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: ALPHA, by Isabelle Arsenault

Available in bookstores nationwide, though official publication date not until September.

cv_alphaEveryone in the Booksellers’ office wanted to keep Alpha, the new children’s book by artist Isabelle Arsenault. I can see why: it’s a beautifully produced hardback with painterly and vintage-styled illustrations. Arsenault is an award winning Canadian artist who illustrated books such as Jane, the Fox, and Me and Migrant, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book. Her art and wit make Alpha a book for both children and adults, as it works on a number of levels.

The book interprets the International Radiotelephony Alphabet (also called the NATO phonetic alphabet) which is used by emergency services: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and so forth. Each double spread gives the alphabetic code word on one page and a related illustration on the other. The link between the two is often playful and indirect – for example the word ‘Kilo’ has a picture of a piece of chocolate cake. Such whimsy allows room for a discussion about the relationship between the two, or as the book states, ‘each page, each letter, each word and each image invite investigation.’

I read the book a couple of times with my four-year-old son. He has just started to learn his ABCs and knows the traditional alphabet song. We sang the song as we turned each page, stopping our song on the appropriate letter. I would point to the letter at the start of the word, (which was highlighted, for example the ‘O’ in ‘Oscar’ is a bright yellow), and we talked about what the word meant. As we worked through the book he started to recognise letters, which he found exciting. There were certainly some favourite images, such as the scary looking man with the ‘X-ray’ goggles, and the picture of a paper plane for ‘Delta.’ Images such as the elephant for ‘India’ let me tell him about when I visited the country, and the bowler hat for ‘Charlie’ let him imagine why Charlie wasn’t wearing it (‘Maybe he is swimming,’ my son suggested). Overall, there book prompted much more discussion than I expected.

The book included quite a few new words for my son, which meant he started to tire towards the end. For younger children, reading the book over a number of sittings would be more enjoyable. Some of the image-word relationships were certainly lost on him, such as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet.’ I was also doubtful he understood the enigmatic ‘Echo’ which has a picture of two twins in a classroom. Still – this morning I was yelling through the house that it was time to go and he said, ‘Mummy, an echo!’

Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett

ALPHA
by Isabelle Arsenault
Published by Walker Hardback
ISBN 9781406361834