A Double-Dip Review Featuring Two Perennial Aussie Favourites!

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I’m very excited about today’s double-dip review because I get to bring you two of the shelf’s favourite characters in their newest picture book outings.  Better than that even, both of today’s books are by stalwart Aussie picture book authors and illustrators.  So grab your lamingtons and meat pies and let’s get stuck into today’s double-dip!

grug bruce wombat

First up, we have (somewhat fashionably late!), Grug and His First Easter by Ted Prior, which we gratefully received from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

One warm sunny day, at the end of summer, Grug discovers that Easter is on its way.

Then he is visited by a mysterious creature, who leaves treats of special eggs for Grug to find.

Grug and his bush friends look for the eggs, and Grug makes some art from the shiny wrapping.

But who is the mysterious creature? Will Grug ever find out?

Dip into it for… Grug and his first easter

…another short but thought-provoking adventure from everyone’s favourite mutated Burrawang tree!  I must admit that I was surprised that Grug has been strolling around the bush for 30 years and is only just now discovering Easter, but this is a great choice for a book that addresses the absolute ridiculum of trying to explain the unique mash-up of seasonal, pagan, Christian and pop-culture motifs that make up the modern celebration of Easter to children who live in a hemisphere where Easter falls in Autumn, not Spring, and in a state where rabbits are banned.   Grug, of course, takes such nebulous concepts in his stride, having a bit of a ponder in his burrow, before the Easter Bilby delivers some chocolate eggs, and Grug demonstrates the virtues of recycling the foil wrappers before life continues much as before.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting a cutesy story about Grug helping the Easter Bunny to save Easter or other such rubbish.  That’s not how Grug rolls.

Overall Dip Factor

I am heartily impressed with Ted Prior’s work here – from Grug’s charming little bobble-hat, to his worried preponderance over the thought of being born again, Prior has captured both the simplicity and the competing symbolism of the season.  The only thing that would have made this stellar for me was if the Easter Bilby had been dispensed with in favour of one of our two cute (if spiky and/or poisonous) egg-laying mammals – the platypus or the echidna – just to add to the general confusion of the season.  If you aren’t from Australia, and fancy getting a taste of the unique blend of elements that go into an Aussie Eastertime, you should definitely pick up Grug and His First Easter – I guarantee it has fewer calories than chocolate.

Next up we have everyone’s favourite wombats (sorry Muddle-Headed Wombat, you have been eclipsed in popularity!) returning in the next installment of the Diary of A Wombat series, by the unbeatable team of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley: Grandma Wombat.  Just in time for Mother’s Day too.  We gratefully received a copy of Grandma Wombat from HarperCollins Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

She eats. She sleeps. She scratches.

And like all grandmas, she thinks her grandson is the best-behaved baby ever.

But this baby wombat has other ideas …

Created by author Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley, this delightfully funny book celebrates the love and joy that being a grandma can bring.

grandma wombat

Dip into it for…  

…a wombat adventure featuring rude ‘roos, unexpected vehicular transportation and more than a little bias on the part of one very proud (but sleepy-eyed) grandmother.  Now it is no surprise that the shelf loves this series dearly, but we had noticed that the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling weren’t taking to some of the books in the series as well as we shelf-dwellers did.  That all changed with Grandma Wombat, with both shelf-dwellers and mini-fleshlings laughing heartily at the antics of one cheeky baby wombat.  Enormous props must be given to Bruce Whatley for the subtle yet hilarious facial expressions on everyone from the dog to the baby kangaroo to the humans in this surprising adventure.  Here’s a snippet to give you a taste of the hilarity waiting in the illustrations alone:

dogkangaroo lady

 

 

So what on earth is going on with these wombats? You’ll just have to read to find out!

Don’t dip if…

…Nope. Can’t think of a single reason not to.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love the way that the creators of this series continue to reinvent the story, with new wombats, new settings and unexpected adventures.  If you are looking for a sure-fire hit book for a gift, then this is certainly a canny option as the story is different enough from the rest in the series to inspire some good laughs, as well as being subtly subversive in terms of Grandma’s functional blindness toward her grandson in a way which parents and grandparents will recognise and appreciate.  All around, it’s another winner from the French/Whatley juggernaut!

Before we leave the wombat family, Mad Martha wishes you to know that she desperately wanted to bring you a “Yarning with Mad Martha” feature for Grandma Wombat, along with a free crochet pattern for baby wombat.  While she did manage to recreate baby wombat in yarn, the method used to recreate Bruce Whatley’s iconic wombaty shapes resulted in a lot of freeforming (ie: winging it) and so she couldn’t wrangle the pattern into a format that could be easily followed by other crafters.  Here’s the final product for your perusal, anyway:

grandma wombat staring

Until next time,

Bruce

A Non-Fiction Double-Dip Review: Secrets, Wombats and Posionous Victorians…

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Before you hoe into your chosen snack for today, I suggest you give it a bit of a sniff.  Check its colour.  Consider whether anyone you might call an enemy was involved in preparing it.  And make sure you aren’t bending over (or at least that you are wearing pants with a reinforced seat).  For today’s nonfiction Double Dip involves two secret worlds – that of the Victorian age poison murderer, and that of the bum-biting wombat.  We received the first of these books from the publisher via Netgalley and the second we picked up on a whim while browsing the bum-biting wombat section at our local library.  Extra points to you if you know under what Dewey number books about bum- biting wombats are shelved.  Let’s tuck in!

First up we have The Secret Poisoner: The Victorian Age of Poisoning by Linda Stratmann.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age. Linda Stratmann’s dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights and the legal protection of children impacted poisonings. Combining archival research with a chemist’s expertise and a novelist’s eye, Stratmann charts the era’s inexorable rise of poison cases both gruesome and sad.

Dip into it for…the secret poisoner

an ultra-thorough coverage of the use of poison in Victorian age murders (mostly in England and France) and the advances in forensic chemical science that allowed the law to gain convictions for murder by poison based on physical evidence. The format of this book consists of collections of actual cases of murder, attempted murder or suspected murder from the time period, interspersed with information about the scientists and chemists whose discoveries allowed for more efficient and accurate means of detecting poison in the deceased. The cases are well selected to demonstrate how court cases succeeded or failed upon the strength of the scientific evidence provided – or in some cases, how public opinion swayed the outcome of certain trials when the science was not yet developed sufficiently to keep pace with the kind of evidence that would provide the jury with the information needed to reasonably acquit or convict. The book focuses also on the gender and class issues surrounding poison murders, with women and the poorer classes seemingly more likely to use widely available and easily accessible poisons (both mineral and vegetable) to commit dastardly deeds.

Don’t dip if…

…you are looking for a concise history on the topic.  While I was very engaged with the information early on in the book, by the halfway point, I started to feel as if I had seen all this before.  Each chapter follows the same structure, beginning with a case study and the assertion that this case was pivotal in advancing either the science of poison detection or the laws related to availability of poisons, followed by a look at the key scientists of the time and their work, succeeded by a bunch of other murder case studies.  Similarly, each murder case study followed a very similar format: the details of the victim and murderer, the instance in which the victim fell sick and died (or didn’t, as the case may be), the exhumation of the victim (and in some cases, other corpses that, in hindsight, may have suffered the same fate by the same hand), the court case, the conviction (or acquittal) and the execution (or transportation or getting-off-scot-free!).  Even though the introduction notes that the author left out many interesting cases that were too similar to the ones included, I feel that a good deal more slashing and hacking could have been done in the selection process for the various cases presented.

Overall Dip Factor

Despite the fact that the book is long and could have done with a bit more fussiness in the selection of the cases presented, I was nevertheless fascinated with some of the information revealed here.  Some of the cases, particularly relating to memorable murderers who seemed quite happy to top their own children (as well as any number of other people’s offspring) almost beggared belief, but serves as a good reminder as to how common infant and child mortality were during the Victorian age, such that communities might not think it strange that a woman’s husband, five children, three step-children and the next-door-neighbour’s cat might all die within a week of each other, for instance.  I would recommend this one for fans of forensic investigation TV shows, who are looking for a blast from the past as to how the experts got their man (or more commonly, woman) back in the Victorian day.

Next up we have The Secret Life of Wombats by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A non-fiction book that explores everything you’ve ever wanted to know about wombats. Jackie French loves wombats. She’s been living with and studying them for over 30 years, and they have been featured characters in many of her books. Now her beloved wombats take centre stage, as Jackie reveals everything you have ever wanted to know about them – from their zoological history to habitation and habits. Jackie also shares some personal stories from her experiences living with these wonderful creatures. there are also wombat Q&As and wombat jokes sprinkled throughout the book.

Dip into it for… secret world of wombats

an extremely amusing and light-hearted look at the things you never suspected about wombats’ behaviour. This book is marketed as being for seven to twelve year olds as a companion tome to the wildly successful Diary of a Wombat series by the same author and illustrator team, but as an adult reader I found it the perfect introductory tome about the wild and wacky world of wombats. The text doesn’t speak down to the reader by any means, so I never got the sense that it was specifically written for kids. Also, the book is full of unexpectedly hilarious anecdotes about the wombats that Jackie French has personally known, through sharing her outdoor living space with the furry little guys. Every time I recall her story about hearing sneezing coming from underground, I have a bit of a chuckle. Similarly, who knew that wombats had a penchant for biting bums (wombat bums and others), or indeed any other parts of the anatomy that aren’t kept out of the way of wombat teeth? Amazing.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re expecting some kind of scientific coverage of wombat husbandry or habitat. While I didn’t notice particularly that this was directed at kids, nor does it go into the kind of detail a book targeted at adults would on such a topic.

Overall Dip Factor

If you have any interest at all in wombats and their lives, I would recommend picking this book up and having a flick through.  The information bits are engaging and surprising and combined with French’s anecdotal evidence about wombats she has known, provide a light, fun, nonfiction break for youngsters interested in the natural world and adult readers who just really like wombats.

Now that our snack time is at an end, how are you feeling? Tummy rumbling? Tightness in the bowels? Bowl smashed by a wombat?  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Until next time,

Bruce