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

 

 

 

 

 

Shhh! It’s “The Secret” for Kids…and a Giveaway!

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Welcome to a new release picture book review that has me scratching my head and awakening my inner cynic (who, incidentally, gets very little rest and is therefore usually quite cranky). Today I present to you the first book in “The Secret” franchise aimed at children – The Power of Henry’s Imagination by Skye Byrne and illustrated by Nic George (both Aussies!).

If you are unaware of the phenomenon of The Secret, you can find out more here, but I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you heard all about it a number of years ago when it was the big “thing” of the moment. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Power of Henry’s Imagination from Simon & Schuster Australia and I am going to give away this beautifully illustrated, hardback copy to one lucky winner. Read on to see how you can acquire it!

But before that, here’s the blurb of the book from Goodreads:

A boy learns the secret to locating his missing stuffed bunny in this picture book about the extraordinary power of imagination, from the team behind the phenomenally bestselling The Secret.

When Henry’s beloved stuffed rabbit, Raspberry, goes missing, he enlists his whole family to help him search for the missing toy. But Raspberry can’t be found. Then Henry’s grandfather suggests that Henry use his imagination to find his rabbit.

Will the power of Henry’s imagination bring Raspberry back? Or is Raspberry gone for good?

Depicting the love of a boy for his toy and the power of friendship, The Power of Henry’s Imagination is sure to become an instant classic.

thepowerofhenrysimagination-book

Well. I’m not entirely convinced about that last blurbish claim. But let’s start with the good bits. “Secret”-y business aside, this is a warm-hearted and comforting tale on the oft-used theme of “favourite toy lost” (such as in the actual classic books Dogger, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale). After Henry imagines he has Raspberry with him, and falls asleep cosseted in the assuagement that his imagining brings, the postman finds Raspberry the rabbit in the path and delivers him safely home….thus proving the incredible power of the imagination to act upon the fabric of reality apparently.

Although I suspect the postman would have found the bunny and returned it, regardless of whether or not Henry did any imagining. Especially given that the postman appears early on in the book, strategically placed opposite the line “Everyone could see how much Henry loved Raspberry”. So really, if the postman knew the bunny belonged to Henry, and also knew how much Henry loved Raspberry, we could only conclude that the postman must have a gnarled, dried-up, husk for a heart if he indeed found the bunny and in fact, chose NOT to return it to Henry…which really renders the imagining part immaterial…unless you subscribe to the principles of the Secret.

*The shelf wishes to apologise for the unleashing of Bruce’s inner cynic on an innocent children’s book and will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again*

The illustrations are quite atmospheric and feature a combination of simple line drawings overlayed with photographic elements. These do add significantly to the concept of imagination – I quite enjoyed a page featuring clothes pegs posing as snapping crocodiles – and the interplay between the photographic images and the drawings is satisfyingly subtle and effective. The earthy colour palette complements the gentle pace of the tale and the overall impression is of a carefully thought-out production. I should also mention that the book has a website attached that includes a number of interesting resources including an author and illustrator Q&A and an interesting “Making Of” video showing some of the illustration process.

As it stands, The Power of Henry’s Imagination is a quality-looking work and will no doubt achieve the effects of comfort and reassurance that go hand-in-hand with a “lost toy, found” story, for many of its young readers.

But…that’s all it is. I really don’t think that this book is going to revolutionise the thinking of any small children and have to concede that the adding of the Secret logo to the book cover is just a slick way of sucking in adults who have jumped on the Secret bandwagon. And compared to lots of other quality picture books out there, this one is pretty standard fare – indeed, one wonders whether it would have been picked up for publication at all if not for the Secret tag.

*The shelf wishes to apologise for the continued use of Bruce’s inner cynic despite earlier assurances. We will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again. Really, this time we mean it.*

So there you have it – my thoughts on what has, at least in my own head, inspired vigorous debate. Now I’m going to do my part in the Secret wishful-thinking cycle and ensure that this book is delivered to the person who the universe intends to have it.

Here’s where the giveaway comes in!

If you’d like to take possession of my lovely, hardback copy of The Power of Henry’s Imagination by Skye Byrne and Nic George (with thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing the book), all you have to do is comment below with the words, “I really, really want it!”. That’s it. At the end of the giveaway, a random number generator will select a winner and I will contact that winner by email.

The giveaway will run from the moment this post goes live (October 6, 2015) until midnight on October 13, 2015, Brisbane time, and will be open internationally, because presumably, whoever wins is intended to win by the universe and the universe will therefore provide me with the correct funds for postage without leaving me out of pocket.  Similarly, the Shelf will not be held responsible if your prize is lost or damaged in the mail…if either of these unlikely events occur, you can blame the universe.

*Seriously. That’s the very last time. Sorry. We’re really sorry.*

I’d love to hear what you think about a Secret book aimed at kids, so feel free to let me know in the comments also!

And in case you were thinking my inner cynic reminded you of someone, I did invite Shouty Doris to collaborate with me on this review, but she kept pretending to be deaf, deliberately mishearing the word “secret” as “meatless”, and accusing me of forgetting to include ham in her quiche.

Until next time,

Bruce