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

Great Kiwi Classic recommendation: Just One More by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Just One More was put together by Gecko Press in 2011, and comprises Joy Cowley’s cv_just_one_morebest short stories for children, mainly from educational publications such as the School Journal. It is one of the best books for children that I have had the joy of reading aloud to my 3-year-old.

This collection stories has witty takes on monsters, pirates, cowboys, trolls, grumpysauruses, and dragons. There is a grumpy king who steals smiles, and a tiger who eats cakes. The dragon lives in a library because he likes to read about his kin. There is even a ‘Gonna bird’ who reminds me of several people I know.

We are voracious book lovers in our household, but only the best books stand the test of time (ie. Beyond the week-long excitement of a new book) – and Dan has been asking for at least ‘one more’ from this book for two months solid, every single sleep time. He loves choosing his own, which he can do thanks to the images on the slipcover relating to each individual story  – thank you illustrator Gavin Bishop and designer Spencer Levine. Dan is quite sensitive, but faces his fears as he listens to stories about monsters and trolls, and well, that tiger.

The other important part of a book of short stories for young children is the length of the stories. As anybody with young children knows, if you are reading five stories a night, you have to be wily about how you let them select them or you can be there for hours. These stories are a perfect length to be read aloud, or for young readers to read to themselves. They are also as enjoyable to read as an adult, as they seem to be for Dan to hear.

I am so proud that we have storytellers and illustrators the calibre of Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop in New Zealand. It also bears mentioning that this collection was beautifully published and edited by Gekco Press.  We are very lucky.

Reviewed and recommended for anybody, by Sarah Forster

Just One More
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877467868 (HB)