Book Reviews: Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit; Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoitcv_brachio

Jill Eggleton will be familiar to many New Zealand teachers and parents for her literacy programmes and her huge catalogue of poems. Brachio is a picture book for up to 7 year olds which showcases Eggleton’s rich writing style.

Brachio is much bigger than the other dinosaurs and mouse lizards, so there’s bound to be a few problems when he heads out to join in a dance party. Being a kind and thoughtful kind of dinosaur, Brachio has a few solutions in mind.

Eggleton’s language is full of poetic language, with onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, and simile dripping off the page. This is helped by clever text design, which gives the reader lots of clues about where the emphasis should be, and adds visual interest for young readers. Not that visual interest is lacking – Hoit’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, full of the joy of dancing with your friends, and the problems that occur when dancers get a little too enthusiastic!

My class of 5 and 6 year olds love listening to the language as I read to them, and the book was in high demand afterwards, because, dinosaurs! This book also comes with a CD, read by Eggleton, with loads of expression and a fun backing track of dinosaur noises.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jonescv_dont_think_about_purple_elephants

Sophie is a busy, happy girl. She likes school, enjoys her loving family, and has good friends. The problem starts when she’s not busy. At bedtime, as she tries to go to sleep, worries crowd in on her, keeping her awake. All of the suggestions to help her sleep – a special book or teddy, or a drink of warm milk – just give her new things to worry about.
Children’s worries are often dismissed by adults; adults often don’t consider the things children worry about as important when compared to adult concerns. Most children do have worries, however, and to them they feel very real. A quick survey of my class of 5 and 6 year olds showed up common themes: not having someone to play with, someone being mean to them, something bad happening to a loved one, forgetting a book bag or lunch for school, not making it to the toilet on time, not being picked up at the end of the school day.

Whelan and Jones have put some thought into Don’t Think About Purple Elephants; they clearly know children, and they don’t dismiss Sophie’s worries, but try to resolve them. The illustrations are lovely – brightly coloured and happy when Sophie is busy, and grey and ominous with oversized objects when she is worried. The resolution to Sophie’s worries is relatively simple and one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments that parents and teachers have.

This is an enjoyable picture book to read together for children up to 8 or 9 years old, regardless of whether or not the child worries – but it would be a particularly good book to read with a child who is suffering from anxiety, it might just do the trick.

Reviews by Rachel Moore

by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit
Published by JillE Books
ISBN 9781927307809

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants
by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781921966699

Book Review: Have You Seen Elephant? By David Barrow

cv_have_you_seen_elephantAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

I read lots of books to children; I teach 5- and 6-year-olds, so it’s a key (and favourite) part of the job. Not all picture books are created equal, and while most children will sit politely till the end of an average book, it takes something quite special to really engage children. When you look out from the page that you’re reading, and every set of eyes is wide open and intent, and every mouth is smiling, and even normally shy children are starting to jiggle because they want to share what they’re seeing but they don’t want to interrupt the story, you know you’re reading something special. Have You Seen Elephant? is one of the special books.

Gecko Press have done it again – they’ve introduced another fantastic children’s author/illustrator to the world, namely David Barrow. Have You Seen Elephant? is funny, whimsical and works on both an adult and child’s level. I read this story several times, to about 80 children in total. Not one child – and I’m not exaggerating here – lost interest while I read. Every child had a face that was lit up as they recognised what the story was about. It’s very gratifying being the reader of such a book!

If I haven’t already convinced you to buy Have You Seen Elephant? immediately, here’s the plot. A boy and an elephant decide to play hide and seek. “I must warn you though. I’m very good,” says Elephant, as he heads off to hide. And the boy cannot find him. Of course, the readers can, but that’s the joke. Children will laugh at Elephant’s attempts to hide; adults with laugh with the recognition of how, when playing with children, you can’t hide yourself too well or you’ll never get found. The introduction of an additional friend at the end, who is great at another game, is the cherry on top.

This is David Barrow’s first book, and he’s already a prize winner, winning the Sebastian Walker Award for most promising illustrator in 2015. The illustrations are gorgeous, a colourful, expressive mix of different techniques (the picture of Elephant with the TV is just brilliant and had the children laughing out loud). I’m sure there will be more awards to follow in Barrow’s career.

If you only buy one book for your children 6 and under this Christmas, buy this one. It will become a classic.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Have You Seen Elephant? 
by David Barrow
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570089


Book Review: Construction, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock will be at the Wellington Storylines Family Day this Sunday 24 August. The Children’s Bookshop will be selling this book there, but it is not released into other stores until Monday 1 September. 

A few years ago I knew nothing about pre-school construction books, but since having my son – a serious collector of anything to do with diggers – I feel I can claim expert status.cv_construction

Construction is the new children’s book by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock, the pair who created the award-winning Roadworks and its followup, Demolition. Sutton has been quoted as saying, ‘For me, language is music. I want my books to sound good!’ This is certainly the case with Construction, which is noisy and energetic. Aimed at ages two to five, the story follows the construction of a library, from a digger first breaking the ground, to the building’s roof going on. At the end of the story a group of children visit the new library: ‘Ready … Steady … Read!’

Construction uses a similar structure to that of Roadworks – a description of the action followed by onomatopoeic words – and while this isn’t original, it’s certainly effective. The repetition and rhyme allows pre-schoolers to easily learn the story, and they will be excited to make these sounds along with the reader. As a parent, the book is fun to read aloud. For example, the first page: ‘Dig the ground. Dig the ground. Bore down in the mud. Shove the piles in one by one. Slip! Slap! Thud!’

Brian Lovelock has created the book’s illustrations with pigmented inks, and the bright colours and paint splatter effect are textural and interesting. While both my son and I enjoyed making the loud noises, it was Lovelock’s illustrations that held our interest. My son asked about many of the details and this allowed me to talk to him about the different aspects of the construction process. Through the illustrations Lovelock brings concrete mixers, diggers, trucks, powertools, and a pair of very splattered painters to life. The painters page is probably my favourite: ‘Glug! Glop! Gloop!’

Lovelock’s style is three dimensional and technical, and he often uses perspective to create interest. We see the library roof being fitted from a bird’s-eye-view, while the illustration of the skill-saw is a closeup. These are wonderfully open and generous illustrations. One of the most positive aspects of the book is the female builders, some of who are in charge of the action. This is a change from other picture books about heavy machines or building sites, which often have all male characters. The book’s final message, that “the library’s here for everyone” and kids can “borrow all you need,” is also different from other building books, which often focus on the machines and noise. It’s a sweet reminder that it was a book that let us see into the world of construction.

Written by Sarah Jane Barnett

Written by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock
Walker Books, 2014
$15.99 RRP, hardback
ISBN 9781922077301