Picture Book Perusal: The Secret of Black Rock

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Today’s book is full of adventure and secrets, danger and hope and as such is the perfect winter read to snuggle up with.  We received The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton for review from Walker Books Australia and here’s the blurb form Goodreads:

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Erin loves to lie on the jetty, looking for the weirdest fish in the sea—the weirder, the better! And she knows the best ones must be further out, where her mum won’t let her go . . .

Out there in the deepest sea lies the Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! Can Erin uncover the truth behind this mysterious legend?

The Secret of Black Rock is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from its glowing golden endpapers to the layered blues and greens of the deep sea.  It reminded us strongly of another 2017 picture book release, Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield, due to similar themes of not judging a book by its cover and the need to preserve, protect and learn about the things we don’t understand.

The story opens with various characters recounting the horrors of Black Rock, a rock formation close to a coastal fishing village that has a reputation for destruction and danger.  Erin, however, is not afraid and will employ all her cunning and sneakiness to stow away on her mother’s fishing boat to catch sight of the Rock, despite its fearsome personification in the eyes of the villagers.  When Erin is accidentally thrown overboard, she discovers the Rock’s secret and attempts to reveal this to the villagers – but they misinterpret her message and set out to destroy the Rock once and for all.

The illustrations here are so atmospheric, with the contrast between the warmth of home and the cold, roiling mass of the sea reinforcing the dangers of venturing too far from the safety of the shore.  When readers finally catch a glimpse of Black Rock they won’t be able to avoid feeling that the poor old rock has been a bit hard done by the fisherfolk, and will be hoping for a positive resolution to the story.  The mini-fleshlings in this dwelling also had a great time spotting all the different sea life that is depicted making their homes around the rock.

This story would be a great conversation starter in the classroom around issues of gossip and the negative effects that can come from judging without full knowledge of the situation.  Similarly, it would be the perfect choice for a bedtime read aloud on a cold and windy night, when the nature’s perilous side can feel all too real.  We Shelf-dwellers think it’s a winner.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Doodle Cat is Bored

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Today I am bringing you the second, bright and zippy adventure from Kat Patrick’s inimitable Doodle Cat, Doodle Cat is Bored.  If you haven’t met Doodle Cat before, you should probably pop off and have a squizz at his introductory adventure, I Am Doodle Cat, but in the meantime, just be aware that Doodle Cat is loud, proud and impossible to ignore.

Especially when he’s bored.

We received our copy of Doodle Cat is Bored by Kat Patrick from Scribble Publications and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Doodle Cat is back and he is very bored. Until he finds a thing!

But what is this thing and what does it do?

doodle cat is bored

From that eye-ball burstingly bright cover, through the hypnotic endpapers to an all in pangolin party, Doodle Cat is Bored is a book that will imprint itself on your memory.  If you have read I Am Doodle Cat, you will be aware that our feline protagonist is confident, outgoing and not afraid to think outside the box.  So it is with Doodle Cat is Bored, after Doodle Cat finds a thing – which turns out to be a crayon – and boredom evaporates in the wake of scribbles that evoke everything from interstellar, gas-propelled travel to the discovery of long lost, pasta-based relatives.

The bold font of the text and the bright, minimalist colour palette ensures that each page cries out to be looked at and this really drew the mini-fleshlings into this particular story.  There are a few pages here that take advantage of a wider range of colours – all from one single crayon! Fantastic! – and this added to the feeling that author had developed the concept of Doodle Cat as a character and was working well with the illustrator to highlight the importance of imagination without ramming the message down kid’s throats.

Doodle Cat is also not afraid to be a little bit indecorous and the mini-fleshlings were in fits of laughter after Doodle Cat decides to draw his own bum.  Bums, of course, being the height of comedy for three to six year olds in the dwelling.  They also quite liked Wizard Susan’s unusually stinky mode of travel, but it took a few moments for them to fully appreciate the gag.

This is a great addition to the Doodle Cat series and I’m pretty sure the mini-fleshlings enjoyed this one more than the first, possibly because the theme of imagination and entertaining oneself was easier to grasp on to.  This series is not your typical picture book experience, as the author and illustrator aren’t afraid to bend the conventions of picture book creation to create a totally unique character and story flow.

We highly recommend Doodle Cat is Bored for mini-fleshlings of your acquaintance who are prepared to take a risk on something a little crazy.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Picture Book Round-Up: Caves, Adopted Dinosaurs and Grumpy Frogs…

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Today’s picture book round up is a collection of wild and wacky stories for those who look forward to the unexpected.  Lassos at the ready to rope in a fun new read!

I Will Love You Forever (Tatsuya Miyanishi)

*We received a copy of I Will Love You Forever from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  i will love you forever

While foraging in the prehistoric forest one day, a mother Maiasaura discovers an egg, which she takes back to her nest and protects alongside her own.  When the egg hatches and a tyrannosaurus rex emerges, the Maiasaura mama overlooks the danger and teaches the little T-Rex to be like a Maiasaura.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you haven’t read any of Miyanishi’s picture books from the Tyrannosaurus series, you are missing out.  I’ve reviewed two of them on the blog previously and they are the most bizarre and beguiling picture books you could ever hope to come across.  I Will Love you Forever is no exception, presenting a heart-wrenching and tear-jerking story of adoptive maternal love, the nature vs nurture debate and the ways in which family influences identity.  The story begins with the heart-warming birth of two very different dinosaurs and their childhood raised as brothers.  When a passing ankylosaurus tips off one of the brothers that one of them might not be as harmless as everyone thinks, it sets off a chain of events that have the little adopted maiasuara-tyrannosaurus questioning his intrinsic nature.  Things come to a head late in the story and the tyrannosaurus is faced with a choice about his future and who he wants to become.  The illustrations are colourful and quirky (and Mad Martha still wants to make a plushie out of the tyrannosaurus!) and the text is set in blocks, allowing for good spacing between the pictures and words.  I highly recommend this series and I think this story is probably most accessible of the three I’ve read for those who aren’t looking for a totally out-there picture book reading experience.

Brand it with:

adoptive parents; nature vs nurture; it’s what’s inside that counts

Grumpy Frog (Ed Vere)

*We received a copy of Grumpy Frog from the publisher via Netgalley *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  grumpy frog

A frog will do anything to prove he’s not grumpy but has trouble tempering his temper when things don’t go his way.  When he meets a friend, he must decide whether his preferences are more important than having fun.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a chaotic, colourful jaunt into the world of likes, dislikes and how to behave when things aren’t as you would like them to be.  Ed Vere’s illustrative style can be loud and somewhat abrasive if you aren’t primed and ready for it but for those who enjoy expressive fonts, thick line drawings and characters with unmistakable facial expressions, there is a lot to enjoy in this book.  Frog is generally a happy guy, though he can sometimes lose it when things aren’t how he likes them.  Thankfully though, other people share this fault and with a bit of calm negotiation everyone can agree on an activity that will make everyone happy.  The arc of this story was a little disjointed for my liking.  I felt that the story switched from a fun “look! the frog says he’s happy but keeps getting angry!’ sort of light comedy, to a friendship/compromise tale which didn’t quite have the same giggle factor.  I think, overall, mini-fleshlings will enjoy this tale if only for the manic mood swings of frog from one page to the next.

Brand it with:

Pet peeves; losing it; win-win situations

The Cave (Rob Hodgson)

*We received a copy of The Cave from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

the cave

The Cave by Rob Hodgson.  Published by Allen & Unwin (Murdoch Books), 26th April, 2017. RRP:$24.99

A wolf is determined to coax a cave-dwelling mammal from its hiding spot…for perfectly innocent purposes, of course!  When the animal emerges, Wolf is in for a surprise and can suddenly appreciate the properties of a deep, dark cave for a hiding place.

Muster up the motivation because…

…there is a twist at the end of this story that turns the plot on its head and will have little ones considering the importance of perspective.  The Cave is a vibrantly illustrated tale of getting what you wish for and then wishing that you hadn’t.  The main protagonist is the stereotypically shifty Wolf, whose only goal is to eat the creature that dwells in the titular cave, and said wolf uses every trick he knows to make this happen.  Throughout the double page illustrations, young readers will have fun spotting the snail and the bowler-hatted worm appear in different, funny positions and the changing seasons, as well as the wonderfully expressive eyes of the cave-dweller, provide plenty of variety for the eye throughout.  I also love that this hardcover edition features a different image on the book cover to the dust jacket.  The twist at the end of the story didn’t quite eke out the laugh that I was expecting from the mini-fleshlings in the dwelling, but I suspect this is a book that will inspire repeat readings.

Brand it with:

If wishes were cave-dwelling mammals; powers of persuasion; every trick in the book

Do any of these take your fancy?  Let me know which books you’ve been rounding up to read lately!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Library Larks: A Graphic Novel and a Picture Book after my own heart…

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It’s the first rule of book reviewing that when you are suffocating under a pile of books for review and finding less and less time to get to the review pile, the first thing you should do is go to the library and get more books.

It just makes sense really.

So, given that I am woefully behind in my review schedule and have no less than seven books to read and review by the end of next week, I decided it was only fitting to pop to the library and grab two more to bring to your attention.  I’m glad I did actually, despite the stirrings of guilt, because I thoroughly enjoyed both of my choices.

First I picked Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol, which I had had my eye on since it was first released and I found it featured an old lady protagonist, knitting and telling people to bugger off – incidentally, three of my favourite things.

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Given that Brosgol is the author/illustrator of multi-award winning graphic novel Anya’s GhostI suspected that the illustrations here were going to be great.  They were. Brosgol’s style features clean lines, blocks of colour and some fantastic facial expressions.  Most of all, I just loved this book because it was so funny.  The old woman is the matriarch of a home with an excessive amount of small children and so it’s unsurprising that she doesn’t get much alone time in which to knit.  After tramping out of the village with naught but a shouted “Leave me alone!”, the old lady traipses off through a variety of unlikely environments until she can get some peace and quiet in which to work on her knitting.

My favourite part of the story is when the woman passes through a wormhole to avoid her latest pursuers.  Honestly, the line “She swept the void until it was a nice matte black” has got to be one of the best in children’s literature.

This one is going to become a keeper for us.  I am left with no option but to buy my own copy I liked this story so much.

I also requested Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez because it’s far cheaper to borrow all the graphic novels I want to read from the library than buying them.  nightlights

Despite being in large picture book format, this is undoubtedly a graphic novel aimed at middle grade readers and older.  The story revolves around Sandy, a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble focusing in class …or anywhere for that matter…due to the intense concentration she exerts while drawing.  When Sandy meets Morfi, a new girl, their friendship at first seems to be buoying for Sandy, but as time progresses and Morfi appears in Sandy’s dreams, things aren’t quite as peachy for the pair as they appear.  The author has slipped in a neat little solution to the problem that will require a bit of reasoning out on the part of younger readers, but is satisfyingly clever and opens the door for Sandy to throw off the shackles that are holding her back.

The colours in Sandy’s drawings are so eye-catching and lush that they’d look just as good stuck in a frame on your wall.  The scenes set in Sandy’s dreamscapes are just creepy enough to indicate danger, yet are also filled with tiny details that call out to be pored over.  I enjoyed this story a lot and I think its larger format will make it a great choice for primary (and secondary!) school libraries.

Now, back to the review pile.

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round Up: Music school, Stranded Cows and Grub to be Grateful for…

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We’re only in for a short ride today, with three new release picture books all received for review from Allen & Unwin.  Let’s strike while the iron is hot and ride on in!

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too (Jane Milton & Deborah Hinde)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

moo and moo

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$17.99

In the November 2016 earthquake in New Zealand, two cows and a calf ended up stranded on a tiny bit of land.  What was this new situation in which the cows found themselves and how could they get out of it?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a cute and heartwarming story about animals in predicaments; specifically, three animals in one very large predicament.  Children from New Zealand will no doubt take to this book with great fervour, given that they no doubt heard it on the news when it actually happened.  For the rest of us, there is a handy little paragraph at the back of the book describing the events on which the book is based, as well as some facts about earthquakes.  The story is told in rhyme which, although a tad forced at times, keeps a good rhythm for reading aloud.  The illustrations are all double page spreads with a subtle palette of blues, greens and browns.  The author has done a good job of giving imaginative voice to the cows as they stand stranded on their grass island, awaiting rescue or whatever happens next for stranded bovines.  Overall this is a sweet story that provides a perfect conversation starter for discussing natural disasters and their impact on the environment.

Brand it with:

bovine bravery; animals in predicaments; earthquake aftermath

The Thank You Dish (Trace Balla)

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

thank you dish

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March, 2017.  RRP:$ 19.99

A girl and her mother sit down for dinner and decide to give thanks.  But who would have thought there were so many people to thank for a simple meal?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a delightful and authentic missive that gently introduces the concept of gratefulness and being mindful of how many people contribute to things we might take for granted.  The illustrations are so charming here, with simple line drawings complemented by an earthy colour scheme.  I particularly like how the empty dinner table becomes fuller with each “thanks” given, as little stick drawings of the various “thankees” begin to populate the table.  The text is simple and repetitive and I wouldn’t be surprised if young readers carry the line, “Why would you thank the …….?” outside of the context of the text! The small size of the hardback means it would be perfect to bring to the dinner table or picnic blanket to share before a meal.  The Thank You Dish is a perfect gem of a book, reminding us of the need to be thankful for what we have without being preachy or labouring the point.

Brand it with:

anti-fast food; think before you eat; fun with food

The School of Music (Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

school of music

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen & Daniel Frost.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP: $29.99

Ever wondered how to decide which instrument is right for you, what links maths and music or how you can compose your own music? Step inside The School of Music and satisfy your curiosity!

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you ever had lingering questions about music, musical instruments or how musicians work together, this is the book for you!  On flicking through the book, my first thought was that this would make a perfect launching text for primary teachers who are forced to teach music curriculum in the classroom (in the absence of a specialist music teacher at their school) and don’t feel they have the background knowledge to do so.  Although this is an illustrated nonfiction text, I would definitely place it as an upper primary/lower secondary text, simply due to the amount of text and the length of the book.  The book begins with an illustrated “acceptance letter” to the school of music, upon which the owner of the book can write their name and is henceforth divided into “terms” based around different concepts.  Each page features a different question – What does it take to make a star singer? What different kinds of music are there? Which instruments do we recommend learning? – that is answered in the text below, accompanied by a full page background illustration in cartoonish art deco style.  The questions become increasingly more involved as the book progresses, and it would take a considerable time for a young reader to get through the whole book, if they were so inclined as to read it from cover to cover.  As a reference book, or a gift for a young musical prodigy, this would be a great choice.

Brand it with:

extracurricular activities; a curious composition; taking notes

I think The Thank You Dish was my favourite out of these three.  Have you come across any of these or do you know someone who might like them?

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Grandad’s Secret Giant

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Today I have a sumptuous feast for the eye with David Litchfield’s richly coloured Grandad’s Secret Giant, which we received from Murdoch Books via Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Murdoch Books:

A GIANT story of belonging and friendship from David Litchfield, author of the prize winning The Bear and the Piano.

He has hands the size of tables, Grandad said, legs as long as drainpipes and feet as big as rowing boats. Do you know who I mean?

Yes, sighed Billy. The Secret Giant. But he’s not real!

Billy doesn’t believe his Grandad when he tells him there’s a giant living in his town, doing good deeds for everyone. He knows that a giant is too big to keep himself hidden. And why would he WANT to keep himself a secret? But as time goes on, Billy learns that some secrets are too BIG to stay secret for long…

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Grandad’s Secret Giant by David Litchfield.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 29th March 2017.  RRP:$21.99

Being a thrifty sort of gargoyle, I wouldn’t normally suggest that you run out and buy the hardback version of a book the moment it’s released, but I will make an exception in this case.  The reason you will want to get the hardback edition of Grandad’s Secret Giant is that that way, you will not miss out on the absolutely joyous experience of peeling back the marvelous dust jacket to uncover the luxurious, colourful, mesmerising image spread across the entire cover of this book.

The next thing you’ll want to do is get a load of the incredibly beautiful endpapers – the beginning one shrouded in blue and white shadows and a giant hiding, the final one infused with the warmth of early morning and the excitement and cosiness of making a new friend.

If  you haven’t been convinced by the preceding two paragraphs of high praise, do remember that we haven’t even got to the story yet.

Billy has grown tired of his Grandad’s tales of a giant who lives in their town and helps people out, even though they can’t see him – or scream and run away if they do.  He has made up his mind that he will not believe unless he sees the proof with his own eyes.  But will seeing the Giant bring out the best in Billy?

This is a delightful story of making mistakes and making things better, all wrapped up in a cosy grandparent-grandchild relationship.  The solution to Billy’s problem is heartwarming and creative and the story has an upbeat vibe about it that will give you a spring in your step for the rest of the day.

But those illustrations.

Oh, those illustrations!

I’m not sure whether its the medium or the particular colour palette, but the illustrations here are so vibrant and inviting that I couldn’t help poring over them for ages and wishing, just a little bit, that I could be sucked in to Billy’s world.  I was already familiar with Litchfield’s illustrative style from The Building Boy, but the page spreads in Grandad’s Secret Giant lend themselves even more perfectly to the story than in that previous book.

Little ones will love trying to spot the giant, who seems to blend in with his surroundings despite his inherent ability to stand out.  There is so much to see in the pictures the longer you look that this book will no doubt be brought out time and again before bedtime.

I realise I’m being a bit indulgent here, with three in the space of a fortnight, but because of the incredibly beguiling illustrations and the warmth of the story, I can’t help but name this a Top Book of 2017 pick!

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Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Night Shift…

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Today’s offering is one of those rare picture books that is aimed at adults and delivered in an extraordinarily moving way.  Debi Gliori, most famous for her popular fantasy stories and kid-level picture books, has created an absorbing portrait of depression and hope in her new picture book Night Shift.  We received a copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A groundbreaking picture book on depression with stunning illustrations.

With stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori examines how depression affects one’s whole outlook upon life, and shows that there can be an escape – it may not be easy to find, but it is there. Drawn from Debi’s own experiences and with a moving testimony at the end of the book explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope, Debi hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.

‘I have used dragons to represent depression. This is partly because of their legendary ability to turn a once fertile realm into a blackened, smoking ruin and partly because popular mythology shows them as monstrous opponents with a tendency to pick fights with smaller creatures. I’m not particularly brave or resourceful, and after so many years battling my beasts, I have to admit to a certain weariness, but I will arm-wrestle dragons for eternity if it means that I can help anyone going through a similar struggle.’

The first clue that this isn’t your average picture book comes from the cover and size of Night Shift.  At A5 size and with a rich-feeling cloth-bound cover, it’s obvious from the off that this isn’t necessarily a book a child might pick up.  Fans of fantasy will be drawn to the dragon on the front cover and will be rewarded throughout because Gliori has chosen to represent mental illness – in this case depression – through the medium of the dragon.

The story starts simply enough.  A woman is a bit tired, a bit stressed, has trouble sleeping.  She is followed around by a small dragon who, while maybe a bit annoying certainly isn’t immediately recognised as malignant in intention.  As the story continues however, the dragon gets larger, the woman’s reality more fragmented and fanciful and it seems like she couldn’t possibly find the tools to escape from the new landscape of fear and sadness in which she lives her life.

And then…a feather.

And hope.

night shift feather

The monochromatic, graphite and charcoal illustrations throughout perfectly capture the sharp contrasts of depression and anxiety, as certain experiences stand out starkly while others blur around the edges.  In each vignette it is possible to see the small changes that eventually lead to a sense of being overwhelmed; in which some small thing has somehow taken over a life.  The text on each page is sparse, but the words skilfully chosen to reflect the common cliches that the depressed often hear from friends, family and therapists.

A brief afterword from the author describes her journey through depressive illness and her inspiration in creating the book.  Books like Night Shift are an important stepping stone on the way to making mental illness visible in the public eye, and something that is acceptable to talk about.  If you have ever experienced depression, or know someone who has, I would suggest seeking this book out.

Until next time,

Bruce