Picture Book Perusal: The Secret of Black Rock

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Today’s book is full of adventure and secrets, danger and hope and as such is the perfect winter read to snuggle up with.  We received The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton for review from Walker Books Australia and here’s the blurb form Goodreads:

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Erin loves to lie on the jetty, looking for the weirdest fish in the sea—the weirder, the better! And she knows the best ones must be further out, where her mum won’t let her go . . .

Out there in the deepest sea lies the Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! Can Erin uncover the truth behind this mysterious legend?

The Secret of Black Rock is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from its glowing golden endpapers to the layered blues and greens of the deep sea.  It reminded us strongly of another 2017 picture book release, Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield, due to similar themes of not judging a book by its cover and the need to preserve, protect and learn about the things we don’t understand.

The story opens with various characters recounting the horrors of Black Rock, a rock formation close to a coastal fishing village that has a reputation for destruction and danger.  Erin, however, is not afraid and will employ all her cunning and sneakiness to stow away on her mother’s fishing boat to catch sight of the Rock, despite its fearsome personification in the eyes of the villagers.  When Erin is accidentally thrown overboard, she discovers the Rock’s secret and attempts to reveal this to the villagers – but they misinterpret her message and set out to destroy the Rock once and for all.

The illustrations here are so atmospheric, with the contrast between the warmth of home and the cold, roiling mass of the sea reinforcing the dangers of venturing too far from the safety of the shore.  When readers finally catch a glimpse of Black Rock they won’t be able to avoid feeling that the poor old rock has been a bit hard done by the fisherfolk, and will be hoping for a positive resolution to the story.  The mini-fleshlings in this dwelling also had a great time spotting all the different sea life that is depicted making their homes around the rock.

This story would be a great conversation starter in the classroom around issues of gossip and the negative effects that can come from judging without full knowledge of the situation.  Similarly, it would be the perfect choice for a bedtime read aloud on a cold and windy night, when the nature’s perilous side can feel all too real.  We Shelf-dwellers think it’s a winner.

Until next time,

Bruce

TBR Friday: Over My Dead Body…

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TBR Friday

Following hot on the heels of last week’s TBR Friday, I have another contribution for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 climb! I’ve snuck in a sneakily short read that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for ages.  It wasn’t on my list to get through this year but because it was so quick to read, and I’m behind on my review schedule, I thought I’d knock it over and at least feel like I was making progress toward some kind of reading goal.  This week it’s book two in Kate and Sarah Klise’s 43 Old Cemetery Road middle grade series, Over My Dead Body.

Ten Second Synopsis:

Following on from the events of book one of the series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, abandoned child Seymour Hope, cranky writer Ignatius Grumply and ghostly Olive C. Spence are dwelling happily at Spence Mansion, when nasty sort Dick Tater investigates the living arrangements, and throws Seymour in an orphanage and Ignatius in an asylum.  Determined to reunite, Olive must put her ghostly skills into action to defy Tater and bring her boys home.

Time on the TBR Shelf:

Three years less a month.  Bought in July 2014!!

Acquired:

From the Book Depository.  I bought all four of the books in the series at the same time and have since left all but the first languishing on the shelf.

Reason I haven’t read it yet:

It’s a short book so I’ve always had the feeling that I could rip through it any old time.  Of course, with its series brethren on the shelf there has always been the lingering sense that I’d have to read them all at the same time.  Still, this is no excuse, because I could probably get through all of them in less than two hours total.

Best Bits:

  • I had completely forgotten that these books are formatted as a series of letters, newspaper articles and illustrations (which means I’ll also be submitting it for the Epistolary Challenge – hooray!).  In fact, Olive, the ghost, ONLY communicates through letter writing (and interrupting other people’s written work).  The constantly changing fonts and heavy emphasis on illustration is a major strength of the series.
  • I had sort of forgotten what had happened in the first book, since it’s been three years since I’d read it, but it was easy enough to pick up again.  The book has a little illustrated recap at the start so any readers new to the series will be brought up to speed.  It was interesting to see Ignatius being not so grumpy this time around, but Seymour’s parents are even nastier and more conniving here, if that’s possible.
  • Once again, Olive is beguiling as the ghost of an elderly mystery writer.  I loved how the townsfolk help her out despite claiming not to believe in her existence.
  • I still think this series is an absolute winner for early middle grade readers.  The story is quick and engaging, the format is brilliantly accessible and the characters are quirky enough to keep the attention.

Less Impressive Bits:

  • This story didn’t grab me quite as much as the first book did.  The plotline of Dick Tater trying to burn books and cancel Halloween seemed a bit silly really.  Luckily, it’s such a quick read that even if the story was a bit underwhelming, the format and the brevity make up for it.

On reflection, was this worth buying?

I’m glad I’ve got the series ready to go, because I want to see if the next book is as good as the first.

Where to now for this tome?

Not sure.  I might hang on to all the books til I’ve finished the series, then put them in Suitcase Rummage as a set.  Or donate them to the mini-fleshlings’ school library.

And with that, I have reached Pike’s Peak – twelve books – and my Mount TBR Challenge goal for the year.  I haven’t officially made the decision to extend my goal yet.  I’m going to ponder it a little more.  Stay tuned!  And you can check out my progress toward this year’s reading challenges here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Fi50 Reminder and an Inspirational Early Chapter Book

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It’s that time of the month again – Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday!  To participate, just create  a piece of fiction or poetry in fewer than 51 words and then add your link to the comments of my post on Monday.  For more information, just click on that snazzy typewriter at the top of this post.  Our prompt for this month is…

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Hope to see you there!


Ballerina Dreams: A Tale of Hope, Hard Work and Finding Your Groove…

 

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Ballerina Dreams by Michaela & Elaine DePrince.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 24th May 2017.  RRP: $14.99

 

The world of early chapter books seems to have expanded greatly since I was a youngling and nowadays there are a plethora of beautifully presented, exquisitely formatted, engaging and accessible stories out there for newly confident readers.  Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by professional ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her adoptive mother Elaine is one such story.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the age of three, Michaela DePrince found a photo of a ballerina that changed her life. She was living in an orphanage in Sierra Leone at the time, but was soon adopted by a family and brought to America. Michaela never forgot the photo of the dancer she once saw, and decided to make her dream of becoming a ballerina come true. She has been dancing ever since, and after a spell as a principal dancer in New York, now dances for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.

Beautifully and gently illustrated by Ella Okstad, Ballerina Dreams is the younger-reader edition of Michaela DePrince’s highly moving memoir, Hope in a Ballet Shoe.

Not being a particular fan of ballet, I was a bit trepidatious going into this book, but I was drawn in by the young, brown-skinned girl on the cover.  I happen to have some familial ties with a fantastic blog called FleshTone, that promotes representation of all skin colours in all areas of everyday life, from underwear to toys and beyond.  FleshTone, driven by its founder, Tayo Ade, has a particular focus on dancewear for darker skinned performers, because bizarrely, despite the fact that there must be thousands upon thousands of non-white people involved in dancing worldwide, production of flesh-coloured dancewear to suit such people is hard to find.  I immediatley wondered, while reading this book, whether Michaela DePrince has trouble finding flesh-coloured dancewear to suit her fleshtone…but I digress.  Back to the book.

Ballerina Dreams is the early reader version of DePrince’s memoir Hope in a Ballet Shoe.  DePrince herself hails from Sierra Leone, where she lived in an orphanage after her parents were killed in the war there.  Adopted by Elaine DePrince, along with her best friend and several others from the orphanage, Michaela moves to the USA with her new family and is able to pursue the dream she has fostered since finding an abadoned magazine with a picture of a dancer on the front: to learn ballet.

The story touches briefly on DePrince’s struggles as a dark-skinned dancer in a world in which such dancers are scarce, before ending on her accomplishments as a professional dancer and her desire to inspire and encourage other young people of colour to pursue their dreams with hard work and patience.

The book is beautifully presented, with large print and colour illustrations throughout, appearing both as full page spreads and wrapped around sections of text.  As such, the story will be accessible for young readers as both a read-alone or a read-aloud with an adult.  It’s wonderful to see that books – and particularly nonfiction books – highlighting individuals from diverse backgrounds are being published for this age group.

I would highly recommend this engaging tale for young fans of dance and those who enjoy true stories told in accessible ways.

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #32: a book about an interesting woman.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Early Chapter Book Double Dip Review: Cat Capers and Doggy Derring-Do…

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Feet up, treats out and let’s dip into two new release early chapter books!

First up we have Pug, whose first adventure involved being all at sea and who now makes a reappearance in Cowboy Pug by Laura James and illustrated by Eglantine Cuelemans.  We received a copy of this one from Bloomsbury for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Meet the brilliant, the wonderful, the courageous …Cowboy Pug! The second book in a joyful new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff. Pug and his faithful companion, Lady Miranda, are going to be cowboys for the day – and first of all they’re going horsetrading! But with their noble steed Horsey safely acquired, it’s not long before they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Can Pug the reluctant hero overcome his fears and save the day once more?

Dip into it for…cowboy pug

…a beautifully illustrated quick read that bounces from one unexpected disaster to the next.  Pug manages to come out on top at every turn however, by accident or design, and by the end of the story we’ve seen police chasing bandits, trophies being awarded and one horse that slowly decides that being friends with Pug and Lady Miranda means one is in for a wild ride.  This story starts a little abruptly if you aren’t familiar with the escapades of the first book, with no particular information given to explain the backstory of Lady Miranda, Pug and the Running Footmen.  By the second chapter though, this shouldn’t be a problem as young readers will be engrossed in Lady Miranda’s search for a horsey friend.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your stories to be complex and involved.  This is only a quick read, perfect for newly confident readers looking to move from picture books and basic readers to a longer, yet still accessible, chapter book format.  For that reason, the action moves along apace, without any filler in which to get bogged down.

Overall Dip Factor

This is a charming follow-up to the first Adventures of Pug story and I think I enjoyed it better than the first.  I seem to remember that Lady Miranda annoyed me a bit in the first book, whereas she was perfectly delightful in this installment, even making a new friend (of the non-horsey variety).  The illustrations on every page and the large font make the book totally accessible to younger readers (and those like me who hate tiny print).    Whether you’ve read the first book in the series or not, this would be a canny choice for young readers who love animal stories, lots of colour and imagery, and slapstick laughs aplenty. For those already bitten by the Pug bug, the next adventure is coming out later this year.

If you aren’t a dog person, fear not, because next up we have The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels and illustrated by Emma Block, which features all the cats you could ever wish for.  We received our copy from Bloomsbury Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The magical adventures of an eccentric Mary Poppins-esque heroine and her flying feline charges, sure to charm readers big and small. The first book for children by an internationally acclaimed novelist and poet.

Miss Petitfour enjoys having adventures that are “just the right size – fitting into a single, magical day.” She is an expert at baking and eating fancy iced cakes, and her favorite mode of travel is par avion. On windy days, she takes her sixteen cats out for an airing: Minky, Misty, Taffy, Purrsia, Pirate, Mustard, Moutarde, Hemdela, Earring, Grigorovitch, Clasby, Captain Captain, Captain Catkin, Captain Cothespin, Your Shyness and Sizzles. With the aid of her favorite tea party tablecloth as a makeshift balloon, Miss Petitfour and her charges fly over her village, having many little adventures along the way. Join Miss Petitfour and her equally eccentric felines on five magical outings — a search for marmalade, to a spring jumble sale, on a quest for “birthday cheddar”, the retrieval of a lost rare stamp and as they compete in the village’s annual Festooning Festival. A whimsical, beautifully illustrated collection of tales that celebrates language, storytelling and small pleasures, especially the edible kind!

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Dip into it for…

…whimsical antics, alluring pastel-hued illustrations and a veritable clowder of cats.  Miss Petitfour lives with a total of sixteen felines, all with their own personalities, in what feels for all the world like a mashup between Mary Poppins and Neko Atsume.  The book features a short introduction at the start so the reader can familiarise themselves with both Miss Petitfour and the aforementioned cats, and is then broken up into five short stories, all which feature food, flying and feline fancifulness.

Don’t dip if…

…you prefer substance over style.  While the book is beautifully presented, I found the stories somewhat lacking in intrigue and they didn’t particularly hold my interest for long.  The author is quite fond of digressions and while a few of these are always helpful and fun, it does not bode well when the digressions generate more interest than the actual story.

Overall Dip Factor

The gorgeous illustrations throughout the book, the coloured fonts and the fact that the stories feature sixteen cats that travel by tablecloth parachute at the mercy of the winds will surely be enough to draw some readers under Miss Petitfour’s spell of whimsy.  It wasn’t quite enough for me, but I’m still impressed by the production quality of the book nonetheless.  This is one you’ll want to buy in print, for sure, rather than e-format.  If you have younger readers of your acquaintance who are fans of Kate Knapp’s Ruby Red Shoes, they will probably find Miss Petitfour and her cats equally delightful.

So which is it to be? Cats or dogs? Whimsy or adventure?  Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Doodle Cat is Bored

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Today I am bringing you the second, bright and zippy adventure from Kat Patrick’s inimitable Doodle Cat, Doodle Cat is Bored.  If you haven’t met Doodle Cat before, you should probably pop off and have a squizz at his introductory adventure, I Am Doodle Cat, but in the meantime, just be aware that Doodle Cat is loud, proud and impossible to ignore.

Especially when he’s bored.

We received our copy of Doodle Cat is Bored by Kat Patrick from Scribble Publications and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Doodle Cat is back and he is very bored. Until he finds a thing!

But what is this thing and what does it do?

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From that eye-ball burstingly bright cover, through the hypnotic endpapers to an all in pangolin party, Doodle Cat is Bored is a book that will imprint itself on your memory.  If you have read I Am Doodle Cat, you will be aware that our feline protagonist is confident, outgoing and not afraid to think outside the box.  So it is with Doodle Cat is Bored, after Doodle Cat finds a thing – which turns out to be a crayon – and boredom evaporates in the wake of scribbles that evoke everything from interstellar, gas-propelled travel to the discovery of long lost, pasta-based relatives.

The bold font of the text and the bright, minimalist colour palette ensures that each page cries out to be looked at and this really drew the mini-fleshlings into this particular story.  There are a few pages here that take advantage of a wider range of colours – all from one single crayon! Fantastic! – and this added to the feeling that author had developed the concept of Doodle Cat as a character and was working well with the illustrator to highlight the importance of imagination without ramming the message down kid’s throats.

Doodle Cat is also not afraid to be a little bit indecorous and the mini-fleshlings were in fits of laughter after Doodle Cat decides to draw his own bum.  Bums, of course, being the height of comedy for three to six year olds in the dwelling.  They also quite liked Wizard Susan’s unusually stinky mode of travel, but it took a few moments for them to fully appreciate the gag.

This is a great addition to the Doodle Cat series and I’m pretty sure the mini-fleshlings enjoyed this one more than the first, possibly because the theme of imagination and entertaining oneself was easier to grasp on to.  This series is not your typical picture book experience, as the author and illustrator aren’t afraid to bend the conventions of picture book creation to create a totally unique character and story flow.

We highly recommend Doodle Cat is Bored for mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance who are prepared to take a risk on something a little crazy.

Until next time,

Bruce

Gabbing about Graphic Novels: Vern and Lettuce

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I’ve got a cutesy one for you today that we picked up on a recent library jaunt.  Vern and Lettuce features little vignettes in the life of Vern (a sheep) and Lettuce (a rabbit) who live in the same apartment building.  The strips were originally published in The DFC which, according to Wikipedia, is/was a British weekly kids’ comic anthology.  Anyway, the comic strips have been brought together in one edition here to form a complete story, one page at a time.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Welcome to Pickle Rye, home of best friends Lettuce the rabbit and Vern the sheep. Join them for baking, birthdays, bunny-sitting and a quest for fame in the big city!
Vern and Lettuce reach for the stars, but danger is lurking just beneath their feet…

vern and lettuce

Target Age Range: 

Middle grade

Genre:

Funny anthropomorphic animal stories

Art Style:

Cartoon cute

Reading time:

About twenty minutes in one sitting

Let’s get gabbing:

While I had seen Vern & Lettuce before on some blog or other’s list of recommended graphic novel for the younger age bracket, I couldn’t remember what it was about when I came across it at the library.  Lettuce and Vern live in a town called Pickle Rye where Vern eats grass in the park while fending off moles and Lettuce is often put in charge of her brood of younger siblings.  The first few stories in the book, which are presented one to a page, are unrelated and serve to introduce the characters and their relationship, but a little way in the comics merge into a longer tale that relates to Lettuce coercing Vern into travelling to the city to audition for a televised talent show.

I enjoyed both sections of the book.  The earlier, unconnected comics were adorable and quite funny with Vern always ending up in some baby-bunny-related predicament and the latter section of the collection presented an interesting story with some cheeky twists and turns.  I also loved the few literary and pop culture references hiding throughout (in one instance the moles makes an utterance with uncanny resemblance to Little Britain’s juvenile delinquent Vicky Pollard, while later on there’s a reference to pigeons being unwelcome on buses…a tip of the hat to Mo Willem’s perhaps?).

Overall snapshot:

This is a cute and funny collection that is a great addition to the comic literature for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum.  The stories are simple enough for younger kids to access but there are enough twists and turns for older middle grade readers to appreciate too.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Do Not Lick This Book

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Today’s book will have you running the gamut from “Oooh, that’s fascinating!” to “Bleeeeuuuuuuuuurrrrggh!” in a jolly and mildly nauseating romp around the world of microbes and their living environments…on your teeth, on your skin, in your intestines, inside this book, on your shirt….

We received a copy of Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact so small that you’d need to look through a microscope to see her. Or you can simply open this book and take Min on an adventure to amazing places she’s never seen before—like the icy glaciers of your tooth or the twisted, tangled jungle that is your shirt. The perfect book for anyone who wants to take a closer look at the world.

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Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak & Julian Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $19.99

This is a bright and intriguing gem of a book that blends actual electron microscope imagery with cute cartoons and hilarious text to create a fascinating and mind-expanding look into the world of microbiology.  Readers are first introduced to Min (a microbe) and encouraged to touch the page to pick Min up and take her on a journey to discover other microbes that may be in your local environment.

And by local environment, we mean on your actual person.  Inside your mouth.  On your clothes.  On the paper of the book you’re holding.  That kind of local.

Each new environment is accompanied by a double page image taken by an electron microscope and these we found absolutely fascinating.  Who would have thought paper looked like a collection of discarded mummy bandages from Min’s point of view?Or that the surface of your teeth resembled something planetary from Doctor Who?  These images are absolutely going to blow the minds of young readers and I can’t wait to watch the reactions of the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling when they get their paws on this book.

The microbe characters share some hilariously mundane dialogue throughout the book and as the story continues, the reader picks up different types of microbe, so that by the end of the book you’ve had a good overview of different types of microbes in different environments.  The “Bleeeeeurrrgh!” aspect that I mentioned came right at the end of the book for me, as I read the handy little fact sheet that shows what the microbes, rendered as cartoons in the story, actually look like and we find out that Min is actually an E. coli.

I was totally absorbed by this little book (*as an aside, I find that I’m enjoying kiddy science books far more than I ought to, given that I am an adult*) and I’m certain that this will be a smash hit for young science buffs and a rip-snorter of a classroom read-aloud.  For these reasons, we have branded this book a….

Top Book of 2017 pick!

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If you, or any mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance have an interest in science – or just general grossness and interactivity in picture books – you MUST check out Do Not Lick This Book.

Until next time,

Bruce