Picture Book Perusal: The Hello Atlas!

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picture book perusal button

Today’s nonfiction picture book from Allen & Unwin – The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak – is one to excite and amuse anyone, young or old, who is interested in language.  Or anyone who just wants to be friendly in foreign lands.  We Shelf-dwellers always like a good illustrated atlas-type book because there is something uber-fun about poring over different places and finding out about stuff.  And not only is the book huge and brightly illustrated and informative, it also comes with a handy app that allows readers to actually hear languages from around the world being spoken.  Enough of the teasers though; here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Look into the lives of children all over the world with this book that celebrates one of humanity’s greatest achievements: written and verbal language. Including fully illustrated word charts, featuring children depicted in their home country, doing ordinary things, this book features more than 100 languages, from well-known and lesser known indigenous languages that introduce us to some of the world’s most remote communities. With foreword by ethnobotanist and explorer, Professor Wade Davis. Comes with a free, downloadable app for iOS and Android that allows you to hear the phrases in the book, each recorded by a native speaker.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak.  Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott and Kenard Pak. Published by Allen & Unwin, October 2016.

As you can probably infer from the cover illustration, this book is all about people talking.  The understanding that people in different places communicate using different sound patterns will no doubt spur on motivated youngsters to find out more.  This is definitely the book for that youngster.  The atlas is divided into sections relating to different continents, and each section features a range of images of children doing everyday things – playing sport, taking a walk, going to school – captioned with the child’s name and the language they speak.  Each child is also accompanied by a phrase in their native language (and in some cases, alphabet) with an English translation.  Here’s an example:

hello-atlas-page-spread

While there is only a small amount of text for the plethora of images and languages, many of the children are pictured in some form of national dress, or performing an activity that is associated with their region of the world – ice hockey in North America, for instance – so there is plenty of visual information to flesh out the text.

The illustrations are done in attractive pastel tones and, happily, represent a range of skin colours for each continent.  On my initial flick through the book, I was a little overwhelmed with the number of children featured and I was worried that it might be a bit of information overload for younger readers.  Each section is preceded with a map of the particular continent that shows each of the children who will be showcased in the following section and where on the continent their language is spoken.  This provides readers with a chance to flick back and forth through the section to give a visual reminder of where each language group sits in the broader scheme of things:

hello-atlas-page-spread-2

I was quite interested to see whether any Australian Indigenous languages would be included and after a cursory inspection, I found three – Arrernte, Warlpiri, Yolngu – as well as Australian Kriol.  I wanted more, to be honest.  I realise that there has to be some kind of cut off point, but considering Australia had over 200 separate language groups once upon a time, it’s a bit of a shame that only three and a half made the cut here.

In a handy turn of events, The Hello Atlas also comes with a free app for smart devices that allows readers to actually hear the languages in the book being spoken.  I decided it would be remiss of me not to download it (even though it’s a pretty big app – you might need to clear some space first!) and I was pleasantly surprised that it is simple and streamlined in design and would be perfectly easy to master for anyone with even a basic knowledge of app-related pointy finger-jabbing.

The opening screen reflects a map of the world, and once you have chosen which continent you would like to explore, you can select from a list of languages and then click through to hear a native speaker intoning a few choice phrases such as “What’s your name?”, “How are you?” and the like.  Here are some screen shots of the menus and such:

hello-atlas-screenshot-1hello-atlas-screenshot-2  hello-atlas-screenshot-3

I had a bit of fun clicking through and listening to the different languages, especially the ones that use a different alphabet to English.  It was quite satisfying hearing how to correctly pronounce some words that I could make head nor tail of by reading the letters!  Being most interested in the Oceania region, I eagerly clicked through to listen to some indigenous Australian speakers and…..

…nothing.

Not one of the three indigenous Australian languages in the atlas was featured in the app.  Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed.  And a bit cranky.  Surely it couldn’t be that hard to find one representative of one of the three groups to get a sound bite for the app?!

Although it was super easy to use, one aspect of the app did strike me as a bit strange and that was the fact that of all the languages I listened to, not one was spoken by a child.  All the male and female voices on the app belonged to adults, which is perfectly adequate for those who want to just hear how the language sounds, but I found it a bit strange that while children are pictured in the book, adults are doing the talking in the app.  Again, surely it couldn’t be that difficult to find child native speakers of a majority of these languages.

Overall, I found this to be a fun and informative book that is the perfect size to pop on a classroom or library shelf to entice budding linguists.  The large format of the atlas means that multiple readers can gather round it at the same time, which can only be a good thing for a book that is based on the topics of communication and personal interaction.

I’d definitely recommend this one to classroom teachers, as well as parents who want to inspire a love of language and diversity in their mini-fleshlings.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Ned the Knitting Pirate…

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picture book perusal button

Yes, I know: knitting is more Mad Martha’s field of expertise, but when we noticed that knitting was combined with piracy in this book I stepped boldly into the fray.  Today’s book, Ned the Knitting Pirate by Dianna Murray and Leslie Lammle was received gratefully from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The crew of the pirate ship the Rusty Heap are a fearsome bunch! They’re tougher than gristle and barnacle grit. They heave and they ho and they swab and they . . . knit?

Well, one of them does, at least! Unfortunately for Ned, his knitting doesn’t go over well with the captain and crew. They urge him to hide his hobby and strive to be scurvier, like pirates should be. But when the briny ocean beast shows up to feast on the Rusty Heap and its crew, maybe Ned’s knitting is just the ticket to save the day!

ned-the-knitting-pirate

If you’re looking for a pirate tale with a difference in a picture book market that is saturated with piratey titles, then look no further than Ned and his two pointy sticks.  Ned is a delightful young pirate who is perfectly content to be who he is, despite the fact that his love of knitting seems to rub his shipmates up the wrong way.  In every pirate situation – finding treasure, drinking rum, swabbing the deck, belching – Ned finds time to pick up the needles and get crafting.  Even though his shipmates are keen to undervalue Ned’s hobby at every opportunity, even they can’t deny that Ned’s knitting might come in handy when traditional methods of frightening off sea monsters have failed.

The book is written in a bouncy, jaunty rhythm with rhyming text, so it’s perfect for reading aloud to your little landlubbers. There’s also a repeated refrain in the form of a pirate song that will allow adventurous readers to join in lustily with a harmless sea shanty.  The illustrations are appropriately fluid, featuring a palette of mostly cool, ocean colours.

I did find it a bit strange that Ned’s knitting was shunned by the pirates when sailors of that vintage would have been experts with a thread and needle.  Given that it was essential for sailors to be able to repair torn canvas sails and sew their own clothes and hammocks, it wouldn’t seem to be too far a stretch for some sailors to have a good knowledge of yarn-related crafts also.

But I suspect I’m overthinking things here.

Especially when you consider that it would be hard to knit when you’ve only got a hook for a hand.

Practicalities aside, this is a fun and quirky addition to the pirate kidlit subgenre with a subtly subversive message about being true to oneself even when those around you can’t see the value in your passions.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mad Martha’s Lantern Review: The Ghost Box…

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Welcome dear readers to my haiku review of a brand new book for the ghost story buffs among you (and I know there are more than a few in that category!).  It’s Mad Martha with you and today I will present to you The Ghost Box by Catherine Fisher. Yes, that Catherine Fisher. I received an ecopy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks!

The first thing that grabbed me about the book was the stunning cover art.  Really, you could just blow that up and stick it on the wall for instant atmosphere, couldn’t you?  The second reason I wanted to read this book is the fact that the content is targeted at the 11+ age group, but the reading accessibility level is pitched at the 7+ age group, so it is designed to be a good choice for older kids who struggle with reading.  I’m always curious about these sorts of books, having sat on the shelf of a few classrooms in my day, because the search for interesting, engaging yet accessible books for older kids with emerging literacy skills is difficult indeed!

In The Ghost Box, Sarah is struggling to adapt to life in her newly blended family, comprising her mum, Gareth, her step-dad, and Matt, her annoying goth step-brother.  After one very strange night of dreaming, Sarah finds a silver box that has a lock but no key and is immediately curious to find out what’s inside.  When a strange ghost-boy appears and begs Sarah to find the key, Sarah thinks it’s a fairly straightforward task…but she doesn’t count on the inexplicable opposition she meets from the local jeweller, who refuses to open it.  What could possibly be so dangerous about an old silver box?

ghost box

Key:

it could

open the lock

or shut you out.

Choose.

The first thing I appreciated about this book was the fact that it felt, for all intents and purposes, like your average late MG/early YA read.  There was nothing about the writing to indicate that this was a book for kids still gaining literacy skills.  The dialogue wasn’t stilted, the characters were well fleshed-out for the limited word count and the content was appropriately atmospheric and engaging.  I suppose that’s what happens when you get an author who already writes for the age-group (and does it well!) – they don’t feel the need to patronise their readers, or sacrifice the content because of the need to restrict certain bits of the writing.

While the story related in The Ghost Box is fairly formulaic, Fisher has really set the tone beautifully with some fantastically suspenseful and creepy bits.  As I was reading (in the dark, incidentally…why the dark? It’s not like the lightbulb had blown…) a door creaked open, swung by the wind, and I got one of those spooky shivers down the spine that make you look over your shoulder as you read.  Score one, Fisher.  Score one, creaky door.  I also really enjoyed the relationship dramas that Sarah experienced weren’t forced, but evolved naturally as part of the story and appeared in the resolution in a believable way.

I would recommend this book for confident readers in the 9 to 11 age bracket who appreciate a good spooky story.  I’d also say that this should appeal greatly to that targeted 11+ age group who may struggle with reading, or those in the same age group who need something to bring them back into the reading fold.  Oh, and it would fit nicely into category two of the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – a book with a piece of furniture in the title…come on, a box is a furnishing, so it will fit… To find out more about the challenge (and sign up!) click on the button.

image

Yours in the pursuit of spooky boxes,

Mad Martha

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Celebrations and Setbacks…and a Haiku Review…

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It’s okay, you can all stop wondering where I’ve been…fretting, pining and general grief at my absence can all be put aside, for all will now be explained.

So a new mini-fleshling has recently arrived in our dwelling, neatly providing the explanation for why the she-fleshling has been gradually gaining weight over the last nine months. As a result of this cute little arrival, we shelf-folk have had limited access to the electronic postifying devices…hence the lack of recent post activity. Hopefully, normal service will be resumed sometime prior to the newcomer’s 18th birthday.

In other news, it was recently our blogoversary.

I know, you forgot.

It would have been nice after all this time to receive a little acknowledgement…some flowers…a cake…a fancy hat perhaps…but it appears this was not to be. Incidentally, my plans for the occasion – a spectacular giveaway of gargantuan…okay, modest… proportions – was foiled by rafflecopter not working on WordPress hosted blogs, so I suppose in a way, we’re both at fault.  Let’s just take a brief moment to acknowledge the milestone, shall we, and say no more about it.

As a small consolation prize though, please enjoy Mad Martha’s latest effort – a haiku review of Underwater Dogs: Kids’ Edition by Seth Casteel! Those diving doggies are back in this bright, breezy picture book that captures all the hilarity of swimming puppies in a riot of fun photography and rhyming verse.  I defy you not to guffaw at their aquatic facial gymnastics.

underwater dogsJowls all a-quiver

Doyens of doggy paddle

Chase the soggy grail

Little kids (and bigger kids who find swimming dog faces funny) will fall in love with this book.  It may even inspire the mini-fleshlings around your place to do some of their own dog-tography (see what I did there? It’s dog photograpy…”Nice portmanteau work Bruce,” I hear you think).  And as a sweet little bonus, the reverse side of the dust cover of the hardback version features a poster-sized copy of one of the photographs for your enlarged viewing pleasure.  To find out more about Seth Casteel’s work, you could check out his website at http://www.littlefriendsphoto.com/index2.php#!/home

Until next time, enjoy your sleep, because no one around the shelf is getting any,

Bruce

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Haiku Review: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great….

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Afternoon my Spring-time lovelies! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the bees are buzzing (or would be, were there any bees left in our neighbourhood) and cupcakes are raining from the heavens! Sorry, northern hemisphere-friends, just couldn’t resist making you a little jealous.  Although admittedly, the cupcakes part is made up.

Mad Martha here with you again, and speaking of cupcakes, the title character in today’s Haiku review does actually have the ability to make it rain cupcakes! Yes, I’m speaking of Unicorn, from Bob Shea’s colourful and inviting, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great…

unicornI found this book to have an incredibly high “I can relate to that” factor.  Being a sock creature created from the dregs of the fabric off-cuts basket, I admit I can be overly-sensitive to those who may be considered “the beautiful people”.  For this is the crux of Goat’s dilemma – how can ordinary old goat ever be friends with such a stand-out over-achiever as Unicorn?  Luckily, with a bit of heart-to-heart, honest communication Goat learns that he too has some pretty enviable skills and abilities.

Open dialogue

defeats Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Cloven is cool too.

The title and cover art alone were enough to get me straight into this book, but I found even more to enjoy inside the covers.  Take, for example, this page:

cloven justice

Apart from giving me an idea for a fantastic literature-related Halloween costume, what a catchphrase! I have immediately brought it into use around the shelf, while dusting and generally keeping things tidy….I find it lifts the spirits in an otherwise uninspiring circumstance.

Go on, try saying it.

A bit louder.

Fun, isn’t it?

Until we meet again my pretties, TASTE MY CLOVEN JUSTICE!!

Mad Martha

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Haiku Review: Noah Dreary…

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Evenin’ all! It’s Mad Martha with you again.  Today I bring you a haiku from a book with arguably the best opening page ever. See for yourself:

image

What a cracker, hey? The book is Noah Dreary by Aaron Blabey.  I’d not bothered to read any of Blabey’s work before, despite knowing that he was a CBCA shortlisted picture book author/illustrator, and I must admit that this has been a grave oversight on my part.  I found this book’s humour scratched that itch we all have for that which is just plain odd.

This particular work follows the trials and tribulations of Noah Dreary, seasoned complainer and recent head-loser.  The illustrations are just fantastic – really, this book could retain it’s sense of weird humour even if the words were to be omitted.  In all honesty, if that first page hasn’t captured your interest, I don’t know how I’m going to coerce you….but here’s a haiku review anyway!

image

Heads up, complainers:

Careful what you whinge about

Things could still get worse!

This book will appeal greatly to the kiddies, and to any grown-up who works in any occupation that involves dealing with incessant whingey-ness.

One word of caution though, for the faint of heart – as a younger stone I vividly remember being scared witless by any depiction of headlessness.  I particularly recall a television commercial for CCs corn chips that gave me the heebie-jeebies every time it came on (and put me off corn-chips for life).  Any illustrated versions of the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were completely out.  If you (or your mini-fleshling!) gets a little freaked out over headless characters, this may not be the book for you.

Oh, and for your viewing (and possibly reminiscing) pleasure, here’s the link to the CC ad of which I speak:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh36xZqaz8U

Yep. It still creeps me out.

Oh, and Bruce has asked me to give you another heads up: July’s Fiction in 50 challenge is coming up soon!  The theme is Night Terrors and you can find out more about this intriguing concept here.

Adieu my friends,

Mad Martha

Haiku Review: The (Epic) Tale of a Library Dog…

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Good afternoon lovelies! I have an extra specialmartha and rhythm offering for you today from one of my very special blog-mates, and winner of the prestigious Gargie Award, Rhythm, the library dog!  Yes, today’s poem will honour Rhythm’s first (autobiographical!) tome, Reading with Rhythm: The Tale of a Library Dog. I was hoping she’d go for the pun and make it the “tail” of a library dog, but that’s just me.  The cover says it’s by Janet Mills, but she must have been the assisting typist as the content is very clearly in the voice of the puppy we know and love.

This colourful and appealing picture book delves into the lives of dogs who work for a living, be they therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, guide dogs for the vision-impaired, hunting dogs, guard dogs or library dogs (the best kind).  Alongside Rhythm’s explanation of the different working roles open to enterprising canines, is a little brief of what the grand lady herself enacts as a dog-about-the-library. Or school. Or Wherever, as the need arises.

The illustrations are very appealing and give the book a fun and engaging overall look.  You can read more about the illustrator, Paul Howell, here at Rhythm’s own blog. Here’s an example, followed by my review:

rhythm illustrations

Pups with a purpose

illustrate the old saying

working like a dog”

Had I been blessed with opposable digits, I would be giving this book two thumbs up.  Suffice to say, it will appeal greatly to the little ones, and would be an interesting side-discussion in early years curriculum relating to roles people (and fur-people) play in the community.

Rhythm’s book is available for purchase at Amazon, and while you’re clicking around, you can check out her blog (and fantastic flair with themed doggy costumes) at www.readingwithrhythm.wordpress.com.

Adios amigos!

Mad Martha

 

Haiku Review: Where the Forest Meets the Sea…

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Hello my blogging bilbies, it’s Mad Martha with you again after a fairly long absence…if you are wondering where I’ve been, I had to get my hair untangled after an unfortunate incident with one of the house felines.  But I’m back today with a Haiku Review based on one of my favourite ever picture books: Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker.  This book was first released in 1988 and tells the story of a boy spending time with his grandfather in the timeless and beautiful daintree rainforest in Far North Queensland. Underlying the simple story is the spectre of development and the seemingly neverending threat to areas of natural significance from humans and their progress.

The standout feature of Baker’s books are the illustrations, which she cleverly crafts from clay, paper and found materials, and then photographs for inclusion in picture books.  You can find out more about Baker’s work at www.jeanniebaker.com and below are some of the page spreads from Where the Forest Meets the Sea to give you a teaser if you have not encountered her work before:

Where the Forest meets the Sea 2 forest meets sea 2

So without further ado, here is my haiku review of Jeannie Baker’s highly memorable, and still relevant (unfortunately!) tome, Where the Forest Meets the Sea:

forest meets sea

Ancient world struggles

against the modern era

A losing battle

If you have never encountered Jeannie Baker before, her work is well worth discovering.  Other highly recommended works of hers include wordless picture book Window and its companion book Belonging, and her most recent publication, Mirror.

Farewell for now,

Mad Martha

 

 

Retro Reading: Tikki Tikki Tembo and cultural sensitivity….

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It’s that time again! For those Joany- or Johnny-come-latelies to my musings, I am currently undergoing something of a personal quest to re-read some tomes from my distant past to see whether any new insights come to mind in so doing.

The next book in my meander down memory lane is one that has always stuck in my mind due to its amazingly catchy refrain and the challenge it presents for those who enjoy tongue twisters and saying things really really fast.  It is, of course, Tikki Tikki Tembo, a retelling of a supposedly traditional Chinese folk story, by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent.

tikki tikki tembo

Essentially, this tale claims to explain why Chinese first-born sons are traditionally given short names.  I say “claims” because, not having spent any time inancient China (or indeed its modern counterpart!) I cannot vouch for the validity of this tale as a traditional folktale, as opposed to something some Westerners made up because it is stereotypically amusing and fun to say.

I am quite, well, sensitive, to addressing cultural sensitivity in printed matter and believe that wherever possible, items that offend (when looked at in hindsight, or otherwise) should be re-worked to better fit a contemporary audience.  To that end, I was greatly relieved to discover the Little Golden Book edition The Boy and The Tigers had been re-worked both in content and illustration, from its now cringe-worthy 1970s incarnation titled Little Black Sambo. Although having said that, the original version by Helen Bannerman is still in print. I wonder, then, to what extent Tikki Tikki Tembo might offend the sensibilities of contemporary audiences….

boy and his tigers

Debates over cultural appropriateness aside, this book charts the significant difference in the emergency response times elapsed in the rescue of two young brothers in (separate) near-drownings in the town well.  Chang (son number two, as indicated by his short, not-very-honourable name) is fished out in a jiffy, while the unfortunate, fortunate-first-born Tikki tikki-tembo no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo has to wait considerably longer for help to arrive.

Re-reading this tale has been just as enjoyable as its initial reading. Just one glance at the distinctive illustrations – particularly those eye-catching kites and the bearded Old Man With The Ladder (an prototype for David Hasselhoff’s Baywatch character, perhaps?) – took me right back to my youth.  I could feel the urgency of the poor old second son, Chang, as he stutters over his brother’s ridiculously long (though fun-to-say!) name, while time is ticking away.

All in all, I was very pleased to find this story still in print and available for the new generation of readers who appreciate rhythm in their reading.  At the same time I wonder whether this tome needs a little re-working too, to bring it in line with modern standards of inter-cultural folktale appropriation.  Perhaps something as simple as removing the completely untrue bit  about the name Chang meaning “little or nothing” would suffice?  If nothing else, that bit is deeply hindering to anyone attempting to learn other languages through incidental mentions in children’s literature.

I would love to hear what others think about this – particularly how flesh-parents might go about explaining such issues to their mini-fleshlings!

Until next time,

Bruce

Retro Reading: The Divine Ms Blyton

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Enid Blyton – that mistress of adventure, magic and exploration!  In my quest to re-read books from earlier in my considerable history, I decided to plunge back into Blyton’s world of wonder.  Selecting “The Secret of Spiggy Holes” as my text – part of the Secret Series, following the adventures of Jack, Mike, Nora and Peggy –  I settled back as the fifth member of the adventurous party.  While reading, the memories came flooding back and I realised that Enid Blyton writes in such a way as to make certain assumptions about life as she knows it self-evident.  So I present to you some of the “Universal Truths of the Queendom of Blytonia (otherwise known as Enidville)”:

1. The natural state of children is to be left alone.  Parents are merely the mechanism by which children are delivered into the world.  After this, parents are to leave  children to their own devices as much as possible, and this may be achieved through sending them to boarding school for the better part of the year, followed by shipping them off to mysterious and highly explorable places during the holidays, to be watched over by eager-to-serve, yet averse-to-intrusion adult guardians.  The parents in Spiggy Holes have accomplished this essential part of their duties to such an extent that they even purchased an island to which their offspring may retreat whenever the whim takes them.

2.People with foreign accents should be assumed to be smugglers, or involved in some other type of shady dealings, unless proven otherwise.  To this end, they should be kept under surveillance by any means possible, including, but not limited to, midnight watches using binoculars handily supplied by one’s adult guardian.  The exception to this rule is foreign children – for these are almost exclusively members of royal families, and should be befriended immediately.  Developing a friendship quickly and covertly is essential in this case, as it is highly likely that the foreign child is the victim of kidnapping perpetrated by the shady foreign adults previously mentioned.

3. There is always time for tea. Preferably involving a selection of cakes and biscuits, bottles of lemonade or ginger beer, cold pork pies, ham sandwiches, and plums.  Packed into a picnic basket for increased compatibility with exploratory parties.

After dipping a stone toe back into this simple world, I have decided that I will continue to reacquaint myself with old Enid through the St Clare’s school stories.  Please feel free to share your own reminiscences of times spent in Blytonia…or any other Universal Truths that I may have missed.

Until next time,

Bruce