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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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.

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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:

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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!

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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