Book Review: The Big Block of Chocolate by Janet Slater, illustrated by Christine Dale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_big_block_of_chocolateAn oldie but a goodie, this book has sold over 250,000 copies and it really is no wonder.

Beautifully illustrated, easy to read, it tells the delightful tale of a block of chocolate and it’s journey from a shopping basket to a group of delighted ants. Along the way we meet a group of characters, whose one desire is to gobble up the chocolate all by themselves – until the Sun makes it’s appearance and changes everything…

This book has a number of lessons to share with it’s readers, the most decisive being the joy of sharing and not wanting something all for yourself.

This is a book that makes a great shared read and a great independent read, the words are descriptive and rhyme beautifully, the book flows and there is a delightful twist, children from preschool on will love it.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

The Big Block of Chocolate
by Janet Slater, illustrated by Christine Dale
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434900


Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Jim Kay

Available in bookshops nationwide.Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_monster_calls_special“He heard the creaking and cracking of wood again groaning like a living thing, like the hungry stomach of the world growling for a meal.” Fourteen-year-old Conor O’Malley isn’t entirely surprised to wake up one night and discover a monster at the window. He has been expecting it for years and quite frankly, it is not as terrifying as the nightmare that has been plaguing him. The one he refuses to think about.

And now the Yew tree on the hill has somehow come to life and has grabbed him… and yet Conor is not afraid: “Shout all you want,” Conor shrugged, barely raising his voice. “I’ve seen worse.”

The next time the Yew tree monster returns, It and Conor meet in the dark where the monster reveals Its purpose. It will return to tell Conor three tales from Its vast and ancient history. In return, on the fourth visit, Conor must tell It a tale – the tale of his Truth. Conor is rightly incredulous – surely stories are not what monsters come after you for? However, this is no ordinary monster and a story is what it demands. ‘Stories are wild creatures,’ the monster said. ‘When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?’

To get to Conor’s truth, we follow a beautifully written coming of age story of a young boy trying to come to terms with his mother’s grave illness and the impact it has on him. With an absent father and a cold and aloof grandmother, Conor has no-one to help him deal with the inevitable. Instead he chooses to fervently believe she will get better and refuses to talk about it, secluding himself from friends and sympathetic teachers at school.

And what of the monster’s stories? Three clever fables that strive to show Conor that life can be unfair and things are not always as they appear; good and evil is not always easy to determine; good people do bad things, and bad people can do good things.

Powerful and gripping writing, accompanied by dark and vivid black and white sketch illustrations propel you through the story, reading faster to get to what is going to happen next. To see how Conor is faring, to see if he is going to be all right. And to see what the monster is going to reveal to him: (*ever so slight spoiler alert) “You do not write your life with words,’ the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

This wonderful story was first published in 2011 and this re-release is a beautifully presented hardback edition complete with colour photos and interviews with the author and the actors who are bringing this story to life. The extra goodies complete the whole background to the story and bring extra depth to the tale.

Author Patrick Ness has said of this book: ‘A Monster Calls (is) never solely a book for children. A good story should be for everyone.’ And it is.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

A Monster Calls (Special Collector’s Edition)
by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406395771

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Available from 1 March at bookstores nationwide.cv_alices_adventures_in_wonderland

I have to say I was a little apprehensive when I saw that English author and illustrator Helen Oxenbury had illustrated the most famous work of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). Oxenbury is best known for her subtle, gentle family in Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. This is a far cry from that.

Dodgson created bombastic, flamboyant caricatures in Alice in Wonderland that, like those of Gilbert and Sullivan, seem to lampoon real life politicians, public figures and morals of the day. Some have even suggested that Dodgson was on opium when he wrote the story – such were the fantastical creatures he’d created. Oxenbury, by contrast is less interested in the Victorian eccentricities and Ripper Street scandals that’ve found their way into previous publications. And by getting back to the essence of the story, which is now enjoying its 150th anniversary, I think she’s found a more innocent elements – which is more about imagination and less about vicarious political interpretations.

Alice was originally published in 1865, three years after Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth took a boat ride up the river Isis with the three young daughters of Henry Liddell (the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church). During the trip the Dodgson told the girls a story featuring a bored little girl, Alice, who goes looking for an adventure. The girls loved it, and one of the girls, Alice Liddell, asked Dodgson to write it down for her, so he began on a manuscript the very next day. Originally he added his own illustrations but later approached political cartoonist and illustrator John Tenniel to prepare illustrations for the first publication of the book, which explains the direction of such iconic images such as the thinly veiled Victoria and the Queen of Hearts and Gladstone as the White Rabbit (although many other real personas have been overlaid on this particular character).

Even today, the book can’t be rivalled. It’s a nutty tale of a little girl who follows a white rabbit down a bolthole and discovers a crazy world of mad hatters, tea parties, invisible cats, croquet lawns, and a court case to recover stolen pastries. Quite, Quite Mad!
When Oxenbury agreed to produce images for this edition, the publisher did not tamper with the original language of Dodgson’s manuscript. Perhaps the lessons were learned with the updating of Enid Blyton’s works (particularly The Famous Five series) which clearly lose all of their innocent period charm and placement when the language is modernised, made politically correct and ultimately dumbed down. For the younger reader of today, discovering the poetry and lyricism in the work is part of the magic, though old and young readers still cannot help being dragged down the tunnel. Nor could those thoroughly Victorian elements like a pocket watch, a mock turtle (the soup and the creature) and the legendary Dodo bird be discarded in favor of modern equivalents, should any be found.

Like the works of Edward Lear, Alice is a flight of fancy, but there’s no reason why this classic work could not stand up against Captain Underpants or the Cat In The Hat, for that matter. All invoke elements of ridiculousness and wild imagination. This type of work is a luxury today in this prescriptive world of Kiddy Channels and do-it-for-you tablet Apps that compete for the young minds and eyeballs.The pictures provide just enough interaction to bridge the gaps between the original ideas and the understandings of today. At no point does she try to portray anything that cannot translate into 2015. Oxenbury’s art is a way to keep this wonderful book relevant, and for the most part, that works a treat.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (150th anniversary edition)
by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406360431