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

 

 

 

 

 

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Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Eclectic Chaos” Edition…

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I’ve got five books for you to chase down today, from middle grade adventure to adult paranormal to non-fiction art and photography, so saddle up, get your eye on your quarry and let’s hunt those tomes!

Tree Houses Reimagined: Luxurious Retreats for Tranquility and Play (Blue Forest & E. Ashley Rooney)

*We received a copy of Tree Houses Reimagined from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  treehouses-reimagined

Did you have (or yearn for) a treehouse as a kid?  This book is a collection of imagination-expanding treehouses featuring child-like creativity and adult engineering.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you love to browse Pinterest or other sites for inspirational images, then this book will be one you’ll want to “pin” to your coffee table for easy access.  The book features a diverse collection of actual treehouses from around the world (although mostly in the UK) that have been designed to reflect the imaginings of their owners.  Some look like fantasy castles with turrets, while others are designed to blend into the environment.  Quite a number feature those metal slippery slides of old that would take the skin off the back of your legs on a hot day.  The images also show the interiors of many of the treehouses, noting their special features. It was quite fascinating to read about how the builders had to use special techniques to place the foundations of the treehouses without disturbing the root systems of the trees.  It also includes lots of architectural drawings and floor plans of the featured houses.   I really wanted (and expected) to love this book and hoped it would fire my imagination and provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that these places truly exist, but instead I became more and more irritated by the fact that the majority of these treehouses are owned by rich people and therefore beyond the reach of the average person ever to attain.  The further I read, the more bitter I became, until by the end I was angrily swiping the pages and thinking, “Keep your damn treehouses, Richie Rich!” If you are not as small minded and bitter an individual as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this tome.

Brand it with:

Up where we belong; hangin’ out; fun with timber

The Ferryman Institute (Colin Gigl)

*We received a copy of The Ferryman Institute from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-ferryman-institute

Charlie is a Ferryman – a guide charged with catching souls as they die and guiding them towards their individual afterlife – for over 200 years and has never failed on an assignment.  When, during a fairly simple assignment he is faced with a hitherto unencountered choice, Charlie must decide whether to take the opportunity presented to him or carry on with the status quo.

Muster up the motivation because:

As “afterlife” stories go, this one is well-constructed with a deeply considered world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to have the pace and action to go with the deeply considered world and DNFed at 34%.  While I found the first part of the story and the set-up of the institute and its patrons, and Charlie’s surprise choice, quite interesting, the author continually slowed down the action by introducing Charlie’s philosophical issues with his life as a Ferryman through extensive chunks of dialogue with his colleagues.  I certainly feel like I was reading long enough to have covered far more than 34% of the story.  The book flicks back and forth in time and place, opening with the events that lead to Charlie being presented with an unexpected choice, and then swapping between Charlie’s life at the institute and the events in Alice’s life that lead to her being moments from death, and a major factor in Charlie’s fate.  For me, this was a slow-burner that I just wasn’t prepared to be patient with.

Brand it with:

Key in the door; decisions, decisions; change of career

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey (Carlo Collodi & Alessandro Gallenzi)

*We received a copy of The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  pipi

Pipi lives with his monkey family in the jungle and happens to be pink.  This isn’t the only thing that sets him apart though – Pipi is the most mischievous monkey you’ll ever meet!

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a re-branding of Collodi’s (of Pinocchio fame) Pipi stories which were originally published in the early 1880s.  The tone of the stories exudes that old-fashioned feel, with the language reminiscent of Blyton or your standard fairy tale, with a dash of Roald Dahl.  Pipi really is a naughty little monkey; a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to break the rules if doing so will satisfy his curiousity.  Young readers will find plenty to giggle about in Pipi’s tricky adventures, and parents will be pleased to see that Pipi gets his comeuppance a few times, though it is never enough to put him off his next bout of mischief.  There are small illustrations peppered throughout the text (by Axel Scheffler, no less!) but I would have liked to have seen more of these to make the book a little more accessible for youngsters.  The final pages of the book include some easy-to-read information about Collodi’s life and works (including a hilarious letter from the author to his young fans about the importance of keeping your word), the characters in Pipi, and a quiz about the events of the book.  If you are a fan of classic stories (or would like your mini-fleshlings to become so), this is a quality revision of the original tales, with added extras to entice the youngsters in.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; truth and fibs; classics reimagined

Fizzlebert Stump and the Great Supermarket Showdown (A.F. Harrold)

*We received a copy of Fizzlebert Stump from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fizzlebert

Fizzlebert (Fizz to his friends), member of a travelling circus, finds himself in an unexpected position when the circus is sold to a local supermarket.  Will Fizz and his friends be able to use their special skills to serve the supermarket – or is there a way to return to the circus?

Muster up the motivation because:

Fizzlebert Stump delivers plenty of offbeat humour and general silliness and if you are a fan of the humorous stylings of folk like David Walliams, you should find plenty to enjoy here.  I was quite relieved at the book unexpectedly beginning with Chapter Four, given that it made me feel like I had made progress before I had even started reading, but this is cleared up in due course and the book re-starts at Chapter One.  Having not read the earlier five books in the series was not a problem thanks to the very thorough narrator (who interjects at regular intervals to take the reader off at a tangent) thoughtfully presenting a concise recap of important things to know about Fizz and the circus.  Essentially, this story features a blackmail attempt that results in the circus folk being forced to work as cashiers, packers and night staff at Pinkbottle’s supermarket, with predictably ridiculous results.  Luckily though, Fizz and his friend Alice are on the case and all ends well, provided you consider police officers being shanghaied into impromptu circus acts a satisfying ending.  The book is peppered with black and white illustrations throughout, and the general presentation is designed to inspire fun and reflect the chaotic and quirky life of Fizz and his circus family.  If you have a mini-fleshling who is at chapter book level and loves stories featuring silliness and slapstick, the Fizzlebert Stump series, and this offering in particular, could be a savvy choice.

Brand it with:

No business like show business; the daily grind; this place is a circus

Quest of the Sunfish: Escape to the Moon Islands #1 (Mardi McConnochie)

*We received a copy of Quest of the Sunfish from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  quest-of-the-sunfish

In a world suffering the effects of rising sea levels, Will and Annalie live a simple existence with their father Spinner.  When Spinner must suddenly disappear to avoid capture by the Admiralty, Will and Annalie discover that there was more to their father than they could ever have imagined.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an adventurous story set in a world that has adjusted to rising sea levels and the unexpected loss of livelihood and lifestyle.  The book begins with an exciting scene in which Spinner has moments in which to escape from mysterious people coming to get him and Will is left in the dark as to what is happening and why.  His sister, Annalie, ensconced at her fancy boarding school, is questioned by members of the Admiralty as to her father’s whereabouts, and it is obvious to both siblings that their father is in danger.  Being a general fan of seafaring stories, I expected to enjoy this one but I ended up DNFing at page 77, after about ten chapters.  I could see that the adventure part was about to get underway, but the pace was moving too slowly for my liking so I made the decision to leave the story there.  The author has gone to a lot of trouble to set up the world and the characters, but I felt that there was too much “telling” rather than “showing” going on and I couldn’t conjure up any imagery of the world as I was reading to anchor me in the story.  I suspect I could have enjoyed this more if I had no competing reads to compare it with, but after an interesting opening few chapters, this one didn’t measure up for me.

Brand it with:

Salty seadogs; environmental disaster; escape!

So, me hearties, which of these titles will you be rounding up today?

Until next time,
Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Double-Dip Review Week #2: Picture Books for the Curious and Subversive…

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imageI’m assuming everyone has slept off Wednesday’s double serving of awesome middle grade fiction (and giveaway!) and you’re ready for the second course in this week-long bookish buffet.  Today we are focusing on picture books and the two I have for you today are sure to excite if you are the question-asking, rule-bending, interactive-book-loving type.

Let us begin! First up, I have an eye-popping beauty of a book from AUSSIE author and illustrator Kyle Hughes-Odgers.  Can A Skeleton Have an X-Ray? was provided to us for review from Fremantle Press.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What spins the Earth? Do colors smell? Why is water wet? Where do dreams go? Renowned artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers brings his own unique vision to these and many other questions, from the practical to the philosophical.

Dip into it for…

skeleton xray…a head-scratching, smile-inducing jaunt through a jungle of curious questions, accompanied by stunning, quirky illustrations that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery (which makes sense, given that the author is also an accomplished visual artist).  I barely got past the cover before I got sucked into trying to answer some of the unexpected questions in the book. (Can a skeleton have an x-ray? Yes, I suspect, but it would probably be a fruitless exercise…maybe…unless you’re doing some kind of forensic testing…what? Oh, there’s more past the cover! *turns page eagerly*).  Some of the questions are quite funny – what do ghosts do all day, for instance – whereas some really did have me realising how little I know about how important things work…like “who gives the internet its powers?”  Seems like a pretty important question if you ask me!

Don’t dip if…

…you’re looking for a book with easy answers!  Each page in the book presents a new question, accompanied by an illustration that will prompt the imaginations of kids and adults alike.  If you’re looking for serious answers to these questions, I suggest you consult the non-fiction section.

Overall Dip Factor

I can see this being the perfect tool to generate discussion in the classroom right before a creative, problem-solving or investigative assignment is unleashed.  I loathe to use the word “whimsical” because I feel it is so overused as to be cliched, but there is a definite sense of whimsy in some of the illustrations, coupled with something more akin to the complexity found in Shaun Tan’s works – it’s that atmosphere generated by the effective coupling of simple text with illustrations that beg to be explored beyond a first glance.  My favourite illustration is from the “who builds the wings for birds to fly?” page:

birdhouse manIn fact, I liked it so much I was tempted to carefully remove it from the book and stick it in a frame on the wall…but luckily I don’t have to do that, because I’ve just learned that Kyle Hughes-Odgers is releasing a colouring book in December featuring some of the images from Can a Skeleton Have an X-Ray? !  It’s called Off the Wall and you can check it out at Fremantle Press.

Now, on to the subversive!  Our second offering is Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe, provided for review by Simon & Schuster Australia, and the sequel to the highly acclaimed Warning! Do Not Open This Book! from 2013.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Books are made to be opened. Especially this one. But, guess what…

Someone closed this book! Who would do that?

Luckily, you can fix this. All you need to do is open it. You can do that. Can’t you?

We need your help!

Please, Open This Book!

They warned you, but you just couldn’t listen–now, the creators of Warning: Do Not Open This Book! are back with their zany monkey crew, and they need your help!

In Warning, Do Not Open This Book!, which School Library Journal called “more fun than a barrel of monkeys,” turning pages meant increased chaos and delight. Now the tables have turned, and opening the book is the only way to save the desperate group of monkeys trapped between its pages. This irresistibly entertaining rescue effort puts power in the hands of the page-turner, and giggles into everyone!

Dip into it for… please open this book

…zany monkey shenanigans and a book that gives you the freedom to use your book-closing powers for good OR evil! The cheeky, distressed faces of the monkeys are a highlight of this one, as they exhort, beg and reason with the reader first to open the book and then subsequently,to stop turning the pages.  Similarly, the consequences given when pages keep being turned will generate a giggle – although I had to agree with the characters about the banana; I was as sad as they were to see a superfruit being treated in such an alarmingly cavalier manner.  It’s all about the interaction with this one and I suspect young readers will love arguing with the characters here before resolutely turning the page (which will bring only doom, as the monkey doomsayers predict!).

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of monkeys.  I’m mildly distressed by monkeys generally and there are a number of species here with their bulging eyes and awkward limbs and lice (presumably).  In all honestly though, there’s not much to dislike here..except the fact that parents will no doubt be asked to read it ad nauseam at bedtimes, rest times and all other times.

Having said that, it does pay to be careful if you’re inexperienced at this sort of book-reading.  Even the best of us can get caught out with such dangerous content, as Mad Martha and I discovered:

trapped

Thankfully the family dog passed by not soon after and knocked the book to the ground with her waggy tail, inadvertently setting us free.  Not sure what we would have done otherwise, except maybe take up a “Help” sign and douse ourselves with lice-killing shampoo.

Overall Dip Factor

Please, Open This Book! is going to be an instant hit, I suspect, as much for the interactive nature of the story as for the cheeky, giggle-inducing antics of the characters.  The black pages and brightly coloured monkeys will catch the eye immediately and there’s a fun little twist on the last page and beyond that will delight mini-fleshlings, especially if they’re tackling this one on their own.  If you enjoyed such similarly interactive books as Viviane Schwarz’s There Are Cats in This Book and its sequels, or the adventures of Mo Willem’s Pigeon, then you’ll find much fun to be had when you open Please, Open This Book! after heeding the mute, banner-laden exhortations from the monkeys on the cover.

Well, that’s our second helping done and dusted!  Stay tuned on Monday for some easy-to-digest short story collections for fleshlings both mini and grown.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

ARC Haiku Review: 100 Hungry Monkeys!

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It’s Mad Martha here with you all to present another Haiku review.  Today I will be poetrising on the sumptuous feast for the eyeballs that is 100 Hungry Monkeys! by Masayuki Sebe.  I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – although I might have to buy a print copy too, because the illustrations are too good just to be viewed in screenish, pixely form.  To whet your appetite, here’s the cover:

100 MonkeysIsn’t it fantastic?! I love the main monkey doing Stayin’ Alive. Awesome.  But I digress.

100 Hungry Monkeys! is a search and find storybook that follows some adventurous monkeys (guess how many!) through an eventful quest to get some dinner.  Finding nosh to satisfy such a large troupe turns out to be the least of their worries however, as a close encounter with a monster has them shuffling quickly onward to an exciting climax!  Throughout the book there are lots of little questions and challenges to prompt keen-eyed mini-fleshlings to hunt for things in the packed-to-bursting double spread pages.  At the end of the story there are also a few extra challenges for those who feel the need to find every little thing hidden within the pictures.

To give you an idea of the scale of such a challenge, here is one of the double page spreads:

double page 100 hungry monkeysIt’s the kind of thing I can picture 5 to 8 year old boys taking one look at and saying, “I accept the challenge!”  Obviously, the text is somewhat secondary in a book like this, but the story is fun enough anyway to support the real amusement of searching and finding.  This is also a great book to help introduce the concept of “one hundred” which can often be tricky for young children.  Having a fun pictorial representation like this can really help to engage kids who are less than impressed with the whole idea of having to learn numeracy!

So without further ado, here is my haiku review:

Gauntlet thrown down by

Simian Centurion…

Better start counting!

I heartily recommend this one for reluctant readers in the 5 to 8 years age group, due to its attractive illustrations and the interactive nature of the text.  I heartily recommend it also to eager readers under the age of 8 years, for basically the same reasons.  I now must go forth and try and get my hands on other books by Masayuki Sebe (who seems to have a particular fondness for the number 100) for those times when my eyeballs are in need of some illustrative stimulation.  100 Hungry Monkeys! is due for publication on March 1st, so consider this fair warning to get your pre-orders in.

Au revoir readers!

Mad Martha

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Haiku Review: Banana!

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Greetings readers, Mad Martha here with another Haiku Review! Today, I delve into the colourful, dynamic world of Ed Vere and his two-word masterpiece Banana!  This is one of our absolute favourite picture books…and unfortutely, our copy is currently missing. I’m not blaming Bruce…just because it is his job to guard the shelf…but the fact remains that this important tome is not in its allocated place.  If any of you know where it might be, please let us know, for while Bruce puts on a brave face, those of us who know him well understand that on the inside he is pining, warring with complex emotions of loss and grief, like a book-shepherd missing his favourite book-sheep…..

But back to Haiku:

Titanic struggle

over simian treasure.

The victor? Manners.

Until next time readers, keep your eyes (and bananas!) peeled for that book!

Mad Martha