Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Children’s Book Review, This is Banjo Paterson


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


This is Banjo Paterson is a children’s picture book written by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Christina Booth and published by National Library of Australia. RRP:$Au24.99


From the publisher:

Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson loved to write poetry. He loved hunting and fishing and horses, too, especially a horse named Banjo. In this charming picture book, little ones can celebrate the life of a great poet, journalist, bushman and world traveller.

Join Banjo, his family, dog and neighbourhood friends, as they recount the life of Banjo Paterson with an afternoon of backyard playtime that truly typifies childhood.

At the back of the book, read extracts from some of Banjo's famous poems and look at some historical photographs from the National Library of Australia's collection.

McCartney and Booth have used a similar construct to their book, This is Captain Cook, in which school children acted out a play about Cook while the reader found out about him. This time, we see kids dressing up and playing Paterson’s story in an urban backyard. For instance, when we read about Paterson’s favourite horse, Banjo, we see a youngster galloping around a Hill’s Hoist on his hobby horse. I like this idea very much. It means the book is enormously child-friendly with lots of fun and warmth, but there’s still learning going on. The inclusion of excerpts from Paterson's poems is great, and I hope children and teachers will be inspired to go on and read more Australian bush poetry.

McCartney has a real knack for choosing salient facts that are going to interest kids, and for using words and constructions that make the reading effortless. Booth adds so much colour and fun - I love the fact that there are often wry comments in cartoon-style bubbles and kids will too. For instance, we read about the beginning of Paterson’s abiding love of poetry while his speech bubble says, “Books are cool. So is school. Horses, rhyme and poems rule!” Children will discover Banjo Paterson to be an accessible Australian hero, one after their own hearts.

I’ll be adding This is Banjo Paterson to my List of Picture Books and Educational Activities about Australia.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Children’s iPad App, My Felt World

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



My Felt World is an app by developer, Digital Playbox. It is described as “an interactive animated playset.” I love that kids can create scenes with it, and that oral stories and discussion automatically and naturally flow from this activity.

From the developer:

Let your child's imagination take them all over the world! My Felt World uses the soft familiar texture of felt fabrics to create four animated adventures. Feed the animals on the farm! Swim with fish in the ocean! Go on safari or wrap up warm at the North Pole!

My Felt World is accompanied by original music and atmospheric sound effects. Each scene has a set of lovable felt characters that come to life when touched or moved. Double tap them for surprise extras! Scroll the background with a touch of the screen. Learn a thing or two from the Fun Facts page within each scene. Take a picture of your child's latest adventure and save it to the iPad Photos folder - ready to share with friends and family.

There are four different felt worlds: down on the farm, under the ocean, on safari and arctic. Once kids choose a world, they are presented with a felt scene and a visual menu of attractive felt stickers to choose from. Sliding an animal sticker into the scene is a breeze, and it’s cool that kids can still see that same sticker’s indented head shape once it’s removed from the menu. Once their scene is arranged, children can press play to make the animals come to life, listen to music while they create, or take a photo. There are reasonably realistic sounds that accompany each scene too. There’s even a Fun Facts section to read with a parent. (NB This is not meant to be a science-based app, as evidenced by the penguin in the arctic scene. Make it a teaching moment and explain exactly where penguins DO live on our planet!)

I road-tested this app with a delighted three-year-old who loved talking about what she was doing with the felt stickers, and naturally put her finger on one to jiggle it a little while she supplied its voice. We tried all sorts of unusual image making - a snake for a hat, or all the animals frolicking in the water. We had the best fun playing together, and it reminded me all over again how much more worthwhile an app can be when we play and talk WITH our kids. At time of writing this review, the app is $Au1.49 which in my book makes it perfect for kids 3-5 with iPads at home, or in an educational situation.

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.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books about Animals, 2017



Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



So many great picture books with an animal theme! Let’s dive straight in.



The Catawampus Cat is a children’s picture book written by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Gus Gordon and published by Penguin Random House Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

When the Catawampus comes to town the people don't at first notice it has arrived. But slowly, slowly, as they take in the cat's aspect, things change; one might say they even become radical! It's amazing what life a-kilter can reveal.

Even if kids are too young to understand the word “perspective” and all its implications, I think they will love this story as I did. Just by being himself, catawampus and enigmatic, a cat teaches others to look at life differently. The people in the story whole-heartedly embrace difference and celebrate life askew. And then it’s time for the cat to go… As well as an interesting and fittingly enigmatic ending, I loved the word play Eaton includes in the book: Bob Long the barber is giving a woman a long bob; the town daredevil is called Captain Whizzbang; the town librarian is Miss Read. There’s a constant ripple of humour for the reader to enjoy, as well as lots to think about.

Gordon was an inspired choice for illustrator of The Catawampus Cat. His front cover has the friendly cat’s head popping into shot from an angle, and behind him an urban street scene. End papers provide a map of the cat’s journey. As the cat proceeds on his way, head askew, we witness its encounter with different people, and Gordon invests those meetings with quirky caricatures. Among the backgrounds kids might spy actual photographs of items and buildings in a collaged effect. Gordon also highlights the changes the Catwampus Cat creates. When Miss Read the librarian is transformed into Miss Read, adventurer, the library background is sketchy, almost indistinct. But then Gordon pops Miss Read into a tiny row boat battling highly textured and coloured waves under a stormy sky.

Lots of fun - thought-provoking as well as truly entertaining!



Hooray for Birds is a children’s picture book by Lucy Cousins, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Birds of all feathers flock together in a fun, rhyme-filled offering by the creator of Maisy. From the rooster’s “cock-a-doodle-doo” at dawn to the owl’s nighttime “tuwit, tuwoo,” the cheeps and tweets of many bright and beautiful avian friends will have children eager to join in as honorary fledglings. This day in the life of birds will hold the attention of even the smallest bird-watchers, whether at storytime or just before settling into their cozy nests to sleep.

Hooray for Birds makes a perfect read-aloud! The format of the book is tall and wide to begin with, and Cousins gifts us with large, simple and clear images filled with striking patterns and colours. One by one we meet our feathered friends via snippets of rhyme, and lots of sound and action words. Energetic, brightly coloured illustrations almost fly off the pages as different birds swoop, dive and strut. Kids will share the birds’ enthusiasm, I know, and come back for repeated re-readings.



Mopoke is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Philip Bunting, and published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99.

From the publisher:

Mopoke sits in the old gum tree, poked and prodded by the bush is he...

Mopoke loves peace and quiet but the bush is full of many, many annoyances. Poor Mopoke is about to find out that you can’t always get what you want.

Visually brilliant, and hysterically funny, Philip’s pictures tell a thousand words, with the support of some very sparse, but hilarious, text. This is a book destined to become a classic.

Mopokes are Southern Boobook Owls. Apparently they love peace and quiet but like most of us, they realise you can’t always get what you want. Using one or at most a few words to a page, Bunting reveals his mopokes, inviting us to share his obvious joy over playing with words. We meet lots of pokes, including a fee-fi-fo-poke, a moustachioed mo’poke and even a wombat - wait, what’s that doing there?

In shades of brown against a striking matte black background, Mopoke will delight from cover to cover. I love good graphic design and it doesn’t come much better than this. With small visual changes, Bunting enhances the humour and drama of his simple tale. How exciting to discuss so many visual literacy elements with kids! Why does the mopoke have puffed feathers in this illustration? How does the mopoke feel? How do we know? What visual clues do we see that help explain this part of the book? Children will adore trying to create their own mopokes, either digitally for older kids, or with coloured paper, or even using paint or pencils.

Check out this talented book creator’s website, and feast your eyes on some wonderful graphic design!


Old Pig is a children’s picture book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, republished by Allen and Unwin in 2017 to celebrate 20 years of a hugely successful classic picture book. RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

Old Pig and Granddaughter have lived together for a long, long time. They share everything, including the chores, until the day when Old Pig does not get up as usual for breakfast. Calmly she pays her bills and puts her affairs in order. Then she takes Granddaughter on a last, long walk - looking and listening, smelling and tasting.

Old Pig and Granddaughter say goodbye to each other in the best way they know.

A tender story of living and loving, giving and receiving; a glorious celebration of the world.

Through Grandaughter’s realisations, we too begin to see that something has changed with Old Pig. Granddaughter has known Old Pig can’t live forever, but now she is so tired and has no appetite. They set off together for last looks, listens smells and tastes, and then it’s night and they cuddle together for one last time. Wild has crafted an elegant, timeless story and it’s gently, respectfully brought to life by Brooks’ illustrations.

There are classics. And then there are classics you will never forget, classic children’s books that touch hearts and minds to leave them charmed and changed. Old Pig has won many awards but more importantly, I believe, has helped children better understand the cycle of life and death, and gain comfort from that understanding. This is a children’s picture book that belongs in every collection.


I Don’t Know What to Call My Cat is a children’s picture book by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey, published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Every cat needs a name. One name, one word, just a sound... It should be easy to choose one, right? WRONG!!! I just don't know what to call my cat!
Choosing the right name for a new pet is very important! Find out just what this cat’s name turns out to be in this clever and witty story from an exciting debut author and talented young illustrator.

This is such an enjoyable picture book to share with kids! It’s a gem created by two creators whose gifts truly complement each other. Simon tells a deceptively simple and understated story using the voice of a little girl who unexpectedly becomes a cat-owner. All kids know the importance of choosing names for pets, and will immediately want to help. Young readers will also quickly understand that there’s more going on than the young narrator actually sees, and I know they’ll delight in pointing out what they discover.

Bailey’s beautifully coloured and detailed illustrations are quirky and full of fun. Here’s an example: When we find out that Kitty is in fact a boy, we do so via Bailey showing us a survey form where the cat has just ticked “boy” rather than “girl”. On the vet’s walls kids will spy animal x-rays, an eye chart especially for cats, a picture of a crocodile sporting braces on his teeth and many other images to ponder over and delight. Some of the visual puns are there for kids - they will love Mr Maestro playing his violin with cat-shaped musical notes - and other just for adults - the record next to the gramophone is “Pür Elise”.

Truly a very cute and funny picture book that I recommend to families and libraries everywhere!



Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday is a children’s picture book by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauwelijn and published by Book Island (2017.) RRP: $NZ 29.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Dubuc’s Here Comes Mister Postmouse.

From the publisher:

What happens when Mr Postmouse goes on holiday? He delivers the post of course! Mr Postmouse and his family are back, and this time they are travelling around the world to see the sights and deliver parcels to all their friends.

Experience opera on a cruise ship, toast marshmallows over a volcano, whizz through the air in a hot air balloon, and so much more in this irrestible picture book, the sequel of Here Comes Mr Postmouse.

The stand-out feature of Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday is the same intriguing visual detail we saw in Here Comes Mr Postmouse. The whole family goes off on a vacation, and that includes the three mice children: Pipsqueak, Lulu and Pierrot. We see them visiting Aunt Maisy, and because Dubuc uses cut-aways, we actually see inside Maisy’s caravan in the forest, and inside the tent pitched by the mice children. Each scene has little cameos of the characters engaged in activities and even the cameos have some cutaways e.g. we get to peek inside a sandcastle where Mr Crab lives.

Children will turn pages with alacrity, wanting to see where the next adventure will be: a cruise sheep renowned for its opera performances, a volcanic island where Pipsqueak can toast marshmallows, even a safari in the jungle and a balloon ride among the clouds. Short snippets of text provide context and give kids special things to look for in the beautifully coloured pages. A gentle, feel-good book.


One Keen Koala is a children’s picture book by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley, published by Scholastic Press (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

One keen koala and all his animal friends are ready for school! Count along in this beautiful introduction to the fun of school from two of Australia’s favourite award-winning picture book creators.

Here's a counting book in bouncy rhythm and rhyme that features Australian animals in all their quirky glory. Kookaburras, koalas, platypus and possums are all off to school and keen to learn their lessons. Whatley’s gorgeous illustrations add so much humour to the text - I loved the page where the wombats each hold a letter of the alphabet, spelling out “wobmats”. I also felt such thankfulness not to be next door to the kookaburras’ percussion lesson!


Gus Dog Goes to Work is a children’s picture book by Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, published by Working Title Press (Penguin Random House) (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Every day Gus Dog goes to work in the back of the Ute with his owner, Tom the shearer. But one morning Gus wakes up to find Tom and the Ute gone. So Gus Dog decides to go to work on his own.

Gus Dog Goes to Work is the warm and comical story of a not-so-usual day in the life of a sheep dog, by the top author/illustrator team of the best-selling title I Hate Fridays.

The team of Flynn and Smith is a great one! You can practically smell the dust, the sheep and the sweat, and feel the heat scorching your skin as Gus tours the town. Flynn immerses us immediately in Gus’s world - we learn what’s important to him and the words he understands. Flynn shows us what it’s like to be a dog, and kids will nod and laugh over things like Gus rolling in something stinky, and rounding up someone else’s sheep. This is a realistic story, with tension, humour and a happy ending.

Not only does Gus Dog Goes to Work make an excellent choice for kids who love books about animals, but it’s a beaut resource for your collection of books about Australia. Check out my list of other great resources about Australia.


The Everywhere Bear is a children’s picture book by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, published by Pan Macmillan (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher
:

The Everywhere Bear has a home on a shelf
But he doesn't spend very much time by himself,
For each boy and girl in the class is a friend
And he goes home with one of them every weekend.

The Everywhere Bear has a wonderful time with the children in Class One, but one day he gets more than he bargained for when he falls unnoticed from a backpack and embarks on his own big adventure! He's washed down a drain and whooshed out to sea, rescued by a fishing boat, loaded onto a lorry, carried off by a seagull . . . how will he ever make it back to Class One?

Donaldson obviously knows kids and schools, and gifts us with a jaunty rhyming tale about a teddy bear who goes home with each child in Class One until the day he becomes lost. His adventures continue but he finally makes it back to his school friends who wonder exactly what he got up to. Students would love to have a class bear of their own I’m sure, and could set up a plan on how to go about this using ideas from the book.

This picture book makes a GREAT read-aloud, and because of the strong rhyme and rhythm, is also a good choice for beginning readers who will find it easy to memorise. Cobb’s illustrations are clear and colourful, helping kids understand each bear adventure. I recommend The Everywhere Bear to schools and to homes that understand how important teddy bears really are.


Rock Pool Secrets by Narelle Oliver, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

Oliver was such a brilliant picture book creator. Books like Sand Swimmers deserve a place in any library: home, school or community. As does Rock Pool Secrets.

From the publisher:

At first glance there’s nothing much to see. But the rock pools are full of secrets. Nestling in crevices ... hiding in the seaweed ... camouflaged against the rocks ... What creatures will you find? Rock Pool Secrets features beautiful linocut artwork by award-winning author/illustrator Narelle Oliver and includes big, easy-to-use flaps and a glossary of rock pool creatures.

Lift the flap books are perennial favourites with kids. They love that element of suspense, and then surprise when something hidden is uncovered. Children are also drawn to books where things must be located. Oliver cleverly uses this book concept to invite kids to explore a real-life place where things are not always as they seem and where creatures hide: a rock pool. We meet colourful crabs, tiny shrimp, sea slugs, goby fish and turban snails, and there’s a glossary at the back of the book to tell us a little more about them.

It’s great to find nonfiction books that are also very engaging for young readers, and invite them to play. Oliver combines this with her trademark beautiful art work. Kids get to learn, have fun and explore the beauty of art and nature - Rock Pool Secrets is a must-have.


Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed DiPucchio and Robinson’s Gaston. In fact, Gaston was also one of my Top Children’s Picture Books for 2015.

From the publisher:

Antoinette—a very special poodle—learns to follow her heart and be herself in this charming companion to Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson’s beloved Gaston.

Antoinette’s three burly brothers each have a special talent. Rocky is clever. Ricky is fast! And Bruno is STRONG. Mrs. Bulldog reassures Antoinette that there is something extra special about her—but Antoinette is not so sure.

Then one day, while Antoinette plays in the park with her friend Gaston, Gaston’s sister Ooh-La-La goes missing. Antoinette feels a tug in her heart and a twitch in her nose. She must find Ooh-La-La. She will not give up!

Can Antoinette rescue the puppy in peril—and discover what makes her extra special along the way?

With three clever, physically talented and robust brothers, is it any wonder Antoinette is not too sure she is special too? Her lovely mother says, “You have something extra special. I can feel it in my bones!” And then one day Antoinette finds not only her special skill, but also her inner strength and resourcefulness. The story is woven with humour, clever writing and gorgeous art work.

I loved catching up with the characters from Gaston - Fifi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston in one family, and Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette in the other. I also loved the underlying message about finding your special something. Children often compare themselves to others, and wish to be like them. It’s important to encourage kids to understand we are all special, just not all exactly the same.

Do seek out Antoinette for your homes and libraries. It makes an enchanting read-aloud and a wonderful book to share.

Eddie Frogbert by Sue deGennaro, published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Eddie Frogbert was the pride and joy of his family. He wasn’t like the other frogs. He was not the biggest or the bravest. With his feet firmly on the ground, Eddie left the hippity-hop to the other frogs.

Until the diving competition arrives…

If you’re looking for a book that helps kids cope with things that daunt them, check out Eddie Frogbert. I really liked the way we see Eddie’s fear, his first attempt and apparent failure. And then we see Eddie work out a plan. He sets himself goals that gradually increase in difficulty. So often we show kids they are not alone in being afraid of something, but don’t always suggest a realistic strategy for doing something about it. DeGennaro’s lesson isn’t heavy-handed, but it’s there for those who pick it up. Her illustrations are very cute, and the limited palette really enhances all that frogginess.



Go, Green Gecko by Gay Hay and Margaret Tolland, published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 26.99 HB.

From the publisher:

This book follows a curious green gecko as it scavenges for food, facing other predators as it explores the bush. It also includes factual information about green geckos, their behaviour, and their life cycle—a great learning tool for children! The different textures on the illustrations capture the cheeky character of the gecko and the rich life of the native bush. This book is easy to read aloud with great vocabulary and rhythm, and can easily be acted out during story time. It also includes lots of interesting factual information fascinating for children and a useful teacher resource.

It’s great to find such an exciting and fact-based picture book for children! The author and illustrator really pull the reader into a green gecko’s world. We witness the foraging, the sun-soaking, the dew-drinking and the constant, constant looking for danger. When danger arrives on a foldout page, it’s a truly tense and dramatic moment, and we see the green gecko’s immediate reaction. Then there’s a gorgeous double-page spread showing gecko’s racing journey back home. The end of the book has a double page of fascinating facts. I love the idea of turning this text into a performance or piece of reader’s theatre, and it makes an excellent choice for families or schools wanting to supplement their non-fiction resources.


Watch Out, Snail! by Gay Hay and Margaret Tolland, published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 29.99 HB.

From the publisher:

This gorgeously illustrated picture book showcases the beautiful native Powelliphanta snail on its perilous nighttime hunt. It explores the forest during the night while facing dangers along the way. A little-known New Zealand creature, the Powelliphanta is not at all like your average garden snail. It is huge, handsome, and carnivorous! This story teaches children about the circle of life within nature. With great illustrations and creative, short and descriptive language, this book will appeal to both children and adults.

A carnivorous snail? Well, I know plenty of kids who will be excited to discover there IS such a creature! Like Go, Green Gecko above, this informational text is written in a most evocative way. Also set in New Zealand, it makes a great model for children in any country to use for their own writing. Hay really demonstrates the dual role of being both hunter and hunted, and Tolland’s illustrations are realistic yet dramatic. The snail itself has a specially shiny shell which kids can run their fingers over, giving them another layer to the sensory experience of reading or sharing this children’s picture book.


The Brown Dog by Gina Inverarity and Greg Holfeld, published by Working Title Press (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

The brown dog often visits Henry on rainy, grey afternoons. Usually he doesn’t hang around for long.
But this time the brown dog decides to stay, and Henry needs to find a way to make him leave.

Gina Inverarity’s evocative text and Greg Holfeld’s beautiful illustrations provide the
perfect platform for young readers to think and talk about their feelings.

If you’re looking for a picture book to share with older kids, consider The Brown Dog. While it will probably work for younger kids on a more shallow level, older students will understand the dog is a metaphor and that there are times in people’s lives when it is hard to shake off depression - when the brown dog comes to stay and just won’t leave. Henry is so dragged down by melancholy, he can’t enter his usual pursuits and even feels like he’s looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Luckily, Grandpa comes to visit and this is the catalyst for Henry to let the brown dog go. The writing is understated, almost ambiguous, and will encourage lots of thoughtful discussions. There’s a real sense of immediacy in Holfeld’s detailed drawings and their soft colours contribute to the book’s overall mood of gentle reflection.


Archie and the Bear by Zanni Louise, illustrated by David Mackintosh, published by LittleHare/HGE (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Archie has something to say, but no one is listening. So Archie leaves home … and discovers someone else with something to say. And because they both know how that feels, they both listen.

This is a quirky story about being who you are (even when you’re not), by Zanni Louise and with illustrations by the inimitably wonderful David Mackintosh.

Are you looking for an unusual children’s picture book? Try this one!

It’s rough when you KNOW you’re a bear but everyone else thinks you’re a boy in a bear suit. When Archie meets a bear in a boy suit, a bear who in his heart of hearts knows he is a boy, there’s obviously going to be some fellow-feeling in evidence. We witness a dawning friendship as the two realise their shared interests, and we too bask in the warmth and comfort friendship brings.

Mackintosh’s illustrations are striking, very different each from the other, and multi-layered. Kids are going to want to examine them closely. I hope they’ll notice the interesting perspectives, and what they make us notice and think about.



The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Kevin doesn’t want a pat. He doesn’t want a tickle. And he definitely does NOT want a cuddle. There’s absolutely no way this hilarious cat is going to change his mind about that. Or will he?

There is just something about a cat with attitude, isn’t there? Kevin is the quintessential cat - each time his “owner” speaks, we read his thoughts and they are not complementary. “Come and have a lovely cuddle!” results in “Come closer and you’ll get a lovely bite.” There’s so much humour in the subtext, multiplied again by the quirky hilarity of Gifford’s illustrations. This one’s perfect to share with pre-school kids, and all those who think they own a cat.


Koala is a children’s picture book by Claire Saxby and Julie Vivas, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

It is time for Little Koala to leave the protection of his mother. But many challenges and dangers lie ahead for him as he searches for his own home eucalypt and learns to be independent. During his search he encounters other territorial koalas, wanders through a bushfire-ravaged landscape and endures a night of storms.

I loved the way Saxby combines factual text with lovely narrative in the non-fiction children’s picture book. It really makes the book serve dual purpose. When I read it aloud to my pre-school group, I didn’t include the factual text, but focused on the drama of the story. Yet that factual text will appeal to children who want to learn about koalas, and makes a good text model. I think teachers will love the way the two different kinds of text are displayed in the book, helping kids to compare them and think about their purpose. As we read about Koala looking for his new home, Saxby chooses vocabulary that is active, dramatic and very evocative, bringing Koala’s adventures to life for us. For example:

“Koala clings tight, safe and warm as raindrops plomp and plit around him.”

Vivas contributes to the drama with beautiful watercolour illustrations that will help young readers appreciate the dangers and delights of being one of our favourite Australian marsupials. Recommended to schools in particular, but also to any home or public library where good non-fiction is prized.


Charlie Chick Wants to Play is a children’s board book by Nick Denchfield and Ant Parker, published by Campbell Books/Pan Macmillan (2017.) RRP: $Au 14.99.

From the publisher:

Charlie Chick Wants to Play but he can't find his ball. Can you help him find it? Lift the flaps to see if it's in the pig sty, the kennel, the reeds or the hen house in this delightful book about friendship, farm animals and fun!

With delightful illustrations by Ant Parker, this sweet, funny story is an ideal way to learn about first animals and their homes.

This is a sturdy board book that also has flaps for kids to lift. Charlie Chick is a cute character that interacts with other animals with alliterative names. The flaps might be tricky for youngsters at the target age for a board book, but I believe kids need to learn from an early age how to care for books - or this might be one to put away and then control in a library situation. There’s a lovely textural cover where kids can run their fingers over Charlie and his title, but there does seem to be more text than usual for a board book.


Charlie Chick Finds an Egg is a children’s pop-up book by Nick Denchfield and Ant Parker, published by Campbell Books/Pan Macmillan (2017.) RRP: $Au 12.99 HB

From the publisher:

Charlie is a little chick who has found a BIG egg! What could be inside? He gives it a little tap with his beak. What happens next? Open the pops and unfold the giant flap to find out in this cracking adventure story!

Here's another adventure about Charlie Chick. While I might not recommend a pop-up book for regular school or local library use, I think all home collections should have some. The paper engineering in Charlie Chick Finds an Egg is excellent, particularly the page where two beady eyes are peering from a cracked egg shell. Denchfield’s story is short as befits such a tale, and Parker’s illustrations are truly delightful. Kids will love the BIG surprise at the end!


Dinosaur Roar! The Tyrannosaurus Rex , Dinosaur Munch! The Diplodocus and Dinosaur Boo! The Deinonychus are board books too, brand new editions based on the classic picture book, Dinosaur Roar! originally published in 1994 and created by Paul and Henrietta Stickland. These spin-off stories were written by Jeannie Willis, and published by Macmillan Children’s Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 14.99.

The fun, rhyming text and bright quirky illustrations make these books that some kids will grab off the library shelves. Although they are not non-fiction, they do include simple dinosaur facts. For those dads who are not comfortable with children’s picture books, I think these books might make a good choice for them to read aloud to their kids: they look a lot like TV cartoons, and are dinosaur-themed. The sturdiness of the board book format should guarantee they stand up to lots of reading!

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Role Play with Kids


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Role play is something children do naturally, in play. They “pretend” to be firemen, school teachers super heroes and parents, interacting with each other and taking on different roles as they want. Dress-ups and props might become part of such play, but are not vital to it. In an educational situation, however, we want to nudge children into really thinking about what is going on in a book, or perhaps a character’s mind.


I love that being involved in literature and other media helps kids “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. By encouraging our kids to really think about characters, their feelings and motivations, they are exposed to other viewpoints, and have the chance to develop concepts like tolerance and empathy. This is one of the many reasons I love picture books - they don’t take long to read, and then you can go on and engage children in activities that further their enjoyment in, and learning about, the book. One of these activities is role play.

Sometimes we want to help children develop empathy by taking on the role of somebody else. It might be that we want our kids to put themselves in Little Red Riding Hood’s position, to imagine her worry over Grandma, and fear of the Wolf. Or we might want kids to understand what it’s like to be a hungry wolf, forced to play pretend just to get a meal. After we’ve shared a story with them, we can use questions like “I wonder what made the Wolf dress up as Grandma?” “If you were Red, would you want to take goodies to Grandma?” We can try re-telling the story, acting out all or some of it. By taking on the role of Red Riding Hood, of Grandma, Mother, the Wolf or the Woodsman, children are opening themselves up to different perspectives, and moving away from an exclusively egocentric viewpoint. Improvising action and dialogue, based on what they know of the story, means they think about and hopefully understand a story better, too.

In an educational setting, especially as children get older, taking on a role is not as natural a part of everyday life. Many kids just want to be invisible, not take the risk of being looked at, or worst still, laughed at. This can be where whole group theatre games are useful. If everyone is taking on a role, no one is standing in front of the group. As students become more at ease with taking on a role, it becomes much less scary, and they relax enough to both enjoy themselves and learn.

One easy way into role play is moving in certain ways e.g. “walk like a soldier”, “prowl like a tiger”. Before moving in role, I make sure my group has come to know the work space well first, by walking around it, noticing things, and moving on. Then I get them to keep walking, never touching anyone else, changing direction, and changing gait. Next I ask them to walk as different characters. and if they make eye contact with anyone else, they can stop and talk as that character too. A twist on this activity is to bring in a whole range of hats, have kids choose one, then go on and think themselves into the role suggested by that hat.

Here’s another example of role play. Below is a video of some students playing the theatre game, Character Bus. They adopt the role of an over-the-top character, and get on a bus, where the other passengers immediately adopt the same role. Until the next passenger boards the bus… What I love about this activity, apart from the evident energy, is that the teen students obviously feel safe enough to take the risk of making a fool of themselves. There is no need for “real” acting. The whole idea is to exaggerate the characters, making it something easy to achieve. This is an entry level activity for role play with older kids, and one that helps them become at ease with adopting a role.



Hot Seat is another drama activity that helps kids think their way into a role. Generally there is one student on a chair, in the middle of a circle of students, also seated. The one on the single “hot seat” has thought of a character he/she would like to be. The kids in the circle ask questions of the character, and the character improvises answers to their questions, talking and reacting the way the character would. This really helps students to delve further into what makes a character tick, and opens up their minds to different ways of looking at the world.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a librarian, role play can help your kids get more out of books. Why not give it a try?

You might also like to read Develop Imagination Through Literature-based Play, DRAMA 1, DRAMA 2, and Reader’s Theatre 1 - 4.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reviews: (Seriously) Fun Picture Books for Kids


Reviews by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com


Sometimes what we want to share with kids is a picture book that will truly help them celebrate the FUN of reading! Here are some stand-outs I’ve discovered recently.


Dave’s Rock by Frann Preston-Gannon, published by Nosy Crow (Allen and Unwin) (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Dave love rock. Jon love rock, too... Who have best rock of all?

In this funny and stylishly illustrated follow-up to Dave's Cave, two lovable cavemen endeavour to make their rocks the very best they can - inventing, in the process, something rather remarkable.

The children I read to think it’s hilarious when I use caveman-speak. They very much enjoyed Bear Make Den, and now they love Dave’s Rock too. Kids everywhere will understand and giggle over the competition that exists between Dave and Jon - “Dave’s rock bigger.” but “Jon’s rock faster.” After the two cavemen sort out their problems, Preston-Gannon sets up the older reader to expect Dave and Jon to collaborate and invent the wheel…the surprise ending will cause lots of laughter and satisfied smiles.

Preston-Gannon as illustrator has chosen lovely ochres and greens for the backgrounds which are gorgeously printed and textured. I loved how similar the hairy cavemen’s head shapes were to the rocks they competed with, and must admit I enjoyed their Flinstone-style clothes. Dave’s Rock makes such a fun read-aloud to share with kids 3-6!

Toffee Apple and Other Fun Songs is a children’s picture book by Peter Combe and Danielle McDonald, published by Scholastic (2017.) RRP: $16.99 PB. I reviewed Juicy Juicy Green Grass and other songs back in 2014.

From the publisher:

Toffee apple, nice and licky, One for Judy, one for Nicky. Crunchy munchy, very sticky! Don’t forget to clean your teeth! Sing along with three of Peter Combe’s fun songs: Toffee Apple, Newspaper Mama and Err Yuck!

I have always loved Peter Combe’s songs for kids. I’m thrilled that Scholastic are releasing some of the songs in children’s picture books with accompanying CD. This means children can read along while listening to the songs - wonderful for their reading development! The bonus is they get to learn the songs as well, and I think this really enhances their listening and musical ability.

In Toffee Apple, you’ll find the songs Toffee Apple, Newspaper Mama and Err Yuck. I know the songs well, but I honestly think even people who don’t know them will enjoy them from the get-go - they are bright, bouncy and full of Kid-factor! Here’s a sample:

Toffee apple, nice and licky, One for Judy, one for Nicky. Crunchy munchy, very sticky! Don’t forget to clean your teeth!

McDonald’s illustrations are brightly coloured, fun and popping with enthusiasm, luring any young reader to take a peek. I think Toffee Apple makes an excellent resource for classrooms, school libraries and homes.

Triangle is a children’s picture book by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99. I have previously reviewed Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Barnett and Klassen, and Klassen’s This is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat.

From the publisher:

Meet Triangle. He is going to play a sneaky trick on his friend, Square. Or so Triangle thinks. . . . With this first tale in a new trilogy, partners in crime Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen will have readers wondering just who they can trust in a richly imagined world of shapes. Visually stunning and full of wry humor, here is a perfectly paced treat that could come only from the minds of two of today’s most irreverent — and talented — picture book creators.

Children are quite fond of sneaky tricks - but not perhaps ones played on themselves! They will enjoy reading about Triangle’s naughty plan to frighten Square, and revel in the table turning that takes place. Triangle makes a great read-aloud - it has humour and tension, as well as engaging illustrations for children to look at.

I just love the art work in Triangle. The background landscape of Triangle’s journey starts out with small neat triangular hills, much like kids draw themselves. But as the background shapes change in the landscape, and the colours become more ominous, so the tension rises while Triangle journeys on. Triangle himself is only a small black triangle with the addition of two black legs, white eyeballs and black pupils. Those eyeballs combined with the words of the story convey a wealth of meaning! Square is similar - simple black square shape with legs and eyes. I love that children will be able to use these models to draw their own shape characters for further adventures.

Book Chook Feather of Approval for this one!

Grumpy Cat: A is for Awful by Christy Webster and Steph Laberis, published by Golden Books (2017.) RRP: $Au4.99.

From the publisher:

Grumpy Cat has 8 million Facebook followers, her own TV movie, and now . . . a Little Golden Book! The world-famous feline stars in this hilarious storybook.

Subtitled A Grumpy Cat ABC Book, this little Golden Book is a follow on to the Grumpy Cat golden book I told you about in Happy Anniversary, Little Golden Books! While it IS an ABC book, it’s also more than that, and is held together by Grumpy Cat’s attitude of grumpiness, sustained throughout. It’s as if some kind person is introducing an alphabet letter and it’s corresponding image, and then we get Grumpy’s inevitable negative reaction, also linked to the same alphabet letter. Example: "F is for FLY." "Forget that. F is for frown."

If you don’t know the Grumpy Cat books, do look out for them. Not only would that make a great choice for kids everywhere, I'll bet you know someone grumpy who might really appreciate them!

Busting is a children’s picture book by Aaron Blabey, published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Lou’s not having a great day–he’s busting for the loo to do his do, but the loo has too long a queue!

So what on earth is Lou to do?

Another laugh-out-loud picture book from the one-and-only Aaron Blabey!

Have you noticed how children find anything to do with toilets laugh-out-loud hilarious? Blabey has cleverly capitalised on this in his latest book for kids. With rhyme, a cast of quirky characters, the tension of increasing desperation - “I have to do my do, it’s due! In fact, it’s overdue! OOOH!” - a range of silly toilet alternatives and a final non-rhyming twist, Blabey provides lots of scope for giggles and guffaws.

Making sure our young readers have access to books that tickle their funny bones is a no-brainer. We want kids to associate reading with pleasure, and books that make them laugh is one way to do this. I have also reviewed Blabey’s Pig the Winner, Thelma the Unicorn, I Need a Hug, and Pig the Elf.

Whale in the Bath by Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett, was published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au 14.99.

From the publisher:

'Bruno, get in the bath!'

It's bathtime, but there's a whale in the tub and Bruno can't get in! No one in his family believes him and Bruno keeps being sent back to the bathroom until, at last, Bruno and the whale work out a very splashy solution.

A wonderful story that humorously explores bathtime and a playful celebration of a child's imagination.

The only thing worse than having a whale in the bath would be having nobody believe you that it’s there. Not only that, but this whale just won’t leave. Poor Bruno! No matter what he tries, the huge creature stays put. Kids will recognise and enjoy each family member’s different response to Bruno’s whale tale. I think it will make an interesting discussion to determine whether Bruno was inventing the whole thing. Personally, I don’t think so!

Olivia the Spy by Ian Falconer, was published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Everyone’s favourite pig is about to have a surprise trip to the ballet! But when Olivia overhears her mother complaining about her recent naughty behaviour, her imagination runs wild and she decides to find out everything being said about her . . . until her eavesdropping leads her to believe she is being carted off to prison!

Olivia is such a great character! Her antics can be enjoyed on one level by quite young kids, for many of whom she will become a heroine, and appreciated on a different level by older kids, who will no doubt recognise her in their younger siblings. Olivia doesn’t need to be told how to do something because she knows it already, and her creative attempts at spying sadly make her leap to the wrong conclusions. However, even when she believes she’s going to prison, Olivia doesn’t whine, but packs a few “pitiful possessions” and bravely enters the car. Drama queen yes, but one worthy of our admiration too.

Falconer manages to add even more humour to the book via his striking, brightly coloured illustrations. There are larger images, and also cameos, all of which sing with attitude and fun! Kids will love the way Falconer shows Olivia investigating by blending into the background - we see Olivia as a lamp stand, a zebra rug and hiding in a mouse hole. Theres also a wonderful scene where Olivia accidentally (she tells her mother she needs no help to find the bathroom at the ballet) wanders on and off the stage behind the dancers.

Olivia the Spy will have young readers in gales of laughter, and I predict read-alouders will be reading through their own chuckles! Loved it!

Ambulance, Ambulance by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock, published by Walker Books (2017.) $Au24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Sutton and Lovelock’s Roadworks.

From the publisher:

Bleep, bleep. Emergency! News just through: Crash, crash, there’s been a crash. Let’s go, crew! Nee nar nee nar. An exciting new collaboration from Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock, bestselling and award-winning creators of Roadworks, Demolition and Construction.

Here’s a children’s picture book that is bursting with colour, action and noise. It’s perfect for under 5s, both as a read-aloud, and as a choice for kids learning to read. There are lots of details in the pictures to aid comprehension, and the brief rhyming lines will also help children to memorise the text. I am looking forward to reading it to my pre-school group, in confident anticipation of our Nee Nar Nee Nar lifting the library roof!

What a wonderful choral piece this text will make. Sutton has chosen so many onomatopoeic words, and simple rhyming text that will have kids itching to join in. Books that encourage participation are a read-louder’s dream, and librarians know that books about vehicles are a magnet for preschool readers, especially boys. Ambulance, Ambulance is also an exploration of paramedics and ambulance crews for our younger readers. It’s a great choice for a resource list centred around jobs people do, or one on community.

The Cave by Rob Hodgson, published by Frances Lincoln Children's (Murdoch Books in Australia.) (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

There is a cave. A cave that is home to a creature. A creature that never leaves its cave. Because of a wolf. The wolf tries everything to get the creature to leave the cave, to no avail. But what will happen when he's finally successful? This is a laugh-out- loud story with a BIG surprise! For ages 3+.

The Cave is a children’s picture book that tells us of a wolf’s attempts to coax a creature out from a cave. Ostensibly to play, but kids will soon be inferring a lot more about the wolf’s agenda. The wolf tries various strategies, determined to persuade the little creature, and kids will very much enjoy the creativity of these efforts. People of my vintage will remember a certain coyote who never seemed to achieve his ends either! There’s a great twist at the end, concluding a very satisfying tale.

As you will see from the cover, Hodgson’s illustrations really stand out. They are clear enough to work well when shown in a read-aloud i.e. from a distance, but they will also be fruitful on closer inspection.
There are details for kids to look for on each page, details like the wolf’s plate, knife and fork that will certainly contribute to the narrative. This is just the sort of what I call a “graphic design” style that I love, and Hodgson is now on my list of favourite children’s illustrators!

The Naughty Naughty Baddies by Mark Sperring and David Tazzyman, published by Bloomsbury (2017.) RRP: $Au14.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Once there were four Naughty, Naughty Baddies. And each one was as naughty as the next. They liked nothing more than being diabolically dreadful. But best of all, they loved creeping ...

When Four suggests a cunning plan to STEAL all the spots off the Queen's Little Doggy Woof-Woof, they all grin fiendishly and chuckle evilly as they creep, creep, creep ...

WHAT will the Queen do when she sees her spotless Little Doggy Woof-Woof?
WHERE is the King sitting as they creep, creep past? (Clue: a throne of sorts.)
WILL the Naughty, Naughty Baddies get away with it?

This children’s picture book is lots of fun, with craziness crackling off each page. Children will adore learning about what the naughty baddies get up to. I predict kids will want to practise their own baddy nasty-faces, and suspect their own writing may be inspired by the naughty adventures of Baddies One, Two, Three and Four. Tazzyman’s illustrations are priceless, definitely adding to the mayhem and hilarity.

Another great choice for a read-aloud!

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