Book Review: Oink, by David Elliot

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_oinkSometimes all you want is some quiet time. Time to not hear your name, to have no one in your personal bubble, time for just yourself. I know it’s not just me!

Pig is in the same boat – er, bath. The bathroom is free. The water in the bath is the perfect temperature. Silence is golden. Until there’s a knock on the door …

David Elliot has a gift for expressions. Pig’s face runs the gamut from blissed-out, to puzzled, to concerned, then annoyed, then heartily fed up. Everyone else in the story is in various stages of delight at the shared bath time experience. It’s a great time (except for Pig), until someone forgets their manners.

I enlisted the help of my trusty side-kick, 7-year-old Lucas, to help me review this book, as my class were enjoying their summer holidays so I couldn’t read it to them. Lucas LOVED being able to read the limited text all by himself (the only text is pretty much animal vocalisations), and as a teacher I loved that he used the punctuation to add expression! He thought it was very funny, but interestingly, didn’t pick up on the subtleties of the illustration, especially the bath went wrong.

It’s always one of those things I wonder about when reading to children – should I point out detail in the pictures if the children don’t see the joke? I don’t know if there’s a right answer to that question, I think it depends if it’s going to be one of those stories you read over and over again, so there are opportunities for children to discover the joke for themselves. And Oink definitely deserves to be enjoyed over and over again. It’s a wonderful book for all ages, and a perfect gift for parents of toddlers, who will totally get it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Oink
by David Elliot
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572144

Book Review: Stories of the Night, by Kitty Crowther

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_stories_of_the_nightI’d seen a lot of positive media for Stories of the Night and had been hoping that it might cross my path for review, so I was delighted to be able to receive it and judge for myself. I resisted opening it until I was with my 7 year-old friend Lucas, who loves books and stories as much as I do. It was well worth the wait.

Lucas was utterly transfixed by the story, he was highly interested in both story and illustrations, and we had lots of discussions as the book went on. He loved that the stories came to life for Little Bear at the end of the book. I loved the way that the stories left plenty of room for imagination, individual interpretation, and conversation. When Lucas’s mum Louise came into the room halfway through the story, Lucas was excited to share Stories of the Night with her too, and they more or less read it again.

There are so many studies that validate reading to children as being the perfect launch pad for school-readiness, but I think there is much more to reading together than that. The safety and security of snuggling up to a loved one while they read to you has got to be important for brain development and mental health. Decades later, many of my strongest childhood memories are of my dad reading to me at bedtime, and it was a special time of day two have two songs and two stories at my own daughter’s bedtime. Stories belongs to that canon of treasured shared books.

Stories of the Night makes total sense as a bedtime story, but will be great to read at any time. In something I hadn’t noticed, Louise pointed out that by washing the illustrations with a pink palette, it takes the scare factor away from “night time stories”, which would be children who might be afraid of the dark.

It’s highly recommended by all three of us for reading to children from 4 or 5 years of age.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Stories of the Night
by Kitty Crowther
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571970

 

Book Review: The Queen’s Colonial, by Peter Watt

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_queens_colonial.jpgSamuel Forbes, a British aristocrat serving in the New Zealand Land Wars in 1845, is estranged from his family and desperately out of place in the army. Ian Steele, a blacksmith in rural New South Wales, dreams of life as an officer in the British army, but is tied to his widowed mother and held back by being the son of former convicts. When they meet by chance, and realise their similar physical appearance, it gives each of them a chance to follow their dreams.

The story thereafter follows Ian as he takes on Samuel’s persona, attempting to make his way in aristocratic and army circles in England. He makes friends and enemies along the way, and is sent with his regiment and ersatz younger brother to the Crimean War.

Peter Watt has a long list of pubished titles to his name, as well as a varied job history that includes soldiering, which shows in the detail of regimental life, both in London and the Crimea. He’s clearly had success as a writer, although I found his style took a lot of getting used to. The dialogue in particular caused me problems. I found it extremely stiff and formal and quite expository, and not at all how I imagine new Australians talked to each other (and certainly not how other authors portray speech of that place and period). Many of the characters were unexpectedly frank with each other, in ways that even today most people probably wouldn’t be, and it was hard to imagine Victorian men and women being so honest and upfront about their thoughts and feelings, especially after a very short acquaintance. There was also a lot of repetition and detail that didn’t further the plot, and occasionally caused my eyes to glaze over.

Never fear though, I stuck it out, and I’m glad I did. During the second half of the book, I found my enjoyment picked up and I stopped noticing the dialogue and repetition so much. The scenes at the siege of Sebastopol in particular were vividly written and awfully reminiscent of the trenches of World War I. The intrigues of Charles Forbes and Major Jenkins added a sense of anticipation and danger to the story arc. I even found myself looking forward to the next instalment in the series – and I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that in the first 150 pages.

If you like historical fiction with a heavy war angle, The Queen’s Colonial may be for you.  My taste in written dialogue won’t be everyone’s, so judge for yourself at the bookstore, and sample a couple of pages to see if it suits.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Queen’s Colonial
by Peter Watt
Published by Macmillan Aus
ISBN 9781760554729

Book Review: A Well-Behaved Woman, by Therese Anne Fowler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_well-behaved-womanHello, my name is Rachel, and I am addicted to historical fiction. Probably 60-70% of my adult library is historical fiction, with another 15% historical biography. For me, the sign of a good historical fiction book is one that sends me searching for more information, and A Well-Behaved Woman certainly fits the bill.

The riches to rags to obscene-riches tale of Alva Vanderbilt (nee Smith, later Belmont) is the focus of Fowler’s novel. After the American Civil War her family was left in dire financial straits, and to avoid abject poverty Alva needed to marry well (or more to the point, she needed to marry wealthy). She set her sights on William Kissam Vanderbilt, and won, entering into a world of wealth and privilege that defies comprehension.

Life wasn’t all smooth sailing (both literally and figuratively) for Alva after her marriage. The Vanderbilts were ‘new money’ and found it hard to gain acceptance in the top tier of New York society. Alva worked tirelessly to gain acceptance for the family and a lot of the novel’s plot follows her efforts to become part of the New York crème de la crème, as well as her married life with William.

Alva’s character – strong, determined, well-educated, rebellious and creative – is a gift to an author, and Fowler has made the most of it. The book is well-researched and moves along at a good pace, and successfully transports the reader to the luxurious world of Gilded Age New York, Newport and Europe. It’s a very enjoyable read, and the only thing missing for me was a Vanderbilt family tree – fictional Alva struggles to keep track of them with their reuse of names when she first meets them, and she at least had the benefit of seeing faces. As a reader it was even harder to keep track.

A Well-Behaved Woman sent me in search of one of my favourite book adaptations, the BBC’s 1995 version of Edith Wharton’s unfinished The Buccaneers, set at the same time as much of Alva Vanderbilt’s early story, and certainly appearing to be based on some real life characters (you can find it on YouTube). I also spent some time skimming my long-forgotten copy of Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, enjoying the photographs of the novel’s protagonists. And this is why it’s easy for me to recommend A Well Behaved Woman to others who enjoy historical fiction and/or strong and interesting female characters – I was completely satisfied with the novel, but my interest was piqued and it sent me looking for more.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

A Well-Behaved Woman
by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by Two Roads
ISBN 9781473632516

Book Review: Spirit, by Cherri Ryan, illustrated by Christina Booth

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_spiritWith beautiful illustrations and rich vocabulary, Spirit is an analogy – a little boat that embodies a little girl’s spirit, tackling bigger challenges, and dusting itself off when things go wrong.

Told in first person, a little girl describes how she made a little boat, and took it to see if it could float. When it did, she aimed higher – could it traverse the creek? Could it traverse the river? She dreams of it every night, looking after it and getting it ready for the next challenge.

The boat Spirit is supported by gorgeously illustrated carp on its adventures – I’m choosing to interpret this as a visual metaphor for all the people who support each of us on our life journey.

When things go wrong, the girl is sad, and allows herself to feel sad for a little while, before making Spirit stronger than ever, and trying again.

I can see Spirit being very popular with teachers. There’s a big focus in education on helping children to develop their grit and resilience, and this book, with some guided discussion, could definitely pave the way for encouraging children to think about how they meet challenges and cope when things don’t go their way. It’s also simply a lovely book, and for that reason it should find a place on bookshelves in homes too.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Spirit
by Cherri Ryan, illustrated by Christina Booth
Published by Black Dog Books
ISBN 9781925381771

Book Review: Wake Up, Bear by Lynley Dodd

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_wake_up_bearI have to make a disclosure here – I have actually read Wake Up, Bear before. More times than I can count, in fact. First released in 1986, it was on my daughter’s bookshelf during her early years in the mid-late 1990s. Lynley Dodd was always a huge favourite of ours – we both loved the luscious language, the pace and humour, and the gorgeous illustrations. That was 20-some years ago, and while I still think Lynley Dodd is fabulous, do today’s six-year-olds still revel in her stories in what feels increasingly like a device-driven world?

The short answer is, yes. Children still love a well-written story, and I’ve yet to read a Lynley Dodd story that doesn’t qualify. My class were learning about seasons and life cycles at the time I read this story, so they were full of shared knowledge about bears hibernating and were actively predicting where the story might go. They loved joining in the refrain and were delighted and surprised by the joke at the end, which caused Bear to wake up.

Wake Up, Bear might be 32 years old but it is still as fresh and lively as the first time I read it. The illustrations are still delightful, the language is still rich and vibrant, and like all of Dodd’s books it is absolutely perfect for reading aloud. In an era when junior school teachers are in despair about the increasingly low levels of oral language of children starting school, I offer the following prescription: Some Lynley Dodd, daily. At least one book, more as demanded by the child. It would go a long way.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Wake Up, Bear
by Lynley Dodd
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143772569

Book Review:  Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird, by Melanie Drewery, illustrated by Tracy Duncan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_nanny_mihi_and_the_bellbirdNanny Mihi and her grandchildren make friends with a bellbird in the garden, but then in spring the bellbird disappears. They’re puzzled by the disappearance, and try to entice the bird back. Then in the summer, they get a lovely surprise…

Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird is a gentle story about appreciating nature and whānau. The illustrations are beautiful, particularly of our native birds and plant life, vivid and almost hyper-realistic. It’s a great read-aloud story, and my class of 6-year-olds enjoyed it very much, and enjoyed predicting where the bellbird might have disappeared to.

Award winning author Melanie Drewery brings us another lovely visit to Nanny Mihi’s house. A very welcome addition to the Nanny Mihi series of stories (last added to in 2006), Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird is the perfect sort of picture book for a child of New Zealand – a blend of both English and Te Reo Māori language with a focus on our native bird life. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Te Reo Māori phrases in the story will find a translation at the bottom of each page to help them.

The perfect gift for Christmas, I’ll be buying copies to send overseas as well.  It’s a lovely showcase of the things that make New Zealand special.  Recommended for children 3-8 years.  There’s also a fact sheet about bellbirds available for curious children or classroom use on the publisher’s website – a lovely touch!

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird
by Melanie Drewery, illustrated by Tracy Duncan
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506360