Book Review: Up the Mountain, by Marianne Dubuc

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_up_the_mountain.jpgMrs Badger lives at the foot of a small mountain, and though she is very old she walks all the way up to the top of that mountain every Sunday. The story begins with Mrs Badger setting out on her walk just like any other Sunday but today she gets the feeling she is being watched… Leo, a little cat, would like to climb the mountain too but he is full of self-doubt and announces that he is “too little”. Curiosity eventually gets the better of Leo and he follows Mrs Badger, who is more than happy to introduce her young friend to the many wonders of the mountain. Along the way, Mrs Badger generously shares her wealth of knowledge about the animals and plants that live on the mountain. When Mrs Badger becomes too old and tired to explore the mountain with Leo, Leo begins to adventure up on his own but he never forgets his friend Mrs Badger. He returns at the end of each trip to share his discoveries and bring her gifts from the mountain. In the end we see that Leo (older and stronger now) makes a new friend; a younger friend much like himself in the beginning of the story for whom he can share his now bountiful fund of knowledge about the mountain with.

Being curious is a wonderful thing that should be encouraged in children and Up the Mountain does just that. It is a beautiful and heartwarming story about trying new things, seeking adventure and enjoying nature. Lovely messages of kindness, caring and friendship are woven through this story as it explores the importance of helping others, sharing the beauty of nature with a friend and stopping to take in the world around us. As the main characters make their way up the mountain we also learn interesting facts like, what mushrooms are delicious in a stew, the perfect walking stick and what we can make with sumac leaves!

The vibrant watercolour illustrations are just as sweet as the story and emphasise all the different aspects of nature from tiny insects flitting about the trees to long grasses and peaceful bodies of water. Children will enjoy searching the pages to unearth all the different animals and plants.

Passing knowledge on to our younger generations – especially about the natural world – is so important and Marianne Dubuc illustrates just that in this touching story with along with its charming artwork. Up the Mountain encourages curiousity and kindness and promotes the message that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to if you’re willing to work for it!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Up the Mountain
by Marianne Dubuc
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496090

Book Review: Witchfairy, by Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut. Translated by Laura Watkinson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_witchfairyRosemary is a fairy. But she is not like other fairies; she doesn’t want to be sweet and decorous. She wants roller skates but that is not allowed (what if you fell and got a nosebleed?) She also would like a boat but that is not allowed (what if you fell into the water and got all dirty?)

Fairies are expected to be neat and tidy and quiet and polite and speak with honeyed voices. “Rosemary thought fairies were really dull…. Rosemary would rather have been a witch. Witches were allowed to get nice and dirty and to shout and scream with laughter and to sail boats down the stream.”

This desire is not well met by her mother and after stamping of feet and a lot of shouting back and forth, Rosemary takes off to live with the witches in the dark wood. And… despite her mother thinking she will hate it, Rosemary loves it there! Finally she can be loud, and have fun, and learns to fly on a broomstick and gets her roller-skates. “Being a witch was the best fun ever!”

Mum misses her and visits Rosemary in the dark wood, where Rosemary introduces her to broomstick flying, sailing, and tea with the other witches. Mum discovers that the witches aren’t so bad after all and enjoys her time with them. She also discovers that her daughter is happy and overcomes her prejudice and gives Rosemary her blessing to be whoever she wants to be. In turn, Rosemary discovers that she likes being a witch sometimes and a fairy sometimes – she is a witchfairy.

Originally published in Belgium in 1999 under the title Heksenfee, this fairytale about finding your true self is delightfully different and very European in feel. Brigitte Minne has written over 200 stories for children and has won several awards in Belgium and internationally for her work. Illustrator Carll Cneut has also won awards for his work. (In this interview, you see him create art for Witchfairy as he talks about his craft). The illustrations are artworks beautifully hued in reds and pinks, contrasted with deep greys and black. The characters feature huge conical hats akin to those worn by European and Scandinavian gnomes, and rosy red cheeks. I love that the very first page has no illustration; we are drawn in and prepared for the tale with only four lines of text – expectations of the usual sparkly, dainty fairies come thumping down with the delivery of the fourth line, and in we go.

Book Island specialises in bringing well-loved, unique stories from Europe (mainly Holland and Belgium) to New Zealand, offering new perspectives and understanding. They seek to present these stories in beautiful, high-quality books, and Witchfairy is certainly one of them.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

by Brigitte Minne, illustrated by Carll Cneut
Translated by Laura Watkinson.
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496076

Book Review: It’s My Pond, by Claire Garralon

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_its_my_pondIn It’s My Pond, a duck finds a pond and claims it, but then another duck comes along and also claims it – so they split it in half and share it. But then… another duck comes, and another, and another… chaos and boredom ensues while all the ducks try to stay within their little portion of the pond, until yet another duck makes a very good suggestion and they discover how much more fun the pond is when they start sharing and playing in it together.

UNTIL, a hippopotamus appears…

This is a beautifully made book. Thick, creamy stock, Bright but simple illustrations with a clever story. It features a great theme of sharing, equality, and playing together which creates some really good conversations with young children.

Reviewed by Nyssa Walsh

It’s My Pond
by Claire Garralon
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496021

Book Review: Nostalgia, Great Mums, and the Black Wolf

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Nanna’s Button Tin, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter

cv_nannas_button_tinWhen I was a child my mother had an old willow-pattern biscuit tin half-filled with buttons. I loved to plunge my hands into the tin and let the buttons run through my fingers.

Just by looking at the cover of this book made me smile because it brought back memories of hunting through that tin, looking for just the right button to replace one that was missing off a treasured item of clothing or toy.

The little girl in this book has a nanna with a button tin and the pair tip them out in the hope of finding a button to replace poor teddy’s missing eye. Of course not just any button will do; it has to be the right size, shape and colour.

The book’s first line reads: “I love Nanna’s button tin, it’s full of stories.”

This sets the scene for the search, as each button they pick up reminds nanna or the little girl of where that button came from. The accompanying illustrations are delightful and will no doubt bring back memories of similar occasions for readers. I instantly recalled buttons from my grandmother’s dressing gown, my mother’s evening gowns, father’s shirts, and some of my own creations. You could make this book interactive by starting a tin filled with buttons that represent your own memories.

Whether the child is old enough to read the book out loud or not, the illustrations alone make this a winner. There are so many things to look at in the background that adults and children alike will love this book. It’s like a printed hug!

The Best Mum in the World, by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman

cv_the_best_mum_in_the_worldFollowing on from the popular book The Best Dad in the World, The Best Mum in the World would make a great birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas present for any mum.

Beautifully illustrated by Cat Chapman (no relation to the author), the book explores all the reasons why we love our mums.

The book has a similar theme to dad’s version, with the child starting out by saying their mum loves it when they wake her up. The illustration shows a chaotic bed with children and animals crowding out the parents – dad has given up and is sleeping on the floor!

Any mum who has had her hair ‘done’ by a child will smile, as will those who have been served a mud pie. And hide-and-seek may give mums an idea – pretend to hide behind the couch and snatch a quick nap instead!

All different kinds of mums are shown in the illustrations – mums doing the shopping, driving tractors, playing with the children, saving them from scary insects (even if she doesn’t look that thrilled by it), or just smiling on as her children ‘decorate’ the walls.

Blankeys are retrieved from dogs and owies are fixed with sticking plasters, helping to make each mum the best mum in the world.

This is a great read-along book and there are so many things in the background that can be used to entertain a child along the way. There is even space at the front to draw a portrait of your own mum.

Mother’s Day may have been and gone, but this book is a perfect gift for any mum in your life, to remind her of the things that make her so great.

Virginia Wolf, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

cv_virginia_wolfBased loosely on the close relationship between the writer Virginia Woolf and her artist sister, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Wolf is an unusual but imaginative children’s book that deals with depression.

Beautifully illustrated, the book starts with Vanessa’s sister, Virginia, feeling a little ‘wolfish’. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone, gets upset when Vanessa tries to paint her, and even tells the birds to stop making so much noise.

Vanessa says she was a very bossy wolf, and her mood started affecting everything else in the house, taking all the colour and enjoyment out of life. Nothing Vanessa could do would cheer her up and nothing pleased her – not even the cat or making faces at their brother. She just wanted to be left alone.

Vanessa lies on the bed with her, saying there must be something she could do that would make things better. Virginia says if she were flying she might feel better, but she rejects all the cities Vanessa suggests.

“No. No. No!” cries Virginia, saying she wants to be in a perfect place with iced cakes and beautiful flowers and trees and no doldrums – she wants to be in Bloomsberry.

Vanessa is confused as she has no idea where this magical place is and Virginia is no help. She decides to paint a garden and create a place called Bloomsberry that looks just the way it sounded.

When Virginia wakes, she is still acting like a wolf, but slowly notices the garden her sister has made. She becomes involved in making the magical Bloomsberry even more fantastic and all of a sudden down becomes up, dim becomes bright, and gloom becomes glad again.

The book ends on a lighter note, with the sisters heading out to play. It takes a sensitive look at depression and could be used to discuss the topic and the things that could change how a person feels and acts.

Reviews by Faye Lougher

Nanna’s Button Tin
by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Heather Potter
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781922077677

The Best Mum in the World
by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262801

Virginia Wolf
by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Published by Book Island
ISBN: 9781911496038

Book Review: Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday, by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauelijn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_mr_postmouse_goes_on_holidayWhen I was a little boy I used to read (or at least I had read to me) Richard Scarry’s wonderful series, especially What Do People Do All Day? and the Huckle stories. These were fantastic books with animals, dressed as humans, at the heart them. In every tale, they lived, dressed and talked just like we did but the most wonderful part was Scarry’s exploded and cut away drawings, which allowed you to see inside buildings, cars, firetrucks and even submarines. Coupled with exquisite details but a relaxed style, you really got inside the lives of these characters – to dream and imagine what they were like and let your mind wonder beyond the stories.

Reading French Canadian author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc’s new book, Mr Postmouse goes on Holiday, I felt just the same way I did reading Mr Scarry. Along with my six-year-old daughter, we poured over the brightly coloured, charming and detailed water colour illustrations, almost forgetting to actually read the story. Actually, it’s not hard because Dubuc has intentionally placed the text, single sentence blocks, in amongst her drawings, as if she wants you to discover them. Perhaps those who are a bit eye-sight challenged may have to grab their specs but the learner-readers in my house hold took great delight in picking their way through the 10-point font size, as if there were treasures to uncover. And on that point Dubuc’s language is simple enough for new readers, years 1 & 2, especially. The translation from French is clean and intelligent. No clunky sentences or odd phrasing to stubble over. It remains compelling enough to move the story along and keep the pages turning.

The plot is very simple. What does Mr Postmouse do when he goes on holiday? He continues to deliver the mail of course. Sound like a few parents you may know, who just can’t switch off their work phones when they go to the beach? This a return of Dubuc’s characters, the Postmouse family, this time as Globetrotters bouncing around the planet dropping off packages to their friends on the way; sailing on ships with opera shows on board; toasting marshmallows over a volcano; flying in hot air balloons and visiting Eskimos at the Pole. In amongst the narrative illustrations, Dubuc drops in a few visual jokes which the adults and caregivers will appreciate. For example, there’s a scene where they all stay at a campsite. While family pitching tents in the foreground, two children are dropping bread crumbs as they approach a house made of candy. In the trees, there’s a squirrel with sunglasses and a troupe of Boy Scouts on a trek. In the desert scene, there’s a snake living in a palatially appointed four room cactus apartment, whilst another serpent is sneaking around in the branches of an apple tree and a little Postmouse is taking a luxurious a dip in the hotel’s oasis, blowing water spouts like a Blue Whale.

I’d not come across Montreal based Dubuc before but I’d be keen to explore here repertoire further now. She has books, including Here Comes Mr Postmouse and the Lion and The Bird, in over 20 languages for many different age groups but, clearly, she really enjoys producing material like this. You can feel the joy in every page. You can see why she won the 2014 Governor General Award, a Canadian literary award for English-language fiction, for outstanding illustrations for her book The Lion and the Bird.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday
by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauelijn
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496045

Book Review: The Lion and the Bird, by Marianne Dubuc

Available in bookshops nationwide.LionAndTheBird_Cover_WEB (2)

From Book Island, this is a gorgeous book which has its narrative brought to life by the finest of illustrations.

Lion, while out doing a spot of gardening, finds a very unwell little bird whom he befriends and helps to restore back to good health. The birds’ birdie friends leave and a delightful friendship unfolds, every facet of life shared in the cutest possible way.

This isn’t a book of words, they are sparse, unnecessary; the illustrations do the talking, leaving the reader to expand and explore if an adult, and their imagination to run wild if a child.

Day turns into night, seasons come and go and the inevitable happens and we the reader are left to shed a tear and experience grief and loss with the golden-hearted lion, followed the next year with the joy of reunion.

This book is simply delightful, not heavy even in loss. It has been put together with an eye for detail. Just holding this book is a tactile experience, and I can’t think of an adult or child who wouldn’t love it. For both, it is just an ideal experience which will help foster a love of books in any child who is lucky enough to come across it. Like Shirley Hughes with Dogger, this is a book that will live on.

Add it to your collection, give it as a gift.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Lion and The Bird
by Marianne Dubuc
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9780994109873

Book Review: Azizi and the Little Blue Bird, by Laïla Koubaa and Mattias De Leeuw

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_azizi_and_the_little_blue_birdAzizi and the Little Blue Bird is a modern-day fairytale, based on very recent current events. Inspired by the Arab Spring, and in particular the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, author Koubaa and illustrator De Leeuw weave an allegorical tale that has layers of meaning that are not always obvious to the reader

Tih and Reni are dictators, living off the fat of the land in a huge palace and making their presence felt with obligatory photos in the nation’s living rooms. The walls have ears, and free speech is not safe. They are obsessed with capturing all the blue birds in a giant cage. The blue birds are representative of Twitter, and the widespread censorship of the internet by various governments during the revolutions – when I worked this out, suddenly the story made a whole lot more sense, and became more than just a poetic tale. (You can read more about the internet censorship here.)

One of the blue birds escapes, and helps Azizi to rescue the other blue birds, and put an end to the rule of the greedy rulers. Free from oppression, “The people were able to breathe again, and they grew like lentils, danced like palm trees, and curled like calligraphy”. I really loved the use of language within the story, which has been translated from Flemish by David Colmer.

De Leeuw is widely regarded as a Flemish Quentin Blake, and his illustrations certainly capture the energy of the story in the same way that Blake does. The illustrations look simple at first, but are deserving of a second, closer look – there’s lots going on.

I would share this story with children from about 8 years old upwards. As a teacher, it would be a really interesting discussion piece when talking about social media with students at an intermediate or high school. So often social media is portrayed as something for children to be very wary of, with internet bullies, etc; Azizi and the Little Blue Bird gives readers a different perspective on the value of social media. It is also interesting to compare such modern story with traditional fairy tales such as those by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Publishers, Book Island, have helpfully produced some teaching notes, which you find here.

Recommended for readers who like thinking!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird
by Laïla Koubaa and Mattias De Leeuw
Published by Book Island Publishers
ISBN 9780994109866

The Big Question, by Leen van den Berg & Kaatje Vermier

cv_the_big_questionAvailable in selected bookstores nationwide.

There are a lot of children’s books that talk about love, but none do it quite as deeply as this one. Originally published in Flemish, and translated by David Colmer, The Big Question is, of course, about love.

The animals in this book have an annual meeting, which is usually chaired by Turtle. This time, Ant has been called in for the job as Turtle’s wife is sick. Ant is so ambitious that she has even bought a new pair of glasses, so she looks the part. At this meeting one animal is allowed to ask a question – that the group then answers. The answering is done in a powwow, and each opinion is weighed the same as the next. Even that of the Stone. Elephant is the asker on this occasion.

The question is of course about love, and each of the answers from everybody from Mouse to Snow White, to Apple Tree gives a unique answer. In fact, of course, love can be anything that two people, or things, or elements make it. Even the clouds have love, through moving in the same direction. The personalities of each entity are elucidated very lightly, especially that of Ant, the director of the scene of discussion.

The illustrations have an incredible abstract beauty. The illustrator, Kaatje Vermeire uses collaging, leaf rubbings, cut-outs, and beautiful illustrative elements to create something quite unique among picture books. The detail is astounding – the animals meet at the top of a big hill for their annual get-together, and the ants work to take, in order from the front to the back – a supermarket trolley of books and a lamp, a couch, a drum, a lounge chair, a dining room chair, a gramophone, a butterfly catcher, and a bath. The colouring is mostly in shades of grey, with splashes of orange, peach, green and pink, blue and red to enhance the details. The format of the book is foolscap, unusually, but I think it was a wise choice from the publishers, Kapiti Island publisher Book Island – it showcases the illustrations wonderfully.

This is a sophisticated picture book, though one that children are certainly capable of understanding. The themes are not adult, though perhaps the answers to the question cannot quite be understood by younger children. I would suggest an audience over 6 years old.

Most of all though – buy it for your love if you enjoy it yourself. If they agree with this book, you are with the right person.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Big Question
by Leen Van Den Berg & Kaatje Vermeire
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9780994109842

Book Review: The Rabbit and the Shadow, by Melanie Rutten

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.

This was an immensely captivating book which deftlcv_the_rabbit_and_the_shadowy explored life issues through the eyes of an interesting cast of animals and took you on their journey, a journey that sees the characters grow up, conquer their fears and learn that all important lesson: how to live together. Personification can be tricky to pull off but not in the hands of Melanie Rutten. Her story is divided into 10 chapters, and the reader learns and shares with the characters as they explore and confront their world and its challenges.

The illustrations match the situation and enhance the telling of the story perfectly, they add just that little bit extra with the use of dark and light. The facial expression illustrations are some of the best I have ever seen.

This book would be ideal as a shared classroom experience and also as a parent/child read. As it has ten chapters it would be best spread out, and is probably best suited for those 8 years and older as some of the nuances would be above the understanding of younger children. It could also be used in a Social Skills teaching situation as the issues the book lends itself to are often seen in these groups.

I thank Book Island for this very thoughtful book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Rabbit and the Shadow
by Melanie Rutten
Published by Book Island
ISBN  9780994109804

Book Review: Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run, by Bernardo Carvalho

Available in selected bookstores nationwide.cv_follow_the_Firefly

Book Island brings us another wordless children’s book: Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run by Bernardo Carvalho, who is one of the founding illustrators of the Portuguese publishing house Planeta Tangerina. Planeta Tangerina won the Best European Children’s Publisher Award at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2012.

Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run feels like a lesson in attention. The book has vibrant watercolour illustrations, and all of the animals have a bug-eyed wonder about them. With two titles and two covers, the book can be read from either the front or back.

Starting from the front, the story opens with a firefly asking the question ‘Excuse me, have you seen a flashing light?’ We follow the firefly to a campfire where a group of bears, dogs, foxes, and birds are happily toasting food. The firefly doesn’t join in − he sits to one side, his mouth turned down under a wonderfully long red nose. As the story progresses we follow the firefly through the forest where he talks to an owl, a crocodile, a gorilla, and a frog − all of them pointing him in the same direction. Eventually he reaches a town, where he’s directed to a traffic light. A heart appears in the firefly’s eye: he’s in love.

Reading from the back cover, we see a white rabbit escape from a cage on the back of a truck. The book instructs: ‘Follow the rabbit!’ By following this character, a different story emerges from the same pages. The rabbit dashes through crowded city streets, swims across a river, and is chased by a dog through the forest. Eventually she hides behind a huge but friendly gorilla! The tables are now turned – the dog is lost in the forest. His eyes fill with tears and he curls up on the forest floor. Will the white rabbit take pity on the dog? She does, and the two animals join the group at the campfire.

As with the white rabbit in Alice of Wonderland, the rabbit and firefly of Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run lead the reader into a surreal world. While the illustrations are colourful, the forest is also dark and murky. There are red outlines of different creatures, as if to suggest something ghostly. On one page a ladybird has a woman’s head. The dog is also vicious, with black-rimmed eyes, sharp teeth, and a red nose. In this way, the book has just enough scare factor to thrill a child.

As with The Lazy Friend, the absence of words allows each page to be a story on its own: it can be read from either the rabbit or the firefly’s perspective, and there are many other animals and details to look at.

Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run is a clever and colourful book that is sure to be read countless times.

Reivewed by Sarah Jane Barnett in tandem with The Lazy Friend.

Follow the Firefly / Run Rabbit Run
by Bernardo Carvalho
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9780994109828