraordinary debut picture book from much-loved author, Ross Montgomery.

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016.  RRP: $24.99

The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and David Litchfield. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 31st, 2016. RRP: $24.99

I’m not sure if it’s something to do with the soft, moonlit scenery, but The Building Boy certainly cast its gentle and inspiring ambience over this stony reader.  The industrious and colourful endpapers depicting engineering and design drawings give the first hint that this book is about getting things done, but perhaps not in the way you might think.  The first few pages of the story introduce the Boy and his architect granny, while a golden glow running through the illustrations on these pages gives readers a clue about the depth of the relationship between these two characters.  We just loved Grandma’s stylish bobble hat and patchwork skirt, too!

When it becomes apparent that grandmothers don’t last forever, the tone of the book changes into one of slight uncertainty, as the plans that the boy had made with his grandma start to unfold in unexpected ways.  The moonlit vistas perfectly compliment the touch of magical realism that seeps into the Boy’s endeavours and by the end of the book the reader is left with a sense of comfort and a kernel of hope that Grandma’s legacy will live on.

building-boy-page-spread

Clearly, The Building Boy is addressing themes of grief and loss, but the unusual approach to the subject matter makes this the perfect choice for coming at the topic obliquely, focusing on the relationship between the child and his grandmother, rather than the event of her passing. The fact of the grandmother’s death is never explicitly stated, despite it being obvious that it has occurred, which allows for the creative interpretation of how the Boy’s beloved granny continues to inspire him even though she is not physically present. The overall message is a twist on the platitude-ridden “our loved ones are kept alive in our memories”, but the original narrative mechanism thankfully opens the way for the message to be deftly sent without the need to speak the cliche. The lyrical and evocative text also pays tribute to the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild, acknowledging the fact that this inter-generational sharing of activities is often tinged with a special type of magic.

The Building Boy is a celebration of the love and hope shared between generations, of building a legacy and carrying on with one’s dreams even when the inspiration behind them is no longer with us.  I highly recommend this both for its masterful aesthetic and sympathetic, yet imaginative, rendering of a topic that will strike a chord with many children.

For these reasons, we name The Building Boy a Top Book of 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Picture Book Perusal: The Hello Atlas!

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picture book perusal button

Today’s nonfiction picture book from Allen & Unwin – The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak – is one to excite and amuse anyone, young or old, who is interested in language.  Or anyone who just wants to be friendly in foreign lands.  We Shelf-dwellers always like a good illustrated atlas-type book because there is something uber-fun about poring over different places and finding out about stuff.  And not only is the book huge and brightly illustrated and informative, it also comes with a handy app that allows readers to actually hear languages from around the world being spoken.  Enough of the teasers though; here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Look into the lives of children all over the world with this book that celebrates one of humanity’s greatest achievements: written and verbal language. Including fully illustrated word charts, featuring children depicted in their home country, doing ordinary things, this book features more than 100 languages, from well-known and lesser known indigenous languages that introduce us to some of the world’s most remote communities. With foreword by ethnobotanist and explorer, Professor Wade Davis. Comes with a free, downloadable app for iOS and Android that allows you to hear the phrases in the book, each recorded by a native speaker.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

As you can probably infer from the cover illustration, this book is all about people talking.  The understanding that people in different places communicate using different sound patterns will no doubt spur on motivated youngsters to find out more.  This is definitely the book for that youngster.  The atlas is divided into sections relating to different continents, and each section features a range of images of children doing everyday things – playing sport, taking a walk, going to school – captioned with the child’s name and the language they speak.  Each child is also accompanied by a phrase in their native language (and in some cases, alphabet) with an English translation.  Here’s an example:

hello-atlas-page-spread

While there is only a small amount of text for the plethora of images and languages, many of the children are pictured in some form of national dress, or performing an activity that is associated with their region of the world – ice hockey in North America, for instance – so there is plenty of visual information to flesh out the text.

The illustrations are done in attractive pastel tones and, happily, represent a range of skin colours for each continent.  On my initial flick through the book, I was a little overwhelmed with the number of children featured and I was worried that it might be a bit of information overload for younger readers.  Each section is preceded with a map of the particular continent that shows each of the children who will be showcased in the following section and where on the continent their language is spoken.  This provides readers with a chance to flick back and forth through the section to give a visual reminder of where each language group sits in the broader scheme of things:

hello-atlas-page-spread-2

I was quite interested to see whether any Australian Indigenous languages would be included and after a cursory inspection, I found three – Arrernte, Warlpiri, Yolngu – as well as Australian Kriol.  I wanted more, to be honest.  I realise that there has to be some kind of cut off point, but considering Australia had over 200 separate language groups once upon a time, it’s a bit of a shame that only three and a half made the cut here.

In a handy turn of events, The Hello Atlas also comes with a free app for smart devices that allows readers to actually hear the languages in the book being spoken.  I decided it would be remiss of me not to download it (even though it’s a pretty big app – you might need to clear some space first!) and I was pleasantly surprised that it is simple and streamlined in design and would be perfectly easy to master for anyone with even a basic knowledge of app-related pointy finger-jabbing.

The opening screen reflects a map of the world, and once you have chosen which continent you would like to explore, you can select from a list of languages and then click through to hear a native speaker intoning a few choice phrases such as “What’s your name?”, “How are you?” and the like.  Here are some screen shots of the menus and such:

hello-atlas-screenshot-1hello-atlas-screenshot-2  hello-atlas-screenshot-3

I had a bit of fun clicking through and listening to the different languages, especially the ones that use a different alphabet to English.  It was quite satisfying hearing how to correctly pronounce some words that I could make head nor tail of by reading the letters!  Being most interested in the Oceania region, I eagerly clicked through to listen to some indigenous Australian speakers and…..

…nothing.

Not one of the three indigenous Australian languages in the atlas was featured in the app.  Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed.  And a bit cranky.  Surely it couldn’t be that hard to find one representative of one of the three groups to get a sound bite for the app?!

Although it was super easy to use, one aspect of the app did strike me as a bit strange and that was the fact that of all the languages I listened to, not one was spoken by a child.  All the male and female voices on the app belonged to adults, which is perfectly adequate for those who want to just hear how the language sounds, but I found it a bit strange that while children are pictured in the book, adults are doing the talking in the app.  Again, surely it couldn’t be that difficult to find child native speakers of a majority of these languages.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and informative book that is the perfect size to pop on a classroom or library shelf to entice budding linguists.  The large format of the atlas means that multiple readers can gather round it at the same time, which can only be a good thing for a book that is based on the topics of communication and personal interaction.

I’d definitely recommend this one to classroom teachers, as well as parents who want to inspire a love of language and diversity in their mini-fleshlings.

Until next time,

Bruce

Now Listen Carefully: Did You Take the B From My _ook?

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did you take the b

We recently received this accusatorily-titled book from Harper Collins Australia and were immediately primed to see whether the claim on the cover – that this was a book that would “drive kids crazy” – was accurate, because we all know there is nothing funner than inciting (quickly reparable) mental anguish in children.  Before we begin, this is definitely a read-aloud title and involves a bit of audience participation, so if that’s not your bag, you should probably move along.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the brilliant brains behind THIS IS A BALL comes a new giggle-inducing bestseller!
For the Grown-Ups:

OK. Two things you need to know. Firstly, your favourite thing in the whole world is the letter B. And secondly, you’re about to sneeze and all the Bs are going to be blown out of the book. So until you can get your favourite letter back, you’re about to sound really, really silly … And the kids will love it!

Did You Take the B from My _ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton is the epitome of interactive reading.  In order to appreciate the book, it MUST be read aloud, and requires the listeners to contribute in order for the narrator to solve the problem of the missing ‘b’s.  The illustrations are basic and sparse here and don’t really carry the story at all, but are helpful in prompting that listener participation that is so vital to the reading experience.  I can imagine that the larger the audience experiencing the book, the better the overall fun factor will be, as it’s the kind of book that benefits from more than one voice in the telling.

Admittedly, on first reading, I was skeptical that this book would actually be as funny as the cover and blurb make out. Not being the target audience, however, I decided that in order to be fair, I would have to snaffle a mini-fleshling or two and use them as guinea pigs (in the pursuit of literature-based science,  obviously).  Luckily, I had both a five and a two-and-a-half year old mini-fleshling just lying around the place ready and willing to sacrifice their sanity for the greater good of this blog.

So on I read.

And while the older mini-fleshling warmed to the book slowly and quite enjoyed the audience participation elements, the two-and-a-half-year-old wandered off in the middle in search of fruit, seemingly uninterested in the plight of the narrator and the ultimate fate of the tale. The five year old didn’t ask for the book to be read again, either, which may, or may not, be a telling factor in his level of engagement with the book.  On the other hand, he did say that he enjoyed the book because “it was tricky” (in the sense of tricksy, rather than difficult), which would indicate that the authors have hit the mark in making this unlike your average storybook.

Clearly, my experiment involves a statistically insignificant sample and no great conclusions can be drawn from it.  I still have the sense that this book didn’t quite work to the level I expected, given the enjoyment we’ve extracted from other such interactive tomes – Please Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt or This Book Just Ate My  Dog by Richard Byrne, for instance.  The difference, of course, is that the two books I have just mentioned rely heavily on the interplay between words and pictures to drive the interactive nature of the story, whereas Did You Take the B from My _ook? relies more on the aural aspect.

Overall, I would have to say that while there were enjoyable elements to this book, I think it is best suited to read-alouds with a bigger audience – in the classroom or library storytime, for example – where the interactive nature can really shine and listeners can bounce off each other and the narrator.  As holidays are just about to end here in Queensland, maybe some parents should pick this one up and casually drop it to their child’s teacher, then sit back and bask in the admiration that flows from being the one to bring in “that really funny cool book”.

Thanks again to HarperCollins Australia for sending us the copy for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Green: A Haiku Review

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imageIt has been too long, my dears, since we dallied together for a haiku review and today I plan to rectify this woeful situation with a visually stunning picture book that has been the recipient of numerous awards and was kindly provided to us for review from Pan Macmillan Australia.  I speak of Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

How many kinds of green are there?

There’s the lush green of a forest on a late spring day, the fresh, juicy green of a just-cut lime, the incandescent green of a firefly, and the vivid aquamarine of a tropical sea. In her newest book, Caldecott and Geisel Honor Book author Laura Vaccaro Seeger fashions an homage to a single colour and, in doing so, creates a book that will delight and, quite possibly astonish you.

green

Viridity floats

in a jade sea bottle bound

for emerald shores

“How engaging can a book about a single colour actually be?” I suspect you might be asking yourself.  Well, I shall admit to asking myself the same question, which is exactly what prompted me to request this book.  How much can be said on the topic of green-ness? Especially in picture book format!  I was curious to find out what it is about this book that had prompted the bestowal of awards, that was for certain.

Green is not your average, colour-based picture book.  For starters, it makes use of some very clever die-cut holes that lead the reader on to the next page.  While die-cuts are always fun in and of themselves, the die-cuts in this particular book are impressively utilised.  Some have words hidden in the illustrations.  Others are so cleverly placed that they are almost invisible until one turns the page. I fell victim to this trickery multiple times until I decided that I would keep my eyes peeled to find those stealthy die-cuts before I turned the page…only to be foiled on more than one occasion! Test yourself out and see if you can spot them in the two images below.

The book also runs the gamut from what one would expect, such as this “faded green”:

faded green

…to some unexpected and cheeky interpretations, such as this one (my personal favourite!):

clever green

The last few pages follow a little mini-narrative which is full of hope and also might provide younger readers with the inspiration to pop outside and green up their own environment.  After having flicked through this book multiple times, it is obvious why it has attracted such acclaim.  The illustrations are gorgeous and textured and some clever twists on the green theme set this book apart from your typical colour-based book for little ones.

It helps, of course, that green is the favourite colour of more than one shelf-dweller!

This would be a wonderful choice for a classroom library; the kind of book that will be well-thumbed by the end of the year, from eager young readers repeatedly drinking in the visual delights of the artwork and boggling at the more-than-meets-the-eye symbolism of a single hue.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

TBR Friday: The D’evil Diaries…

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TBR Friday

Welcome to my new feature for this year: TBR Fridays!  I’ve decided to include one read from my TBR shelf on the blog per month; partly to whittle down the ridiculous amount of books that I bought because I had to have right that second and have then ignored (in some cases for longer than a year – eep!), and partly to ensure that I succeed with the Mount TBR Challenge that I am participating in at Pike’s Peak level (12 books).  If you want to know more about the Mount TBR Challenge, just click on this attractive button:

Mount TBR 2016

Now let’s get on, shall we?

Today’s book is The D’evil Diaries by Tatum Flynn, a middle grade fantasy adventure set in Hell.

devil diaries

Ten Second Synopsis:

Jinx, Lucifer’s youngest son, sucks at being evil.  Tommy is a young girl who shouldn’t even be in Hell to begin with (because children are NEVER sent to Hell. Ever).  When Jinx meets Tommy after running away from his father’s plan to send him to Hell’s military school, the two discover a plot that could tear apart the world as they know it.  Against all odds, the two must work together to beat the saboteurs at their own game before all hell (and Heaven) breaks loose.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Since October 2015

Acquired:

From the Book Depository, because I saw the sequel was due to be released, so obviously had to immediately buy both books.  I have the second one on pre-order.  It’s due to be released this month.

Reason I Haven’t Read it Yet:

Other newer, shinier books have taken my fancy.

Best Bits:

  • This was a bit of a slow starter but by the end of the book I was invested in the characters and the outcome
  • Illustrations!  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Middle grade books are ALWAYS better with illustrations.  These ones are interspersed throughout, but they add to the reading experience.
  • One of Jinx’s closest friends is a sloth.  The quintessential Sloth from the list of seven deadly sins, in fact.
  • Jinx’s clever trick toward the end of the book to neutralise the main saboteur is definitely worth a round of applause
  • Flynn’s world-building is pretty slick.  There are lots of different sections to Hell, reserved for different types of sinners, and each has its own creatures and landscape, which added interest to the journey of the main characters.
Less impressive bits:
  • The first few chapters seem to be comprised mostly of telling, rather than showing.  I was a little worried that the whole book would be like this, but once Jinx decides to run away, the style seems to lean more towards showing.
  • This isn’t a complaint about the book per se, but the book cover says “Perfect for fans of David Walliams”. This seems inexplicable to me because the humour and narrative style are completely different to Walliams’ work.  The only similarity I can see is that the books are pitched at the same age group.  Overall, I think this effort outstrips Walliams’ works (excluding, of course, Mr Stink and The Boy in the Dress, which are right crackers).

On reflection, was it worth buying?

While I did end up enjoying the book, I probably could have just got this one from the library and been equally satisfied.

Where to now for this tome?

It will make the move to my permanent shelf because I’ve got the sequel coming.

So that’s the first handhold on Pike’s Peak gripped with a fist of stone!  What a cracking start I’ve got off to!  I’m pumped to continue climbing my enormous pile of unread books!
Until next time,
Bruce

Mad Martha’s Lantern Review: The Ghost Box…

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Welcome dear readers to my haiku review of a brand new book for the ghost story buffs among you (and I know there are more than a few in that category!).  It’s Mad Martha with you and today I will present to you The Ghost Box by Catherine Fisher. Yes, that Catherine Fisher. I received an ecopy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The first thing that grabbed me about the book was the stunning cover art.  Really, you could just blow that up and stick it on the wall for instant atmosphere, couldn’t you?  The second reason I wanted to read this book is the fact that the content is targeted at the 11+ age group, but the reading accessibility level is pitched at the 7+ age group, so it is designed to be a good choice for older kids who struggle with reading.  I’m always curious about these sorts of books, having sat on the shelf of a few classrooms in my day, because the search for interesting, engaging yet accessible books for older kids with emerging literacy skills is difficult indeed!

In The Ghost Box, Sarah is struggling to adapt to life in her newly blended family, comprising her mum, Gareth, her step-dad, and Matt, her annoying goth step-brother.  After one very strange night of dreaming, Sarah finds a silver box that has a lock but no key and is immediately curious to find out what’s inside.  When a strange ghost-boy appears and begs Sarah to find the key, Sarah thinks it’s a fairly straightforward task…but she doesn’t count on the inexplicable opposition she meets from the local jeweller, who refuses to open it.  What could possibly be so dangerous about an old silver box?

ghost box

Key:

it could

open the lock

or shut you out.

Choose.

The first thing I appreciated about this book was the fact that it felt, for all intents and purposes, like your average late MG/early YA read.  There was nothing about the writing to indicate that this was a book for kids still gaining literacy skills.  The dialogue wasn’t stilted, the characters were well fleshed-out for the limited word count and the content was appropriately atmospheric and engaging.  I suppose that’s what happens when you get an author who already writes for the age-group (and does it well!) – they don’t feel the need to patronise their readers, or sacrifice the content because of the need to restrict certain bits of the writing.

While the story related in The Ghost Box is fairly formulaic, Fisher has really set the tone beautifully with some fantastically suspenseful and creepy bits.  As I was reading (in the dark, incidentally…why the dark? It’s not like the lightbulb had blown…) a door creaked open, swung by the wind, and I got one of those spooky shivers down the spine that make you look over your shoulder as you read.  Score one, Fisher.  Score one, creaky door.  I also really enjoyed the relationship dramas that Sarah experienced weren’t forced, but evolved naturally as part of the story and appeared in the resolution in a believable way.

I would recommend this book for confident readers in the 9 to 11 age bracket who appreciate a good spooky story.  I’d also say that this should appeal greatly to that targeted 11+ age group who may struggle with reading, or those in the same age group who need something to bring them back into the reading fold.  Oh, and it would fit nicely into category two of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with a piece of furniture in the title…come on, a box is a furnishing, so it will fit… To find out more about the challenge (and sign up!) click on the button.

image

Yours in the pursuit of spooky boxes,

Mad Martha

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Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

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Putting the “Ha!” in Halloween: Three Fun, Creepy Reads…

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Good afternoon on this bright and breezy All Hallow’s Eve’s Eve!  Today I have three reads for the young and young at heart that are sufficiently spooky, creepy or icky as to qualify for the “Halloween Reads” category, while also having enough humour to satisfy those with a sissy sensitive consitution.

In ascending order of age-appropriateness, we have:

Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children

by Lisa Wheeler and Sophie Blackall

spinster goose

Synopsis:

A cautionary tale in poetry warning children to behave, lest they be sent to learn proper decorum under the guidance of the horrid headmistress, Spinster Goose.

In case you’re wondering who might be sent to such a school and what their fate might be, the following verse from the tome will probably suffice to explain:

The pinchers get pinched,

and the pokers get poked.

The biters get bit,

and the smokers get smoked.

The takers get taken.

The sordid get sore.

The shakers get shaken right down to their core.       (p7)

So watch out.

Spook factor: A resounding 3 out of 5 screams for anyone who has ever attended (or is about to attend) school…

Laugh-o-meter: Giggle-inducing. Particularly if you are, or ever have been, a teacher.

Reading Age: Read-aloud-able from early school age

And next we have…

Sucked In! The Story of an Appendix on the Loose

by Paul Jennings and Terry Denton

sucked in

Synopsis:

A jaunty tale about a disembodied appendix that escapes its specimen jar and creates stomach-heaving havoc around the neighbourhood.

Spook Factor: 4 out of 5 screams for pure, unadulterated ingestion-by-appendix

Laugh-o-meter: Guffaw to Belly Laugh. 

Reading Age: Read-aloud-able from early school age, read alone for middle grade

And finally…

Demon Dentist

by David Walliams

Demon dentist

Synopsis:

Local kids begin finding unspeakable offerings under their pillows instead of the usual coinage, in exchange for loose teeth.  On a completely unrelated note, a new, slightly odd dentist sets up shop in the town.

Spook Factor: 2 out of 5 screams for the unspeakable offerings

Laugh-o-meter: Chortle-icious

Reading Age: Middle grade

So there you have it – three spooktacularly fun reads for mini-fleshlings.  Enjoy!

Until next time,

Bru -oooo -ce

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Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)