Friday, December 7, 2018

My Top Children's Picture Books for 2018


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Are you looking for amazing recently published children’s picture books? You’ve definitely come to the right place. Each year I force myself to choose around ten of my very favourite children’s picture books. This year we have outstanding non-fiction, hilarity, true-to-life stories, lyrical prose, stunning illustrations and more. You’ll find the list embedded below. Any or all of these books would make a wonderful suggestion or gift for a child near you!


You'll also find hundreds of other amazing picture books simply by clicking on Reviews in the right sidebar. And in case you missed them, here are:

My Top Children’s Picture Books for 2017

My Top Children’s Picture Books for 2016

My Top Children’s Picture Books for 2015

My Top Children’s Picture Books for 2014

If you're looking for Christmas book gift ideas, read my reviews in Book Gifts for the Whole Family 2018.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Gifts for the Whole Family



by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



It’s that season of year again, and as usual it’s a perfect time to celebrate by giving books or book vouchers to your loved ones. Or both! At top are some recently published books for kids that have caught my eye. In the second section of my article, you’ll see books I recommend for the whole family to enjoy.




Book Gifts For Younger Kids

Giraffe Problems is a children’s picture book written by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith and published by Walker (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. You might remember Penguin Problems by John and Smith that I recommended for Christmas 2016.

From the publisher:

Edward the giraffe can't understand why his neck is as long and bendy and ridiculous as it is. No other animal has a neck this absurd. He's tried disguising it, dressing it up, strategically hiding it behind bushes ... anything he can think of. But just when he's exhausted his neck-hiding options, a turtle ambles in and tries to help him understand that his neck has a purpose ... and looks excellent in a bow tie.
Let’s face it, we all have shortcomings. Although some of us have longcomings, especially giraffes. Kids will understand the feeling of dissatisfaction that stabs when you wish you were different, and will laugh uproariously over Edward’s strategies for disguise. There’s a satisfying ending and Smith’s illustrations throughout are stunning.

The UNScary Book is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Nick Bland and published by Scholastic (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99. I have previously reviewed King Pig, The Very Sleepy Bear The Very Brave Bear, The Very Noisy Bear.

From the publisher:

Nicholas Ickle is back and this time he wants to show us a very scary book. However, as much as he tries, he can't keep away all the lovely and happy things from appearing on the pages.

Do you remember Bland’s The Wrong Book? Kids love books such as these, where characters interrupt and try to hijack the story, and where scariness is only a game. Bland’s illustrations are hilarious, with lots of details to make children chuckle.

Waiting for Chicken Smith is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by David MacKintosh, and published by Hardie Grant Egmont (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

'Every year, I stay in the same cabin at the beach with my family, and every year Chicken Smith's here too, with his Dad and his dog, Jelly. But this year, something's different.'

As we hang on the words of the narrator, we learn of the legendary Chicken Smith and the beachside town that has been the backdrop to their school-holiday adventures for years. But will Chicken Smith turn up this year? Or will a friendship of a different kind blossom.

A story about childhood friendship, the inevitability of change and the magic of anticipation.

I suspect every Australian who lives within spitting distance of the coast has a beloved childhood holiday place. MacKintosh dedicated this book to Fingal Head, but millions of us will understand the pull of sand, driftwood, shells, ice cream … and whales. Hints of bittersweet moments of friendship and rare sweet moments of sibling contentment add another layer to the story. While throughout the book the beautiful watercolour illustrations are evocative of seemingly endless beach summer holidays. This is a picture book that stays with you.

Pig the Grub is a children’s picture book by Aaron Blabey, published by Scholastic (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Eww! What a stinker! Pig isn’t just the world’s greediest Pug, he’s the DIRTIEST too. It’s high time he had a bath! But try telling Pig that...

With over two million Pig books in print, you can rest assured Pig is popular. This time we meet him in all his stinkiness, but does he want a bath? No he does NOT! The front cover alone will make kids guffaw - Pig, bulgy-eyed and grubby, sporting a pink shower hat. Anyone who has tried to wash an unwilling dog will grin over Pig’s antics, and Blabey will certainly delight his legion of fans with this cute rhyming story that emphasises stench and naughty stuff.

Big Digger, Little Digger is a children’s picture book by Timothy Knapman and Daron Parton, published by Walker (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB .

From the publisher:

A modern day The Little Engine Who Could – a story about a little digger with a very big heart, perfect for all fans of construction site stories!

I love the way the diggers talk - “Big Digger dig down DEEP” - their cave-man style speech is sure to bring hilarity to a read-aloud! But there’s more than just fun to this book. There’s tension, co-operation and a very happy ending too. Young fans of machines will adore the colourful illustrations and the blueprint end covers labelled with digging machine “parts”.

Morris the Mole is a children’s picture book by Nicki Greenberg, published by Allen and Unwin (2018.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Up from the darkness, he springs from his hole...
Explorer! Enthusiast! MORRIS THE MOLE!
With a twirl of his spade and a twitch of his nose,
Morris makes TUNNELS wherever he goes...

Will Morris dig his way to trouble? Or will his hard work pay off in an unexpected way?

There’s such enthusiasm and exuberance in Morris the Mole! He loves what he does, but it sadly causes trouble for his friends. Greenberg’s illustrations show us every quivering whisker and googly eyeball of the little creatures, but we can understand their despair when Morris digs his way up and into their lives. Luckily Morris finds a marvellous new pastime and now his friends will surely be happy. Won’t they?

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein and published by Walker Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99HB. I have previously reviewed Interrupting Chicken.

From the publisher:

It’s homework time for the little red chicken, who has just learned what every good story should have: an elephant of surprise. Or is it, as her papa suggests, an element of surprise? As they dive into some stories – looking for the parts that make you go “Whoa! I didn’t know that was going to happen!” – Papa is sure he can convince Chicken he’s right. After all, there are no elephants in The Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel or The Little Mermaid... Or are there?

Looking for a way to introduce your children to classic tales? Grab this book! While Papa reads excerpts from stories like The Ugly Duckling and Rapunzel aloud, Little Chicken’s busy looking for, and finding, an elephant of surprise. I know kids will love to imitate Little Chicken, and for sure will be searching for Elephants of Surprise in every book you read with them. Gorgeous retro art work jostles with childish cartoon drawings to make a satisfying and VERY funny story.

Yikes! is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Alison Lester, and published by Allen and Unwin (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99.

From the publisher:

Who would you be?

On a Stormy Night at Sea,
in the Wild West,
under the Big Top,
in the Frozen North,
in a Transylvanian Castle,
beyond the Milky Way,
in a Steaming Jungle…

Choose a character, turn the page and find out what happens!

This is a 25th Anniversary edition of Yikes! and as such a) I can rest assured it is a classic and b) know it is set to become a favourite of a new generation of Australian kids. Yikes! is a magical set of adventures with exciting characters and plots, the whole in rollicking rhyme. Kids will be caught up for sure and come out at the end ready to start over! A perfect read-aloud.

Moth is a wonderful book that might make a good choice for your non-fiction loving child. Read my review here.

Beware the Deep Dark Forest is a children’s picture book written by Sue Whiting, illustrated by Annie White and published by Walker Books Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Beware the deep, dark forest! You should never, ever go in there . . . Rosie has always followed this rule until the day her pup Tinky goes missing in the woods. So Rosie decides to trek into this dangerous, muddy place. But there are many obstacles along the way - including a huge grey wolf, a scary ravine and a ferocious troll!

Beware the Deep Dark Forest - doesn't that title set the story up immediately? This is a picture book that the publisher recommends to “courageous readers aged 3 - 6.” I envisage older kids loving it too, especially those entranced by fairy tales. Inside, we have all the elements of a great story - a feisty heroine, a beloved lost pet, a spooky forest, scary villains, and enough suspense to thrill even the most sophisticated child. White’s illustrations are perfect for such a tale, and combine with Whiting’s always clever writing craft to make an excellent choice for Christmas or any time of year.

Inside the Villains is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Clotilde Perrin and published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 30.43 HB.

From the publisher:

Explore the insides of villains — a book for kids that allow you to pull their innards and look behind their ears; see their strengths and weaknesses, their libraries and stories.

This is a large and very clever lift-the-flap book that will have kids entranced, and perhaps wondering what’s inside all the rest of us. Perrin has a wonderful imagination and sense of humour that she shares with us. In the first spread we meet the wolf. He introduces himself and immediately his attitude shows through the text:

“I do love a nice bit of fresh meat. …And thanks to my highly developed intelligence, natural cunning and exceptional athletic gifts, I always get what I want.”

No, he’s not humble, and yes, this is probably more a picture book for older kids. They will understand how to be very careful with all the flaps. And will get the humour. For example, when we first look inside the wolf, we see under his fur there is Grandma’s nightgown, and under this a spiralling intestinal flap that opens to show “Misery-guts! Meanwhile, the wolf also has a head flap that opens to show all sorts of brilliant ideas, and a mouth flap that reveals three goats. The paper engineering is superb. There is also a page detailing more wolf facts, and a traditional story - The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. Other characters are the Witch and the Giant, each dealt with in detail. Take a look inside the Book at Gecko Press’s website. Definitely not a book for the rough and tumble of a library, but the sort of very special picture book that kids will truly treasure as a gift.



Book Gifts For Young and Old, Together

When I carefully choose books the whole family can enjoy, I have a kind of idyllic imagining of Grandpa sitting with two kids, all eagerly poring over an incredibly engaging book. Or smiling older teens sharing with younger siblings. Lovely. However, pragmatism makes me realise that for many books, family feuds will erupt as each child clamours for a turn. My first choice is one such!

Where's Wally? The Spectacular Spotlight Search is a book by Martin Handford, published by Walker Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Hey! Who turned out the lights? It’s Wally like you’ve never seen him before… turn the pages and search six spectacular darkened scenes! Use the paper spotlight searcher inside as a magic torch by sliding it across the page to reveal Wally and his friends.
Everyone loves searching for Wally. Adding the spotlight searcher is a cute gimmick that might make the search easier or harder, depending on your point of view. There are lots of challenges to keep the whole family on their toes, and it sure beats reruns of Christmas movies! I love that you can download extra paper spotlight searchers too.

The Great Outdoors Activity Book is a Dorling Kindersley book published by Penguin Random (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 PB.

From the publisher:

From easy-to-do garden projects to more ambitious building projects, there's an activity for everyone! Plus, clear step-by-step instructions and photos show you what to do every step of the way. Packed with hours of fun, two pages of stickers and space for taking notes on every page, this book will become your own unique journal and open your eyes, ears and nose to the wonders of nature – right on your doorstep!

Probably the best thing about Christmas is that it is quite often a holiday for families. And that means time - a precious commodity - to spend with kids. Here’s a gift for the whole family that gives details of hundreds of practical projects you can undertake. Engagingly accompanied with photographs and space for notes as you go, kids will discover plans for fossil mud pies, waterfall walls and how to go geocaching. Parents can reminisce over bobbing for apples, catching tadpoles and creating paper planes. The format is excellent and I predict hours of fun and creativity for everyone.

Under the Southern Cross is a children’s picture book created by Frané Lessac and published by Walker Books Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Night-time in Australia, animals are waking, people are exploring, discoveries are being made – under the Southern Cross. What makes ribbons of colour swirl in the sky? What are the spooky balls of light that bounce across the outback? What animal lays eggs that look like squishy ping-pong balls? Where can you watch a movie with bats circling overhead? Discover the answers to these questions and more in this factastic picture book tour of Australia after dark.

Even if you are not one of the lucky families setting off to travel around Australia, this gorgeous picture book is a good choice. Lessac has chosen special events that will resonate with children and adults alike - and they all take place at night-time. Her illustrations are, as usual, colourful, expressive, child-like. Each scene makes you want to pack your bags immediately so you can share in the joy and wonder. What a great way to start your family’s bucket list for places to visit in Australia, or a special gift for overseas visitors.

Rivers is a children’s picture book created by Peter Goes and published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 34.77 HB.

From the publisher:

This breathtaking journey on the world’s most important rivers, seas and oceans tells the story of our planet through cultures, myths, icons and history. It takes us from the Nile to the Amazon, the Mekong Delta to the Mississippi, the Murray to the Waikato. Each map is full of fascinating facts about nature, culture and history, with major events and historical figures alongside favourite stories and icons.

Rivers is subtitled: A Visual History from River to Sea. That’s it in a nutshell. But of course it is so much more. Each river is depicted in a double page spread, all hand-drawn, with snippets of history, culture, and significant information.

This is a large (37cm x 27cm) picture book that I believe the whole family will enjoy. It would make a great choice for your map-loving child, your Geography-loving partner and anyone who enjoys beauty in a book. Take a peek inside at Gecko Press’s website and I bet that peek will convince you.

All Aboard the Voyage of Discovery is an illustrated children’s book by Emily Hawkins and Tom Adams and illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole, published by Wide Eyed Editions, an imprint of Quarto UK (2018.) RRP: $Au 27.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Welcome on deck of the Voyage of the Discovery! The year is 1927. Travelling on board with us is an illustrious collection of some of the greatest minds of their generation. From the fields of science, engineering, geography and history, our experts have come together to explain some of history's greatest inventions to improve communication, including the printing press, radio, telephones and television. But there's a conundrum afoot and they need YOU to help them. Can you decipher the puzzles to solve the mystery of the missing movie? The stylish Art-Deco-inspired pages of this lavish volume are strewn with novelty ephemera, from postcards and tickets to booklets, code ciphers and maps, which bring to life the mystery as you solve the puzzles to continue your whistle-stop tour around the world. Full steam ahead for the interactive adventure of a lifetime!
Part mystery/puzzle book, and part celebration of some of the greatest communication inventions the world has known, this quarto-sized hard cover book will appeal to discerning readers, young and old. It has flaps that kids can lift to reveal snippets about the inventions, it has ingenious codes, it has rhymes to guide the journey - and all of it done in a truly appealing Art Deco style. This is a really great choice for those who like non-fiction.

Grow Fruit and Veg in Potsis a DK book (with an Australian Consultant, Jennifer Wilkinson) (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99

Yes, this book was written for adults, but I think Grow Fruit and Veg in Pots makes a perfect gift for the whole family. Why? Children often learn best when sharing with the adults in their lives. By dipping into this sturdy, colourful book dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables in containers, kids will learn heaps! Not just about how to grow things, but about planting, caring for and producing food for a healthy lifestyle. Show kids how we use such books to browse or to dip into as a reference, and plan your bumper crops for the months ahead!

Milkwood is a book for adults, written by Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar, published by Murdoch Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 45.00 PB.

From the publisher:

The skills that we learn bind our lives together. Do you want to know how to grow your own food? Or how to keep bees? How to forage for edible seaweed along the shoreline, or wild greens down by the stream? Maybe you're curious about growing mushrooms or how to grow the perfect tomato.

You're invited to make these skills your own. Designed to be read with a pot of tea by your elbow and a notebook beside you, Milkwood is all you need to start living a more home-grown life. From DIY projects to wild fermented recipes, the in-depth knowledge and hands-on instruction contained in these pages will have your whole family fascinated and inspired to get growing, keeping, cooking and making.

When adults are interested in sustainability, caring for the environment and growing and foraging for food, they naturally want to share those things with their kids. Here’s a wonderful resource that will inform and entertain the whole family. It’s written in a conversational style, and has lots of excellent, detailed photos to help comprehension. Kids will appreciate that there are children in the photos - kids looking at bee hive honey, helping collect seaweed, eating plums straight from the tree. Adults will be intrigued by comprehensive instructions on how to grow mushrooms and tomatoes, how to harvest, process and cook with seaweed, where NOT to forage, how to make your own wines and syrups - and my personal favourite - how to make pig face jam.

I enjoyed dipping into Milkwood. I am not full-on into permaculture, but I do try to grow my own fruit and vegetables in a way that conserves water, soil nutrients and energy. What I liked about this book above all was that it is written by Australians for Australians. So, for instance,  the foraging applies to what we tend to find in Australia, both in wild and feral places. There’s a Milkwood website and blog, where you can read excerpts from the book.

Our children are young for such a short time. May you all have the time to share delightful things with your kids this holiday season - reading, gardening, playing, building, singing, looking at clouds, laughing and talking with each other!

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

Friday, November 30, 2018

Writing Tips for Kids 5 - Start with a Hook


by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com





This is the fifth in my new series of writing tips for kids. Over coming weeks you’ll see new short articles, each of them addressing young writers and dealing with a topic helpful to them. I’ve created a new List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.


How to Start with a Hook


Have you ever begun to read a story, but soon started to yawn or lose interest? Great writers are like crocodiles, leaping from the swamp to grab their prey. They like to start their stories in a way that grabs their readers by the throat and doesn't let them go. In writing, we call this a HOOK.

Beginning a story with a big chunk of narrative or description doesn't really hook a reader. Writers do use narrative and description in stories, but mostly not right at the start. It's better to weave those details in later. Instead, we choose action or dialogue.

When we start a story with action, it should be the kind of action that a reader will find intriguing, and want to read more about.

Crash! Jack's head jerked up, and he saw an elephant's rear end appear in the hole in the ceiling. Slowly but surely it slid further down, its massive legs waggling and its calls of distress echoing around the room. How on earth had Saggy followed him from the circus and what could Jack do to rescue her?

We want to read on, find out how an elephant got above the room, discover who Jack is, and what happens next.

It's the same with dialogue.

"So are you in or not?" Crystal asked.

Nicki frowned. "You swear I won't have to do anything dangerous to join the club?"

"Of course not. You just need to wear this bucket on your head at school tomorrow."

We want to discover whether Nicki will wear the bucket, and we wonder if we would be game enough to do that!

It's important to give your readers an idea of your main character's problem and the event that starts his/her adventure near the start of your story. In the first example, we know or guess that Jack might have run away from the circus but he has been followed by an elephant. Now he has to rescue Saggy. In the second one, we figure that Nicki wants to join a gang, but she must do something strange to qualify for it.

Don’t forget to keep your story moving along at a fast pace after your active and interesting start!

Writers need to be crocodile hunters too. We need to read, read, and read some more. While we're reading, we hunt for great hooks. If we find some we like, some that quickly capture our interest and make us desperate to continue the story, we make a note of them. In our own next piece of writing, we can piggyback on that writer's idea, but create a wonderful new one that is our own.

You might also like to read Writing Tips for Kids - How to Start, Writing Tips for Kids 2 - Write What You Know, Writing Tips for Kids 3 - Developing Characters and Writing Tips for Kids 4 - Writing Funny Stories.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Recommended Books for Older Readers 2018 (3)



by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Here is my latest instalment of books for older readers - that is, not picture books. You might also be interested in my recommendations for older readers earlier this year.

Off the Track is a junior novel by Cristy Burne, published by Fremantle Press (2018) RRP: $Au 14.99 PB.

From the publisher:

From the author of To the Lighthouse comes a new adventure for young readers about falling in love with the bush, and with hiking and being in the wild. It’s about disconnecting from technology. And discovering yourself.

Harry’s perfect life was straying way off-track. He looked pleadingly at Mum. Surely she could see? Spending an entire weekend tramping around stinking-hot, snake-filled scrub was a horrible mistake. But doing it without a phone? That was just brutal.

As it turns out, it was only the beginning ...

This is a chapter book with occasional black and white illustrations that’s just perfect for newly independent readers who need something they can sink their teeth into. The characters are real, and the plot is dramatic but believable. Harry and Deepika start out the way you would expect for two kids whose only connection is that their mums are friends. But gradually the bush works its magic and the two find out more about themselves and each other. The Australian bush itself is another character in the book, and I know youngsters will feel connected to the adventures and problems the children have there. This is one to recommend to readers 7+ who look for action, drama, and realism in the books they read.

Check out a sample chapter at Fremantle Press’s website. Teacher notes are also available.

Dear Professor Whale is a children’s novel by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake and published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 17.38 PB.

From the publisher:

Professor Whale is the only whale left at Whale Point. He thinks often of the old days when his friends were all around and they competed at the Whale Point Olympics. One day, he gets a letter from Wally. The young whale has heard about the great big enormous whale who won gold for his spectacular spouting. That gets the Professor thinking. What if there could be a new Olympics, with the sea full of whales again? In this charming follow-up to the international bestseller (Your Sincerely Giraffe), another correspondence flourishes across the horizons. The letters bring penguins, whales and seals together at the Whale Point Olympics, with friendship and humour winners on the day.

Dear Professor Whale is such an unusual book. It’s difficult to classify quickly, but that is not something negative. It’s a gentle story and I believe it will potentially appeal to children between 5 and 10. It’s not an easy reader - there are longer, more interesting words, although the concepts are not too difficult for kids 5 and 6. The illustrations are quirky, and definitely add to the book’s charm. Kids 8 - 10 who might not look for an illustrated book will perhaps be attracted to the idea of a story where animals are competing in their own Olympics. And children of any age who do not themselves fit into a reading stereotype might well resonate with the book’s warmth, its talking animals and okay, dare I say it, the book’s “cuteness”! For example, I loved the hand-written letters between Wally and Professor Whale. There is a reference in an introductory page to the fact that the book, Yours Sincerely Giraffe, came before Dear Professor Whale, but children would not need to read the earlier book first to appreciate this one.

YA


Found is a YA book written by Fleur Ferris, and published by Penguin Random House Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 19.99 PB.

From the publisher:

What happens when someone else’s past catches up with you?

Elizabeth Miller has always lived in Deni. In a small rural town, Beth’s biggest problem is telling her protective and fiercely private father that she has a boyfriend.

But when her dad disappears before her and Jonah’s eyes, Beth discovers that he's not who she thought he was. Her family’s secret past has caught up with them, and someone wants her dead.

Beth has been unwittingly prepared for this moment her whole life. Will it be enough to outrun – and outsmart – her hunters?

Even though I’m not the targeted audience, I enjoyed this action-packed, suspenseful read. There were sections of Found that genuinely left me breathless because, without realising, I’d held my breath. The characters are realistic, likeable and nuanced. The story premise pulls you into the book immediately, and the dialogue is believable. Believable dialogue does mean some swearing - and that’s what makes the young people sound exactly like the ones you overhear talking to each other in real life. Ferris obviously has an excellent grasp of how teens feel and think and act.

I am a survival junkie so I loved the bunker, the drone, the critical thinking, and yes, the relationships, the twists and turns, and the characters - even the villains. I would suggest Found to teens who enjoy adventure, drama and action. I hope they’ll find it as difficult to put down as I did.

Adult

Past Tense is a novel for adults written by Lee Child and published by Penguin (2018.) It’s available in lots of different formats and can be pre-ordered here.  RRP for the Trade Paperback is $Au32.99.

From the publisher:

Jack Reacher plans to follow the autumn sun on an epic road trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been - the town where his father was born. He thinks, what’s one extra day? He takes the detour.

At the very same moment, close by, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians are trying to get to New York City to sell a treasure. They're stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. It’s a strange place… but it’s all there is.

The next morning in the city clerk's office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in that town. He knows his father never went back. Now he wonders, was he ever there in the first place?

So begins another nail-biting, adrenaline-fuelled adventure for Reacher. The present can be tense, but the past can be worse. That’s for damn sure.

I have read all the Jack Reacher books. I would say Lee Child is one of the few authors who has never let me down. He promises action, suspense, and adventure and delivers in spades every single time. Jack Reacher as a character is very likeable, at times admirable, always three -dimensional. If you look for stereotypes you will find them here but they never bother me. I often forget to breathe when reading Lee Child book, and although it temporarily deprives my brain of oxygen, it is definitely a reader’s mark of respect.

Past Tense is a great read. It reminded me again how Child’s writing style suits me as a reader. Child isn’t one for too much description - his prose is lean, his writing is tight and active. He doesn’t let literary showing off get in the way of his story. Like so many other Reacher tales, Past Tense has a wonderful gallery of quirky characters. Child chooses a few salient points and wham! that person is sitting next to you while you read. This is the twenty-third in the Reacher series, and I am already hoping for Number 24!

Read an excerpt on Penguin’s website.

Find novels and books I enjoyed last year in Recommended Books for Older Readers 2017 (1) and Recommended Books for Older Readers 2017 (2). Look out for my Recommended Book Gifts on December 5, 2018, where you will also find several books that will most definitely appeal to adults and older kids.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Review, Bubble and Bee Baby Play Mat


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



I know lots of us are thinking about gifts at this time of year. You can’t go wrong with books, that goes without saying, and I will have a long list of book suggestions for you on December 5. But if you are buying for new parents, here’s something intriguing to consider.

The Bubble and Bee Baby Play Mats are such a sensible idea, and the brainchild of an Adelaide mum. Basically, the mat is somewhere soft for Baby to lie on while the edges stop him from rolling onto the general floor area or under furniture. You can also use just the mat with no edges if your baby doesn’t yet need them.

Features I liked:

* It’s compact when you pack it away, and there is a nicely made, sturdy bag with a handle so it can go on picnics and outings.

* It’s big - 140cm x 140cm - enough for more than one child.

* The designs are playful and attractive.

* It’s washable.

* It’s easy to put together if you want the edges. The foam sides look a bit like pool noodles and slot two to a side. There’s an opening in the middle of each of four closed sleeves, and you insert one foam piece on the left and one on the right. Then you simply velcro that sleeve onto the base. It took me about 3 minutes.

* It looks robust. Full disclosure: I didn't test it with a real baby. My little model, Arthur, is actually an incredibly life-like baby doll - basically Little Arthur just lay there, looking cute. But I carefully checked out the mat at the seams and joins, and believe they will stand up to normal wear and tear.

Check out the Bubble and Bee website’s shop (which does take a little while to load) for prices and to see your options - mat with edges, or mat with no edges.

And if you’re looking for something else to add to this gift? Hey, what about a book or two? Just click Reviews in the sidebar, or check out my review page on Pinterest.
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