Book Review: Bambi the Blind Alpaca, by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Bambi the Blind Alpaca HR.jpgBambi the alpaca loves his brother Charisma and they enjoy each other company as they eat together, play together and sleep together. But Charisma is also Bambi’s support, as Bambi is blind and relies on his brother to guide him around the paddock so he avoids banging into fences and gates.

When Charisma is shifted out of the paddock Bambi finds it difficult to fend for himself, becoming sad and stops eating. Even the sheep which are put in the paddock for company don’t bring Bambi out of his misery. But when Renaldo another alpaca arrives, Bambi is thrilled and before long, ‘Everywhere Renaldo went, Bambi went too.’

This is a heart -warming book all the more so, as it is based on a true story which author Jan Lummis was encouraged to write after the report of the two alpacas on her property made headlines in the media.

The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are an absolute delight, the facial expressions on the animals will be loved by children and adults alike, and each time I have read the book I have chuckled at a different animal’s face.

Having two alpacas in a neighbouring paddock has seen my interest in these animals develop, but I still found the two pages at the rear of the book fascinating, and I am sure the facts about alpacas will provide valuable discussion points for children at school or at home.

This simple tale of friendship and love, as well as supporting someone with a disability, so will be of value to a wide age group, and with the repetition of words throughout, will soon have children repeating, “Munch, Munch, Munch, Cuddle, Cuddle, Cuddle”.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Bambi the Blind Alpaca
by Jan Lummis, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435877

Book Review: Oh No! Look What the Cat Dragged In, by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_oh_no_look_what_the_cat_dragged_inAnyone who has a cat knows they love to bring the wild life they catch to show you, and let it go for a run around if they have the chance!

Joy Davidson’s new picture book tells the story of Grandma’s big black cat as it explores its back yard and brings his loot back through the flap in the door. The grandchildren holidaying with Grandma experience first hand the chaos in the house and are almost too frightened to come down stairs as the week progress’s as there are ‘creepy crawlies everywhere, and rubbish piled up high.’

Wonderful descriptive sentences tell the story, familiar to many cat lovers, which will have children laughing out loud, and the repetitive phrases will encourage the children to join in.

It is a fun book and Jenny Cooper’s illustrations add an extra dimension, to involve the children to seek, find and identify the creepy crawlies the cat dragged in. The facial expressions on Grandma and the children convey vividly the tension in the house with each day. But I love how she has captured the cat’s expression sitting half asleep with almost a smirk on its face, I have seen it many times as I have chased a mouse around the kitchen with the cat wondering what the problem is.

What a fun way to learn the days of the week, identified in a larger font, and with the use of capitals Davidson ensures the reader will emphasize the more dramatic sentences. This book will be loved by children and adults as they turn the pages to find out if Grandma solves the dilemma of ‘what the cat dragged in.’

Winner of the 2015 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and the 2017 Notable book award for Witch’s Cat Wanted, Apply Within, Auckland based Joy Davidson, is also the author of The Tree Hut and Titan the truck.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Oh No! Look what the Cat dragged in
by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by DHD Publishing
ISBN 9780473448318

Book Review: Oh, so many kisses!, by Maura Finn & Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_oh_so_many_kissesThere are so many books showing families and love but this one has already become my favourite! The poetic text and accompanying sketches perfectly illustrate all the love children experience without becoming ‘too cute’. It is a charming read that relaxes and fills the reader with aroha from the beginning to end.

The language is kept simple for young readers and is cleverly written into prose making it beautiful to read out loud. The words are woven through sketches that clearly illustrate the words. It means the book is fantastic for children to correspond new words to pictures and concepts which supports language development. There are so many possible departure points for conversation provoked by the animated water colour sketches.

The best feature, however, is the diversity in the illustrations. It shows everyone from all corners of Aotearoa going about their everyday lives. Even better is the amount of dads and grandparents caring for and loving young ones.

Together the author and illustrator have woven a real example of love. The raspberry jam kisses, the kisses for a scraped knee, the kisses to say goodbye at drop off and the kisses with a best friend. This is the perfect bedtime book for little ones (and the big ones who read to them too!).

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Oh, so many kisses!
by Maura Finn & Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434924

Book Review: Bobby, the Littlest War Hero, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bobby_the_littlest_war_heroNow, 100 years after the Great War, stories are emerging about people and events previously unspoken of. I know with my own family, the stories were not recounted for over 50 years and it was the Grandchildren who became the listeners.

Bobby, the littlest War Hero is just such a story. For me the best part is that the tale comes as a picture book and so is available to an audience for whom the Great War is  distant history. This book makes it real.

Glyn Harper is a war historian and he uses a real event to tell the tale of a canary and his best friend Jack. The use of canaries in mining is well know, but their work during the war with the tunnelers was a revelation. Jenny Cooper brings the story of Bobby to life with the bleak browns of the battlefield and the yellow canary.

As a teacher I find a resource such as Bobby enables wonderful discussions and research. 30 years ago, such books were a rarity and it was difficult to engage my students. This book has been around many classes and I included my World War 1 entrenchment tool, to add another level to their understanding. This came back with my Grandfather and shows the fragility of life in the trenches.

As Anzac Day approaches, Bobby would be a wonderful way for a family to share ideas on war, peace and the importance of friendships.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bobby, the Littlest War Hero
by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771876


Book Review: Old MacDonald Had a Farm, sung by the Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_old_macdonald_had_a_farm_topp_twinsHow do you make an old favourite in to a new favourite? You invite the Topp Twins to record it with their yahooing enthusiasm, and you invite Jenny Cooper to provide expressive and explosive illustrations. I will admit that my previous Topp Twins story and song combination has been so well used that I would willingly have used the CDs as targets. There is something infectious about the enthusiasm they bring to what could be a tired old song. A little bit of creativity in changing the end of the song, allows for even more chaos in illustrations and sound.

It is appropriate that the American twang is clearly part of this song and the Country and Western style is well-suited to the farmyard antics in the book. I have to admit that the Alpaca was a new one for me. Hmmmmmmm? Not an easy sound to sing but they do it in style.

Jenny Cooper is not just a gifted artist, she is a superb children’s book illustrator. She has such energy in the pictures with action in the smallest details. The Swanndri and Skellerup Redbands, the vintage tractor and the banana skin. These are the extras which keep the audience coming back, over and over again.

I think Grandparents would do well to get a copy of this wonderful book and CD and get it gift-wrapped and ready to roll. After Christmas dinner, this is exactly what you need to get the whole family singing and dancing. No wonder my kids were always terrified about what I had planned for Christmas afternoon. Watch this space!

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Old MacDonald Had a Farm
sung by the Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434986

The Topp Twins Treasury of Sing-Along Stories, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

cv_the_topp_twins_treasuryAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The Topp Twins are just FUN. This book celebrates their total devotion to bringing pleasure to your family.

This is a collection of their published titles, and Jenny Cooper has brought the songs to life with bright humourous illustrations. These illustrations enhance the text, but in no way take over from the story being told. The selection of songs includes old time favourites like Do You Ears Hang Low, The Farmer in the Dell and She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

The CD comes with the book and I suspect there were quite a few laughs among the performers. There is a real country swing to the songs and an appropriate American twang to some. Coupled with the illustrations, a banjo playing hound dog in one, they really communicate a love of traditional songs for children.

I think every family needs a bookshelf of favourite books. These will be shared and enjoyed by each new member, and cause huge disputes when the grown up children divide up their childhood books. I had to buy replica copies of their favourite books, to gift to my kids.

The Topp Twins Treasury deserves a place in your family bookshelf. I even noticed my husband foot tapping to the music.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Topp Twins Treasury of Sing-Along Stories
Music from The Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434306

Book Review: Rasmas, by Elizabeth Pulford and Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rasmasI picked this book up for its illustrations. I was terrified of goats as a kid, because I was pushed over by one at a holiday park age 3. Perhaps if I saw them through Jenny Cooper’s eyes, I would have felt friendlier towards them!

Danny and his Dad have gone to live at the farm with Gran, after the (swiftly and delicately handled) death of Danny’s mother. Rasmas is a kid too, without a mum, and after awhile, Rasmas and Danny became the best of friends. But then Dad meets somebody new, and a move to the city to live with Rona means no more Rasmas.

This is a gentle story about a young boy learning to cope with loss through the help of an animal. It’s delightfully illustrated, and my sons envied farm life while reading it with me. It is great to see this type of story told with a less regular animal – I’m immune to the charms of puppy stories these days. A cheeky goat though, was just perfect.

This book is a lovely read-aloud for young children who might be a bit worried about a loss in their lives. It shows the power of imagination to heal the heart’s wounds, and the power of love to do the same.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

by Elizabeth Pulford and Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433101

Book Review: Gladys goes to War, by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

gladys goes to warAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This book tells the true story of Gladys Sandford. Author Glyn Harper has cleverly incorporated this biographical story for children, while telling a story about an aspect of war through the eyes of Gladys.

Gladys was not like her sisters. She didn’t like sewing or baking or any other household chores that woman of that era were supposed to find rewarding. Gladys liked nothing better than tinkering with engines.

Gladys met and married William Henning, who loved cars as much as she did. He taught her how to drive. They set up a business in Auckland selling cars. The war came, and William enlisted. The women, on the other hand, were encouraged to stay at home knitting socks and balaclavas. Gladys wanted to be able to go to war like the men, so she enlisted with the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood, sailing to Egypt, where William was stationed as a soldier.

This story follows Gladys’s exploits driving ambulances taking wounded to hospital in Giza, and even working as a cleaner when Williams’ battalion moved to France.  Gladys’s ability to drive ambulances was not initially needed, but one day they were short of drivers, so Gladys stepped in. The wounded were carefully transported by her to the nearest hospital, with the trips seeming at times to be endless.

This is a wonderful story about a courageous woman and a wonderful story to read to children. I read this book to Abby who has just started school. She listened with great interest, asking questions in the appropriate places. In today’s world, women staying home to look after children, sewing and cooking seems a very foreign concept. Gladys is an inspiration to all women and children alike as she defied the odds. When told she couldn’t do something, she did it anyway, proving that women can indeed do anything.

The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are superb and complement the story wonderfully.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Gladys goes to War
by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143507208

Book Review: Jim’s Letters, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookstores nationwide, Picture Book finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Jim’s Letters
is a deserving finalist in the New Zealand cv_jims_lettersBook Awards for Children and Young Adults. A sophisticated picture book, it gently details the journey of a young man heading off the big adventure of World War I, from the excitement of being overseas and the anticipation of seeing action, to the boredom of camp life and then the dawning horror of the reality of life on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Letters are exchanged between Jim, the soldier, and Tom his younger brother, who is still at home. It’s a nice insight into what the War might have been like for those at home, especially those young men who wished they were old enough to enlist. Tom also conveys the feelings of his parents – worry for their son – and the reality for those left at home who had to muck in and make up for all the missing people from the workforce.

Along with the increasingly poignant letters are wonderful, evocative illustrations by Jenny Cooper. Even without the words you could follow the story of Jim from youthful enthusiasm to the grinding misery of the trenches, just from the pictures.

It is clever of the designers to incorporate something of a 3D effect with the book, using envelopes, removable letters and lift-the-flaps to further bring the book to life. This also makes the story more real, particularly for modern children in a digital age, where letters delivered by post are becoming a rarity.

I asked three boys that I teach at my school to read the story and tell me what they thought of it. Nik, 9, liked that you can open out the letters. He said that it was both a sad and funny story – he liked that no-one wanted to play the ‘bad guys’ back home in New Zealand. Jack, 10, enjoyed the “good describing words” of Glyn Harper’s letters, and felt the story was sad and emotional. Anaiwan, also 10, agreed that the story was very emotional, and would recommend the story to children aged 8 or older.

Sadly, like so many war stories, this one doesn’t have a happy ending. A younger reader may well need adult support to understand what has happened in the story, and to discuss the reality of war a little further. There is a helpful two-page non-fiction spread at the end of the book which adds perspective and context for readers.

This is not a book to read to 5-year-olds, but for children who are in middle primary or older, it is a beautifully-told heart breaker, and timely as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and then the battles in Europe and beyond.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore, teacher at Newtown Primary School

Jim’s Letters
by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Penguin Random House NZ
ISBN 9780143505907

Book Review: Roly the Anzac Donkey, written by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_roly_the_anzac_donkeyRoly (Roland) is a donkey who was born on a farm in a village in Greece. When he was one year old a soldier from the British Army came and took a group of donkeys to use during the First World War. They were taken by ship to Gallipoli, in Turkey, where the British Army and other allied forces were fighting the Turkish army. These donkeys were used to carry water to the soldiers who were fighting in the hills, and the drivers worked their donkeys hard, while bullets and artillery shells were flying around them.

One day Roly stumbled and spilled some of the water he was carrying. His driver beat him for it and other transgressions, so Roly decided he would try to escape. When the right opportunity came, he ran for his life. Roly wandered around for the rest of the day. He became cold, tired and hungry, with only a bit of grass to eat; and he missed his friends.

The next day he started to walk back to where he had last left his driver the previous day, knowing full well that he would probably beat him for running away. Coming towards him was a tall soldier with a biscuit with jam on it, in his hand. He stroked Roly’s back and said “you’re just what I need, but I’ll need to fatten you up first”. This was the start of a friendship between the donkey, Roly and the New Zealand soldier Richard Alexander Henderson, a solider with the New Zealand Field Ambulance. The Field Ambulance service moved sick and wounded soldiers from the trenches to the beach at Anzac Cove. From there the soldiers could be taken to a hospital ship.

This story is an amazing story of a real New Zealand soldier and the donkey he discovers wandering, hungry, on a Gallipoli road. They save many lives, but when the time comes for the soldiers to leave, a heartbreaking decision has to be made over the future of the donkey. Where does Richard go to find Roly a good home, with kind people?

I read this story to my 4-year-old granddaughter Abby. At this age, they have no concept of war, or what a soldier is. I found it quite challenging to try and explain to her in simple terms, but I think I managed to convey to her the basic concept.

I loved the fact that this story was based on a true story of a friendship between a soldier and a donkey. The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are beautiful. Abby loved Roly’s beautiful big brown eyes with the long eye lashes and his long ears.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Roly the Anzac Donkey
Written by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN  9780143506638