Friday, September 22, 2017

Reviews: HABA Games

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Recently I had the opportunity to try out three games from HABA, one of the oldest toy makers in Germany. The Australian company, Let’s Play Games, distributes HABA products in Australia. The three games I received from them were: Zitternix, Mix and Match Robbers, and Animal Upon Animal. Many HABA games state they are suitable for players between 4 and 99, so I tested the games on four people within the target age range - the youngest was 5 and the eldest was 72.

The first thing that struck me about all three games was the colourful, strong, sturdy boxes they came in! This is a huge plus, especially if the games are being purchased for schools. Each game comes with directions (in English and other languages) and those directions are clear. I loved the fact that the games provided ways for a range of ages to play a game while the younger one learnt about turn-taking, following rules and socialising with adults. I also enjoyed the sense of humour evident in the games: for example, instead of a regular way of choosing who goes first, we had to see who could moo the loudest! My overwhelming opinion after playing these games several times, is that they are well-made, educational, and fun.

Zitternix is simple, but so entertaining, and able to be played with real enjoyment by older and younger people. It’s a little like fiddlesticks, but made more interesting by a ring to confine the red, blue and yellow sticks, and a special die to stipulate your colour. The strong plastic yellow, red and blue sticks themselves are worth different points, meaning kids get to practise adding their score when the game is over. The fun comes in trying to work out how to remove a stick from the bunch without toppling the structure. Kids are learning lots about balance and practising their critical thinking while doing this. I would certainly recommend Zitternix to families who want something that can be enjoyed across generations, and also to classrooms. I can see it being a success as mixed-age activity in the library or in Peer Support. I loved this game as an adult and certainly could have played it for a long time without getting bored. The game doesn’t take up much space as it is only the bunch of sticks, ring and die, but it is better played on a cloth than a shiny surface.

Animal Upon Animal is a great mix - it can be played as several different games, but kids can also use the large animal pieces for free play. The fun comes in balancing the very cleverly constructed animal pieces. Our youngest player enjoyed the games and interaction with other players, but also spent time just experimenting with balance and position of different pieces. He also admitted: “I was a little bit cheeky - I liked making it tricky for everyone else.” I really liked that HABA had created three different games to play with the set, and that the games had few rules that were also easy to grasp. The advice is for this game to be played by children 2+. I think it would be better with kids 4+, but two-year-olds could certainly participate with help. Again, I think this would make a good choice for the classroom or any situation where you want kids to have access to a game especially designed for kids. As opposed to a game for kids that is essentially a modified adult game.

Mix and Match Robbers is the game I ranked third on my enjoyment scale, but our five-year-old loved it. Why? “Because I won!” What I did like about it was its portability, making it a good game for families and for travel. The cards inside are quite small, making shuffling trickier I think, but since many of the cards need to be laid out in a circle, it makes sense too - otherwise the game would take up too much space. The fun part comes from assembling heads, torsos and legs to create shady characters - the robbers. The game is really good for practising visual discrimination, because once one character is built, players then have to quickly identify its match in the circle cards. I think it will challenge many children because of this. Our youngster didn’t find it repetitive or tedious, but we older folk did.

When my son was young, I certainly bought cheap toys at times. Usually the purchase was an impulse, or the result of persistent lobbying from my son. But I valued high-quality toys too, and would save for these purchases, knowing the products tended to be well-designed and robust, would stand up to lots of playing, and hold his interest for ages. The three HABA games above that I have been testing seem to me to be of excellent quality, and their prices seem commensurate with that.

When we play board and card games with our kids, we are not only creating great memories, we are giving our children the gift of our time. Board games make a great choice for holidays, rainy weekends and for anytime - especially for those times you want to avoid screen-based entertainment, and enjoy laughing together.

Find Children's Book Reviews at The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Giveaway and Reviews: Children’s Picture Books about Animals 2017 (2)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

I first wrote on Recent Children’s Picture Books about Animals 2017 in June. In conjunction with today’s post, Walker Books Australia are giving away a prize pack of two books on Australian Animals to one reader of The Book Chook. The books are Koala by Claire Saxby and Julie Vivas, (review here) and A is for Australian Animals by Frané Lessac (review below.) Scroll down to see details about the GIVEAWAY.

Here is today's instalment of this year’s perennial favourites for children - picture books about animals:

What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday is a children’s picture book written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Lydia Monks, and published by Pan Macmillan (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

Those two bad men, Lanky Len and Hefty Hugh, are back! They may be in the city instead of the farm, but they haven't changed their thieving ways. In fact, they've got even more ambitious. They're planning to steal a monkey from the zoo and use it to pinch the Queen's crown. It's a pity for them that a certain crime-busting ladybird is holidaying in the very same city . . . and she's got a good idea that will ensure the dastardly pair won't get away with it!

With a whole host of noisy new zoo-animal characters to meet and even a cameo from the Queen, What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday, from stellar picture book partnership Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, is a sure-fire hit.

Donaldson gifts us with a story written in strong rhyme and rhythm. It rollicks along and will sweep kids up into the ladybird’s adventure. There’s a wonderful refrain that children will be impelled to join in with during a read-aloud. That same refrain, plus the rhythmic text and clearly sequenced story make this a perfect book to help beginning readers along their journey with memorisation. What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday will also make a wonderful text for reader’s theatre and performance.

Monks uses collage and strong colours to build wonderfully detailed illustrations that kids will respond to. There’s glitter on the cover and inside, so children can run their fingertips over it, and enjoy the sparkle. Donaldson and Monks have certainly come up with another all-round winner. I’ll be adding What the Ladybird Heard on Holiday to my list of Picture Books with Strong Rhyme and Rhythm, and seriously considering it as contender for my top children’s picture books of 2017.

Waiting for Goliath was written and illustrated by Antje Damm, English language edition published by Gecko Press (2017.)

From the publisher:

Bear has been sitting and waiting since dawn.
“I’m waiting for Goliath,” he tells everyone.
“Goliath is coming! He’s my best friend.”
At last, the bus pulls up. But no one gets out.
But Bear is sure: “He’ll definitely show up. You’ll see!”

Bear waits patiently for his friend. The robins fly to the south and the first snow falls. When Bear awakes from a long sleep, he hears a noise like a hand sliding slowly across paper. Goliath is coming! But Goliath’s identity is a big surprise.

I loved this story about a faithful bear who never loses hope that his friend will show up. Originally published in Germany, this is a children’s picture book for under-fives that is a gentle and intriguing tale with a lovely, satisfying twist at the end. The illustrations very much appealed to me too. Damm seems to have used a technique of constructing dioramas and photographing them to create the illustrations. They have a real perception of depth because of this, and are warm and appealing.

A is for Australian Animals by Frané Lessac is a children’s picture book published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99.

From the publisher:

A factastic tour of Australian animals, by award-winning author-illustrator Frané Lessac!

Australia is full of the most amazing animals on the planet! What animal has six thumbs? What animal produces square poo? What animal is made up of 95 per cent water and is highly venomous? Discover the answers to these questions and more in this factastic tour of Australian animals.
I love Frané Lessac’s books. Her artwork is incredibly appealing to kids and adults alike. In A is for Australian Animals we see her depictions of close-ups and scenes involving a range of Australian animals introduced alphabetically. I love that Lessac has created a book that works on multiple levels - there is enough factual information for the book to appeal to older kids, but little ones will enjoy examining the pictures and naming animals they know. The facts themselves have been chosen carefully to interest kids, and there are maps in the back that show the distribution of the 30 species covered.

A is for Australian Animals makes a great companion to A is for Australia which I reviewed here. (I have also reviewed Midnight and Simpson and his Donkey.) Schools looking to augment their interesting non-fiction resources will snap this book up. I know it will appeal to those kids who devour books crammed with interesting facts, but I also envisage it being one of those special books kids love to pore over with their friends, pointing out little creatures revealed in burrow cut-aways, or crocs lurking in waterholes.

The Very Sleepy Bear is a children's picture book by Nick Bland, published by Scholastic (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB I have previously reviewed King Pig, The Very Brave Bear, The Very Noisy Bear and have learning activities for The Wrong Book.

From the publisher:

On a Jingle Jangle Mountain, as the snow fell on the rocks
A sleepy bear was being followed by a very sneaky fox.
But Bear was in a hurry, he was running very late
Winter had arrived and it was time to hibernate!

The Very Cranky Bear is back and he has a mischievous fox to contend with....

Most kids will know and have enjoyed at least one of Bland’s Bear books. There is something very appealing about animals with attitude and I'll just bet youngsters will recognise some people they know in Bear and Fox. They may even see something of themselves in the cheekiness of Fox! This is a fun read-aloud for kids 3- 6, with rhyme and rhythm that invites them to join in.

The Sloth Who Came to Stay is a children's picture book written by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Vivienne To, published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB I have previously reviewed Wild’s The Treasure Box, Vampyre, The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, Davy and the Duckling, and Old Pig.

From the publisher:

Amy's family is speedy! They are always in such a rush that there is no time to talk or play - until the afternoon Amy brings home a sloth. Then things start changing very, very slowly ...

A timely tale about enjoying the little things in life from award-winning author Margaret Wild.

Sloths are slow. So slow, plants grow on them. When Amy brings one home to stay with her family, who spend their lives rushing, you wouldn’t think it would be a good fit. And yet, from being a family with no time to play or talk or even laze, they adapt not just to Sloth’s presence, but to his pace. Wild deftly tells an entertaining tale with a satisfying conclusion.

To’s illustrations complement Wild’s story beautifully. The speedy family is depicted in a blur of movement, whereas Sloth’s slow pace is shown by his almost infinitesimal progress over a double page spread. Lots of fun details will delight close observers throughout the book.

Eric the Postie is a children's picture book by Matt Shanks, published by Scholastic (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB

From the publisher:

Eric had a dream... he knew he could be the best postman ever. There was one big obstacle—he didn’t have any mail to deliver. Eric is not going to let that stop him...

An adorable, heartwarming story about chasing your big dreams, no matter how little you are.
It’s great to find books that encourage kids to dream big! Eric is only a small echidna, but he is absolutely determined he wants to be a postie. After all, as an echidna, he has natural dog protection, and a heap of other positive features. Despite obstacles like the Post Office refusing to employ animals, he doesn’t lose hope, but comes up with an ingenious solution that seems to work out for everybody.

I liked the clarity and humour of the charming watercolour illustrations, and kids will too. Shanks provides lots of details to make us laugh - the family portraits and sculpture of Eric’s illustrious ancestors, the ragged edges at the bottom of the post box to hint at Eric’s solution, even the termites invading wooden letter box poles.

Consider Eric the Postie for classes wanting books on Jobs People Do, and a nice fiction picture book about Australian Animals.

Brothers from a Different Mother is a children's picture book by Phillip Gwynne and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, published by Penguin Random House Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB I have previously reviewed The Croc and the Platypus illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, Little Owl written by Phillip Gwynne, and Little Piggy’s Got No Moves, co-written by Phillip Gwynne.

From the publisher:

Tapir lives in the jungle.

Pig lives in the village.

But when they meet at the waterhole, they discover they are the same in so many ways.

They might even be brothers from a different mother!
When you don’t have siblings to play with, finding a really special friend is hugely important. When Pig and Tapir get to know each other at the waterhole, they do notice a superficial difference but decide they must be brothers with a different mother. The important thing to both of them is the fun they have together, meeting up and playing every day. But then their fathers intervene, banning them from meeting each other, and citing their different backgrounds as the reason. What will Pig and Tapir do?

This children’s picture book is charming and entertaining, but with an underlying message that’s important for us all to think about. Does coming from a different background or having a different “look” mean we are fundamentally different? Are our differences insurmountable? Crosby-Fairall's illustrations underscore the plot, and the solution is beautifully depicted by both author and illustrator.

Brothers from a Different Mother would be a great choice for adults who want to discuss racism, diversity or acceptance with children using a vehicle they will understand. I’ll be adding it to my list of Children’s Picture Books that Focus on Friendship.

GIVEAWAY: If you are an Australian citizen with an Australian postal address, you are eligible to enter this giveaway. It is a beautiful Australian Animals pack, containing one copy of A is for Australian Animals and one copy of Koala. Simply send an email to thebookchook (at) gmail (dot) com with Australian Animal in the subject line, and your name and Australian postal address (the pack may be delivered by a courier) in the body of the email. A random chicken will choose one person at 5.00am on 23/9/17 to receive the pack, and I will contact you soon after.

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Children’s iPad App, Pettson’s Inventions

by Susan Stephenson,

Earlier this month I reviewed Inventioneers, which I recommended to children 9+. Today’s app, Pettson’s Inventions, is aimed at younger kids. It’s available in iOS and Android and is by the same developer, Filimundus.

From the developer:

Help Pettson and Findus build their inventions! In this tricky game you should help building these clever inventions. You need to figure out which ones of the objects should be included and where to put them in the machinery.

What I liked:

When the game starts, Pettson speaks to you and promises a prize if you can solve the puzzle. Prizes are virtual cogwheels you can use in inventions. The puzzles, just as in Inventioneers, involve manipulating given objects to solve problems. For instance, mowing a lawn involves releasing a caged “mower” (a very handy bird with a bladed beak!) by attaching a weight to two pulleys. Unlike Inventioneers, the puzzle pieces have one correct place where they can be slotted, and that will be a real help to its target audience. As it was to me!

I really liked the fact that the app is FUN. Although kids will be learning to think logically, and encountering physics, there is no overt teaching. I also loved the cartoon-style illustrations which are quirky and colourful.

Where do I get it?

I’ll be adding this app to my list of iPad Puzzle Apps for Kids

Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Children’s Book Review, Great Goal! Marvellous Mark!

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! was written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Janine Dawson, and published by Ford Street Publishing ( 2017.)

This is a great new picture book by the author of Thunderstorm Dancing. It’s a joyous celebration of the fun that is children’s sport, and the game of AFL in particular.

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! brings a children’s AFL game to life for the reader - we are part of the kids’ excitement and enjoyment, we witness to the dog running onto the field and someone losing his mouthguard in the mud. Germein creates vivid, active word pictures for us, with lots of sport-specific exclamations like Perfect Play! and reinforced by special fonts for words like Squelch! She is ably abetted by Dawson’s detailed, cartoon-style illustrations. These perfectly capture the chaos and the triumph, the struggle and the sheer unmitigated fun of children who love to play team sport.

I admired the way the book includes boys and girls, all sizes and shapes, as well as kids from diverse backgrounds. It was great to see too, that those kids were smiling throughout the book, and so were the parents and supporters, despite the rain! Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! also doubles as a book to reinforce sounds, with each alphabet letter being featured e.g. “Sam takes a speck! What a screamer! He snaps it swiftly.” This can be completely ignored by an adult reading aloud to kids, but adds value for children who perhaps might struggle a little with reading, yet be desperate to read a footy book.

I know Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! will be one of those books that fly off library shelves, and recommend it to both kids who love sport, and kids who want to read about book characters like themselves having fun.

If you’re looking for other books about sport for kids, you might like to read Books for Kids who Love Sport or check out my review of Diary of a Cricket God. Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Let’s Celebrate The Reading Hour, 2017

by Susan Stephenson,

What is it that makes The Reading Hour special? To me, even though I’m a reader who manages to carve out time for my reading almost every day, it really is something special. It’s a time when lots and lots of Australians set aside any one hour on September 14, 2017 and dedicate that whole hour to reading.

Are those people luxuriating in that extra hour of reading, like me? Are they hugging an old favourite book to themselves and chopping up two squares of chocolate to make it last the whole hour? Are they saving a brand new book to start on September 14, and earnestly trying not to peek inside beforehand? Are they looking forward to losing themselves in a fictive dream, or reading up on something that intrigues them?

Are those people sharing The Reading Hour with their kids and perhaps making it special by linking it to a sleepover, a popcorn party or reading under the covers by torchlight? Are they teachers sharing their own love of books and reading for pleasure with their students, and thumbing their noses at All That Testing for one whole wonderful hour? Will there be people celebrating The Reading Hour at work, in a shack, in libraries, and even at the zoo? Will everyone be able to stop at the end of an hour? Does it matter?

I hope you and your kids will join me in celebrating The Reading Hour on September 14. Why not invite lots of others to join you! Remember: “You stop what you’re doing for one hour and pick up a book. It’s that easy.” (

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