Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: Picture Books for the Open Minded…

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Saddle up my friends, because I have four picture books for you today that will open your mind, test your heart and generally stretch your imagination!  Let’s ride on in!

A Perfect Day (Lane Smith)

*We received a copy of A Perfect Day from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  a perfect day.jpg

As a collection of animals and one young boy go about an ordinary day, they all seem to find the one thing that makes them most happy.  Until, that is, a big hairy bear comes along to spoil the perfection.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one picture book that proves that perfection depends entirely on perspective.  The beautiful pastel palette of the illustrations reinforces the gentle unfolding of an ordinary day, made special by the simple things.  Of course, in the second half of the book, things become a lot less perfect – unless you’re a big burly bear looking for somewhere to snack, play and nap of course – and there’s a certain delight in seeing the bear making dirt angels in the flowerbed, splashing in the wading pool, flashing a corn-cob smile and generally enjoying himself in a bearish fashion.  The emphasis provided by the font as bear spends his leisure time inadvertently ruining everyone else’s also contributes to the humour and would be perfect for teaching younger independent readers how to take cues from the text when reading aloud.  The final illustration depicting the animals and little boy inside the house looking out, accompanied by the text, “It was a perfect day for bear,” opens up the text for conversation with little ones about how the other characters might feel.  The edition I have received shows a similar image to that of the last page as its cover and I think this image gives a better sense of the book’s content than the one above.  All up, this is a delightful reading experience that is visually appealing and the perfect choice for sharing a gentle giggle before bed.

Brand it with:

Bears in them there hills; Bear necessities; simple pleasures

Old Pig (Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks)

*We received a copy of Old Pig from Allen & Unwin Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

A grandmother and granddaughter pig share their days and nights in a comforting rhythm of chores, food and relaxation.  When grandmother pig begins slowing down, the two confront together the spectre of a final goodbye.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this 20th anniversary edition classic children’s tale is almost achingly poignant in places and deftly broaches that hardest of topics, the death of a loved one.  As it becomes apparent that Grandmother Pig is facing her final days, the two pigs take solace in spending time together and appreciating the small, simple things in life and the rhythms of each day.  While death isn’t explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that the book is about leaving and leaving behind.  The final illustration, featuring granddaughter pig on her own is awash with hope, and allows the reader to leave the story on an uplifting note.  As much as this story would be a useful tool in gently opening up discussions with young readers about reality of death, it is also a celebration of a life well lived and the connections that we make with those dear to us.  If this book doesn’t tug at your heartstrings and make you appreciate the small moments of joy in the mundane, then you must have a colder, stonier heart than even I do.

Brand it with:

Grief, sensitively handled; quality of life; inter-generational connections

There’s a Tiger in the Garden (Lizzy Stewart)

*We received a copy of There’s a Tiger in the Garden from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  theres-a-tiger-in-the-garden

In an attempt to cure her granddaughter’s boredom, a grandmother casually mentions that there is a tiger in her garden.  The resulting, fruitful search is enough to dent the certainty of even the most sceptical of child explorers!

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is the kind of book that will have you doing exercises to expand your imagination.  While the concept of children “discovering” untapped worlds in the garden isn’t new to picture books, the ambiguous ending of this story provides a fun twist.  As Nora and Jeff (her toy giraffe) take a turn about the garden, the illustrations become more and more detailed and jungle-like, blending a sense of magical realism with the richly coloured sense of adventure inherent in nature in all its glory.  The deep greens that permeate most of the illustrations are so lush and inviting that I just couldn’t help plunging on in to this story. Within Nora’s imagination, her grandma’s small garden morphs into the home of butterflies the size of birds, a grumpy polar bear fishing in the pond and some extremely robust (and hungry) plants.  Young readers will love trying to spot the tiger in the earlier pages of the book and there is plenty of visual humour for older ones to notice and enjoy also.  If you have a young explorer in your midst, they will revel in this tale that celebrates things that are more than they seem on the surface.

Brand it with:

Wild green yonder; imagine that; grandma’s secret garden

My Friend Tertius (Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan)

*We received a copy of this title from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my-friend-tertius

My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton & Owen Swan.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22 February 2016.  RRP: $24.99

A WWII code breaker working in Singapore for the British takes a gibbon for a pet.  When the war forces him to leave Singapore, he makes the decision not to abandon his friend, but smuggle him along on the journey.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for one thing, there certainly is a dearth of war related picture books featuring a gibbon on the market, so My Friend Tertius fills that niche nicely. The washed out colour palette is reminiscent of the tropical heat of the southern hemisphere, and there are many historical clues hidden in the pictures for keen-eyed young readers to inquire about – the radio set in Arthur’s room for instance, Arthur’s neatly initialed gladstone bag and the fact that most pictures of people show at least somebody smoking a cigarette.  This was a bit of a strange beast of a tale for me – on one hand, it is fascinating, unexpected and had me immediately questioning the hows and whys of the story. On the other, the picture book format meant that I didn’t get the answers I was looking for. The narrative begins abruptly with a question that presupposes a knowledge of the social context of war generally – that people might have to leave – and the War in the Pacific specifically – that people did have to leave Singapore, with or without their loved ones.  The book has no afterword giving more information about Arthur Cooper and the eventual fate of either man or gibbon, and the book finishes on the rather cryptic statement “He [Tertius] taught me how to love.”  This is cryptic because nowhere in the previous pages of the book is there any mention of Arthur having any particular difficulty with human emotions, so I found myself asking, “How? How did he teach you to love? And why didn’t you know how to love in the first place?!” These questions, as well as my inner pedant’s shock at Arthur’s laissez faire attitude toward animal quarantine issues, meant that this wasn’t a particularly satisfying read for me as an adult reader, and I wonder how it might be received by the upper primary age range for which it is intended.  To be honest, I would have loved to have seen this story told in a chapter book format because I suspect there is so much more to the story than is being shown, and it is a pity not to be privy to it.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; BFFs in wartime; gibbons on the run

Bet you weren’t expecting any of those mind expanding picture books, were you?  I hope there is something here that tickles your synapses and causes you to add it to your TBR pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: Spy Toys

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meandering-through-middle-grade

As a kid, did you have a teddy bear whose ears were slightly nibbled at the edges?  Or a doll whose hair would never quite sit flat?  Then today’s book is for you, and all the kids out there who appreciate toys that aren’t exactly how they are depicted on the box. Today I bring you Spy Toys by Mark Powers, which we received for review from Bloomsbury Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The world’s leading toy manufacturer makes playthings for the rich and famous, and every toy they create contains a tiny computerised brain and a unique personality. These toys are seriously awesome! But every so often there’s a faulty toy …

Dan is a Snugliffic Cuddlestar bear – he should be perfect for hugging. But because of a faulty chip, Dan is so strong he could crush a car. Thrown on to the rejects pile, he meets Arabella, a Loadsasmiles Sunshine Doll, who has a very short temper and is absolutely NOT good with children. Soon Dan, Arabella and Flax (a custom-made police robot rabbit gone AWOL) are recruited by Auntie Roz, the ‘M’ of the toy world, and together they make up THE SPY TOYS.

Their first mission: to protect the prime minister’s eight-year-old son from being kidnapped ..

 

spy-toys

Spy Toys by Mark Powers.  Published by Bloomsbury Australia, 12th January, 2017.  RRP: $12.99

 

We on the shelf, being a little bit not-quite-right ourselves, thoroughly enjoyed this original, fun, fast-paced, funny early middle grade offering.  Dan is a teddy bear designed for hugging but could crush a child with his malfunctioning strength chip.  Arabella is meant to bring sunshine into a little child’s life, but has a snappy comeback that could burn your ears off.  And Flax…well, he’s a bunny with a problem with authority.  These three toys, after managing to save themselves from the reject pile, are charged with the job of protecting the Prime Minister’s son – what better way to hide bodyguards in plain sight, than to disguise them as toys? – and so the intrepid trio become…Spy Toys!  While it’s a steep learning curve for our sharp-clawed, sharp-tongued and sharp-eyed friends, they must do all they can to protect the Prime Minister’s son from a criminal gang run by an elephant-human hybrid ex-circus clown, or perish in the attempt.

This early chapter book is pure, unadulterated fun from beginning to end, with oodles of line drawings throughout to add zest to the action.  There’s no mucking around with boring filler either: from the moment Dan is singled out as a defective toy it’s non-stop action, escapes and chases until the thrilling (and quite dangerous!) finale.  Clearly the author isn’t afraid to throw in a bit of silliness – the human-animal hybrid gang being a case in point – but there are also some nicely touching scenes in which the Prime Minister learns a bit about being an attentive parent – awwww!  The Snaztacular Ultrafun toy factory also had something of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory about it – I can imagine kids desperate for a golden ticket to visit such an exciting place!

The three heroes are loveable, in a defective sort of way and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.  As an early chapter book, it’s the perfect length for newly independent readers who love action, adventure and comedy all rolled into one.

For the device-happy reader, the book also has an accompanying app, in which the user must help Dan the bear leap over barrels and boxes on a conveyor belt to avoid being dumped down the reject toy chute at the Snaztacular Ultrafun factory.  The game is almost embarrassingly simple, but the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling (at six years old) proclaimed it the “best game ever” and got far more mileage out of playing it than I would have expected.  It’s also a satisfyingly small download so you don’t have to worry about it taking up too much space on your phone or device.

Spy Toys is definitely an intriguing opener to the series and I can’t wait to join Dan, Arabella and Flax on their next spy-tastic adventure!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Picture Book Perusal: My Valley

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picture book perusal button

I’ve got a picture book translated from the original French for you today.  My Valley by celebrated French children’s author Claude Ponti is due to be published in English, translated by Alyson Waters, in March 2017.  We received a copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

In My Valley, Claude Ponti leads us on a journey through an enchanted world inhabited by “Touims” (tiny, adorable, monkey-like creatures), secret tree dwellings, flying buildings, and sad giants. Clever language and beautifully detailed maps of imaginary landscapes will delight children and adults alike. Ponti himself has said, “My stories are like fairytales, always situated in the marvelous, speaking to the interior life and emotions of children. That way each child can get what they want out of the images: the characters and dreams are their own.”

my-valley

Long-time readers of this blog will know that my relationship with French books translated into English is sketchy at best.  I’ve come across a few books in this category that I have thoroughly enjoyed, but for some reason, many others I haven’t.  Unfortunately, this was one of the latter.  It’s not a bad book by any means, just one in which I could not find a point of purchase from which to engage with the story.

The book is aimed at around about the 6 to 10 age group, with large pictures surrounded by short paragraphs of text.  There is no coherent overall story, per se, but rather a collection of related passages that take place within a magical, ethereal, woodlandish world.  The Valley is populated by Twims, little furry creatures that pass the time in various unlikely and whimsical ways, as well as giants and other fantastical creatures.  As there was no linear storyline in the book, I found it hard to stay interested in what was going on because it was episodic in nature, with new characters being introduced only to disappear when others arrive.

The illustrations didn’t do a lot for me, but they were undoubtedly the highlight of the book regardless.  The images take centre stage, covering page spreads or appearing beside blocks of text to give a bit of life to the story.

I’d have to say that this book just wasn’t my cup of tea – but that’s not to say it won’t be a hit with a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance, provided they have a good imagination and find joy in whimsical and original fantasy worlds.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

royal-rabbits-of-london

Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

Picture Book Perusal: Cat Knit

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picture book perusal button

If you love delightful tales of friendship, cattiness and yarn then today is your lucky day!  Allow us to happily present to you new release picture book Cat Knit by Jacob Grant, and provided to us by PanMacmillan Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Cat and Yarn are the best of friends. They have so much fun playing together, the two are inseparable.

Until the day Girl takes Yarn away.

When Yarn Returns, he is completely changed, no longer Cat’s bright and rolly friend. Cat is mad!

Soon, Cat begins to miss his best friend, and he just might realize that a little change isn’t so bad after all.

cat-knit

It’s no secret that we are big fans of yarn and its related fibre-crafted products around the shelf, and when yarn is combined with a cute, grumpy-faced cat that looks a little like one of the cats in the dwelling, you can be sure that we will be big fans of the result.  Here’s a little side by side pic for comparison about our prior claim:

cat-knit-comparison

Twinnies, or what?!

Cat, unsurprisingly, is friends with Yarn.  They play together in all sorts of hilarious ways (read: sledding), they snuggle up together and are generally as happy as a cat and an inanimate object could be.  When Girl takes yarn away and returns him completely changed however, Cat isn’t in love with the arrangement.  What follows is a struggle between wanting things back the way they were and finding good use for yarn’s new form and function.  But it isn’t all bad.  After all, where there’s one ball of yarn, there might be more!

This book was a lot of fun and the mini-fleshlings particularly enjoyed the various moods of Cat, played out via his facial expressions.  I particularly liked the machinations of Girl, which are known in the wider world as “knitting”, and was quite comforted by the fact that clearly Mad Martha isn’t the only one who pores over yarn catalogues with such undivided attention.  The ending is a great laugh, featuring more in the way of catty expressions of displeasure, and a very nifty bobble hat indeed.  The overall message of the book is that a change in the personality of one’s friend need not mean the end of a friendship, and that such changes can be just what is needed at that point in time.

The edition of the book that we received came with a dust jacket featuring the image above, and as we are incurable dust-jacket removers, we were able to uncover the delightful design on the hardback cover.

cat-knit-undies

I will admit to having a yearning to own an ugly Christmas jumper, probably due to the fact that I will never have the opportunity to wear one unless I move to a shelf in the Northern Hemisphere for at least one Christmas, so this design tickled me pink.

I would recommend Cat Knit to anyone who (a) has a cat or (b) is able to laugh at cats, which, let’s admit it, is every human alive.  Having received the thumbs up of approval from the mini-fleshlings in this dwelling, I can also say that it has passed the giggle road test for reading aloud to little ones.  It’s even inspired me to ask Mad Martha to crochet me an ugly Christmas jumper of my own…which I will then attempt to force onto the cat (pictured above).

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Completely Unrelated Kidlit” Edition…

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I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of a theme that would link the books for today’s Round-Up, so you’ll just have to bear with me.  We have a picture book based on a classic dance hit, a fairy tale retelling for early chapter book fans and a book of stats and facts for the upcoming T20 Cricket season here in Australia.  Let’s saddle up and ride into this diverse herd!

Footloose (Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016. RRP: $19.99

When the zoo closes down for the night the fun really starts!  A reimagining of the classic hit song featuring a crowd of dancing animals.

Muster up the motivation because…

…I’m pretty sure nobody needs a reason to bust out a few moves when Footloose comes on the radio and so it will no doubt be with this lively, colourful picture book.  Let me say up front that I’m not the greatest fan of the songs-to-picture-books trend, mostly because the songs are generally awesome on their own and the added book just slows them down, trying to squish slightly awkward text into a pre-existing lyrical framework.  I did find that was the case here to a certain degree.  Footloose is one of the younger mini-fleshling’s favourite boogie tunes and while there were a few smiles throughout the reading of this one, she didn’t express the unbridled glee that I expected, or indeed that she exhibits when she’s throwing down the moves to the song.  The illustrations are certainly inviting and animated and its obvious that the animals are having a cracking time cutting footloose.  There’s also a CD that comes with the book so you can experience the tune in your own home.  Overall, I think little kids will love the vivid illustrations and the general fun vibe of the book, but for me, some of the text didn’t quite work as a read (or sing) aloud, which kind of defeats the purpose of the book, in my opinion.  If you are a fan of the song, you will no doubt end up checking this book out, so do let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

Dancing leads to animal frivolity, 80s dance hits, busting a move

Big Bash Book 2016-17 (Daniel Lane)

* We received a copy of the Big Bash Book 2016-17 from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two (well, one) Sentence Synopsis: 

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016.  RRP: $29.99

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane. Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016. RRP: $29.99

A photo-filled look at the players and teams who will feature in this season’s KFC T20 Big Bash league.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a cricket fan, this book will no doubt provide hours and hours of viewing pleasure…much like test cricket itself.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a country that doesn’t really play cricket) it will have been impossible not to notice the dramatic rise in popularity of the Big Bash League.  Colourful, loud, reasonably priced and family friendly are words that describe both the League itself, as well as this high quality tome.  It is well known that I have a rather lacklustre attitude towards cricket of any kind, but even I can’t help but get sucked in to the energy and excitement of Big Bash cricket.  This book is much the same.  While I have little to no interest in the contents of this book, I couldn’t help but pick it up and have a flick through.  It is full colour throughout, with big photographs of players and teams, and I’m pleased to note that both men’s and women’s teams are featured.  I immediately flicked through to the Brisbane Heat sections of the book and read up on Chris Lynn (he of the big six hitting capability), while saying a little prayer that the Heat win more than one game this season.  On my flick through the book I also managed to catch a glimpse of one Jake Lehmann, sporting a moustache that is as alluring as it is disturbing.  That aside, predictably, I suppose, when I left the book out in plain sight in the dwelling, it was immediately snatched up by the he-fleshling and the mini-he-fleshling, who began poring over it and discussing their memories of last year’s season (during which the mini-he-fleshling managed to attend a game at the Gabba…the only game of the season that the Heat actually won, so at least they got their money’s worth).  This is clearly a niche market book but would make a fab gift for any cricket fan of your acquaintance.

Brand it with:

I don’t like cricket…(no really, I don’t); family entertainment; fun with fielding

The Spell Thief: Little Legends (Tom Percival)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis: the-spell-thief

When new kid Anansi moves to town, Jack (from the Beanstalk) can’t shake the feeling that there is something shady about him.  After Jack tries to prove his theory, things start going from bad to worse, and Jack must decide how far he is prepared to go to get to the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as early chapter books featuring rehashed fairy tale characters go, this one is of quite a high quality.  The Little Legends series features all your favourite fairy tale characters (including, but not limited to, Jack (of the beanstalk), Red (of the riding hood) and Rapunzel (with the hair)), as well as Jack’s talking pet chicken Betsy (although the only thing she can say is “Whaaaat?”).  The books aren’t retellings of the original fairy tales, but rather feature the familiar characters in fairy tale-like adventures.  In this story, Anansi, who those of African heritage may know as the trickster spirit, arrives in the village and is spotted by Jack engaged in mildly suspicious activity involving imps and trolls.  Jack then sets out on a quest to prove his theory that Anansi is a troublemaker, but predictably ends up causing far more trouble himself.  The book is illustrated throughout, which adds immensely to the story, and although the kids feel a little bit too “Disney” for my liking, the characters are all true to age and true to form, in dialogue and behaviour.  There is also a satisfying mix of male and female characters here, so the book isn’t particularly skewed toward one gender or the other.  I quite enjoyed the story due to the fact that it was a quick read and the action kept moving, with some interesting twists and characters that one might not expect from a fairy tale world.  I think my favourite part of the world is the concept of the great Story Tree; a tree that sits in the middle of town and grows a new branch every time a resident creates a new story through their actions.  As this is the first book in a series, I can imagine that the Story Tree will be sprouting a lot of new branches as the stories keep coming.

Brand it with:

Not your Nanna’s fairy tales; trick or be tricked; water-soluble solutions

It’s an unlikely collection, I’ll admit, but hopefully at least one of these tomes has caught your eye and inspired you to go out and round it up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

The Unforgettable What’s His Name: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s been a number of years since I’ve read a book by Paul Jennings, so the Book Club was more than delighted to receive a copy of The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Mr Jennings, and illustrated by Craig Smith, from Allen & Unwin for review.  Before I unleash the Club on this quirky and heartwarming tale, here’s the blurb from A&U:

Now you see him, now you don’t – an action-packed adventure about a boy who just wants to blend in, from a bestselling author/illustrator team.

Even before all this happened I had never been like the other kids. I tried not to be seen. If I climbed a tree or hid among the bins, no one could find me. ‘Where’s What’s His Name?’ they’d say.

Then, one weekend, I got what I wanted. First, I blended in with things. But on the second day I changed.

I mean, really changed.

The hilarious story of a boy with an unusual problem, from children’s book legend Paul Jennings. Includes fantastic look-and-find colour illustrations.

 

The Unforgettable What's His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $14.99

The Unforgettable What’s His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $14.99

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

When the eyes of the world are watching, will you step into the limelight or shrink into the shadows?  This is the dilemma faced by young What’s His Name.  To stand up and be counted, or overlooked, like a single monkey amidst a herd of leaping banana-chewers: only you can make the decision to be seen as you truly are.  We would all do well to take a lesson from young What’s His Name.  Blending in with your surroundings may solve your problem in the short term, but eventually, one must show one’s true colours, or risk remaining forever like a statue over a pond, while the moss slowly grows over one’s head.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

There are no dragons in this book.  There are a bunch of crazy monkeys that run all over town though, and a dog with no ears and a motorcycle gang, and even a boy who can transform into lots of cool things.  It sounds like a cool superpower but most of the time it isn’t very convenient for What’s His Name.  One time, one of the monkeys even tries to pee on him! They call that monkey the Big Pee!

I really liked Sandy the dog too.  This book has a lot of funny things in it and I think kids who like wacky adventures and unexpected things will like this book.  It would be fun to have a teacher read this book out in class because I think all the kids would be laughing.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

This poem is inspired by Simon and Garfunkle’s folk hit Feelin’ Groovy.

Hello lampost, whatcha knowing?

It appears you have two ears growing.

And is that a hair or three?

Do, do, do, do, do

You’re transforming!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

 

Paul Jennings, it must be said, is a master of magical realism, with a narrative style all his own.  Whether it has been two weeks or twenty years since you last read one of his books, I can guarantee that you’ll fall straight back into his familiar way of storytelling.  The Unforgettable What’s His Name is a book about a boy who wants to fade from sight.  Painfully shy, the boy gets the jitters whenever he thinks people are watching him and this leads to some unique and giggle-worthy problems.  All the expected Jennings features are included here: unexpected and hilarious situations involving our protagonist, things going wrong at exactly the wrong moment, characters who aren’t necessarily what they appear to be on the outside, and at least one reference to pooh.

The book didn’t seem to me as laugh-out-loud funny as some of Jennings classic works, but there are certainly a range of events that will have readers cringing with embarrassment and wriggling with glee as all sorts of silly situations unfold, requiring skin-of-your-teeth escapes and some truly innovative solutions to problems.  The book is illustrated throughout with both black and white line drawings and double-page spread, full colour illustrations, which add to the magical aspects of the book.

Putting aside the craziness of being able to turn into a human chameleon when anxious for a moment, this book is at its heart a story about facing one’s fears and carving out a place to belong.  As in most of Jennings’ work, the bottom line notes that you don’t have to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in somewhere.

I’d definitely recommend this as an insta-buy for classroom libraries or as a treat for fans (new and old) of the quirky, unexpected mind of Paul Jennings.

Until next time,

Bruce and the gang