Book Review: A Southern Tale, by Joanne McDougall

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_southern_taleSammy is a Sea Lion, a very rare and endangered species. He lives on an island deep in the Southern Ocean.

As light filled the sky bringing warmth with the dawn,
Sammy woke up with a stretch and a yawn.  
Her tummy then rumbled, expressing a wish
that she leaps into the sea and go and find a fish.
Into the waves, she dove as they crashed against rocks,
causing foam and spray to be splashed.

Sammy swam far in search of food, arriving at her favourite place teeming with fish. Fish eating the plankton, penguins and dolphins and sea birds galore gather for dinner, trying to ignore the sea leopards lurking, waiting for their chance to grab a quick bite. Meanwhile, the sharks with glistening white teeth, sharp as a razor lie in wait, fancying a meal of sea lion.

I read this book to 2 ½ year old Quinn. She’s been to Kelly Tarlton’s Sea World so knows all about seals and penguins – telling me in no uncertain terms just what she thinks about the seals in this story being chased and perhaps eaten. It can be quite hard explaining to a small child about the food chain in the animal kingdom – suburban Auckland doesn’t quite cut it.

This is a great story with wonderful illustrations, to introduce children to endangered species and to try and make them a little more aware of what goes on in the great ocean surrounding our country.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Southern Tale
by Joanne McDougall
Published by Pegasus Art
9780473373696

Book Reviews: Triangle, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

Triangle, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

cv_triangleTriangle lives in his triangle house amongst triangle mountains. Square lives in a square house amongst square mountains. One day Triangle goes on a mission to play a trick on his friend Square. But then Square gets his revenge.

I love Jon Klassen books and this partnering with Mac Barnett is spot on. Giving personalities to shapes is genius and its executed flawlessly. The illustrations are classic Klassen and fit in with the story seamlessly. The book brings up questions about trust, and just what it is to play a trick on someone. It’s got humour and quirkiness while still being simple and clever. AND it’s the first of a (shape) trilogy!

Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

cv_rock_pool_secrets‘At first glance there’s nothing much to see. But the rock pools are full of secrets.’

Some of my best memories are of windy, salty Wellington days spent exploring the rock pools around Lyall Bay. There is always something interesting to find and this book is the same. Each page is full of detail and hiding creatures. Almost every page has a large flap for extra exploring – my daughter especially loved opening the flaps to see what was hiding underneath.

The text is informative yet softly flowing over the pages, fitting in well with the watercolour linocut artwork. This is a good introduction for young kids to a non-fiction style of book as it feels like you’re learning something along your journey through the rockpools.

Reviewed by Nyssa Brown

Triangle
by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406376678

Rock Pool Secrets
by Narelle Oliver
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922179357

Books about Books: Lucy’s Book and Maisy goes to the Bookstore

Both books reviewed are available at bookshops nationwide.

If you’ve been watching the picture book – or, indeed the adult book world for the past few years, you will have noticed that there is a trend quietly growing. That is: books about books. A recent favourite for many was A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. New Zealand examples include The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka; A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt and Sarah Wilkins; and more creatively, Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley.

Though many are favourites, the overall effect that all these books about books has ultimately had on me, is fatigue with the tropes about physical books: the well-meaning urges from the writer to love reading because it’s good. Which means I approached these two books about books – or bookstores (but books really) – with a wary, difficult-to-impress eye.

Lucy’s Book, by Natalie Jane Pryor, illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

cv_lucys_bookLucy’s Book, is about that special book that any reader will understand. That book, that takes hold of you, and won’t let go. Lucy’s book happens to be a library book – and she’s told all of her friends about it, so when she takes it back, they race each other to get it out again. So the story is shared – with their friends, with her neighbours, her dance class, and her neighbourhood.

‘Li-ya, Lucy’s friend from the park, flew with it to China…and Lucy took it with her when Aunt Sophie married the dentist.’

All we know about the book is that it has a red cover, with pictures of adventures on it. That frustrated 6-year-old Dan – he wanted to know what the book was. But I think he will understand, once he’s met that book, that it is different for everybody.

The emotions of reading, and the rich language used in the book are a wonderful window into the world of the book-lover. And I think this is where this book improves on others: it is about the joys that the book-lovers feel when reading, rather than concentrating on just what a book can do independently of its reader. It involves its audience, rather than commanding them to love books.

The illustrator Cheryl Orsini has done a fabulous job. She pushes the emotion of each page into the illustrations in an extraordinary way. No detail is spared. Look at the cover of the books when Lucy gets her book out for the first time – an ice cream, a plate with cake, a whole fish… Then look at the covers of the books when Lucy finds out her book has worn out, and is no longer able to be rented. A boy with bandages, fish bones, an empty plate, spilt milk.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop, by Lucy Cousins

cv_maisy-goes-to-the-bookshopI’m pleased to say that Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is similar. While there is a more basic tone and language set, Maisy goes to the bookshop and revels in the choice she has of reading materials. She is the reader, and we are finding out why she reads. And all her friends happen to be there!

My 4-year-old loves Maisy – he learned to count and recognise numbers before he was 2, thanks to Maisy Counts the Chicks – but his relationship with books more generally is a little harder to pick. He’s read this with one of his parents every night since I brought it home.

You know from the title what happens. Maisy goes to the bookshop – where Ostrich helps her find a beautiful book about birds to share with Tallulah: then her friend Charlie comes out from behind the shelves. ‘”Ahoy, Maisy!” he says. I’m reading a book about pirates. I can imagine US as pirates!”’ As we find more friends we learn what they can imagine themselves as, until the reader is fully engaged with Eddie, who shows us in thought bubbles, what he is imagining himself as. Alex loves to match the thought bubbles with a book, and tell us what he thinks they are about.

I’ve seen Lucy Cousins reviewed negatively for her drawings, and yes they are simple, but they are bright and engaging for young eyes. She packs the detail in – and you always know what she has drawn. Another favourite page for Alex was the cafe page, where they all ate biscuits, muffins, cherries and strawberries.

More of these please, publishers! I love books about readers, not books that are only about books – because reading is magical in and of itself. Don’t over-analyse it!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, editor of The Sapling.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
by Lucy Cousins
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406369847

Lucy’s Book
by Natalie Jane Prior, and Cheryl Orsini
Published by Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734416605

Funny note: In the USA, Maisy Goes to the Local Bookstore (rather than the Bookshop) – and where do you think the first link came up to for this? That’s right – starts with A and ends with N.

Book Review: Bathtime for Little Rabbit, by Jorg Muhle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bathtime_for_little_RabbitPublished by Gecko Press, this is a board book suitable for 0 – 3 years.

This is an interactive book with a simple story. Little Rabbit’s bath is ready. Can you call him? Hoppity-hop. He’s in! We’re washing his ears today too. Can you put some shampoo on him? Wonderful. You made a lot of bubbles. Say swooshswoooshhhh.

I read this book to 2-year-old Quinn after she’d had her bath and was all ready for bed. She loved interacting with the story trying to help Little Rabbit shampoo his hair, wipe his nose when he got water up his nose and was keen to blow him dry at the end. A kiss good-night, tucked down in her bed with Sheepy, Quinn was happy to snuggle down and go to sleep.

What a lovely story – simple but very effective. A great story to read during bedtime routines.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Bathtime for Little Rabbit
by Jorg Muhle
Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571376

Book Review: Parakeet in Boots, by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Myles Lawford

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_parakeet_in_bootsThis is a hilarious Kiwi version of the fairy story Puss in Boots. There was once a farmer, who fell ill and died, leaving three sons and a farm to divide. The eldest received all the buildings and land, the next got the tractor and cash in the hand. But there in the will, to his youngest son Pete, all the farmer had left was his pet parakeet!

“What good’s a dumb parrot?” Pete cried in dismay.
“Don’t worry!” the bird squawked.
“I’ll see you’re okay.”
“Get me some ugg boots to warm up my feet,
plus a flax kete, and all will be sweet!”

The story continues on with the parrot “helping” Pete get what he needed in life including perhaps, the “girl of his dreams”.

A rather unique take on a classical fairy story. Both our 2 granddaughters were mesmerised by the idea of a parakeet taking charge of Pete’s destiny. I kept thinking of the parrot wearing ugg boots and wondering how on earth he could fly in such cumbersome things.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Parakeet in Boots
by Chris Gurney, illustrated by Myles Lawford
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434382

Book Reviews: My First Board Book – Colours, and Animals, by Donovan Bixley

Both are available now in bookshops nationwide.

My First Board Book – Colours

cv_colours_bixley.jpgThis is a brightly illustrated board book perfect for a small child getting to grips with Te Reo. Colours are illustrated with clear pictures of a swan, a digger, a caravan and other objects and things that are all associated with being a small fascinated child. The swan is white (ma), the digger is red (whero) – going along the familiar words of the colour song many of those who grew up in the 1980s sang at school.

This is a fabulous book and Sarah our daughter-in-law with her perfect pronunciation reading it to little Quinn, saw Quinn firmly clutch it in her hand, “mine”!

This is a wonderful book to introduce young children to Te Reo, as is Animals, for which my review is below.

cv_animals_bixley.jpgOn the surface, Animals looks like a standard board book for small children but on opening and going through it you realise it is much more.

Starting with the cow, then the horse, sheep, goat, pig and a range of other farm animals all with their Maori names under them.

The pictures are clear and easy for a small child to follow – the trick is in the pronunciation.

It’s really good to see books celebrating the Māori language.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

My First Board Book – Colours
by Donovan Bixley,
Published by Hachette NZ
9781869713447

My First Board Book – Animals
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette NZ
9781869713430

Book Review: The Lost Kitten, by Lee, illustrated by Komako Sakai

Available in March from bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_lost_kittenThe Lost Kitten is Lee’s first story, but Sakai has over a dozen books on offer, with most of them on initial release in Germany and the UK. She has won awards around the world, including the Japan Picture Book Prize, a Golden Plaque at the Biennial of Illustrations in Slovakia, and a Silver Griffin in the Netherlands. Her style is a cross between photographic realism and messy charcoals. A sort of soft focus treatment. It’s a delightful way of approaching what is really a very simple tale.

This thirty-six-page book is the simplest of stories, so readers must inject their own personality and interpretations between the words. Lee offers no background or clues about the identities of these characters. They are as thin as the chalk and wash on the page. To make them three dimensional you have to add your own personality. Sometimes, it’s what’s missing that gives you the substance.

The plot is: a small kitten, the runt of the litter, is abandoned at the door of Hina and her mother. They slowly fall in love with the kitten who is not expected to get well, but she does. Then mother leaves and the kitten runs away. Hina sets out to find her new little friend. It was here that my five-year-old, reading the story for the first time, started to add her own interpretation of the facts. What if she can’t find the kitten? Or…? And so, the magic unfolds slowly over the next pages as we read further, discussing scenarios and discovering more of the plot on every page.

The book’s simple language works well for early readers – about year 2 – and for caregivers who love to read out loud. It’s the kind of simple hardback that will make a wonderful gift for a young child. But remember, it’s not just the book you’ll be giving: you must also be around to read it, to make it more than just words and pictures on the page. Then you’ve found something really special.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Lost Kitten
Written by Lee, Illustrated by Komako Sakai
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571260