Friday, May 26, 2017

Children’s Picture Books about Change


By Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Change is a theme that comes up time and again at school, and in real life. Change can be global or it can be personal. It can be environmental or focus on a family. Teachers and librarians value books about change because those books can be a beacon of hope to children, and help them to feel less alone or depressed and powerless. Accordingly, I am compiling a list of children’s picture books about some kind of change which I will be adding to over time. It is embedded far below. Today I also have reviewed three new books to add to my list: The Fix-It Man, By the Light of the Moon, and Florette.


The Fix-It Man was written by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston, and published by E.K.Books (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99.

From the publisher:

It’s handy having a dad who can fix just about anything. A young girl believes her father is the king of fixing things. But following the death of her mother, she discovers that broken hearts are not as easy to repair as damaged toys and cracked teapots.

Together, she and her father find a way to glue back the pieces of her lives. The Fix-It Man is a poignant picture book that explores how a child can cope with the loss of a parent (in this case, the young girl’s mother). Repairing damaged emotions is not as straightforward as gluing a broken kite back together or sewing up a torn toy.

And grief affects all members of a family, with each responding in their own way to the loss. By sticking with her father, the young girl is able to strengthen her resilience and ability to cope with one of life’s harshest experiences.

Children’s literature is wonderful for so very many reasons. One of them is that it offers a way to help kids cope with changes in their lives. In The Fix-It Man, we meet a little girl who proclaims her dad as being able to fix anything - “It’s what dads do.” While the child acts as Dad’s gofer, Mum watches from her rug - “…too sore on the inside to help us…” Despite everyone’s best efforts, Mama dies. We see the little family’s grief, and wonder if they can ever mend. But somehow, not with glue or nails, needles or even cups of tea, we see Dad and Daughter sharing a loving moment and know there is healing ahead. “We can fix things together, just Dad and me. It’s what dads and daughters do.”

Powell tells this gentle story in a way kids will understand. Even quite young children know that not everything can be fixed with glue or sticky tape, and they will gradually gain an understanding that some things can’t be fixed at all. For kids who have lost a loved one, it may bring comfort to read of someone else’s loss. Like the Fix-It Man’s little girl, they will grieve, but also perhaps cling to the knowledge they are not alone - that others love them and are there for them. Johnston’s illustrations are perfect for the story. One very sombre page with little colour reinforces the mood after Mama’s death, but most pages are gently coloured and rather lovely. The whole message of the book is pragmatic but positive, poignant and powerful.

Get more of an idea in the trailer below.

By the Light of the Moon is a children’s picture book by Tom Percival, published by Bloomsbury (Allen and Unwin) (2016.) RRP: $Au22.99.

From the publisher:

Ivan's old house had always been so warm and friendly. This new one was NOT.

Ivan finds his new house strange and can't sleep. He lies awake and then sees a shimmering light come down. The light turns into a creature called a Moji, and it takes him on a fabulous night-time adventure, up high into space, bounding through starlit forests and down deep into the oceans. Ivan has never had so much fun! And the magical Moji shows him that soon the new house will feel like home.

Change can be difficult to cope with. Moving house is stressful for everyone, including kids. That’s why it’s great to find books that help kids process what’s going on for them, by sharing in someone else’s story.

I think kids will love the magical little Mobi who conducts Ivan on the adventure of his life. Mobi emerges from a ball of light Ivan has followed at night outside his new house, and paints his name in the air. The cute rabbit-like creature then paints moonlight everywhere including on Ivan and suddenly, magically, Ivan can fly. They fly high up almost to the moon, and down deep underwater. But at last Mobi paints “home” outside Ivan’s new house. Seeing Ivan’s deep unhappiness, Mobi paints pictures of Ivan’s happy future in this new house and Ivan comes to understand that this strange place will feel like home one day soon.

Percival as illustrator shows us the new house from Ivan’s perspective - it seems cold and strange and most of his toys are packed up. The limited palette he uses for the night time scenes helps us see just enough colour when the magical light brings everything to life.

Florette is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Anna Walker, and published by Penguin Random House Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99.

From the publisher:

When Mae has to move house from the country to the city, she feels lonely and sad - until she discovers a beautiful place full of green in the centre of Paris. What she finds there sparks something special and beautiful that will make her feel much more at home.

I do love to find gentle, thoughtful children’s picture books. Yes, kids often look for hilarity or challenge in literature, but there are also children who at certain times in their lives need a softer, more reassuring approach from a book. In Florette, while kids will understand the angst Mae feels about leaving her old home and especially her garden, there is an emphasis on the positive. Mae copes. She tries to enjoy the same activities she loved in her old life, and doesn’t let subsequent set-backs daunt her. She finds a park and leads Mum to it. Like gardeners young and old, Mae nurtures a tiny cutting and creates a new garden.

As we have come to expect from Walker, the art work in Florette is superb. Her illustrations are so evocative of context and place, and the “forest” that Florette eventually finds is a riot of greenery and vibrant growth. My favourite pages are the last three, with indications of new friends, and even a positive change for the neighbourhood. All because of a little girl named Florette.

Check out the beautiful trailer, below:


Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. 

Read on to find more children's picture books about change.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Children’s Book Review, Circle

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



With the CBCA theme for Children’s Book Week 2017 being “Escape to Everywhere", I’ve been looking for books that suit this theme.

Circle is a children's picture book by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books (2016.) RRP: $Au 27.99.

From the publisher:

From the creator of the critically acclaimed Where the Forest Meets the Sea and Mirror, comes a poetic, eco-conscious picture book which explores the complex, interdependency of nature. This is the story of the little-known Bar-tailed Godwit who, following invisible pathways that have been used for thousands of years, undertakes the longest unbroken migration of any bird, a total of 11,000 kilometres, flying from their breeding grounds in Alaska across the Pacific Ocean to Australia or New Zealand. Facing hunger and treacherous conditions to reach their destination, their flight is one of bravery, tenacity and strength, and Jeannie s stunning mixed media collages, inspired first-hand by the spectacular landscapes of Alaska and China, will amaze readers, and take them on an extraordinary visual journey to the corners of our Earth.

I am a big Jeannie Baker fan. Who would not be moved by her books, by her confronting themes and her exquisite mixed media collages? I have previously reviewed her books, Mirror, and Belonging. Circle is another masterpiece. I particularly enjoyed the way Baker emphasised the Circle of Life, and showed us so many details of the white patched bar-tailed godwit’s incredible journey.

I believe Circle would make an excellent choice to share with kids during Children’s Book Week in August. The beginning illustration is of a young boy lying on a bed next to a wheelchair, wishing he could fly. The final illustration (aside from the end notes) is the same boy imagining himself in flight with some godwits. Kids will understand immediately that Circle is, among other things, about the power of story to set us free and help us escape to anywhere. There’s even an escape scene in the main section of the book, when one godwit chick escapes from a fox.

Baker constructed her collages from materials she collected while tracing the godwits’ migratory trek. This attention to visual detail, and the way Baker shows us things from different perspectives, combined with the important theme of the book all contribute to Circle being what I consider  a masterpiece. The stunning illustrations and the amazing story of the godwits’ migration will certainly kindle children’s imaginations. And I think that’s what Children’s Book Week is about.

There are also resources to support Circle on Walker Books’ website.

GIVEAWAY: In conjunction with my review, Walker Books will generously give three copies of Circle to three lucky readers of The Book Chook who live in Australia. To be in the running, you need to send an email to: thebookchook (at) gmail (dot) com and include 1. your full name and your AUSTRALIAN address where the book is to be delivered, and 2. the answer to this question: Name the highly skilled and generous TL who is also a book reviewer, initials BB. A random chicken will choose three book recipients, and their books will be sent from Walker Books Australia. One email only per person, and entries close 5:00 am 27 May, 2017. NB The three winners have now been notified. 

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. You might also be interested in Ideas for Children's Book Week 2017, and Activities for Kids - Children's Book Week 2017. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Children’s iPad App, HangArt


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


HangArt is an app for children that combines word play with art - two of my favourite things!


From the developer:

In HangArt, children practice 200 K-3 spelling sight words in a three-part literacy playground: Play Hangman, Word Gallery, and Story Studio

PLAY HANGMAN
A family and classroom friendly word game. Say goodbye to the violent, macabre image of a man on a noose that has long been associated with the hangman game. Our "hangman" is a friendly guy who hangs from a monkey bar. In our fill-in-the-blank word-guessing game, each correct letter guess is rewarded with the reveal of part of an illustration of the missing word. When you lose a word, our "hanging man" falls off the monkey bar. When you win a word, you are rewarded with a complete original illustration of that word. Our original drawings celebrate the diversity and many are inspired by art, culture, and history!

WORD GALLERY
Children draw their own pictures of the words they win using our custom drawing tool. They can also watch video playbacks of the original illustrations in the app, created by illustrator Kavita Ramchandran.

STORY STUDIO
Children record, save, and playback digital, animated stories using their winning words!
What I liked:

It’s always good to find apps for kids with no in-app purchases required. HangArt also has the benefit of not needing internet to play it. The focus is on playing a game about words - whether by spelling them (filling in the blanks with letters), drawing a picture to represent a word, tracing over letters or creating a story about a word. This is not a bells and whistles app, just a solid educational app which nevertheless has fun and creativity built into it.

I also really appreciate the support available at the HangArt website. www.hangart.co There’s a thorough and useful guide for grown-ups to help their kids get the most from the app. I love it when developers realise that the best way to use a tablet is in the context of a family or a class, not to use it as a baby-sitting device.

At currently $Au2.99 I recommend HangArt as a reasonably priced app for your child’s iPad.

Here’s a video that will give you a peek inside the HangArt app.


Where do I get it?


Check out all of my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page. I’ll be adding this app to my List of iPad Puzzle Apps for Kids.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Recommended Books for Older Readers 2017 (1)



Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Although I have a fascination (some may prefer to call it an obsession!) with children’s picture books, I love to find great books for older readers too. Below you’ll find some recently read books that I recommend if your children and teens love strong characters, humour, punchy dialogue and fascinating plots. The last review is a book for adults.


The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan, published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP:$Au14.99 PB

From the publisher:

It struck Henry that perhaps he was waiting for the exact right moment to be daring and brave. The exact right moment where he felt no worry at all, not one tiny flicker. But what if that moment never came?

Henry Hoobler is a reluctant adventurer who is worried about his summer holiday camping at the beach: bugs, spiders, snakes, stingers, blue-ringed octopi or sharks. Worst of all, his family and friends are pushing him to ride his new silver bike - without training wheels. But when Henry meets Cassie, he discovers that courage is there to be found when you have a friend who is straight-up and true.

A joyous, heart-warming story from the much-loved author of My Big Birkett.

This is a novel supplemented by small black-and-white sketches for chapter headings and breaks by Judy Watson. The publisher recommends it to kids aged between 7 and 11, but I truly loved it as an adult, irresistibly and almost immediately drawn into the world of an Australian summer camping holiday. Shanahan immerses us in that world. We hear the tent flapping in the wind of an approaching storm, pick up the scent of suntan lotion, become aware of incessant tightening and loosening of tent ropes, and can just about taste all those delicious gelato flavours. Henry is a great character, and we experience the holiday through his point-of-view. He is anxious but we see his courage, his compassion and his dawning respect for himself.

Shanahan’s writing is elegantly crafted but I suspect kids will be too caught up in the story to notice! They will love the humour, connect so many situations and feelings to their own lives, and by the end of the book, feel as if they understand more about coping with fear. I think this a truly enjoyable and heart-warming story, and hope you’ll recommend it to all the kids you know!

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot is a junior novel for kids 7 - 10 written by Kate and Jol Temple, and illustrated Jon Foye, published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au12.99 PB. I have previously reviewed Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade, the first book in this series.

From the publisher:

Captain Jimmy Cook has made a Top Secret Important Discovery. Even more important than any discovery that the other Captain Cook from the olden days ever made. A real dinosaur footprint! And everyone knows that underneath a real dinosaur footprint will be a real dinosaur bone.

Jimmy has to keep the amazing discovery a big secret because he found it behind a toilet block (that's totally out-of-bounds). That's not going to stop Jimmy and his crew! Once he digs up the dinosaur bone, he's going to be the most famous Captain James Cook in history and not even Ms Fennel will be mad with him.

But even the greatest explorers have problems. Jimmy's are these: 1) Everyone in the school now wants to help in The Dig, so it's just a matter of time before Ms Fennel puts a stop to the greatest discovery of all time and 2) a large smelly cat is sitting in his hole.

But luck is on his side. Jimmy's found a map of the school with a large X on it. And everyone knows what that means -- Treasure! Treasure! Treasure!

Captain Jimmy Cook is about to make the discovery of a lifetime ...
This second series of adventures about Jimmy Cook will grab kids from the start. Jimmy confides in us via his log book that he has made an amazing discovery - something he can’t really help doing, on account of his being probably the greatest explorer who has ever lived. From a dinosaur to potential treasure, from a Time-Travelling Bin Buddy to a valuable ancient Roman coin, Jimmy rockets through life and kids will enjoy the ride.

With his very active imagination, total belief in himself, and appetite for discoveries and treasure Jimmy is as inspiring as he is hilarious. The Temples leave no rock unturned in their quest to supply outlandish scenarios, and Foye adds wonderful and quirky detail with his black and white sketches.

Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh, published by Allen and Unwin (2016.) RRP: $Au 16.99

From the publisher:

Artie and his best friend Bumshoe have stumbled upon a Cave-of-Possibly-Stolen-Stuff, and along with it a gang of shady characters including scary Mary, fang-toothed Funnel-web and the devious Mayor Grime.

Artie and Bumshoe's attempt to solve the mystery sparks a chaotic chain of events that involves kidnapping, puppy-dog cutlets, modern art and pioneering the sport of the bungee- wedgie.

It's a sticky situation and if Artie's going to escape, he might need help from family, friends, a little old lady, a small dog and the Fartex 120Y.

A riotously funny adventure from the multi-talented Richard Roxburgh.

I suspect Roxburgh deliberately set out to write the sort of book he would have loved as a kid. Could any child resist weapons like the Fartex 120Y, the Prickle-ator and the Super-Snotter? Kids will cringe over some of Artie and Bumshoe’s trials, particularly having to gag down Aunty-boy’s talc-covered sweets. They’ll also groan over Roxburgh’s puns, despise the villains, be appalled by the Mayor’s treatment of pets, and cheer as the good guys finally, finally, save the day.

This is an over-the-top, riot of a novel, enhanced by Roxburgh’s own hilarious sketches and perfect for kids 8+. I’d especially recommend it to reluctant readers - this might well be the story and characters that will sell them on reading!

Violet and the Smugglers by Harriet Whitehorn, published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au14.99

From the publisher:

Meet Violet Remy-Robinson, an amateur Sherlock Holmes in the making...
Uncle Johnny has invited Violet and her friends to spend the summer with him on a sailing adventure around Europe and Violet couldn't be more excited! But when she suspects that the captain of a boat nearby might be up to no good, Violet needs to put her detective skills into action… Could he be the head of a smuggling ring?

Here’s a feisty heroine and her friends, intent on adventuring and solving mysteries. Whitehorn has a real gift for quirky characters and we meet such gems as PC Green, Grandmère and an assortment of crooks, as well as seeing their fun, cartoon-style portraits drawn by Beck Moore. The book has lots of purple, black and white illustrations which definitely make it visually appealing and memorable. I think girls 7+ in particular will be drawn to Violet, and enjoy the humour and detecting.

Stinky Street is junior novel written by Alex Batt, illustrated by Jukes Faber and published by Pan Macmillan Australia/ (2017.) RRP: $Au14.99 PB. (Also available as e-book for $Au 9.99.)

From the publisher:

The first thing I noticed when I woke up on Sunday morning was a mysterious smell...

When Brian ('call me Brain - everyone does') awakes to a truly putrid pong, he knows it is up to him and his friend Nerf to neutralise it. But that putrid pong is just the beginning, because life on Stinky Street is a riot of rotten reeks, awful aromas and sickening scents. So grab a peg (for your nose) or risk being flattened by the fumes!

There’s a promise inherent in the word “stinky” that young readers will find adventures with the gross factor. They certainly will! Redoubtable hero, Brian, and his best buddy Nerf, have close encounters of the stench kind with an assortment of disgusting smells. I hope those same readers will be as impressed as I was with the humour - both slapstick and more subtle - and the tight, active writing in Stinky Street. Batt (pen name of author Frances Watts) knows exactly what appeals to kids who are independent readers, but looking for a fun, light and straightforward read. Faber supplies a real note of hilarity with cartoon-style sketches.

Grab this one for your libraries for kids 7 - 10. It would also make an excellent choice as a serialised read-aloud, because it’s in four linked but discrete adventures.

Ball Stars: The Bench Warmers is a junior novel about basketball by David Lawrence, published by Penguin Random House (2017.) RRP: $Au 12.99.

From the publisher:

A fun-filled junior fiction series written in partnership with Basketball Australia

Meet the Bench Warmers – Danny, Crystal, Angie, Omyr, Leanne and Cody. They're the new basketball players at Robdale Primary and according to hot shot Greg 'The Goat' McGriffin, they don't have a chance of winning a lunchtime game. But when the gang are picked as part of the school squad things start to look up.

SWISH!

Can the newbies shake off their name in the upcoming interschool comp, or will it be just another reminder of where they really belong?

What does The Book Chook know about basketball? Well, there’s a hoop called a basket on a board where the ball must go. However, I am not the target audience for this book. It’s written for those kids who love sport, particularly basketball, and who want to read about kids just like them, having adventures. But it’s more than that - it’s a reminder to all kids that being a team player, striving to improve and having fun is what sport should be about.

Lawrence supplies readers with lots of quirky grown-ups, believable child characters - I appreciated the way the conceited basketball star wasn’t ALL bad - snappy dialogue and genuine laugh aloud moments. Basketball fans will appreciate the way the sport is woven throughout the chapters, and there are also tips at the back on dribbling and shooting. The Bench Warmers is book one in the Ball Stars series, so it will appeal to kids who like to read more stories about characters and settings they’re familiar with.

King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong is a junior novel, written and drawn by Andy Riley, and published by Hodder Children’s Books (Hachette Australia) (2017.) RRP: $Au15.99 PB

From the publisher:

When rumours of a huge and terrifying monster called the Gizimoth reach Edwinland, King Edwin Flashypants decides that, to be a proper king, he needs to go and fight it. Meanwhile, Emperor Nurbison has had a similar idea, but he has a much sneakier plan for what he can do with the Gizimoth. And it involves squishing Edwinland.

Hold tight for another thrilling Flashypants adventure, with jousting, vegetables, fire-breathing toads and plenty of FOO-HOO-HOOing.

I wrote about Riley’s first book in this series, King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor, last year. In this second book, King Edwin Flashypants decides to go and do battle with a particularly nasty monster, the Voolith. Also managing to maintain his own particular nastiness is the Emperor Nurbison of Nurbisonia, still intent on crushing the kingdom of Edwinland.

Riley’s cartoon-style sketches are hilarious; corny jokes abound; kids will enjoy all the silliness, and the eventual triumph of good over evil. King Flashypants and the Creature from Crong is a perfect choice for kids 7+ who want an entertaining and easy-to-read story with illustrations to break up the text.

Paladero: The Riders of Thunder Realm by Steven Cochran, published by HGE (2016.) RRP: $Au18.99

From the publisher:

Welcome to Thunder Realm, where cowboy-knights known as paladeros herd dinosaurs during peacetime, and take up arms during war. Joss, a young orphan, has always wanted to be a paladero – but first he must prove himself by going on The Way, a treacherous journey through the kingdom to retrieve a rare Questing Egg.

With his trusty raptor Azof by his side, Joss will face off against witches, bloodthirsty monsters and even his own brethren to learn what it truly means to be a paladero – all while uncovering a dark conspiracy at the heart of the kingdom.


Does it come any better than this? Cowboy knights that herd dinosaurs in peacetime, but take up arms in wartime!

When I choose a children’s fantasy book, I look for certain things:

Does it have compelling characters, and a hero/heroine who may be flawed, but must be likeable?
Does it have an engaging premise and a really gripping plot?
Is it a richly detailed and imaginative world?
Are there more books set in this world for those young people who like to read a series?
Is there a map?
Does the front cover contribute to the whole book’s air of “grab me now”?

This middle-grade chapter book passed my test! While at times the language is quite descriptive, the action scenes are very tightly written, so that parts of the story leave the reader breathless.

The next book in this epic adventure series is The City of Night Neverending.



The Lotterys Plus One is a novel for children by Emma Donoghue, with cover art and occasional illustrations by Caroline Hadilaksono, published by Macmillan Children’s Books (2017.) RRP: $Au14.99.

From the publisher:

Meet the Lotterys: a unique and diverse family featuring four parents, seven kids and five pets - all living happily together in their big old house, Camelottery. Nine-year-old Sumac is the organizer of the family and is looking forward to a long summer of fun.

But when their grumpy and intolerant grandad comes to stay, everything is turned upside down. How will Sumac and her family manage with another person to add to their hectic lives?

Internationally bestselling author Emma Donoghue's first novel for children, with black-and-white illustrations throughout, is funny, charming and full of heart.

When I was a child, I loved to read about big families in books like Cheaper by the Dozen. But rarely has family life been portrayed in such messy, chaotic, realistic detail the way it is here. There are two dads, two mums and an assortment of kids and pets, yet each character makes an impression on the reader that lasts. Sumac is our point of view character - she’s the level-headed, observant member of the family. She certainly doesn’t feel level-headed when Grumps comes to stay and she has to give him her bedroom, and take over Spare Oom near the top of the house. Sumac tries to be Grumps’ guide, ends up trying to get him to move into a retirement home, but finally makes some important realisations about family.

I think kids who want drama, humour and a plot they can understand will enjoy this novel. Some may find it a little over the top in its chaos - pet rats at the dinner table, mashed pizza on the baby’s face, misunderstandings and even mayhem - but I loved it and hope young readers will too. It’s also a book that would promote discussion about attitudes and responsibilities, about diversity and tolerance so it might make an interesting serialised read-aloud for primary students.

Pax is a novel for kids and teens, written by Sara Pennypacker, with illustrations by Jon Klassen, published by HarperCollins (2016.) RRP: $19.99

From the publisher:

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed and he was rescued by ‘his boy', Peter. Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather. Far worse than leaving home is the fact that he has to leave Pax behind. But before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather's roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their journeys back to each other as war rampages throughout the country.

Peter is 12 and has a believable 12-year-old voice. The story alternates between Peter’s point-of-view, and Pax’s, and Pax’s chapters are also authentic. We also meet other characters - they are often quirky, but always well-drawn. Peter is brave, persistent, loyal, but not perfect - in short, a very likeable character. His bond with Pax will echo with anyone who has loved a companion animal.

I was caught up in this story from the start. Despite that, I couldn’t help pausing occasionally to marvel over Pennypacker’s beautifully crafted writing style. She paints pictures with words that put the reader right there, and we feel not only the breeze on our skin or fur, but also the heart-wrenching pain of loss. I found the novel difficult to put down, and carried thoughts of Peter and Pax with me until I could get back to reading it.

While Klassen’s illustrations are few, they definitely add to the atmosphere of the book, particularly the front cover, where we see Pax all alone, gazing out over a misty valley at sunrise. I love that the publishers have added illustrations to what is essentially a middle-grade/YA chapter book - why should older readers miss out on the visuals? I think senior primary as well as junior high school
students will enjoy a book that I have no hesitation in recommending.

Frogkisser! is a YA fantasy novel for kids 13+ by Garth Nix, published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au19.99.

From the publisher:

Princess Anya needs to see a wizard about a frog. It's not her frog, it's her sister's. And it's not a frog, it's actually a prince. A prince who was once in love with Anya's sister, but has now been turned into a frog by their evil stepstepfather. And Anya has made a 'sister promise' that she will find a way to return Prince Denholm to human form...

So begins an exciting, hilarious, irreverent quest through the Kingdom of Trallonia and out the other side, in a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs.

Here’s another novel with a strong and feisty heroine! I loved Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series, as well as The Old Kingdom series. So I wasn’t surprised to find myself swept up into an enthralling adventure, punctuated by moments of laugh-out-loud humour. Princess Anya is a delight who must go off on a quest, and is helped/hindered by some very quirky characters. Along the way, Anya learns much more about herself and about the nature of the world she lives in.

Like many of Nix’s books, Frogkisser! make an excellent story for adults too, thus suiting a whole family of readers. It also makes a good choice for schools who need resources about fractured fairy tales. I was thrilled to read that Frogkisser! is to be produced as an animated musical film - I know many young people will be brought to read and enjoy the novel because of this, and it encourages students to compare two different media.

The Things We Promise by J.C.Burke was published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au 19.99

From the publisher:

There are two things you need to know about me. The first is that I remember life by what I was wearing. The second is that I think too much.

It's the early 1990s and all Gemma can think about is looking perfect for her first school formal. Gemma's brother Billy - New York's up and coming hair and make-up artist - has made her the ultimate promise: he's returning home especially to 'create magic' on her and two friends for their end-of-year formal. Gemma's best friend, Andrea, is convinced it'll be their moment to shine; Gemma hopes it's the night Ralph will finally notice her.

But when Billy arrives home from New York, Gemma's life becomes complicated. Her family's been keeping secrets; friendships are forged and broken; and suddenly the length of her formal dress is the least of her worries.

This one’s definitely YA - the publisher suggests 15-18. The novel is set in the 1990s and resonates with this time period - hairstyles and clothes, the way the characters talk, and sadly, the rampant homophobia and fear of AIDS. I loved Gemma’s voice which made her character authentic and very likeable. Her relationships were believable too, and there’s lots of detail I know will have teens nodding their heads wisely or with wry grins.

Many teens look for a book with tension, drama, characters they can relate to, and one that deals with real, even difficult themes they and their friends must cope with. I believe they’ll find that in The Things We Promise.

Charisma by Jeanne Ryan, was published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au19.99 PB

From the publisher:

A chance at the ultimate makeover means deadly consequences... Aislyn suffers from crippling shyness - that is, until she’s offered a dose of Charisma, an underground gene therapy drug guaranteed to make her shine. The effects are instant. She’s charming, vivacious, and popular. But strangely, so are some other kids she knows. The media goes into a frenzy when the disease turns contagious, and then deadly, and the doctor who gave it to them disappears. Aislyn must find a way to stop it, before it's too late.

This novel is aimed at teens too. It’s a gripping, well-researched and scary premise, with a believable, flawed main character who learns and matures as the story progresses. Thoughtful readers will appreciate the wider issues brought up in Charisma: how far should gene therapy and other scientific advancements go? There are lots of ethical and social justice questions for teens to discuss and come to grips with. A great choice for high school libraries with students who want a dramatic, science-themed read.



Love, Lies and Linguine by Hilary Spiers, was published by Allen and Unwin (2017) and is a novel for adults. RRP: $Au29.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Hester and Harriet lead comfortable lives in a pretty cottage in an English village. Having opened their minds, home and hearts to Daria, a mysterious migrant, and her baby son Milo, the widowed sisters decide to further expand their own horizons by venturing forth to Italy for their annual holiday.

Back in England, Daria and Milo are celebrating - they've received official refugee status with papers to confirm they can make England their home. Meanwhile nephew Ben, who knows only too well how much he owes his aunts, is hurtling towards a different sort of celebration - one he's trying to backpedal out of as fast as he possibly can.

With a huge secret hanging between the sisters, an unlikely new love on the landscape for Hester and new beginnings also beckoning for Harriet, Italy provides more opportunities for adventure than either of them could ever have imagined. But which ones will Hester and Harriet choose?

As Hester and Harriet throw all their cards on the table in Italy, and potential catastrophe threatens Ben in England, it's anyone's guess how chaos will be kept at bay.

Sometimes I don’t want a book that grips me by the throat and stops me breathing. Love, Lies and Linguine didn’t do that, but it not only held my interest from the start, its characters stayed with me long after I’d finished. I guess if I had to classify it, I’d label it as “cosy” but classifying rarely does a book justice.

The story IS about love, about the lies that people tell, and about food, in particular food in Italy. Its characters are endearing, quirky and REAL - Hester and Harriet themselves are just as human, as annoying at times, as envious and arrogant as we all are. Their “nephew”, Ben, despite being bulldozed into doing something he knows is wrong, is is as bewildered, desperate and raw as any other teen can be. The secondary characters are well-drawn and add immensely to the book’s appeal. Appeal it certainly does - there’s a mystery to solve, sisterly stubbornness to navigate through, and so many humorous moments that will have readers laughing aloud or nodding ruefully as they recognise themselves or their neighbours.

One of my favourite characters was the indomitable Nats. She comes to the rescue when Ben’s party at the Aunts’ house is crashed, and issues Ben with a forceful ultimatum before she will agree to go out with him. Even the malodorous Finbar has a part to play in weaving this tale - we meet other characters from the first book, Hester and Harriet too, but also many new ones. Love, Lies and Linguine definitely stands alone as a novel, and I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.


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Friday, May 12, 2017

Activities for NSS 2017, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com

National Simultaneous Storytime will take place this year at 11.00am on Wednesday 24 May. Kids and adults will get together at that time to share The Cow Tripped Over the Moon by Tony Wilson and Laura Wood, published by Scholastic (2015.) You can read my review of this book here. Here’s another review and a heartfelt message from Barbara Braxton at The Bottom Shelf.  


I love it when ALIA select a book for NSS that is great for sharing with older kids too. Primary kids will enjoy the humour of The Cow Tripped Over the Moon, and I believe many will also appreciate the clever format of different moon attempts, the rhymes and interesting vocabulary - It seems a moon clearance Takes great perseverance - the jaunty rhythm, the disasters and the satisfying ending.

Note to read-alouders: Do make sure you read this one through several times so you don’t stumble on any words. The rhythm works, but I definitely needed to practise.

Activities to Use with Kids

*** Can you say the words of Hey Diddle Diddle? The original nursery rhyme went like this:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

*** Can you pat your knees while you say that rhyme aloud?

*** Here’s Teddy Rock singing Hey Diddle Diddle on ABC Splash.

*** What are some rhyming words we know? Let's make a list!

*** The author of this book, Tony Wood, wrote lots of variations with the same rhyme and rhythm patterns as Hey Diddle Diddle e.g.

Hey diddle diddle
You all know the riddle
A cow jumps over the moon.
It happened, all right,
On a crisp, cloudless night
On the second-last Friday in June


Can you march and say that verse aloud? Can you sing it or dance it?


*** Just imagine a cow attempted to get over the moon with a propellor hat. How did the cow get such an idea? Would a propellor hat really work to lift a cow? What special circumstances might help the hat to work?

*** Can cows really jump? Can you jump? What animals do you know that can jump? Think about how those animals look. Is there something you can tell about an animal’s ability to jump by looking at its legs and body?

*** Here’s a colouring page of a cat playing a fiddle, and lots more characters to make into paper and stick puppets for re-telling the rhyme or the story.

*** How do you think the cow felt in the story? Would the cow be happy about the little dog laughing? Why or why not?

*** Choose one of the book’s “verses” and make up a body percussion to go with it. Try saying your verse aloud and doing your percussion at the same time.

*** Can you innovate on a nursery rhyme? For instance you could try coming up with your own words to Hey Diddle Diddle, or choose an entirely different rhyme. If that sounds too tricky, you could try taking a short sentence and creating another short nonsense sentence that rhymes with it:

I am climbing a tree
Fiddle-de-diddle-dee-dee


*** If you had to get a cow over the moon, how would you do it? Explain to someone near you. Design a machine that would be able to send a cow over the moon.

*** Would you expect a dish, a spoon, a cat, a dog and a fiddle to be present at a moon-jumping attempt? What might the back story be that brought them there?

*** What do you think the cow’s name might be? How about names for all the other characters?


*** What if other animals saw the cow and decided to make an unusual attempt of their own? For instance, here’s a horse that decided to leap over Saturn. Can you create something about an animal that attempts something really unusual? What happens next?

***Have you ever tried and tried, time and again, until you managed to do something? What was it?

Art and Craft Ideas

* A paper plate and a wooden spoon become easy puppets for story re-telling. You could add other characters with these paddle pop stick puppets.

* 3 Dinosaurs has three different downloadable free PDF Hey Diddle Diddle Packs. Part 2 of the pack has coloured puppets and other activities.

* Kidspot have a free downloadable PDF of the Hey Diddle Diddle characters and video instructions on how to make a shadow puppet story.

* Here are some craft ideas from DLTK.

* ALIA have some PDF resources on their NSS webpage.

* People all over the world have created artworks about cows. Some of them paint cow statues with amazing patterns and designs. Create your own cow artwork.

Do set aside 11am on Wednesday 24 May 2016 as adults and kids across Australia read The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Check with your local school or local library for an NSS event. Or gather some friends together and join in a celebration of reading and cows before, on or after the date!

You might also be interested in earlier NSS books and activities: 2016, 2015 2014 and 2013.
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