Bruce’s Picture Book Round-Up: Caves, Adopted Dinosaurs and Grumpy Frogs…

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Today’s picture book round up is a collection of wild and wacky stories for those who look forward to the unexpected.  Lassos at the ready to rope in a fun new read!

I Will Love You Forever (Tatsuya Miyanishi)

*We received a copy of I Will Love You Forever from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i will love you forever

While foraging in the prehistoric forest one day, a mother Maiasaura discovers an egg, which she takes back to her nest and protects alongside her own.  When the egg hatches and a tyrannosaurus rex emerges, the Maiasaura mama overlooks the danger and teaches the little T-Rex to be like a Maiasaura.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you haven’t read any of Miyanishi’s picture books from the Tyrannosaurus series, you are missing out.  I’ve reviewed two of them on the blog previously and they are the most bizarre and beguiling picture books you could ever hope to come across.  I Will Love you Forever is no exception, presenting a heart-wrenching and tear-jerking story of adoptive maternal love, the nature vs nurture debate and the ways in which family influences identity.  The story begins with the heart-warming birth of two very different dinosaurs and their childhood raised as brothers.  When a passing ankylosaurus tips off one of the brothers that one of them might not be as harmless as everyone thinks, it sets off a chain of events that have the little adopted maiasuara-tyrannosaurus questioning his intrinsic nature.  Things come to a head late in the story and the tyrannosaurus is faced with a choice about his future and who he wants to become.  The illustrations are colourful and quirky (and Mad Martha still wants to make a plushie out of the tyrannosaurus!) and the text is set in blocks, allowing for good spacing between the pictures and words.  I highly recommend this series and I think this story is probably most accessible of the three I’ve read for those who aren’t looking for a totally out-there picture book reading experience.

Brand it with:

adoptive parents; nature vs nurture; it’s what’s inside that counts

Grumpy Frog (Ed Vere)

*We received a copy of Grumpy Frog from the publisher via Netgalley *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  grumpy frog

A frog will do anything to prove he’s not grumpy but has trouble tempering his temper when things don’t go his way.  When he meets a friend, he must decide whether his preferences are more important than having fun.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a chaotic, colourful jaunt into the world of likes, dislikes and how to behave when things aren’t as you would like them to be.  Ed Vere’s illustrative style can be loud and somewhat abrasive if you aren’t primed and ready for it but for those who enjoy expressive fonts, thick line drawings and characters with unmistakable facial expressions, there is a lot to enjoy in this book.  Frog is generally a happy guy, though he can sometimes lose it when things aren’t how he likes them.  Thankfully though, other people share this fault and with a bit of calm negotiation everyone can agree on an activity that will make everyone happy.  The arc of this story was a little disjointed for my liking.  I felt that the story switched from a fun “look! the frog says he’s happy but keeps getting angry!’ sort of light comedy, to a friendship/compromise tale which didn’t quite have the same giggle factor.  I think, overall, mini-fleshlings will enjoy this tale if only for the manic mood swings of frog from one page to the next.

Brand it with:

Pet peeves; losing it; win-win situations

The Cave (Rob Hodgson)

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

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the cave

The Cave by Rob Hodgson.  Published by Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books), 26th April, 2017. RRP:$24.99

A wolf is determined to coax a cave-dwelling mammal from its hiding spot…for perfectly innocent purposes, of course!  When the animal emerges, Wolf is in for a surprise and can suddenly appreciate the properties of a deep, dark cave for a hiding place.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there is a twist at the end of this story that turns the plot on its head and will have little ones considering the importance of perspective.  The Cave is a vibrantly illustrated tale of getting what you wish for and then wishing that you hadn’t.  The main protagonist is the stereotypically shifty Wolf, whose only goal is to eat the creature that dwells in the titular cave, and said wolf uses every trick he knows to make this happen.  Throughout the double page illustrations, young readers will have fun spotting the snail and the bowler-hatted worm appear in different, funny positions and the changing seasons, as well as the wonderfully expressive eyes of the cave-dweller, provide plenty of variety for the eye throughout.  I also love that this hardcover edition features a different image on the book cover to the dust jacket.  The twist at the end of the story didn’t quite eke out the laugh that I was expecting from the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling, but I suspect this is a book that will inspire repeat readings.

Brand it with:

If wishes were cave-dwelling mammals; powers of persuasion; every trick in the book

Do any of these take your fancy?  Let me know which books you’ve been rounding up to read lately!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

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I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin.  A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.

The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.

But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.

One of the best. From one of the best.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work.  So it was for me with this story.  A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.

The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet.  He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech.  While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle.  Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.

I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare.  Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself.  There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.

On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes.  This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Library Larks: A Graphic Novel and a Picture Book after my own heart…

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It’s the first rule of book reviewing that when you are suffocating under a pile of books for review and finding less and less time to get to the review pile, the first thing you should do is go to the library and get more books.

It just makes sense really.

So, given that I am woefully behind in my review schedule and have no less than seven books to read and review by the end of next week, I decided it was only fitting to pop to the library and grab two more to bring to your attention.  I’m glad I did actually, despite the stirrings of guilt, because I thoroughly enjoyed both of my choices.

First I picked Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, which I had had my eye on since it was first released and I found it featured an old lady protagonist, knitting and telling people to bugger off – incidentally, three of my favourite things.

leave me alone

Given that Brosgol is the author/illustrator of multi-award winning graphic novel Anya’s GhostI suspected that the illustrations here were going to be great.  They were. Brosgol’s style features clean lines, blocks of colour and some fantastic facial expressions.  Most of all, I just loved this book because it was so funny.  The old woman is the matriarch of a home with an excessive amount of small children and so it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t get much alone time in which to knit.  After tramping out of the village with naught but a shouted “Leave me alone!”, the old lady traipses off through a variety of unlikely environments until she can get some peace and quiet in which to work on her knitting.

My favourite part of the story is when the woman passes through a wormhole to avoid her latest pursuers.  Honestly, the line “She swept the void until it was a nice matte black” has got to be one of the best in children’s literature.

This one is going to become a keeper for us.  I am left with no option but to buy my own copy I liked this story so much.

I also requested Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez because it’s far cheaper to borrow all the graphic novels I want to read from the library than buying them.  nightlights

Despite being in large picture book format, this is undoubtedly a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers and older.  The story revolves around Sandy, a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble focusing in class …or anywhere for that matter…due to the intense concentration she exerts while drawing.  When Sandy meets Morfi, a new girl, their friendship at first seems to be buoying for Sandy, but as time progresses and Morfi appears in Sandy’s dreams, things aren’t quite as peachy for the pair as they appear.  The author has slipped in a neat little solution to the problem that will require a bit of reasoning out on the part of younger readers, but is satisfyingly clever and opens the door for Sandy to throw off the shackles that are holding her back.

The colours in Sandy’s drawings are so eye-catching and lush that they’d look just as good stuck in a frame on your wall.  The scenes set in Sandy’s dreamscapes are just creepy enough to indicate danger, yet are also filled with tiny details that call out to be pored over.  I enjoyed this story a lot and I think its larger format will make it a great choice for primary (and secondary!) school libraries.

Now, back to the review pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

Return to Augie Hobble: Theme Parks, Creative Arts and Life in a Wolf Suit…

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If you are tired of the typical tropes, lackadaisical layouts and predictable plotting of standard middle grade reads, Return to Augie Hobble by Lane Smith will be a breath of fresh air.  We received a copy from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Augie Hobble lives in a fairy tale—or at least Fairy Tale Place, the down-on-its-luck amusement park managed by his father. Yet his life is turning into a nightmare: he’s failed creative arts and has to take summer school, the girl he has a crush on won’t acknowledge him, and Hogg Wills and the school bullies won’t leave him alone. Worse, a succession of mysterious, possibly paranormal, events have him convinced that he’s turning into a werewolf. At least Augie has his notebook and his best friend Britt to confide in—until the unthinkable happens and Augie’s life is turned upside down, and those mysterious, possibly paranormal, events take on a different meaning.

Return to Augie Hobble was a package of unpredictability from start to finish.  Augie lives in a reasonably crappy amusement park based on a fairy tale theme and spends his summer sweeping up after guests and being picked on by bored teenage pranksters.  In his downtime, he and his best friend Britt escape to their fort in the woods and attempt to create a Creative Arts project that will get Augie a passing grade.  When Britt leaves on holiday and Augie has a strange encounter with someone in a wolf suit (or is it?), Augie’s life takes a turn for the weird…er.

This book is a bit of a cross between a graphic novel and an ordinary novel, as it is heavily illustrated throughout.  Along with the actual story the reader is privy to Augie’s multiple attempts to create a passable project for his summer school Creative Arts class and these range from cartoons to illustrated stories to photographs.  We also get to see some particularly …. unexpected …scribblings that appear in the notebook.  I use the word “appear” because Augie can’t explain how they got there…although he has a rather shrewd idea.

I won’t try to describe the plot of this story to you because it is twistier than a spring caught in an automated twisting machine – just when you think you can guess where the story’s going – phwip! – something completely unexpected pops up to change things around.  By the end of the book you’ll have vicariously experienced lycanthropism, theft, ghost activity, a genuine cowboy horse chase, gypsy prophesying, time-lapse photography, poltergeisting for the win, agents working on a government conspiracy and festive decorating.  By about two thirds of the way through the book I did feel that I had lost the thread a little because the plot was changing so quickly, but the writing is full of humour (some of it quite dark) and Augie is so relatable that I was willing to forgive a bit of disjointedness in the plot itself.

Presentation wise, this book will definitely appeal to young readers.  The cover design is engaging and the sheer volume of illustrations throughout break up the text beautifully, giving readers of all abilities a chance to evade the monotony of black-on-white text.  I’m not sure that the story will appeal to everyone – it has a unique mix of silliness and seriousness that I don’t think I’ve come across before – but if you are a fan of quirky humour and unbelievable situations then you will definitely appreciate Smith’s style.

Until next time,

Bruce

A MG Double Dip Review: Magic and Malodorous Mischief

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I hope you’ve got some stinky cheese accompanied by the sort of cracker that disappears quickly for today’s double dip review because we will be examining two middle grade titles rife with magic and malodour.

First up, it’s magic.  We received Goodly and Grave in a Bad Case of Kidnap by Justine Windsor from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Goodly is the new boot girl at Grave Hall, working for the cold, aloof Lord Grave. The other staff – Vonk the Butler, Mrs Crawley the cook and Violet the scullery maid – all seem friendly but Lucy soon notices that strange things are afoot in her new home – and not just Mrs Crawley’s experimental anchovy omelettes. There are moving statues, magical books and Lord Grave has a secret. Meanwhile, all over the country, children are vanishing. Could the mystery of the missing children be linked to the strange goings-on? Lucy is determined to find out…

goodly and grave

Dip into it for…

…an original framing of magic in middle grade and unexpected twists aplenty.  Lucy is in possession of a secret playing card that seems to be imbued with some kind of magical capacity, allowing her to win every game of poker she plays.  After being inexplicably beaten by Lord Grave and subsequently required to serve as his Bootgirl, Lucy has plenty of time in which to ponder how her magic card could have let her down so badly.  The author has plotted this story to ensure that the reader can never get too comfortable with the situation at hand before a strange new revelation crops up.  I was particularly impressed with the mechanical raven (which of course is hiding a secret) and young maid Violet’s stuffed frog toy (being, as I am, a fan of stuffed toys). The illustrations throughout the book also liven things up enormously, and these, as well as the little newspaper clippings here and there, will enhance the experience of young readers.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of young children playing games of chance inside houses of ill-repute well past their bedtime.

Overall Dip Factor

This story is a bit unusual in that instead of the usual single major plot twist three quarters of the way in, there are several revelations throughout that throw Lucy’s cleverly thought-out theories on their heads and force her to go back to square one and re-evaluate who she can trust.  The narrative style is light and slightly melodramatic and a tad silly in places, so is a perfect choice for young readers who like to mix mystery and magic with a giggle here or there.  I quite enjoyed the ending, as it provides a bit of a launching pad into the second book in the series – although I can’t imagine what might happen next!  I would recommend this one for fans of plucky young not-orphan stories set in a fictional past.

Next up, we have an Aussie offering from Alex Ratt (aka Frances Watts) & Jules Faber.  We received The Stinky Street Stories from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Sunday morning was a mysterious smell…

When Brian (‘call me Brain – everyone does’) awakes to a truly putrid pong, he knows it is up to him and his friend Nerf to neutralise it. But that putrid pong is just the beginning, because life on Stinky Street is a riot of rotten reeks, awful aromas and sickening scents. So grab a peg (for your nose) or risk being flattened by the fumes!

Dip into it for…  stinky street

…exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a collection of four short stories featuring Brian, his friend Nerf, and a variety of antics involving stink, pong, funk, stench, reek, miasma, whiff and malodour.  I am going to go out on a not-very-distant limb here and say that this book will definitely appeal more to your average eight-to-ten year old male lover of gross stories than any other cross-section of reading society.  The stories are completely silly and accompanied by suitably amusing cartoon style illustrations and emphatic font styles to enhance the reading experience.  The stories are all quite short and while the whole book could easily be read in one sitting by a confident young reader, unless you are a whopping great fan of stench-based narrative, it might be a good idea to take the stories one at a time.

Don’t dip if…

…you aren’t a fan of kid’s books that revel in being a bit majorly gross.

Overall Dip Factor

While this was not a book that I particularly got much out of as an adult reader, I will admit to perking up a bit upon the introduction of the Sweet Street Girls in the final two stories of the book.  This gang of girls (who live on Sweet Street – as opposed to Brian and Nerf, who live on Stinky Street) are witty, intrepid and unafraid of toil if it means turning the tables on the Stinky Boys.  These last two stories gave me a bit of hope that there might be a not-entirely-stink-based direction for these stories should there be a second book in this series.  I’d say this is strictly one for young fans of books in the style of Captain Underpants and Andy Griffith’s Bum books.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Grandad’s Secret Giant

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picture book perusal button

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…

grandads secret giant

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: Yetis, Ants and Unruly Hair…

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It’s a Bloomsbury Australia triple-dipping rodeo today with three new release picture books guaranteed to delight and amaze your mini-fleshlings!  Thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copies.

I’m Going to Eat This Ant (Chirs Naylor-Ballesteros)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i am going to eat this ant

A hungry ant-eater is determined to eat an ant but has trouble deciding which delicious method he will use to prepare his snack. Meanwhile, the ants have ideas of their own and anteater’s snack isn’t going to be quite so easy as that!

Muster up the motivation because…

…from the seriously sinister look on the anteater’s face to the enormously imaginative ways that he dreams up to prepare his ant meal, young readers will be able to tell at a glance that the main character of this book is one nasty customer.  The creative culinary mind of said anteater, while inexplicably fixated on the letter “s”, takes in every possible method of food preparation, from sauteeing, to smoking, sandwiches to drinks with straws.  One of the highlights of the book is surely the look on the unlucky ant’s face as he is mentally sloshed in sauce and sizzled on a stick.  Our favourite page would have to be that on which the poor little ant is depicted sliced like a salami – I will always marvel at how illustrators manage to convey so much emotion with just a few slashes of line!  We particularly enjoyed the final endpapers depicting the ants marching along with all the anteater’s imagined foodstuffs and utensils…and the cheeky surprise as you turn over the very last endpaper page!  As the methods of dispatching the ant become nastier and nastier, it was somewhat of a relief to note that the other ants in the nest have a cunning plan to save their comrade and see off the nasty anteater.  The ending will no doubt have mini-fleshlings cheering as the anteater gets his comeuppance.  This is a wickedly funny picture book for young ones who enjoy subversive humour.

Brand it with:

Ant-i-establishment; the circle of life; alliterative eats

Henry and the Yeti (Russell Ayto)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  henry and the yeti

Nobody believes Henry when he says he is off to find a Yeti. With determination, a little mountain climbing and his trusty camera, Henry is sure that he can provide the evidence his headteacher needs to prove that Yetis exist.

Muster up the motivation because…

…summing up the oft-touted exhortation of “pictures or it didn’t happen”, this story is a fun, reverse take on the fable of the boy who cried wolf.  Rather than pretending that something exists when it doesn’t, Henry is adamant that Yetis are real and what’s more, he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is and go on an expedition to prove it.  Young readers will no doubt find something to relate to in the early scenes of the book, in which Henry is ridiculed for believing in something so outlandish, but with determination and his trusty camera by his side (for evidence, of course) Henry backs himself and sets off to glory and beyond.  After a mishap with his camera however, it looks like Henry’s successful mission might be in jeopardy…but a friend in need is a friend indeed and a surprising ally turns up in the nick of time to support Henry’s claims.  This story is replete with dry humour – “Now the headteacher is having a little lie down” says the text, with the illustrations showing that he has clearly fainted – and bears a wonderful message about believing in yourself.  We particularly enjoyed the fact that the illustrator didn’t overstretch himself in creating the character of the Yeti.  (That was dry humour too).

Brand it with:

Cryptozooloogy in the classroom; documentary evidence; expeditionary forces

I Don’t Want Curly Hair (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  curly hair

A girl with unruly curls tries everything to make her hair straight, with no success.  Upon meeting someone with a different outlook, both girls start to appreciate what they have.

Muster up the motivation because…

…it’s the age old tale of wanting something that everyone else has, before finding out that what you have ain’t so bad after all.  This isn’t the most original picture book getting around the place – which is surprising, given that Anderson is the creator of The Phoenix magazine’s brilliant Evil Emperor Penguin comic series – but its message, and the protagonist’s daily struggles to tame her wild curls, will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to brush a child’s curly hair without the assistance of a detangling spray, detangling brush and several litres of spray-on hair anaesthetic.  The rhyming text and the inventive ways that the girl comes up with to solve her curly problem will have little ones entranced and giggling along and the ending clearly demonstrates how the greener grass – or in this case, the straighter hair – isn’t necessariily the boon that our protagonist thinks it is.  Overall, this story has been done before, many times, but the humour and rhyming text make this worth a look if you have a mini-fleshling with wild, untamed curls.

Brand it with:

Getting things straight; tangled tales; opposites attract

I hope you’ve found something to herd into your book-pen!  What have you been rounding up to read lately?

Until next time,

Bruce