Book Reviews: What Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman

Available in bookshops nationwide from 8 April.

cv_what_dog_knowsWolf and dog are the quintessential close cousins, and this is their second story, after Wolf and Dog (Gecko Press, 2013). Dog is the smart one, who knows things because he reads books – Wolf isn’t so smart, he’s more of an action-before-investigation type wolf. When talk turns to books, he starts to rhyme:

Look it up in a book?
That’s how people learn to cook!

But Wolf relies on Dog to tell him about things and help him with his plans (and to chase away Cat); while Dog bears with Wolf because, well:
His cousin needs him! Has his house collapsed? Did a tree fall on the roof? Is the forest on fire? Or did Cat come? It’s all the same to Dog. He’d go through fire for his cousin! 

This book is the first I have seen using such an engaging mix of rich, funny character-driven dialogue, and fact-driven (yet still funny) informational sections, to teach kids all about things in the world around them. There are four distinct sections: Mummies and skeletons (watch out Cat!), Robots, knights and pirates, Dinosaurs and dragons, and Rockets and the moon. Everything, in other words, to keep adventurers aged 4 – 9 years old enthralled. And the book includes comprehension quizzes for the most eager learners, too!

The cover design of this book by Spencer Levine is perfect, and the interior design by Luke and Vida Kelly makes a feature of the superb illustrations by Marije Tolman. The contrast of the simple, smooth design of Dog contrasts perfectly with the rougher, woollier design of Wolf. This carries on the characters of the two, with Wolf being by far the roughest, most complicated character (even if he doesn’t read). The illustrations are presented throughout the book, with both full-page focus illustrations, and sidebar illustrations lending their humour to the more technical aspects of the book.

Everybody needs to show their little wolves and dogs this laugh-aloud book. It is suitable as both a read-aloud, and a read-yourself, though younger readers will probably ask about a few of the longer words. You will be amazed what dog knows.

I’ll leave you with Wolf’s last rhyme:
Dog is my cousin
Each day of the year
No matter what happens
He’ll always be there.

Truly, the perfect cousinship.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

What Dog Knows
by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570379

Book Review: Franky, by Leo Timmers

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_frankyThis is right up the alley of any kid who loves aliens, robots, creating, or having adventures. So, anybody, basically. Certainly that counts my 5-year-old, Dan, in for the full set.

Our hero Sam knows that robots exist – in fact, he knows that there is an alien race of robots on another planet somewhere nearby. His parents don’t believe him – not even his dog does. He has a robot-filled room, and nobody to play with them with: so he creates someone to play with.
Not just in his mind, no siree – he actually creates a robot. He fixes together a vacuum cleaner, a rake, an old transistor radio, a reading lamp and a pair of pliers, and he has a bona fide, rolling, playing, talking robot play friend. Their friendship weathers Sam’s need to disguise and hide his playmate in front of his parents, through adventures with water guns, pretty much the most awesome sandcastle ever, until one day, Franky is quieter than usual. He is looking out the window for something.

Leo Timmers is one of my favourite author/illustrators from the off-shore Gecko Press stable, and I was very lucky to meet him at the 2014 NZ Festival Writer’s Week. His book The Magical Life of Mr. Renny is one that Dan seeks out again and again when he wants to hear and see magical moments on paper, and Franky seems destined to be another. The main element that he engaged with in Franky was the creation of a friend. He was dismayed we didn’t have the right type of old-fashioned Electrolux, but we made do with a plastic bucket, a vacuum cleaner top, and something to hold both in place.
Dan was amazed that the robots that came down in the eventual UFO were so similar to Franky, and he was delighted that Franky could go off with his people, and that his parents had to believe in robots at the end. The final page is just perfect, and Dan and I both laughed at the little mole finding the tree in a love-heart shape. I recommend this for anybody who enjoys a well-crafted, sharply illustrated picture book for a child of any age.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

by Leo Timmers
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271940