Book Review: The best-behaved bear, by Diana Noonan

I recall reading The Best-Loved Bearcv_the_best-behaved_bear to many, many groups of delighted pre-schoolers in my public library days.

I am delighted to see that Toby the Bear has survived – remarkably agelessly – at least 20 years, maybe more!

Diana Noonan’s new story stands on its own as a lovely, family-oriented, celebratory tale about Tim and his indispensable bear. The illustrations by Elizabeth Fuller are simple and effective.

Tim’s family – even Gran ( I find this more than a little disconcerting, as Gran is later depicted as a snorkelling grandma, so a flight to the islands clearly would not be a problem for her!) are off to a family wedding. Offshore. Tim’s big challenge is how to take Toby. Various methods of transporting Toby are presented and discarded, Toby all the while becoming more and more dishevelled. Suffice to say that, once the problem is solved, all the dishevellment miraculously disappears and Tim (and of course Toby) reign triumphant.

It’s a great little story and my quibbles are minor, and from a grandma-aged perspective. I enjoyed it and I think kids will too.

I am about to test my theory on a young friend. I believe my opinion will be upheld. If you have not yet discovered Diana Noonan and the bear, it’s time you did.

by Susan Esterman

The Best-Behaved Bear
by Diana Noonan
Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775431879

Book Review: The Weather Machine, by Donovan Bixley

This charming little book is reminiscent of some much cv_the_weather_machingolder picture books/graphic novels in its detailed story, which is told entirely through the illustrations. It made me think of a wonderful book, The Great Green Mouse Disaster – not because of the story but more because of the complexity of the illustrations, and the amusing detail to be found in each picture, particularly those where the white cat appears.

At first reading, I was unsure which audience it’s intended for – it’s a bit too complicated just to be a picture book for younger readers, but it’s perhaps not quite sophisticated enough to be deemed a graphic novel. Having said that, though, there is plenty to deal with in this story of a blue man who gets fed up with the changeable nature of the weather on his planet and believes he can improve it by making a weather machine. He certainly manages to change the climate of his environment, several times, generally to disastrous effect! Thus we see that too much interference with nature can be hugely destructive.

The messages are fairly clear – be happy with what you have, learn to deal with problems as they arise, and possibly also consult with others! The blue man certainly did not take a consultative approach, unless the cat counts …….

I ran it past several senior students and the general opinion was that it would suit anyone who was willing to take the time. A colleague thought it would work well with year 5 students, as they would have the language skills to help interpret the pictures through discussion in class.

Overall, I’d rate it merit tending towards excellence, or about 7 out of 10 !

The Weather Machine
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN 9781869713027

See the book trailer below: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps8pq6vFofc

Book Review: Forgive me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick

This book is in bookstores now.

This is a remarkable book, on several levels. cv_forgiveme_leonardpeacockIt may shock you, sadden you, make you laugh and cry at the same time, stretch credibility more than once, but ultimately it carries a great message of hope and encouragement for its readers. I hope that parents, librarians and booksellers recommend this book to kids who are struggling  – with their identity, future plans, feelings of self-worth, and all the myriad issues which they face daily.  It goes without saying that those same librarians, booksellers and parents should read the book themselves.

Matthew Quick bravely addresses that toughest of all topics in young people’s fiction writing, the idea of suicide.  Leonard Peacock, uber hero or anti-hero perhaps, is about to turn 18 and has a plan for celebrating his birthday.

His school life is irksome, he has few friends, is pretty much a loner, and is confused about a whole raft of things – not uncommon for the modern teenager. He also has a severely dysfunctional parent who chooses to spend most of her time away from home, only returning if summoned to deal with a perceived crisis. This aspect of the plot stretched  credibility for me – but perhaps  there are parents out there who would sooner bolt than deal with troubled teens!

Leonard is a complex and intelligent character, and mostly very credible. His relationships with his teachers ring true (particularly if you work in a school, and have observed the teenager at work). He has a healthy disregard for authority, not altogether a bad thing, and a well-developed sense of trying to be a good person.

The other major characters are generally well-drawn – in particular the teacher Herr Silverman, and Walt the aging next-door neighbour. These adults are the most constant and reliable figures in Leonard’s life, and you get a good sense of how these relationships work through clever dialogue and footnotes (more of that shortly).

Some of the other characters are less developed, but the flawed character of Asher Beal, one-time best friend turned tormentor, is a cracker.

There are many twist and turns in this book, and each time you think you’ve got it, something else surprises you. It’s written in the first person, which is not always comfortable for readers. I imagine Matthew Quick intended this – by using this voice you as reader get inside Leonard Peacock’s head whether you wish to or not. It’s not pretty and not easy being there, but it’s a terrific technique for such a powerful novel.

I mentioned footnotes – unusually for a fiction writer, Quick has opted to flesh out details and background  and provide sarcastic comments in Leonard’s voice by using footnotes. The footnotes are informative, funny, enlightening and it’s a very clever way to avoid breaking up strong narrative with too much detail. I think kids will find this appealing. I certainly did. There’s also the use of letters to Leonard from people in the future – again, an interesting way of managing the complexities in the book which might otherwise disrupt the narrative.

I have deliberately not given out any spoilers in this review – or so I hope. Highly recommended for older teenagers. Despite the occasional hiccup (like the mother!) I really enjoyed the book, and I look forward to hearing what my student readers make of it.

Reviewed by Susan Esterman

Forgive me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick
Published by Hachette (imprint: Headline)
ISBN 9781472208187