Picture Book Perusal: Skinny Brown Dog

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picture book perusal button

It’s high time I featured a book with hat-wearing animals and in the absence of a Jon Klassen classic, today I am bringing you new release picture book Skinny Brown Dog by Kimberly Willis Holt and Donald Saaf.   I have not read a picture book that has had such a brain-twisting effect on me for quite a while and I’m still giving my head a good scratch over the underlying themes and issues in this one as we speak.  We received a copy of Skinny Brown Dog from PanMacmillan Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Benny the baker leads a simple life. He makes delicious cakes, cookies, and muffins, and keeps his customers well fed and happy. When a skinny brown dog shows up on Benny’s doorstep, nothing Benny says can convince him to go away. While Benny insists that the dog isn’t his, customers soon grow as fond of the skinny brown dog as they are of Benny’s yummy treats. The children even name him Brownie—the perfect name for a baker’s dog.

Benny starts to wonder what it might be like to have a dog of his own. But it’s not until Brownie comes to his rescue that Benny realizes a dog can make for a very good friend. Full of winning characters (and delicious treats!) from the award-winning Kimberly Willis Holt, this book celebrates a very special friendship.

skinny-brown-dog

On first reading this story, I was immediately reminded of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, because there seems to be a similar underlying metaphorical suggestion going on here..but I’m not 100% sure what it is.

That appearances are reflective of our attitudes?

The life-changing magic of giving someone a chance?

The importance of following Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines for small business?

I just don’t know!

Happily, while there are obviously layers to peel back within this story, I suspect that the more nuanced of these will go over the heads of younger readers, who will instead end up focusing on the charming and delightful story of friendship and acceptance.

Benny the baker (a bear) is a kind and gentle soul and his bakery is a hub for the community.  When a skinny brown dog turns up outside his bakery, Benny tries, unsuccessfully, to gently move it on.  Of course, no one can resist the lure of puppy dog eyes – especially when said eyes look like chocolate chips – and the dog, who is eventually named Brownie, is taken to heart by the community.  Benny, however, remains unmoved on the point that a bakery is no place for a dog…until an accident happens and Benny does some re-evaluation of what and who is important.

The illustrations bear an endearingly old-fashioned tilt, and evoke the community feel of times gone by, when people visited individual shops to buy their necessary goods and shopkeepers and patrons knew each other by name.  The repeated refrains from Benny – “He’s not my dog!”- and Miss Patterson (an elephant) – “Yes, I can see that” – are suggestive of the knowledge that young readers will have already picked up; that the skinny brown dog is slowly but surely becoming part of Benny’s life.  The ending is no less heartwarming for its predictability and the author has done a wonderful job of allowing Benny (and the reader) ample time to commit to the course of action that he has been trying to put off.

And yet….underneath the simple story of friendship and acceptance is a whole subtext that begs for careful deconstruction by older readers.

The world of Skinny Brown Dog is populated by animals (most of which wear some kind of jaunty hat), and while the majority of these animals talk and take on human roles, the skinny brown dog, who is eventually named Brownie, does not.  Despite the fact that he wears a suit and bowler hat throughout, just like everyone else.

See what I mean about underlying metaphorical suggestion?  There are animals who are obviously meant to be people, but Brownie, who is also dressed as a person, like the other people-animals, is clearly meant to be an animal.

Except when he’s not.

Like when he hands a dropped purse back to Miss Patterson, using his paw, with a tip of his hat.  Or in the final few pages of the story when Brownie is pictured on his hind legs, whereas previously he has got around on all fours.  Is Benny’s acceptance of Brownie as a friend and companion the catalyst for Brownie’s self-confidence and self-worth, represented by his new, upright stance?  Perhaps now that Benny is really “seeing” Brownie, the carefully constructed facade of Brownie being something “other”, and “not like us” has fallen away.

This is certainly a “more than meets the eye” sort of picture book that can be enjoyed on more than one level.  Much like its unassuming cover, the story itself beckons the reader on into the subtext of the story, to discover and create meanings beyond outward appearances.

The shelf brands Skinny Brown Dog highly recommended reading!

Until next time,

Bruce

Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop (in Summer!) 2016…

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midwinters-eve-2-new

Welcome to my sunny, summery stop on the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop hosted by Bookhounds.net and running from the 21st to the 31st of December, 2016.  I’m getting into the spirit of midwinter and offering one winner a winter-themed book of their choice from the selection below.  My giveaway is open internationally, provided the Book Depository ships to your country for free.  Other Ts & Cs are in the Rafflecopter form.

One winner will have their choice of one of the following wintry books.  Click on the book cover to visit the book’s Goodreads page:

snow-beast

murder-in-midwinter

snow-rose

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter link below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And remember, this is a hop, so why not visit some of the other participating blogs and try your luck?  Click on the links below to hop around:

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Good luck!

Until next time,

Bruce

Moose on the Loose: A Double-Dip Review…

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image

If the sight of a pair of enormous antlers sets your heart a-flutter, you are in for a treat today because we have TWO moose-themed, illustrated children’s books for your perusal.  We received both of these gems from their respective publishers via Netgalley.  Grab yourself a hearty snack and let’s strike out into the wilderness!

First up, we have Too Many Moose by Lisa Bakos, a cautionary tale about the perils of online shopping.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Martha gets an unusual pet, she’s delighted by all of the fun things they do together. If one moose is this marvelous, then more moose must be even better! Pretty soon, Martha has more moose than she can handle in this playful pet story.

Dip into it for…

too many moose

…more moose than you can handle and an endearing, and extremely funny, animal romp.  This book is so delightful I could barely handle all the excited frollicking that goes on throughout.  Martha, heartened by the success of ordering one moose from a catalogue, falls into that trap for young players at online shopping and ends up with an unwieldy amount of moose.  She eventually finds a solution that suits everybody and all is well, but in the meantime, things get a little hairy around Martha’s house.  I am always impressed with illustrators who can make such hilarious facial expressions on animal characters, and Martha is a wonderfully independent little soul and, in the end, a responsible pet owner.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like moose.  Or online shopping.  That is all.

Overall Dip Factor:

I absolutely loved this tale.  The rhyme and rhythm is spot on for reading aloud and little ones will appreciate the repeated refrains throughout.  The illustrations are just perfect and the scenes of frivolity (until things go bad, of course) make one wish one had a pet moose of one’s own!  I predict that this will be high on the request list of many a bedtime reading rotation.  Highly recommended.

Next up we have a sneaky TOP BOOK OF 2016 pick!

Bruce's Pick

It’s so good to see a cracking graphic novel, because we’ve had a few misses with the genre so far this year.  Here’s the blurb of Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy by Doug Savage, from Goodreads:

The forest is full of danger . . .  but help is here. Meet Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy, improbable pals who use their powers—laser vision and an unrelenting sense of optimism—to fight the forces of evil. Join the dynamic duo as they battle aliens, a mutant fish-bear, a cyborg porcupine, and a mechanical squirrel, learning along the way that looking on the bright side might be just as powerful as shooting a laser.

laser moose

Dip into it for…

…a forest full of danger, an optimistic rabbit and one very vigilant moose.  Never has such a friendship between opposite personalities existed in a children’s graphic novel than that between Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy.  While Rabbit Boy is just happy exploring the forest and meeting animal people, Laser Moose is constantly on the lookout for danger…and his arch-nemesis Cyborgupine (a cyborg porcupine, in case you couldn’t figure that one out).  In four charming and hilarious stories, our intrepid heroes save the forest and learn a thing or two about themselves along the way.  And then there’s the Aquabear.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of alternating slapstick and subtle humour in your graphic novel reading.  The stories roll from Laser Moose causing unintentional carnage when wielding his eye lasers, to perfectly timed dry one-liners and back with nary a by-your-leave.  The end frame of the Aquabear story is a fantastic example of this (and I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that it did result in me engaging in a thigh-slapping guffaw).  In some senses it’s pretty childish humour, but if an adult gargoyle can have a good old out-loud-chuckle at these animal antics, it’s got to be pretty sophisticated on some level too.

Overall Dip Factor:

I love this combination of characters – Laser Moose’s tightly wound vigilance is perfectly balanced by the forgiving and personable nature of Rabbit Boy.  The stories are short, so will appeal to young readers who need to take breaks while reading.  The dialogue is such that it will be appreciated by kids and adults alike. As with  most graphic novels, this was way too short for my liking and I’m itching to get my claws on the next in the series (it is going to be a series, right?!).  In the meantime I will have to settle for buying a copy as a “gift” for the eldest mini-fleshling.

A worthy Top Book of 2016 pick indeed, and I thoroughly recommend that you too pick up a copy under the guise of giving it to a young reader of your acquaintance.

I hope you’ve found a moose-y tale to inspire the imagination here!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Listen Carefully: Did You Take the B From My _ook?

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did you take the b

We recently received this accusatorily-titled book from Harper Collins Australia and were immediately primed to see whether the claim on the cover – that this was a book that would “drive kids crazy” – was accurate, because we all know there is nothing funner than inciting (quickly reparable) mental anguish in children.  Before we begin, this is definitely a read-aloud title and involves a bit of audience participation, so if that’s not your bag, you should probably move along.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

From the brilliant brains behind THIS IS A BALL comes a new giggle-inducing bestseller!
For the Grown-Ups:

OK. Two things you need to know. Firstly, your favourite thing in the whole world is the letter B. And secondly, you’re about to sneeze and all the Bs are going to be blown out of the book. So until you can get your favourite letter back, you’re about to sound really, really silly … And the kids will love it!

Did You Take the B from My _ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton is the epitome of interactive reading.  In order to appreciate the book, it MUST be read aloud, and requires the listeners to contribute in order for the narrator to solve the problem of the missing ‘b’s.  The illustrations are basic and sparse here and don’t really carry the story at all, but are helpful in prompting that listener participation that is so vital to the reading experience.  I can imagine that the larger the audience experiencing the book, the better the overall fun factor will be, as it’s the kind of book that benefits from more than one voice in the telling.

Admittedly, on first reading, I was skeptical that this book would actually be as funny as the cover and blurb make out. Not being the target audience, however, I decided that in order to be fair, I would have to snaffle a mini-fleshling or two and use them as guinea pigs (in the pursuit of literature-based science,  obviously).  Luckily, I had both a five and a two-and-a-half year old mini-fleshling just lying around the place ready and willing to sacrifice their sanity for the greater good of this blog.

So on I read.

And while the older mini-fleshling warmed to the book slowly and quite enjoyed the audience participation elements, the two-and-a-half-year-old wandered off in the middle in search of fruit, seemingly uninterested in the plight of the narrator and the ultimate fate of the tale. The five year old didn’t ask for the book to be read again, either, which may, or may not, be a telling factor in his level of engagement with the book.  On the other hand, he did say that he enjoyed the book because “it was tricky” (in the sense of tricksy, rather than difficult), which would indicate that the authors have hit the mark in making this unlike your average storybook.

Clearly, my experiment involves a statistically insignificant sample and no great conclusions can be drawn from it.  I still have the sense that this book didn’t quite work to the level I expected, given the enjoyment we’ve extracted from other such interactive tomes – Please Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt or This Book Just Ate My  Dog by Richard Byrne, for instance.  The difference, of course, is that the two books I have just mentioned rely heavily on the interplay between words and pictures to drive the interactive nature of the story, whereas Did You Take the B from My _ook? relies more on the aural aspect.

Overall, I would have to say that while there were enjoyable elements to this book, I think it is best suited to read-alouds with a bigger audience – in the classroom or library storytime, for example – where the interactive nature can really shine and listeners can bounce off each other and the narrator.  As holidays are just about to end here in Queensland, maybe some parents should pick this one up and casually drop it to their child’s teacher, then sit back and bask in the admiration that flows from being the one to bring in “that really funny cool book”.

Thanks again to HarperCollins Australia for sending us the copy for review.

Until next time,

Bruce

Green: A Haiku Review

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imageIt has been too long, my dears, since we dallied together for a haiku review and today I plan to rectify this woeful situation with a visually stunning picture book that has been the recipient of numerous awards and was kindly provided to us for review from Pan Macmillan Australia.  I speak of Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

How many kinds of green are there?

There’s the lush green of a forest on a late spring day, the fresh, juicy green of a just-cut lime, the incandescent green of a firefly, and the vivid aquamarine of a tropical sea. In her newest book, Caldecott and Geisel Honor Book author Laura Vaccaro Seeger fashions an homage to a single colour and, in doing so, creates a book that will delight and, quite possibly astonish you.

green

Viridity floats

in a jade sea bottle bound

for emerald shores

“How engaging can a book about a single colour actually be?” I suspect you might be asking yourself.  Well, I shall admit to asking myself the same question, which is exactly what prompted me to request this book.  How much can be said on the topic of green-ness? Especially in picture book format!  I was curious to find out what it is about this book that had prompted the bestowal of awards, that was for certain.

Green is not your average, colour-based picture book.  For starters, it makes use of some very clever die-cut holes that lead the reader on to the next page.  While die-cuts are always fun in and of themselves, the die-cuts in this particular book are impressively utilised.  Some have words hidden in the illustrations.  Others are so cleverly placed that they are almost invisible until one turns the page. I fell victim to this trickery multiple times until I decided that I would keep my eyes peeled to find those stealthy die-cuts before I turned the page…only to be foiled on more than one occasion! Test yourself out and see if you can spot them in the two images below.

The book also runs the gamut from what one would expect, such as this “faded green”:

faded green

…to some unexpected and cheeky interpretations, such as this one (my personal favourite!):

clever green

The last few pages follow a little mini-narrative which is full of hope and also might provide younger readers with the inspiration to pop outside and green up their own environment.  After having flicked through this book multiple times, it is obvious why it has attracted such acclaim.  The illustrations are gorgeous and textured and some clever twists on the green theme set this book apart from your typical colour-based book for little ones.

It helps, of course, that green is the favourite colour of more than one shelf-dweller!

This would be a wonderful choice for a classroom library; the kind of book that will be well-thumbed by the end of the year, from eager young readers repeatedly drinking in the visual delights of the artwork and boggling at the more-than-meets-the-eye symbolism of a single hue.

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

An Aussie Picture Book “Five Things I’ve Learned Review”: Australia To Z…

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imageIf you’re getting bored with the ordinary old alphabet picture book format and you yearn for an alphabet book that really says something about its subject, allow me to direct you right to today’s offering – Armin Greder’s Australia to Z.  This is one of those books that, on the surface, looks like a perfectly ordinary picture book, but on closer inspection, has the potential to blow the discussion about Australian identity right out of the water.  I was lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – thanks!

Here’s the (sparse) blurb from Goodreads:

Juxtaposing words and images, the multi-award-winning author of The Island shines an uncompromising light on what it is to be Australian.

australia to z

And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From…

Australia To Z by Armin Greder

  1. While “Footballs, Meat pies and Kangaroos” still seem to go together underneath the southern stars, Holden cars are clearly on their way out (of the country and this book)

     2. No matter where we go or what opinion we ascribe to, we cannot escape the looming visage of Rupert.

     3. The meaning of the word stubby is always dependent on context.

     4.  Australia only has two culinary achievements worth mentioning and they begin with L and V respectively.

     5. Those of us who fear for the future of this once-great nation are not alone.

While many of the letter choices in this picture book for readers at upper Primary level and older are designed to initiate debate on current social trends, there are also plenty of images that are just plain hilarious.  My particular favourite is the “I” page, which every DIYer will find familiar, while the “X” page is just plain bizarre – what is that man doing to that Turkey??

The line art is evocative and this, combined with colour-blocked backgrounds and pops of colour on key objects, makes for a sparse and focused examination of each page.  The final double page spread, in which the words of the national anthem are combined with images of “the Australian way”, both mundane and adversarial, sums up the utter sense of discomfiture that many Australians experience regarding various social injustices that continue to plague us.  Greder has run a very fine balancing act here, providing just the right depth of genuflection at the altar of the jovial, jocular, larrikin sense of Australian identity to compensate for the stark and confronting presentation of issues of racism, misplaced national pride and social injustice that, like it or not, also make up the character of modern Australia.

In the interests of the nation, I would suggest passing this book around at your next backyard barbeque and watch the conversations heat up.

Subversion, thy name is Greder! (And the shelf-denizens salute you!)

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thepowerofhenrysimagination-book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s where the giveaway comes in!

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Bruce