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

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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

What I Don’t Know About Plants Will Fit Into This Enormous Book: Botanicum…

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I will be the first to admit that I don’t know a great deal about plants.

I would like to.

I have a general interest in things that grow in the earth, particularly species that are native to Australia, but I feel like flora and its related topic of gardening is one of those that is so big and specialised that I don’t know enough about it to know how much I don’t know.

If that makes sense.  Which it probably doesn’t.

I see it as a nebulous topic, let’s say, beyond the reach of knowing of we mortal (stony) folk with just a passing interest.

But when I saw Botanicum by Katie Scott and Katy Willis from Five Mile Press on offer for review, I knew this was my chance to dip a toe into a hitherto unexplored world.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The 2016 offering from Big Picture Press’s Welcome to the Museum series, Botanicum is a stunningly curated guide to plant life. With artwork from Katie Scott of Animalium fame, Botanicum gives readers the experience of a fascinating exhibition from the pages of a beautiful book. From perennials to bulbs to tropical exotica, Botanicum is a wonderful feast of botanical knowledge complete with superb cross sections of how plants work.

Given that I don’t know much about plants, I thought I would instead explain to you the things you really need to know about Botanicum; those things that will inspire you to make this eye-catching book part of your collection.

1. It’s impressively large.

You know how in some middle grade, usually fantasy stories there might be a scene where some kids stumble across a dusty old book in a forgotten or forbidden library?  They pull it from the shelf and it’s heavy and the paper is thick and it’s filled with arcane knowledge that will provide the key to whatever mysterious problem they have to solve?

This is that book.  (Except for the old, dusty part).  Here’s a picture of me posing beside our copy, to give you an idea of scale:

botanicum-cover-scale

It’s the perfect size to lay out flat on a table or on the floor, so all of your friends can gather round and point enthusiastically at that bit of information that will move your quest forward.  Seriously, the size and format of the book just screams “Enticing information contained within!”

2. It champions white space.

Unusually for a non-fiction tome, Botanicum makes brilliant use of white space to ensure that the reader doesn’t feel like they need a magnifying monocle to read the text.  Here is one of the page spreads to give you an idea:

botanicum-page-spread-2

Each page spread is devoted to a small amount of pertinent information about the plant type in question, accompanied by a page of beautifully illustrated examples of the plant type.  The fact that the book is so big means that the pages lie satisfyingly flat, allowing you to pore over the pages to your heart’s content.  The book covers a wide range of plants, from mosses, fungi and ferns to the giant sequoia, succulents, carnivorous plants, vines and fruit trees.  Truly, if you want to know some basic background about things that grow, or how to tell your hornwort from your hellebore, Botanicum would be a great place to start.

3. It’s eye-poppingly gorgeous to look at.

It’s pretty obvious, from the endpapers to the chapter headings, that the makers of this book know a thing or two about visual design.  Everything about this book is visually appealing – the fonts, the colours, the layout – hell, even a cross-section of a breadfruit made Mad Martha want to pull out her crochet hooks and start recreating it in yarn.  The book has the kind of illustrations that you want to tear out (carefully), frame and put on your wall.  Like this one:

botanicum-wildflowers

And while I’m at it, here’s a glimpse of the gorgeous endpaper designs, that also features in between chapters:

botanicum-page-spread-1

Let’s be honest: even if you know nothing about plants and have no interest in learning about plants, if you pop this one on your coffee table, guests you wish to impress are going to be fooled into thinking you’re a botanical genius.  Or at least a botanical enthusiast.

I get that this is probably a book with a specific, and possibly quite narrow, audience, but do yourself a favour and try and get your hands on a copy of Botanicum, if only to appreciate the beauty of the design.  I am now on a quest to procure a copy of one of the earlier books in the Welcome to the Museum series, Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, because I suspect the mini-fleshlings would be bowled over by it.

Many thanks to Five Mile Press for providing us with a copy of Botanicum for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Children’s Book Week Chaser: Three Visually Stunning Australians…and a Giveaway (Int)!

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I know, I know, I’m a week late, but what I have for you this week is definitely worth the wait.  As you may or may not know, last week was Children’s Book Week in Australia and, never one to let the party end once the official celebrations are over, I am happy to announce that the rest of this week will be Children’s Book Week around the Shelf! Woo hoo!  You can expect new release (and a couple of older titles) perfect for the younglings in your life, right here, every day until Friday.

I am also pleased to announce that we’re kicking off with THREE (count ’em!) TOP BOOK OF 2016 PICKS!!

Bruce's Pick

As well as an International GIVEAWAY!!

Before you explode with excitement, let’s crack on!

Today I have three eyeball-burstingly attractive books for you from Australian authors.  One is a heartwarming book about numbers for the littlies, one is a steampunk cautionary tale for the tweens, and one is a jaw-droppingly incredible, atmospheric and significant piece of wordless storytelling for pretty much any age reader.  We should begin with heartwarming, don’t you think?

theres not one

There’s Not One (Jennifer Higgie) Published by Scribble, September 2016. RRP: $24.99

*We received a copy of this title from Scribble Publishing for review*

From Goodreads:

This joyous debut from well-known writer and editor Jennifer Higgie (Frieze Magazine) celebrates both the individual and the diversity of the world around us. In kaleidoscopic colour, Higgie takes young readers on a journey from some of life’s most important things (baked beans!) to some of life’s biggest wonders (stars!). The perfect early picture book for budding art lovers!

To give you an idea about how different There’s Not One by Jennifer Higgie is to your typical “counting” book for preschool aged children, here’s a glimpse of one of the double page spreads:

theres not one page spread

So much for the “One monkey, two bananas, three chunks of poo being flung” format you were expecting!  There’s Not One bypasses the smaller numbers and makes a beeline for those things which are, in many ways, quite difficult to quantify.  Raindrops, for instance.  Stars.  Colours.  Methods of transportation.  This book will attempt, in the most gentle way possible, to stymie your little one’s counting finger and open their mind to a broader perspective on number.  The eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling seemed to take the phrase “too many to count” as a personal challenge and repeatedly attempted to count the individual stars on the star-counting page.  He happily gave up after a few attempts, and turned his attention to the page with “a zillion” baked beans instead, so in that regard, this is a great book for occupying the attention of the more stubborn younglings of  your acquaintance.

There is a completely unexpected twist at the end of this book that is the perfect way to round out the imagining of numbers of such large scale.  The aforementioned mini-fleshling, on hearing the last few pages of the book, stared off into the distance for a few silent moments, before slowly smiling in a way that indicated a revelation of incredible magnitude had just slithered into his consciousness.  It was quite the most heartwarming thing this stony old gargoyle had seen in quite a while and made the reading experience completely worthwhile.

I would recommend this heartily to those aged between three and maybe seven years; those children who are of an age to get a grasp on the fact that some things come in quantities to large to be counted with a child’s pointing finger.  Having said that, those younger than that will adore the bright colours and patterns, even if they don’t quite grasp the concepts being relayed.

Judging from the mini-fleshling’s reactions to There’s Not One, we have to note that Higgie is on a winner here.

mechanica

Mechanica (Lance Balchin) Published by Five Mile Press, 1st September 2016. RRP: $24.95

*We received a copy of this title from Five Mile Press for review*

From Goodreads:

In this field guide from the future, a dashing explorer—Miss Liberty Crisp—details amazing creatures known as Mechanica: human-created life forms designed to replace extinct species. 

Set in the twenty-third century, the book describes how Earth could no longer support wildlife. The warnings had been ignored. Corporations continued to expose the environment to chemical and radioactive waste, and many Earth species began to disappear. By 2200, vast areas of the world had become uninhabitable and wildlife extinct. In place of the lost wildlife species, the corporations began to create Mechanica. But the Mechanica escaped their confinement, and started to develop in the wild on their own. Filled with inventive and awe-inspiring images and details, this book is sure to spark readers’ imaginations! Kids will marvel at the steampunk-inspired renderings of mechanical bugs, birds, bats, snakes, and more!

Who doesn’t love awesomely inventive creatures repopulating a post-apocalyptic landscape?  No one, that’s who!  Mechanica, with its slightly larger than average hardback format is sure to pull in both reluctant and unstoppable readers alike.  The book begins with a few pages detailing the world in which the mechanica thrive and the circumstances in which they were brought about.  Each page spread features clear and detailed images of the mechanical creature under discussion, plus a brief description of how it came to be and where it is commonly found:

mechanica page spread

The effective use of white space means that younger readers shouldn’t become overwhelmed by the amount of text per creature, and the handy index at the back means that youngsters can look up their favourite mechanica in a snap.  As an adult reader, this is quite an absorbing picture book, given the history and background that has been created for each creature.  The brief descriptions bring to life the environmental chaos that has resulted from the actions of humans and the overall sense of the book had me bringing to mind the “life finds a way” mantra/warning from the original Jurassic Park film!

This book has so many applications for the upper primary classroom that teachers would be foolish not to pick it up.  Off the top of my head I can think of curriculum links for art, history, geography, science, drama and both creative and nonfiction text creation.  Curriculum links aside, though, this is quite simply a beautifully produced text with original and engaging subject matter that will draw the eye of discerning readers of any age.

small things

Small Things (Mel Tregonning) Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th August, 2016. RRP: $29.99

*We received a copy of Small Things from Allen & Unwin for review*

From Goodreads:

On the cusp of having everything slip from his grasp, a young boy has to find a way to rebuild his sense of self. An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. With no words, only illustrations, Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with worries but who learns that help is always close by. An extraordinary story, told simply and with breath taking beauty.

Even before opening this book, it’s obvious that it’s going to be an eye-popping reading experience.  Perhaps it’s for the best then, that this is a wordless picture book and one from which readers will take their own diverse impressions.  Small Things follows a period in the life of a young boy who is obviously struggling emotionally at school and home.  Given that there are no words, it is not explicitly stated that he is suffering from depression or anxiety, but for those who have experienced these afflictions for themselves, the visual cues will be obvious.  As the book continues, the reader is given glimpses into why things might seem so bad for the protagonist – but there are also clues that hope and support are around the corner.

The page spreads range from single page illustrations to the more typical graphic novel format of multiple frames to a page:

small things page spread

I found that these multi-framed pages required a bit of time and energy to peruse, as I didn’t want to miss anything that might be tucked away in the corners of the images, or misinterpret the story because I was skimming.  The monochrome colour scheme is essential to convey the atmosphere of the boy’s headspace, but I found that it too required a more focused approach to “reading” the story.

Despite the end of the story offering some sense of hope and normalisation to the boy’s experience, I was left with a lingering sense of dread that may or may not be related to the personal mental health experiences of the she-fleshling in our dwelling.  Because I jumped straight into the book without first reading the press release that accompanied it, I was unaware that this book is published posthumously to the author’s suicide, and the final illustrations were completed by that giant of Australian story-telling, Shaun Tan.  I left the book with the feeling that the story was poised on a knife-edge, even though the boy’s demeanor indicates that things might be looking up for him.  This ambivalence is no bad thing I suspect, because the complexity of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety invite such contradictions and this is something that needs to be openly discussed and acknowledged.

Although I would recommend this for older children, say upper primary and above, as well as adults, I think readers will engage with this book on their own level.  The more disturbing nuances of the imagery will probably go over the heads of readers at the younger end of the age bracket, but they should still appreciate the need for a sense of belonging and support that the book conveys.  Similarly, older readers will be able to uncover much more complex themes in the visual journey.  Whatever the age and maturity level of the reader however, this is a story that deserves a conversation – so be sure to share your opinion once you have drunk it all in.

Giveaway Time!!

One winner will be able to choose one of the above books as their prize!

This contest is open internationally – hooray!

To enter, answer this question in the comments below: 

Which of these books would you most like to win and why?

Giveaway will run from the moment this post goes live (now!) until midnight, Sunday September 4th, 2016, Brisbane time.

I will select one winner from the pool of eligible comments using a random number generator.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond to a congratulatory email before a new winner is chosen.  I will not be responsible for prizes lost or damaged in transit.

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Duet of Quirky Animal Cuteness: Basket Cat and Dog House…

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It’s time to focus in on picture books again and today I have a delightful pair of companion board books from UK illustrator Katie Abey, provided to us by Five Mile Press.  In her own words, Abey admits to filling her work with “puns and crazy animals” – check out her website…it’s puntastic! – and her cheeky, bright appealing illustrations are what prompted us to request today’s titles for perusal – Basket Cat and Dog House.  The two books feature separate stories, but will look like peas in a complimentary pobasket catd on your shelf.

Here is the blurb for Basket Cat from Goodreads:

Basket Cat loves baskets – big baskets and small baskets, tall baskets and even the washing basket! But all Basket Cat wants is a basket of her very own.
Where will she find one?

With a humorous story and amusing artwork this large board book will be enjoyed by children and adults alike!

dog houseAnd here’s what Goodreads has to say about Dog House:


Toby is lost. He knows his dog house is around here somewhere, but he can’t seem to remember where to find it!

Will Toby ever find his way home?

We were immediately drawn to the bold colours of the front covers and the adorably quizzical looks of the animal protagonists and I suspect these features will appeal enormously to the little people at whom these books are pitched.  The younger mini-fleshling demanded the reading of the pair as soon as she laid eyes on them and after due consideration, pronounced Basket Cat her favourite of the two.  This could be because we share the dwelling with a cat of similar features to Basket Cat, while the dog of the dwelling bears little resemblance to the protagonist of Dog House.

And rarely, if ever, ends up in trees.

The stories are fairly simple, but the extra details provided in the illustrations add a level of humour to the short bursts of text.  Basket Cat’s baskety dreams are quite amusing and the cranky faces of the bees disturbed by Toby (the dog) certainly provide some subtle character development that can be pointed out to attentive little ones.  Once again though, as is the case for many picture books featuring animals, facial expressions are everything and Abey seems to have the knack for creating hilarity and changes in emotion with just a few small changes in penstroke.

Can I also mention how much I appreciate the board book format?  As a Bookshelf Gargoyle I spend a lot of time watching helplessly as mini-fleshlings systematically (with intent or otherwise) destroy picture books, so the sturdy, chewable, wipe-worthy format in which these books are presented goes a long way to ease my troubled mind.

I suspect Katie Abey will be one to watch as an up-and-comer in the picture book scene and I will be interested to see what she hatches next, if the quality of these, her debut efforts, are anything to go by.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A Fishy Read-it-if Review: Chip!

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read it if NEW BUTTON

I hope you are not reading this review on an empty stomach, because if you are, you are in grave danger of salivating as you read.  You have been warned!  Today I present to you a delightfully summery picture book, featuring a determined seagull who won’t let a few do-gooding signs get in the way of a good feed.  I speak of Chip by Kylie Howarth, thoughtfully provided for review by the good folk at Five Mile Press.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Chip, like most other gulls, is wild about chips. He likes fat chips, skinny chips, sandy or crunchy or soggy chips. But, most of all, he loves Joe’s chips from Joe’s Chip Van beside the sea. Chip, like most other gulls, can be a little intrusive on his search for chips. So, one day, Joe erects a sign near his van warning people not to feed the seagulls. Chip is devastated, so he plans a way to get back into Joe’s good books, thus gaining access once more to his favourite food. Will Chip succeed, or has he gone too far this time?

chip

 

Read it if:

*you’ve ever participated in the crazy, arm-flailing, shouty ritual familiar to anyone who has ever tried to comfortably enjoy their chips in the presence of hungry sea birds

*you’ve ever, in the throes of hunger and overcome by the smell of salty, fatty goodness, contemplated dressing as a seagull and sliding in at the back of the flock as it pesters the unsuspecting, chip-eating public

*you’ve ever been forced to eat something healthy and discovered you like it at least as much as the salty, fatty goodness you have been consuming

From the greasy-looking endpapers to the incredible, fold-out page spread in the middle, Chip is a book that will have you cheering for our gullish hero, before rushing out to feast on some fish and chips. The story follows Chip, a chip-loving seagull, whose chip supply is suddenly cut off when his (and his fellow gulls’) behaviour leads to the posting of signs warning visitors not to feed the gulls.

When multiple stealthy attempts to obtain those little sacks of salty potato delight are thwarted, Chip and his friends must think outside the box if they ever want to taste the goodness of free food again. Now before you leap onto your soapbox, proclaiming the wrongs of feeding human food to wild creatures, the surprise ending of the book gently conveys this message while ensuring that Chip and his friends can still enjoy the odd, free culinary surprise.

The illustrations are bright and breezy, perfectly reflecting the gusty, open-aired fun of a day at the seaside. As we roll into winter down here in the southern hemisphere, Chip is just the sort of book that will have you itching to get out of doors to discover a pesky seagull pack of your own, before Queensland’s blisteringly cold winter keeps you inside for…oh I don’t know…three days at most!

I recommend Chip as a fun, holiday read-aloud and the perfect preface to a family day out. And while you get on with that, I’m going to send Mad Martha off to the local chippy. I’ve got a salty craving all of a sudden.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions): A Picture Book GSQ Review

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It’s time for a GSQ review and today’s book offers a fun, unusual brain-workout for littlies and their grown-ups, and surprisingly, doesn’t have much to do with poo but does have a lot to do with seeking, deducing and figuring out nifty visual clues.  We received a copy of Who’s Had A Poo? (and lots of other questions) by Anton Poitier and Tracey Cottingham from the good folk at Five Mile Press – thanks! – and we will now subject it to the rigours of a Good, Sad and Quirky review!

whos had a poo

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

This amusing spot the difference book is entertaining and educational for pre-schoolers. Each spread features the same group of animals – with a twist. A question appears, prompting children to spot the difference.

Who’s splashing who? Who’s swapped places? The simple and fun questions featured throughout the book allow children to use their analytical skills of concentration, thinking and observation to provide the correct answers.

Cute and quirky illustrations of animals ensures children are interested, with the interactive game-like spot the difference nature of the book keeping them engaged.

The Good

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Who’s Had A Poo? is one of those ideas that is a sure-fire winner for the simple reason that it engages kids by asking a pretty ordinary question and letting the kids do the detective work.  The idea of the book is that children (and their grown ups) explore page spreads containing the same set of animals, with just one or two tiny differences on each page that relate to the question.

Here’s an example:

page spread_Fotor

Can you spot who’s ready for lunch?  What I love most about this type of search-and-find book is that it’s not as simple as just finding Wally (or Waldo, as our American friends know him), but it almost requires a conversation on the reasons a certain animal is chosen as fitting the particular question.  For the page spread above, for instance, the panda is the obvious choice, but perhaps the duck could fit the bill as well (pun intended) – it depends on how well one can articulate one’s choice.

Apart from the sleuthing that is the book’s main focus, the bright, cheeky animal illustrations and the die-cut, peekaboo holes on the front cover are sure to draw in the mini punters for a rewarding reading experience.

And if you’re wondering whether this book is too advanced for the younger end of the picture book market, I took the trouble of testing it on the youngest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (two years old) and she loved it to bits.  It’s quite surprising how children so young can use the visual cues to answer the question, even if they can’t articulate their reasoning exactly.  This book was also fun for finding out which animals the mini-fleshlings knew – the peacock was a bit of challenge, the chameleon a new favourite, and all the rest that she didn’t know took on the mantle of “hippo”.

The Sadimage

The only downside I can see with this book is the title.  I’m afraid the reference to poo may be misleading and cause some parents and carers to bypass it, if they are averse to poo-based picture books (of which, we can all agree, there are many).  Allow me to assure you that the book is NOT about poo – except for one page, that asks “Who’s had a poo?” and which both the mini-fleshlings found absolutely hilarious.

The Quirky

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If this was the first book of this type that I had ever seen, I would be leaping around, shouting its praises from the rooftops.  I still feel inclined to shout its praises, perhaps from a slightly lower vantage point but I actually stumbled across this concept late last year after a tip off from Read It Daddy, with their review of Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec.  I immediately bought the book, given that I trust their judgement implicitly and so I and the mini-fleshlings were introduced to this concept of sleuthing for visual cues.  Who Done It? is an exceptional book, but there are a number of differences between that and Who’s Had A Poo? and if I point these out, it might make deciding which one you’ll read first a little easier, based on your personal preference.

Firstly, Who’s Had A Poo? is your standard picture book format, while Who Done It? comes in a long, rectangular format that requires you to turn the pages by lifting them up.  Who Done It? also features only eight or nine figures on each page, and these are different for each page spread leading to discrete questions and answers, whereas Who’s Had a Poo? has the same set of twenty-four animals on each page and some of the questions require the reader to turn back to the previous page to figure out the answer to the question.  I was pretty stumped by the “Who’s swapped places?” page until I did a bit of judicious page-flicking, but the two-year-old picked “Who’s changed colour?” with nary a blink of the eye while I was left scratching my head for a bit.

The level of challenge in Who’s Had a Poo? also increases throughout the book, given that the questions have multiple answers as the book goes on.  Where in the beginning only one animal might fit the criteria, towards the end some pages have up to six animals that fit the answer.  This is great fun, and led to races between the mini-fleshlings to see who could spot all the creatures with the right characteristics. I, of course, am above such undignified behaviour.

I hope this book has piqued your interest. I must say, it is a search and find concept that I have taken to with great adoration and I hope that more books along this line make it to publication in the near future.  Oh, and if you haven’t come across the Read It Daddy blog before, and you are a fan of children’s and middle grade titles, do yourself a favour and pop on over.  You won’t be disappointed!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Colour of Darkness: An MG, GSQ Review…

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Welcome to another GSQ review, this time for a book that I’ve had on my TBR ever since I finished its precursor at the end of 2014.  The Colour of Darkness is the second book by Ruth Hatfield in The Book of Storms Trilogy – the first, rather predictably, being The Book of Storms.  Many thanks to Five Mile Press for sending us a sneaky early review copy!  Before I let the psyche pals loose, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Danny O’Neill hasn’t had a single good night’s sleep in the year since he discovered the book of storms. Exhausted and a social outcast, he wishes only to escape the shadowy figure of Sammael who controls his dreams and nightmares.

Cath Carrera, from the other side of town, dreams of escaping her brutish father and spiteful step-family. So when she meets Barshin, a talking hare who offers her protection from her dad’s latest violent rage, she doesn’t think twice about going with him. But she didn’t expect to find a place like Chromos: a vibrant, addictive dreamland built from her imagination, in all its colours.

In return for his protection, Barshin wants Cath to deliver a message to Danny: he must rescue his cousin Tom from Sammael before it is too late.

Together, the three must find a way to stop Sammael before he destroys Tom. But even with the help of talking plants and creatures, and a friendly stag, the journey to Chromos and beyond is a dangerous, near-impossible mission, and Danny and Cath will have to muster every scrap of bravery and ingenuity to have a hope of succeeding.

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The Good

As in The Book of Storms, Hatfield has written a highly descriptive adventure, with imagery that springs fully to life imagefrom the page.  While this book had a very different feel to the first book, in my opinion, and took the story to a place I certainly didn’t expect, there were some excellent new elements here.  Cath, the streetwise, sassy young lass from a violent home, is a fantastically engaging character, not least because Hatfield has written her in three dimensions.  I immediately warmed to rough-around-the-edges Cath, as her difficult home life is brought to the frightening fore right from the off.  The inclusion of Cath really lifted this book out of the predictable mould that it could easily have fallen into, due to the fact that she is completely unaware of the events that Danny has been involved in and therefore brings fresh eyes to the bizarre experiences that are unfolding around her.

Danny’s state of mind is quite chaotic during this book, which I also didn’t expect, and again, Hatfield has done an amazing job of really getting into Danny’s mind and conveying his fear and despair to the reader.  Danny is almost paralysed by fear for most of this book and the all-encompassing terror and indecision that plagues all his actions will be familiar to anyone who has suffered from any kind of anxiety.  Tom, Danny’s cousin and unwitting ally to Sammael, is also more deeply explored in this novel, yet retains his disbelief of Danny’s “special” abilities despite the evidence staring him in the face and slowly draining his life force.

I am very impressed with the authentic way that the characters have been portrayed in this novel.  Their emotions and motivations seem to be explored and rendered in a much more genuine fashion than one normally sees in fiction for this age group.

The Sad

There were two things that I felt dragged this book down a tad.  The first was the world building and the concept ofimage Chromos – the magical world that Cath discovers, and which plays a key role in the children engaging with Sammael.  Chromos seems to be a world in parallel with the world we know, but one upon which it is impossible for a human to actually stand.  Much of the adventure involves Cath and eventually Danny dipping into and out of Chromos with the help of the talking hare Barshin, and the Chromos guide steed Zadoc.  Even though Chromos is meant to be somewhat intangible to humans, I felt that I couldn’t really get a handle on the place as I was reading.  It seemed to me that for a lot of the book Danny and Cath are trying to get to Chromos or away from Chromos, while spending hardly any actual time there and these parts really slowed the pace of the whole story.

The second thing I felt was lacking, compared to the first book, was the menacing and unsettling presence that Sammael brought to the story.  While Sammael is certainly present here – mostly involved with Tom – he didn’t bring the feeling of dread to my bones that he managed to do quite easily in the first tome.  He seemed to be a bit of side character for most of the book and I was a bit disappointed by this because he really is an original and very scary villain.

The Quirky

I could not possibly have predicted where this series was going after the end of the first book.  If you had asked me, I imagewould have probably guessed that the focus would be mostly on Tom and Danny dealing with the unholy bargain that Tom has made with Sammael.  While I didn’t necessarily love the inclusion of Chromos and the Aether (another intangible world like Chromos), their inclusion in the plot was certainly original and unpredictable.  Once again, Hatfield seems to be bucking the trend of typical, expected MG/YA tropes and plotlines and taking things in a different direction.

I will certainly be interested to see how this series finishes up and what new surprises will be awaiting me in book three.  If you haven’t come across this series before, I definitely recommend starting with book one rather than jumping ahead.

 

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*Bruce just ticked another book off Mount TBR!*

Until next time,

Bruce