Picture Book Perusal: Grandad’s Secret Giant

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Today I have a sumptuous feast for the eye with David Litchfield’s richly coloured Grandad’s Secret Giant, which we received from Murdoch Books via Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Murdoch Books:

A GIANT story of belonging and friendship from David Litchfield, author of the prize winning The Bear and the Piano.

He has hands the size of tables, Grandad said, legs as long as drainpipes and feet as big as rowing boats. Do you know who I mean?

Yes, sighed Billy. The Secret Giant. But he’s not real!

Billy doesn’t believe his Grandad when he tells him there’s a giant living in his town, doing good deeds for everyone. He knows that a giant is too big to keep himself hidden. And why would he WANT to keep himself a secret? But as time goes on, Billy learns that some secrets are too BIG to stay secret for long…

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Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$21.99

Being a thrifty sort of gargoyle, I wouldn’t normally suggest that you run out and buy the hardback version of a book the moment it’s released, but I will make an exception in this case.  The reason you will want to get the hardback edition of Grandad’s Secret Giant is that that way, you will not miss out on the absolutely joyous experience of peeling back the marvelous dust jacket to uncover the luxurious, colourful, mesmerising image spread across the entire cover of this book.

The next thing you’ll want to do is get a load of the incredibly beautiful endpapers – the beginning one shrouded in blue and white shadows and a giant hiding, the final one infused with the warmth of early morning and the excitement and cosiness of making a new friend.

If  you haven’t been convinced by the preceding two paragraphs of high praise, do remember that we haven’t even got to the story yet.

Billy has grown tired of his Grandad’s tales of a giant who lives in their town and helps people out, even though they can’t see him – or scream and run away if they do.  He has made up his mind that he will not believe unless he sees the proof with his own eyes.  But will seeing the Giant bring out the best in Billy?

This is a delightful story of making mistakes and making things better, all wrapped up in a cosy grandparent-grandchild relationship.  The solution to Billy’s problem is heartwarming and creative and the story has an upbeat vibe about it that will give you a spring in your step for the rest of the day.

But those illustrations.

Oh, those illustrations!

I’m not sure whether its the medium or the particular colour palette, but the illustrations here are so vibrant and inviting that I couldn’t help poring over them for ages and wishing, just a little bit, that I could be sucked in to Billy’s world.  I was already familiar with Litchfield’s illustrative style from The Building Boy, but the page spreads in Grandad’s Secret Giant lend themselves even more perfectly to the story than in that previous book.

Little ones will love trying to spot the giant, who seems to blend in with his surroundings despite his inherent ability to stand out.  There is so much to see in the pictures the longer you look that this book will no doubt be brought out time and again before bedtime.

I realise I’m being a bit indulgent here, with three in the space of a fortnight, but because of the incredibly beguiling illustrations and the warmth of the story, I can’t help but name this a Top Book of 2017 pick!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Monsters, Mythical and Otherwise” Edition…

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imageReading Round-Up is here again and today’s prey of choice is books about monsters.  Be they mythical or firmly accepted in reality, we’re on the hunt for monsters big and small.  But mostly big.

I’ve got two nonfiction tomes and two middle grade adventure novels for you today, all but one of which we received from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  The last we received from Bloomsbury Australia  Let’s kick off with some excellent nonfiction….

Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths (Darren Naish)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Hunting Monsters is a thorough treatment of the state of cryptozoology today and the hunting monsterschanging face of this oft-maligned (by real scientists) field over time. It covers all your favourite monsters of lore plus some you’ve probably never heard of, including monsters from the African continent and Australia.

Muster up the motivation because…

Don’t let the naff cover design fool you – this is a remarkably engaging read that had me pondering various monstrosities days after I finished reading it.  The book is divided into handy sections – from sea monsters, to hominids, to giant mammals and more – so you can flip around to get the latest on your favourite cryptid, or alternately, as I did, read it cover to cover and fill up your empty brain space with all sorts of in-depth information.  I, for one, was unaware of the varieties of sea monster sightings on record, or of the purported existence of an enormous quadrupedal beast (other than an elephant or giraffe, obviously) getting around in Africa.  Naish also examines how no solid evidence exists  that withstands scientifically rigorous scrutiny that would point in favour of these beasts being actual living beings, but proposes a different direction for the field of cryptozoology regardless.  The only thing I wanted more of in this book was photographs – many “famous” photographs were mentioned throughout, particularly in the Loch Ness Monster section, but it would have greatly enhanced my experience if I’d been able to lay eyes on these photos, rather than having to go and google them later.  Nevertheless, this is a highly recommended read for those who are interested in monsters that may, but almost certainly don’t, wander about in the undiscovered wilds of our planet.

Brand it with:

Did you see that?; The truth is out there; If you go down to the woods today…

Now on to some middle grade adventure fiction with…

The Venom of the Scorpion: Monster Odyssey #4 (John Mayhew)

Two Sentence Synopsis:venom of the scorpion

Dakkar, Indian prince and agent intent on dismantling a group of brothers who are trying to take over the world, is accused of murder and drawn into a complicated web of goddesses, tyranny and violence. As the plot thickens, will Dakkar be able to trust those closest to him?

Muster up the motivation because…

Apart from the attraction of giant scorpions and a plot that reads like Indiana Jones, but without the archaeology, there’s something that no young lover of adventure could pass up featured in this book: Dakkar has his own steampunk-esque submarine!!  This is the fourth book in this series, but the first I have read, so I did find myself in the deep end considering much of the plot surrounding Dakkar’s mission to destroy an evil organisation run by a group of brothers is only glossed over here.  Similarly, not much quarter is given in allowing new readers of the series to get to know the characters and their background and relationships, so I would definitely recommend interested punters start at the beginning of the series.  There is action galore in this book however, so I can imagine it appealing greatly to young male readers who are happy to trade complex character development for the excitement of monsters, piracy, murder, desert cults worshipping giant insect gods, sea battles and the aforementioned steampunk submarine!!  I would be interested in going back and having a look at the earlier books in the series, because although this isn’t my preferred style of middle grade book, the character development and complex plot that are hinted at in this book indicate some high quality adventure in the earlier books.

Brand it with:

Is there a (giant) insect in my hair?; Young Indiana Jones; murder most foul

You’d like more nonfiction, you say?  Coming right up…

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species (Jeff Campbell & Adam Grano)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

This is an in-depth exploration of giant species – loosely defined – that have become last of the giantsextinct, aimed at a secondary-school aged audience.  The book features recent and historical extinct species and examines how these extinctions can inform our conservation efforts today.

Muster up the motivation because…

You’ll definitely find out some things you didn’t know – or expect – while exploring the life patterns of extinct animals while reading this book.  I, for instance, discovered that Maoris of old apparently epitomised that “hangry” feeling and that if you happened to be a large, tasty reasonably defenceless sort of creature in the olden times, chances were high that you, and all of your relatives, would eventually end up as a human’s dinner. The Steller’s Sea Cow case study I found to be appallingly sad – it beggars belief the amount of times you humans have continued to eat a species until it was extinct! The most interesting thing about this book is that the author  has not just defined “giant” as “physically large”, but includes the Passenger Pigeon, due to its immense swarming impact, and the Tasmanian Tiger, due to its achievement of hanging on to top predator spot when other large mammals in the same location went extinct.  Overall, this is an interesting read with some concerning implications for the current state of the world’s wildlife…including humans.

Brand it with:

My, what big teeth you have!; dominant species; it’s the end of the world as we know it

And finally, one more middle grade adventure…

City of the Yeti (Robert A. Love)

Ten Second Synopsis:city of the yeti.png

It is 1922 and Danny and Rachel leave their home in India and travel to Nepal, pursuing Danny’s interest in the Yeti.  What they discover will change their ideas about humanity forever and plunge them into deadly battles, undiscovered cities and a search for their long-lost grandfather.

Muster up the motivation because…

City of the Yeti is historical fiction with a fantastical twist in a setting that is certainly not often seen in books for this age group.  There is plenty of action and excitement throughout the story, tempered with sections in which our young protagonists must make difficult decisions in an unfamiliar environment.  The one thing that really got my (mountain) goat while reading was that while this is obviously a historical novel, set toward the end of British rule in India, the language is not true to the period.  At one point, Danny’s father, a British aristocrat, says, “Well, uh, sure. That would be nice,” in a spectacularly uncharacteristic display of vernacular speech from a different time and place.  Similarly, the word “spelunking” is used, which, apart from not being coined until some twenty years after this story is set, is decidedly North American in tone.  While younger readers may not mind this so much, I find historical fiction that doesn’t accurately reflect the time that it’s written hugely annoying to read.  If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you however, and you are after an unusual and rollicking adventure that will have you thinking about differences in culture, then definitely give this one a try.

Brand it with:

Under the misty mountains cold; monsters with brains; untouched by civilisation

I will be submitting Hunting Monsters for the Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check out my progress toward this challenge, here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

The Land of the Green Man: A Nonfiction “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Today’s book is one of those that most people wouldn’t pick up for light reading, but it is a thumping good choice for anyone planning to write a fantasy book set in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.  The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles by Carolyne Larrington does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin – and it does so in a super-accessible fashion.  I requested, somewhat warily, this book from the publisher via Netgalley and was pleased and surprised to discover a comprehensive yet not overwhelming overview of the context behind the legends that feature in many a modern fantasy novel.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The folklore of Britain abounds with local tales about the activities of one sort of supernatural being or another giants, elves, hobs, boggarts, dragons or shape-changing witches. The stories are vivid, dramatic and often humorous. Carolyne Larrington has made a representative selection, which she re-tells in a simple, direct way which is completely faithful to the style and spirit of her sources.

Most collectors of local legends have been content merely to note how they may serve to explain some feature of the landscape or to warn of some supernatural danger, but Carolyne Larrington probes more deeply. By perceptive and delicate analysis, she explores their inner meanings. She shows how, through lightly coded metaphors, they deal with the relations of man and woman, master and servant, the living and the dead, the outer semblance and the inner self, mankind and the natural environment. Her fascinating book gives us a fuller insight into the value of our traditional tales.

the land of the green man

I could actually feel my neurons connecting and reinforcing pathways as I read, so here are Five Things I’ve Learned From…

The Land of the Green Man – A Journey through the Supernatural Landscapes of the British Isles

1. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a black dog, the outlook is not likely to be good. Unless of course, you are in one of the few localities in which black dogs are portents of luck and protection, rather than death.

2. If you are walking along the moors/near a church/down a back alley/across a marsh and you see a PACK of black dogs, I have no advice for you, except to say that I hope your will is in order.

3. While a shady tree may look like a promising place under which to have a noontime nap, under no circumstances should you succumb to this incredibly poor idea. 

4. If you happen to be propositioned by a beautiful suitor who you suspect is out of your league, you should probably decline the offer on the grounds that said suitor could well be a hag in disguise, hoping to ensnare you for nefarious purposes.  If, on the other hand, you are propositioned by  someone who would be lucky to make the cover of “Hag Fancier’s Monthly”, you should probably accept on the grounds that your suitor is likely to be a member of fairy royalty under some kind of curse, waiting to reward you with magical bounty aplenty.

5. Never, under any circumstances, piss off a mythical creature.

As I mentioned earlier, this book should be essential reading for anyone planning to draw on British myth and legend in their writing.  Larrington manages to deeply explore the origins of a whole range of myths and legends within the context of various localities.  She notes how certain landscapes and the people who dwell in these have put different spins on similar myths – black dogs, for instance, could be lucky or dangerous, depending on where you hang out; and the part of the country in which you live could see you with giant neighbours who are violent, or cheerfully disinterested in the lives on puny humans.

The content is divided into categories that link legends of a similar vein.  The author also notes how modern authors such as JK Rowling, Susan Cooper and Tolkien have used certain legends in their works.  Sirius Black (or Padfoot, to his friends) has obvious connections to the Black Dog stories of various regions, while The Dark is Rising sequence (among other works) makes use of a reworking of the Sleepers under the Hill legends.

Even if you’re not planning to write the next fantasy bestseller, this is a very involving read for lovers of fantasy who would like to know more about the popular legends and mythical beings that call the British Isles home.  I’m sure other readers will have a few “A-ha!” moments, as I did, upon discovering some snippet of information that showed aspects of some recent reads in a new light.

Progress toward Nonfiction Reading Challenge Goal: 17/10

Nonfiction 2015Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fairy Tale Makeovers: A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack…

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My fairy tale makeovers review series has been lagging a bit of late, so I am happy to present you with a fun little makeover of Jack and the Beanstalk for the early years crowd.  I gratefully received a copy A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce and the alliteratively named Kenny Callicut, from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, and was immediately drawn to the gorgeous colours and sweeping vistas of the illustrations.  There’s also an extremely underwhelmed Brahman bull that pops up here and there that had us all giggling from the get-go, so watch out for him!

a bean a stalk and a boy named jack

When drought hits the land, all the King’s subjects must line up to do their bit – their bit specifically being producing tears in order to provide water to wash the King’s stinky pinky toe.  After some slight interference from the King’s daughter and the Royal Wizard, a smallish boy and a smallish bean join forces to solve the problem of the stinky pinky, and return equilibrium to the kingdom.  When Jack (the smallish boy) plants Bean (the smallish bean), an oversized stalk erupts and delivers the unlikely pair to the crux of the problem – a (smallish) giant kid having a giant bath!  With a bit of friendly conversation and due consideration, the water problem is rectified and the King’s pinky becomes unstinky.  Cue bathing! Cue rejoicing! Cue…another fairy tale?!

**For some odd reason – it could be something to do with the writing – but I imagined this whole tale beginning to end read in a Brooklyn-ish accent.  It seemed to fit perfectly and really added to the experience for me, but you know, it’s just a suggestion. **

At 58 pages, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, is a slightly longer than average picture book, but the engaging and colourful illustrations, many of them covering double page spreads, just suck you straight into the adventure.  The tale is narrated in a fun, laid-back tone, and while there’s no rhyme, there are plenty of repeated phrases for the young’uns to join in with.  The text is laid out in a combination of clear black type and colourful speech bubbles and this mixes things up and provides a bit of interest.

Jack is immediately likeable and Bean is possibly the cutest vegetable ever to grace the page and the remaining members of the  ensemble cast just seem to want to solve the stinky pinky problem and return the status quo.  There’s not a lot of wild adventure here – more of a meeting of like minds – but it’s definitely worth a look simply to appreciate the eye-catching art and gentle humour gracing the pages.  I especially liked the cheeky twist at the end of the tale which leads into another fairy tale (Jack, of course, being a common name in fairy tale circles), but I won’t spoil it for you.

If you are looking for a fun, relaxed twist on the Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum that exchanges bone-grinding for hygienic bathing practices and water conservation, then this is the fairy tale makeover for you!  I must admit, paging through it again has sucked me straight back into the beautiful illustrations, so I’m going to sign off now and spend a few more moments giving my eyeballs a visual treat.  Don’t mind me.

*clears throat in preparation for Brooklynish accent*

A Bean, A Stalk and A Boy Named Jack was released on October 1st.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Jake and the Giant Hand: A Review for The Good, The Sad and The Quirky!

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Welcome, welcome, come in, make yourself comfortable…for today I have for you a story so strange, so mind-bendingly eerie, so unbelievably weird and bizarre that….no, wait.  I don’t know if you’re up to it. Really.  Maybe you should go somewhere else for your review today, because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any weirdness-related heart attacks or strange-induced night terrors.  Really? You think you’ll be fine? Well, if you say so. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But at least allow me to tell you about this book via my various emotional identities – the Good, the Sad and the Quirky!

Today I present to you Jake and the Giant Hand by Philippa Dowding, a book in the new series for middle-grade readers, Weird Stories Gone Wrong.  We are well-disposed to Ms Dowding round the shelf because she has also written a few books featuring gargoyles.  They sold quite well too, I believe.  We have one sitting on the shelf waiting to be read.  Soon my pretty.  But I digress.  In Jake and the Giant Hand, we meet Jake, an ordinary sort of boy who has gone to visit his Grandpa for the summer holidays.  This is a yearly occurence for Jake and most of his prior visits have seen him spending time with neighbours Kate and Chris, riding bikes and telling ghost stories.  This year, Kate tells a tall tale about a giant’s dismembered hand discovered in a farmer’s field over 100 years ago.  Jake doesn’t believe the tale could be true, but he can’t deny there’s some weird stuff going on around the farm this year.  Take the giant flies, for instance.  Or the weird stone he discovers in a post-hole.  Not to mention his Grandpa’s uncharacteristic reserve about the events in the story.  Depending on what Jake finds out, this could be a summer holiday to remember!

jake and the giant hand

This is the kind of book that will draw young male readers to it like flies to a particularly stinky pile of rotting compost.  It is the perfect subject matter with which to tempt reluctant readers, and it dovetails nicely with an age group that is just beginning to gain some independence from parents and take on experiences laced with adventure.  So I suspect this one will be a hit with middle-graders.

image* The content is great – ghost stories, tall tales, the potential to uncover a particularly bizarre and freakish secret in one’s own backyard – all of this points to popularity amongst middle grade readers

* This is a relatively quick read, and it is peppered with illustrations here and there, so it’s not too off-putting for reluctant or struggling readers

*I suspect this will be a great read-aloud choice for teachers wanting to freak out kids on school camp

The only thing I didn’t really rate in the story was the abrupt manner of the reveal.  There’s a lot of creepy, odd build up before Jake eventually solves the mystery, and I felt that the scene in which the the mystery is revealed didn’t quite gel with the rest of the book.  There is an epilogue of sorts in which we find out what happens later, and it may just be the nature of the genre, with a slow build-up and quick surprising reveal, but I was left wanting, just a little.

image* The surprise ending seemed a bit forced to me, and didn’t quite match the creepy weirdness of the events leading up to it

* Jake has issues with Gus, his Grandpa’s stinky dog.  I felt it was a bit unfair that Gus was held accountable for his stinkiness when it wasn’t really something he could control.  I realise this is a small quibble, but as a self-appointed spokesthing for unsightly/malodorous creatures everywhere, one I felt should be mentioned

If you’re looking for quirky, and let’s admit it, we all are in one form or another, you will not be disappointed with this book.  As a citizen of the country that brought you the hat-with-the-dangly-corks as a low-tech fly repellant, I was with Jake all the way in the creep-out stakes here.

image* Quirkiness abounds – there are flies at least as big as the family dog, tales of wandering swamp hags and oversized dismembered limbs to be encountered as you follow Jake’s adventures

* There is also the opportunity to discover the purpose and manner of working of an auger, for those who are unschooled in the ways of this important piece of equipment

Overall, I’d have to say this was a great, fun read and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the rest of the series.  There’s plenty of humour here, crazy, exciting mystery and just the right level of strange goings-on to provide an enjoyably creepy atmosphere without scaring the pants off anyone.  A definite “read it to your middle-grader” I reckon!

Jake and the Giant Hand is due for release in September 2014.

Of course you all noticed that this title would perfectly acquit two categories of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – category four (a book with someone’s name in the title) and category five (a book with something that comes in pairs in the title).  There’s still plenty of time to sign up and join in the fun!  Click on the image to find out more:

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Until next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!*