Book Review: I Can’t Sleep, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_cant_sleepMy son has recently re-discovered Simon the rabbit (or is that Poo Bum?) and all six of the books that we have are currently on the ‘read every night’ list. Alex likes them because they have the words poo and fart in them, and because Simon is a little bit like him. Set in his ways, prone to stubborn fits of determination, but ultimately brave and clever!

This year’s instalment in the series is I Can’t Sleep, and it is a sweet story of sibling dependence. Simon’s brother’s name has changed from Gaspard to Caspar, which made doubt my memory, but other than that, this is one of my favourite books in the series.

Simon and Caspar have played all day, building a ‘STUPENDOUS’ hut, and they are settling down to sleep, but suddenly… Caspar recalls that he has left his toy rabbit outside! Oh no! Simon tries to explain why blanky needs to stay out there overnight, but Caspar gets more and more upset. This is shown in a comic-book style of illustration, with several frames showing the build-up of frustration. Finally, Simon gets his Super-Rabbit cape and goes outside to get it.

Will the blanky be there? Will the monster get Simon before he gets back inside? Will their parents hear him as he is going out the front door? You’ll have to read this one to find out.

I like this instalment in the Simon series for its empathy. Simon is forced to think of somebody other than himself for a change, and manages to work it to his advantage, with Caspar left in awe of Simon’s bravery. The sort of ‘face your fears and do it anyway’ theme is frequently seen in picture books, but empathy isn’t as prominent as a theme, so well done to Blake for doing it so relatably.

ICan'tSleep_TreeAlex & I also realised that the design of this book is very clever. He likes to select his favourite pages by colour, which as the reader I hadn’t noticed was different for each page. Something that kids who aren’t focused on the words will see, of course. Then, we spotted that the words on most pages are in the shape of a tree or bush – in my favourite spread (above), mimicking the illustration on the right-hand side. Clever!

The son who loves them is off to school for his first visit next week: he has been reading and reading I don’t want to go to School, and I think he might be ready.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I Can’t Sleep!
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571642

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Book Review: Play, by Jez Alborough

cv_play_jez_alboroughAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Play is another fantastic Bobo the monkey book, companion to Hug, Yes and Tall. This time follow Bobo as he resists bedtime to play with his jungle friends. The sun is still up and Bobo wants to play. He sneaks away after being put to bed to join Giraffe, but Mum finds him again and returns him to bed. Bobo can’t resist temptation though and swings away to find Tortoise. Suddenly the sun is going down and Bobo is left alone in the dark, far from his Mum! Thankfully a welcome friend shows up to help him home.

This was such a good book to read to a 1.5 year old. It’s filled with beautiful full page illustrations and just a handful of words, which was perfect for someone with minimal vocabulary. A simple story told through illustration but cleverly done so you could interpret what is going on as much or as little as you wanted as you read it. Perfect for little ones who are just starting to interact more with books.

Reviewed by Nyssa Walsh

Play
by Jez Alborough
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406373073

Book Review: Waiting for Goliath, by Antje Damm

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_waiting_for_goliath.jpgIn this sweet but not saccharine story about true friendship, Bear is waiting patiently for his best friend Goliath. The seasons slowly change and still Goliath doesn’t come, but Bear keeps his faith, and is rewarded at last.

A gentle but not simple story, Waiting for Goliath celebrates the virtues of patience and loyalty, and the extraordinary illustrations will delight readers both young and old.

Gecko Press describe Antje Damm’s method as creating dioramas out of cardboard then photographing them, giving them ‘a special lumosity and depth’. I can’t think of a better way to describe the illustrations; they’re captivating, and have little details that will entrance younger readers. I feel rather like I could get sucked into the pictures, and keep returning to the book time and again to look at them.

I read Waiting for Goliath to my class of 5 and 6 year olds, who enjoyed the illustrations as much as I did. They loved that genuine surprise when Goliath was revealed, and it lead to conversations about friendships, and being a good friend.

Highly recommended for children from 3 upwards.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Waiting for Goliath
by Antje Damm
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571413

Book Review: The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata, by Mere Whaanga

Available in bookshops nationwide.
The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata, by Mere Whaanga is a finalist in this year’s Picture Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

cv_the_singing_dolphin.jpgInspired by Moko the Dolphin’s visit to Mahia over the seasons between 2007 and 2009, Mere Whaanga’s beautiful story The Singing Dolphin is a new tale told in the style of a traditional magical legend. Presented in te reo Maori and English, the story tells of Potiki, his brothers, and their wise woman Grandmother.

Reminiscent of Maui, Potitki has a sense of wonder and a touch of magic about him, while his brothers Tahi and Rua are expert in the more immediate workings of the land and sea. Their focus is set on their hunting and fishing, and they refuse to allow Potiki to help, telling him ‘No, you’re too little, you’re too noisy and you don’t know what to do.’ Determined to join them, Potiki follows and when he tires, rests and sings songs that draw the birds and eels.

His determination to join his brothers out at sea sees him hiding in their waka and in their anger at discovering him, they throw him overboard. Potiki’s song transforms him into a dolphin and the brothers return home, denying any knowledge of what happened to him. The birds and eels can’t tell Grandmother where he is either and it is a whale who tells her of a new dolphin that sings. In grief at what Tahi and Rua have done, she turns them to stone and sets them to guard the Pathway of Whales, where they must forever sing a song for Potiki to learn, one that will transform him once again into human form.

The lyrical text and rich illustrations draw you into the tale and invoke familiar legends and songs; so much so that in your head you can hear strong kuia calling, and stirring waiata mixing with sounds of the forest and shore. The purple and green watercolour landscapes and pencil sketch combination illustrations work well to enhance the mystical quality of the tale, and reinforces the strong and important connection of the people with the land and sea.

The mention of the land failing and the wetlands choking with weeds towards the end of the tale, acting as a cautionary note to look after the land and sea, slightly alters the flow of the narrative, if only for a beat, however the book remains a lovely addition to New Zealand’s treasure trove of unique stories and will be a welcome addition to many a bookshelf and classroom. It is a more than worthy finalist in the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults where it is a finalist in the Picture Book category.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata
by Mere Whaanga
Scholastic NZ, 2017
ISBN 9781775434023

 

Book Review: My Dog Mouse, by Eva Lindstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_my_dog_mouseIf you’ve ever owned a dog and watched it grow old, you will love My Dog Mouse. Lindstrom has captured the essence of a chubby, elderly dog perfectly in her illustrations and accompanying text.

The little girl in the book is allowed to take Mouse for a walk whenever she wants and it’s obvious how much both of them enjoy their time together.

There’s no rush, they walk slowly and take in the sights, Mouse gets to sniff lampposts and fences and they even stop in the park for a picnic.

Aimed at children aged about two to five years, My Dog Mouse is a charming book. The little girl is patient with the old dog, talking to him softly and feeding him meatballs. At the end, when she takes Mouse back to his owner, she stays looking back at him until she can’t see him any more and says, “I wish Mouse was mine”.

The watercolour/ink illustrations are simple and the focus is on Mouse and the little girl – other things are seen around the edges, but they don’t intrude on the pair and their walk.

This is a lovely book that will make you feel warm every time you read it.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

My Dog Mouse
by Eva Lindstrom
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571482

Book Review: Boo!, by Ben Newman

cv_boo.jpgAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

This is the kind of book youngsters love; short and pithy with graphic pictures, and a narrative that even the littlest child can sense is going to end in a bang.

Ben Newman has his audience in the palm of his hand from the start, from the garishly coloured cover with its cut out eyes spelling “Boo” through to the ending which is funny and expected but also not expected, by an audience of the littlest. The five- and seven-year-old loved it and the older ones pretended not to, while looking over the shoulder of the reader and trying not to laugh at the unabated mirth of their siblings after each rendition.

I have to confess I enjoyed it too. Books like this one build a foundation for an ongoing love of reading in children, as well as developing in them a desire to discover things. The words and pictures may be simple but the message they teach is that it’s fun to learn, and that something unexpected is just around the corner if we keep on going.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Boo!
by Ben Newman
Published by Flying Eye Books
ISBN 9781911171058

Book Review: Capsicum, Capsi Go, by Toby Morris

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_capsicum_capsi_goToby Morris is a cartoonist living in Auckland, New Zealand, whose insightful Pencilsword cartoons are a regular feature on TheWireless website. Capsicum, Capsi Go takes a more lighthearted approach, and is a fun rhyming book introducing the concept of opposites to youngsters aged 0-3.

The illustrations are simple and absolutely charming, rendered in bold colours appropriate for catching the eye of the child. The pages are colourful and sturdy; they should handle the frequent attention they will no doubt be subjected to. Take your child on a journey with Capsi (a super-cool, super-cute fruit*!), as he travels to the tropics. There is an extra level of cleverness to the illustrations, adding a collage-style appearance: a taxi is rendered using the M-section of the yellow pages, whereas bubble-wrap adds an intriguing effect as Capsi goes swimming (inadvisable, as it turns out capsicum are not strong swimmers! but don’t worry: “Capsi’s sweet, Capsi’s fine”).

Simple and sweet, Capsicum, Capsi Go should be a lot of fun to read aloud – again and again!

[* more frequently considered a vegetable, but officially a fruit]

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Capsicum, Capsi Go
by Toby Morris
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120557