Book Review: House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery, by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_house_of_dreams.jpgWhat a wonderful biography, of the girl known as ‘Maud’, who was the wonderful writer behind Anne of Green Gables. As well as many other novels, a couple of biographies, and countless poems and stories.

Sometimes you are so secure in your own world, you forget about our collective history as women. That once, women were expected to be no more educated than was required for the purposes of keeping a household in order. And that it was seen as perverse if a woman required any further education, let alone needed money to achieve this end. When relatives died, money was not left for the education or keeping of a female relative, but to the boys in the family.

Reading Maud’s story made me cry several times. Her mother died when she was only two, so the family moved to Cavendish, her mother’s parents’ grand house in Prince Edward Island, where she was raised by them as her father departed to make his fortunes elsewhere in the new country of Canada. Her grandmother showed very little emotion nor love, but cared for her in her own way. Her grandfather is rarely brought into the biography by Rosenberg, except to say ‘no’ when asked for money towards Maud’s education.

Rosenberg portrays Maud’s real love as her writing, and secondly, her friends. She had many deep and lasting friendships, both on Prince Edward Island and later, on the mainland. She was very tied to her home, and was immensely aware of the beauty of the world around her.

This biography puts forward the idea that Maud was manic depressive, and had seasonal affective disorder. Rosenberg uses past biographies, alongside letters and diaries to build this throughout the book, which is told in beautiful prose, balanced with a biographers’ eye for information worthy of inclusion. There were no parts of the book where I couldn’t see the purpose each paragraph played in telling the story of Maud. This is the mark of an excellent biography.

Maud was let down quite severely by many in her life, but never her Grandmother Lucy, for whom she was named (the L is Lucy). Grandmother gave her hard-saved cash from the household fund to help her achieve her two stints at University, as well as helping her to get a job to earn the rest of the cash.

Maud’s success in writing was self-made, and she was extremely driven. After being a teacher for a couple of years, then a journalist (thanks to a suitor getting her a job), she returned back to Cavendish to look after her ailing grandmother, and stop her being kicked out of her home by her uncle John. That is where Anne took seed in her mind, and there is a site nearby the original home, that is labelled as being Green Gables.

There are lovely line-drawings at the front of each chapter, summarising the topic of each chapter – the passions, the depressions and more of Maud as her life plays out. The illustrator is Julie Morstad, and they feel deliberately similar to the turn-of-the-century illustrations of Anne of Green Gables.

I finished this biography with many things to thank feminism and the study of psychiatric medicine for. The ability as a woman to work full time, and have children; the ability to get pills for ailments of the mind; the ability to live independently of a man should I so wish. Rosenberg has brought a truly fascinating story to life with her own writing gift. I’d recommend this to anybody who wants an insight into the life of a writer, and the life of a woman over the turn of the century.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery
by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763660574

Book Review: Judy Moody & Friends – One, Two, Three, ROAR, by Megan McDonald and Erwin Madrid

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_one_two_three_Road.jpgIf you or your young readers haven’t yet met Judy Moody, you are in for a real treat. She is fun, she is smart, she is sassy, she is a normal everyday kid. She likes to have adventures with her friends and puts up with her young brother who she calls Stink.

One, Two, Three, ROAR! offers three stories featuring Judy Moody and her friends. In ‘Pig Trouble’ Judy’s friend Jessica desperately wants a real live pig for birthday. Her room is full of pig books, toys, collectibles and posters but now she wants the real thing. She can’t wait for her birthday to find out so Jessica enlists Judy to help her snoop out her presents.

Rocky is the next friend we meet in The Amazing Mr Magic. Rocky asks Judy to be his assistant as he practices his magic tricks. Stink also makes an appearance when he is called to be the audience. Unfortunately, Rocky isn’t the best at magic tricks.

Finishing off this Judy Moody triple header is Amy Namey in Ace Reporter. Amy wants to be a reporter like her mum. With notepad in hand, Amy and Judy roam the town searching for her big scoop news story, and they may just have found it!

Illustrated with bright cheerful pictures and suitable for newly independent readers, the book helps ease the transition from ‘little kid’ picture books to ‘big kid’ book with no pictures. Each story is broken up into three chapters, which makes it easy to read and manageable. The text flows and is engaging filled with figures of speech and dialogue that children would be familiar with – Judy’s favourite slang expression is ‘Rare!’. In one story, Pig Latin even makes an appearance to keep things interesting.

The appeal of Judy Moody is not only the fun and mischief the gang get up to, but that the characters are relatable to their young audience (Judy and her friends are 3rd graders, which equates to Year 4 in New Zealand). Readers can connect with the characters as, like most young children, Judy and her friends like to make jokes, they quarrel and make up fast, they are kind and they like to have fun.

Judy Moody first appeared in 2000 and has proven a popular character for author Megan McDonald. There are many of her adventures to discover, as well as books co-starring Stink, who also has his own stories. In 2011, Judy hit the big screen in the movie Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.

If your young reader wants fun, easy to read stories with likeable, relatable characters, why not introduce them to Judy Moody.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

One, Two, Three, ROAR – Judy Moody and Friends
by Megan McDonald and illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763695767


Book Review: Landscapes with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landscape_with_invisible_handWeird, bleak and oddly compelling. Landscape with Invisible Hands is more closely aligned to social satire than science-fiction. It asks what would happen if the aliens came offering the ability to cure all illnesses and replace the jobs so that you need never work again? Sounds ideal? Well, it’s not.

The gap between rich and poor increases. The rich — and those who’ve managed to work their way into vuvv society — succeed. The others, left below to scrap over the few jobs that remain, suffer. Adam is one of those left below, living in the shadow of the vuvvs floating city. He is an artist, a painter, and something of a dreamer. Not the most ambitious of youths. After falling in love with a neighbour, the two of them decide to earn an income by starring in vuvv reality TV shows. The vuvv don’t form pair bonds but they do enjoy watching human courtship, circa 1950. It doesn’t end well, and thus Adam’s downward spiral begins…

This is a very readable, and quite relatable look at society — at what makes humans human and the lengths that we will go to both to make money and to please our mostly benevolent (but selfish) overlords. It acts as a social commentary on the division between the wealthy and the poverty-ridden, and how the latter are sometimes dehumanised. The ending falls a little flat but given the characters and the circumstances, I wasn’t expecting it to be dramatic. Overall, quite compelling (with short chapters) and one to make you think.

Review by Angela Oliver

Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN 9780763687892

Book Review: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, LeUyen Pham

Available now in bookshops nationwide.Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_princess_in_black_takes_vacationPrincess Magnolia is tired. Very tired. Living a double life can do that to a person; it’s hard work being a Princess and a monster butt-kicker. Just as she’s about to finally get some sleep, the monster alarm goes off again. Grumbling, but doing her duty, she throws on her disguise and is transformed into the Princess in Black (PIB), ready to do battle.

Aided this time by the Goat Avenger (who looks suspiciously like her friend Duff), the monster is sent packing. The Goat Avenger kindly offers to take on the goat watching duty so that PIB can take a much needed vacation; an offer she decides to take up.

For the PIB though, there is no rest. Even at the beach there is another monster and another battle to wage to keep her friends safe. Having to work on holiday is a drag, but the PIB steps up once again. At the end of the battle, she finally gets the quiet she needs.

I hadn’t met the Princess in Black before, no longer having kids in the early reader stage. I wish she had been around when they were younger though; I’m sure they would have loved her! How cool to see a princess who is capable, strong and resourceful, a princess who gets to enjoy frilly dresses one minute and monster busting the next.

This story is the PIB’s latest adventure in a series aimed at emerging readers (those who are beginning to read on their own). Full of action and secret passageways where Princess Magnolia can become the PIB, the stories are accompanied by illustrations and are set out in short, easy to manage chapters. The illustrations are colourful and fun with ‘Batman and Robin’ style battle kapows and slams, and the monsters are silly not scary. There are plenty of moments that appeal to kids’ sense of humour; they will get a kick out of silly PIB not recognising her friend in disguise in this story.

Shannon Hale is an award winning author and champion of strong female characters. Her other titles are aimed at older readers and include the Princess Academy trilogy, the Ever After High series and The Books of Bayern series. The Princess in Black books are co-authored with her husband, Dean Hale.

Beautifully designed and presented, the Princess in Black stories are lovely books that will give newly independent readers a real sense of having graduated to ‘big kid’ books. I would recommend adding this to the Christmas list.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763665128

Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_princess_in_blackThe Princess in Black is the first of (hopefully) many early readers for 5 – 8 year olds. In it we are introduced to Princess Magnolia, who is prim, pink and proper when everyone is watching, and a butt-kicking monster wrangler when duty calls.

As with any good hero-in-disguise, it’s imperative that the disguise is kept in place, particularly from nosy Duchess Wigtower, who is sure Princess Magnolia must be keeping secrets. Monsters crossing borders illegally to steal goats can happen at the most inconvenient of times, however … and will Duff the goatherd ever put two and two together?

I enlisted the aid of Yaya, a 5 year old from Newtown School, to help me review the story. She really enjoyed it, and read parts of it to her little brother, who also told me that he thought it was a fun story. Their favourite part was an illustration of the Princess’s horse taking photographs while she dealt with a monster.

Yaya is right – it is a fun story, fast-paced and full of humour, with just enough dramatic tension to keep the story interesting without scaring tender readers. Princess Magnolia embraces both her pink dress-wearing side and her super hero persona – because why can’t you be both? Her attitude is definitely more Princess Smartypants than Sleeping Beauty – and this is a very good thing, because I can’t imagine Sleeping Beauty sparkle slamming goat-thieving monsters.

Even more than the story, I loved the illustrations and the book design. The pages are quality white paper, and the engaging watercolour and ink illustrations are in full colour – it feels positively luxurious to read. Congratulations to Candlewick Press for giving their young readers an early chapter book that looks like a high quality picture book. It makes the book so inviting at first glance to readers who are starting to transition away from picture books.

Another Princess in Black adventure is due to be published in October this year. Yaya is really looking forward to reading it when it comes out – and so am I.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Princess in Black
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale,
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Published by Candlewick Press
ISBN  9780763678883