Book Review: DUCK!, by Meg McKinlay & Nathaniel Eckstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_duckIt was a quiet afternoon on the farm, when suddenly… DUCK! The farm animals are disturbed by a loud and obnoxious duck shouting his own name at them. When the other animals try to explain to the duck that they are not ducks the duck only grows louder and more insistent. Is the duck not listening to his fellow farm animals or are they not listening to his warning.

Meg McKinlay’s DUCK! Is a funny story that explores the unfortunate consequences of a bunch of animals who misunderstand their fellow farm friend’s warning. The repetition and exclamations of DUCK! invites young children to participate and the humorous descriptive language is very appealing to this audience. Nathaniel Eckstrom’s charming illustrations which set the farm in the middle of autumn include subtle foreshadowing of the disaster that is about to strike and a clever reference to a well known movie.

If you’re looking for a great read aloud book then DUCK! is the book you’re looking for. Children will find themselves joining in shouting “DUCK!” and having a gasp and a giggle at the slightly shocking ending!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

DUCK!
by Meg McKinlay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925381535

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Book Review: Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_small_spaces.jpgSmall Spaces is a gripping psychological thriller that will take you in a whirlwind of a ride, through an unexpected twists and turns. I found myself almost immediately hooked, and once this book had drawn me in, it refused to let me go – I finished it within a day. Aimed at the Young Adult market, it should also appeal to adults in search of a fast-paced read that will keep them guessing.

Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, and it all began with a trip to the family homestead, where she stayed with her Aunt Ally. In this crumbling house, with its dark corners and mysterious noises, she met a sinister being that she named “Sparrow”. No-one else could see Sparrow, and no-one else would believe he existed, not even when Tash witnessed him kidnap a 6-year old girl, Mallory Fisher, from a local carnival. The girl was eventually found, alive, but has not spoken a word since, and her family moved away soon after.

Now, eleven years later, the Fishers have returned to Tash’s hometown, and, Sparrow too has returned. Mallory may hold the key to the torment buried in Tash’s past, and the dark secret that hangs between them. But, does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous than she thinks?

Aside from the psychological aspect, there is a lot of typical teen drama happening: strong friendships (I particularly liked Tash’s Kiwi-friend, Sadie), catty High School girl rivalry, a fledgling romance, and some fairly serious family issues. This is a tightly written, gripping novel, and an impressive first offering from Australian author, Sarah Epstein. I can highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Small Spaces
by Sarah Epstein
Published by Walker Books
9781921977381

Book Review: Dig, Dump, Roll, by Sally Sutton, with illustrations by Brian Lovelock

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_dig_dump_roll.jpgFrom the bestselling creators of Roadworks, the series of books that feature all sorts of trucks and earthmoving equipment, Dig, Dump, Roll is sure to please.

With its bold illustrations and made-to-be-read-out-loud text, Dig, Dump, Roll is a joy. For example – ‘bang-a-shudder, clang-a-judder, what’s at work? Here’s a clue: it will dig big holes for you.’ Turn the page to find ‘Digger! Digger! Coming through!’

There are bulldozers, diggers, dump trucks, rollers, concrete mixers and builders – and what are they building? Somewhere you can learn and play – a school!

This will delight younger children if whoever is reading the book puts a bit of effort into making the noises that go with each piece of machinery, and for those a little older, a page at the back of the book shows different parts of the items featured.

Dig, Dump, Roll is filled with bright, colourful illustrations that bring the machinery to life for all ages. A nice touch is the fact the illustrations show both men and women driving the machinery.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Dig, Dump, Roll
by Sally Sutton, with illustrations by Brian Lovelock
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650803

Book Review: Bird Builds a Nest, by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Richard Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bird_builds_a_nest.jpgThis book tells the story of a bird’s day, from finding breakfast to literally feathering her nest. So far, so ordinary, you might think. But it has a clever execution – the book is littered with scientific descriptions of the forces the bird is using, such as push and pull. I love the way that these scientific explanations are made simply and are woven through the text in a smaller font, so they don’t distract from the narrative. The story stands on its own, even without the scientific explanations, and has a lovely friendly and straightforward tone.

There’s also a little science experiment at the end of the book for children to explore push, pull and gravity a little further in an easy way.

The illustrations are delightful, in a muted colour palette. I’m reminded of a mash up between Orla Kiely and 60s/70s children’s book illustrations. The gorgeous expressions on bird’s face convey her delight at a delicious worm for breakfast, the difficulty of lifting a heavy twig, and the pleasure of snuggling in bed after a busy day of work.

This book is a must for school and public libraries, and deserves a place on the shelves of Early Childhood Centres and home book shelves as well. Young children delight in exploring the natural world, and this book would be a great starter or follow up to watching birds make their nests, exploring a nest that’s fallen from a tree, or exploring simple push and pull experiments in the playground or backyard. Cause and effect is easily observed, and Bird Builds a Nest will give even the most unscientific of adults a way of giving children the language to describe what they’re seeing and doing.  Recommended from age 3 or 4 up to about 8.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Bird Builds a Nest
by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Richard Jones
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406355130

Book Review: A Lion is a Lion, by Polly Dunbar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_lion_is_a_lionI wish this book was written when I was a child. I never understood what my mother meant when she said, ‘A wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It’s not a saying that resonates with a five-year-old. After all, sheep don’t wear clothes, and even if they did, how would a wolf wear them?

Polly Dunbar’s cautionary tale, A Lion is a Lion, would probably have cleared things up for me. Is a lion still a lion if it dresses up, has nice manners and can sing and dance? Are you any less likely to be dessert if he has observed the niceties?

A Lion is a Lion can be read as an allegory for sticking up for yourself, being cautious about the people your parents warned you about, and even for the concept of consent.

I guarantee the vast majority of five-year-olds won’t see it this way, but they will agree that the children in the story should definitely call the lion out on his behaviour and send him on his way. A caring, supportive adult could steer the conversation towards meanness and bullying: if someone starts off by being nice but turns out to be unkind, what should you do?

With fast-paced action and illustrations full of whimsy and a hat tip to previous literary cats that cause problems (particularly Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat), A Lion is a Lion will delight young readers from about 3 – 7 years.

Any serious conversations you may have afterwards will just be an added bonus.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

A Lion is a Lion
by Polly Dunbar
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406371536

Book Review: Three Cheers for Women!, by Marcia Williams

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_three_cheers_for_women“What’s this book about Dot?”

“Amazing, fantastic girls, Abe!”

“Boys do amazing fantastic things too!”

“Of course they do. But there are lots of books about them already!”

This introduction from the ‘narrators’ says it all really: this is a collection of over 70 amazing fantastic girls who have inspired and help shape our world, from Cleopatra: Queen of Egypt, to Malala Yousafzai: women’s rights activist.

Presented in an engaging comic strip format, each featured woman’s story is told in manageable bites across a double page spread, using fun and witty dialogue to keep the information interesting for younger readers, similar to the popular Horrible Histories series. Additional information features in the margins and the narrators keep up the banter throughout the book.

The range of women selected (and the author acknowledges who hard it was to select only a few from the thousands of inspirational and amazing women there are) features well-known names such as Jane Austen, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth I, and Marie Curie. It has to be said that these well-known names are predominantly European, and this predominance is somewhat offset with the inclusion of other famous names such as Cleopatra, Cathy Freeman (Aboriginal Olympic gold medallist), Malala Yousfazai, Mae C Jemison (first African-American Woman in space), Wangari Maathai (Kenyan Peace Activist and Environmentalist).

It is the diverse range of accomplishments represented is wonderful to see – there are queens, sportswomen, creators, scientists and activists. Shared by all the women is a passion and belief in their worth and it is this important message that is there for all readers to see. Girls really can to anything they set their minds to.

The last three double spreads feature introductions to even more amazing women, with both familiar and new names featuring in a roll call of honour. It would have been great to see them have their own bigger spreads, but then the book would have ended up way too big to pick up! Perhaps the publishers could create a Three Cheers for Women – Vol 2?

As a highly readable non-fiction title, this will be a valuable resource for any primary or intermediate school library which can be used as a base for research projects or discussions about gender equality.

With the words of wisdom included and the stories of achievement and desire to help their communities, I sincerely hope it inspires both young girls and boys to find their own passions and way to make the world a better place for everyone – no matter who they are.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Three Cheers for Women!
by Marcia Williams
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406374865

Book Review: The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5), by Stephan Pastis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_timmy_failure_the_book_you're_not_supposed_to_haveThis is book number five of a popular series that mixes ‘scribbly’ illustrations with first person narratives. It’s been created in the style of the equally, if not even more popular, multi-story treehouse books and Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

Timmy and his mates this time remind me a little of those characters like Dennis The Menace from the old Beano comics – short, squat, simply drawn but instantly recognizable. Their characters arrive fully formed because they are based on every cartoon that gone before them. They, and Timmy, are instantly recognisable as subservient but rebellious kids who want to buck convection and the adult world – ‘because they say so!’.  It’s an age-old ploy trick, used from everyone from Enid Blyton to RL Stine and the author of Captain Underpants.

The storyline picks up from number four – Sanitized for Your Protection (they all have names stolen from the adult world and repurposed). Banishment from Timmy’s calling as an amateur sleuth can’t keep this comically over-confident detective down. ‘This book was never meant to exist,’ claims the strapline.

No one needs to know the details. Just know this: there’s a Merry, a Larry, a missing tooth, and a teachers’ strike that is crippling Timmy Failure’s academic future. Worst of all, Timmy is banned from detective work by his over-protective mother. Not that that stops him! It’s a conspiracy of buffoons. He’s recorded everything in his private notebook but then his manuscript was stolen! So if this book gets out not only will he will be grounded for life but there could be even more dire consequences – beyond Timmy’s mom marrying Doorman Dave.

This is a great series, especially for getting new readers into chapter books.  I recently read an essay by Neil Gaiman that argued that kids just need to read. Just give them everything you can get your hands on. Don’t judge the content for the maturity or the language. Just get them reading. I’d have to agree. This is a great ‘gateway drug’ into the bigger novels and it is superb, silly fun. I suspect Pastis might be a secret Monty Python fan because here and there are theses little surrealist moments.

So, if your child likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or any of the books of that ‘genre’ then I think they will love the Timmy Failure books. My 6- and 8-year-olds love them. That’s why it took me so long to write this. They’d read them and passed them around the classroom!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5)
by Stephan Pastis
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406373653