Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Children’s Book Review, When Billy Was a Dog

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

When Billy Was a Dog is a children’s picture book, written by Kirsty Murray, illustrated by Karen Blair and published by Allen and Unwin (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

'Can I please, please, please have a dog?' asked Billy.
'Would you walk it every day and wash it if it got dirty?'
'I would, I promise!' said Billy.

Billy wants a dog. He really really really wants one.
Billy's parents aren't so sure. So one morning, Billy takes matters into his own paws.

A gloriously funny, warm and true story from the creators of Puddle Hunters.

Kids will resonate with this tale of a young man who is desperate for a dog of his own. I really liked Billy’s attitude. Whereas many kids would pout and whine for what they wanted, Billy BECOMES the dog he wants. He sniffs things, he barks, he even lifts his leg near a fence until Dad puts a stop to that idea quick smart. In fact, Billy throws his heart and soul into being a dog.

But then, when Fluff the dog next-door begins to have her pups, Billy stops being a dog and worries about her instead. Will Billy ever get the puppy he wants?

Blair's illustrations are just perfect for the story, and will certainly help children not only understand what is going on, but rejoice in it. Read this book aloud if you dare - I envisage 30 Kinder kids all channelling their inner canines!

Heart-warming and positive, with several laugh-aloud moments, When Billy Was a Dog is a wonderful choice for libraries and homes everywhere - especially those that appreciate dogs and those who love (to pretend to be) them.

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

Let’s Celebrate Grandparent’s Day

by Susan Stephenson,

Grandparents are great, aren’t they? Lots of countries have a special day to celebrate that. In the USA it’s September 19, 2019 and in Australia it’s 27 October 2019. But of course any day can be set aside to remind us all how special grandparents are, and how very fortunate WE are to have them in our lives.

Whichever day you choose to call Grandparent’s Day, here are some ideas to help you celebrate. And below you will find a list I’ve begun to create featuring books about grandparents.


* All family members love to see what kids do in school. Why not invite them to your classroom as special guests for a session one day. My experience suggests making it a defined amount of time that maybe adjoins a lunchtime or morning tea.

* Prior to this session, kids could create portraits of their grandparents and display them!

* Invite some grandparents to come and talk to the kids about life when they were young, and how things were different and the same.

* Create a class or library display of things that may have been used by grandparents or great-grandparents.

* Visit a museum where children can see clothing, transport, cooking items etc from earlier times.

* Are there grandparents who would help out by sharing a favourite book or magic trick, or with a class cooking or gardening session?

* Have kids talk about, write about and draw their grandparents or someone older than their parents who is important in their lives.

* Older kids could make a presentation about a grandparent. Will it be a multimedia presentation? Questions to get kids started might be: What do we know about Grandpa/Grandma? What is his/her favourite thing to do, or place to visit? What are his/her hobbies? What does he/she like to say or do to make us laugh? What is special about my grandparent?

* Challenge children to make a gift for a grandparent. Will they make a card? A poem? A comic? Perhaps they could decorate a pot or make a peg basket.

* If you have iPads, check out the Grandma and Grandpa apps by Fairlady Media. You can find my reviews for these apps and others on my Pinterest page.


Below you’ll find a list of some books I would recommend to help you celebrate Grandparent’s Day with kids, or just to celebrate our good fortune in having them part of our lives.

Check out other celebrations here at The Book Chook by browsing under the Celebrations button in the right sidebar.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Cocoon

by Susan Stephenson,

Cocoon is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Aura Parker, and published by Scholastic Australia (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Dawn and her best friends have a plan! They are going to eat as many leaves as they can, weave cocoons and turn into moths so they can FLY!

Easy peasy, right? But what happens when days go by and Dawn still doesn’t have her wings? What if she doesn’t grow them at all? Will Dawn ever get to chase the lights with her friends?

A beautiful story about patience and achieving your dreams.

Aura Parker won my heart with Twig, which was one of my top children’s picture books in 2016. So I was thrilled to see Cocoon arrive Chez Chook. Ten seconds later, after drinking in the cover and the absolutely delightful endpapers, I plunged into a tale about Dawn, a caterpillar. And immediately I have a new contender for Top Picture Books of 2019!

Parker triumphs as both author and illustrator. Young readers will find themselves immersed in the life of an insect larva, and incidentally learning about metamorphosis without realising. I particularly admired the way Parker helped us see Dawn’s world through her eyes, helped us imagine her life.

There are also so many fascinating visual details for kids to appreciate. I loved the varied perspectives, such as an aerial view of eager little caterpillar faces surrounding the paper diagram of “the plan” - eat lots of leaves, weave a cocoon, become a moth and FLY! And the cut-away views of the inside of the cocoon are delightful. Kids will adore the blue prints of Dawn’s imagined dream cocoon, the sheer variety of illustration formats, and the wonderful seek and find activities in the end-papers. This is definitely a picture book to pore over, and read again and again.

I recommend this truly beautiful picture book to libraries and homes everywhere. It will make an excellent resource for junior grades in science, and appeal particularly to kids 4 - 7. I think it will also be useful to adults looking for a read-aloud about perseverance and following your dreams.

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

Writing Tips for Kids 10 - Use Your Senses

by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I began a series of Writing Tips for Kids. This is the tenth in the series. Over coming weeks you’ll see more short articles, each of them addressing young writers and dealing with a topic helpful to them. I’ve created a List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.

Using Senses and Point of View

Ice. What do you think of when you read that word "ice"? Do see a picture of an iceberg in your head and hear the splash as a chunk breaks away and plummets into the sea? Maybe you imagine the cold, wet feeling when an ice block melts in your hand, or dissolves on your tongue.

One thing writers do to help readers enjoy their stories is to use words creatively. They try to make pictures in a reader's mind. And they make those pictures fit the character we're reading about. Suppose we’re witnessing a battle scene inside a castle kitchen through the eyes and ears of Ralf, a boy who works there. We could write, "It was very loud." But if we choose words the boy himself might use, we could write, "It was as if all the plates in the world shattered inside his head." Both times we’re using words that make a noise image inside a reader's head, but the second way makes the boy's character and life more real to us.

Writers try to use words that appeal to our senses. Their images tell us about things the character experiences. Do you ever feel so caught up in a novel that it’s like you’re living in the story? Writers capture our imaginations and transport us to the world they’ve built inside a book. It’s as if we really are hearing, tasting or seeing things the characters do.

If our kitchen boy, Ralf, was hungry, would this be a good choice of words? “Ralf was hungry enough to eat ten burgers.” We are learning about the book world through what Ralf sees, feels, hears and thinks. He probably lives in the past, a time when boys worked in castle kitchens. Can you re-write that sentence about Ralf being hungry so it sounds more like something Ralf would think?

Author Sandy Fussell wrote a book called Polar Boy. It’s a great book. Sandy uses language that puts us right inside a character's head. When we're there, looking out at the world through a character’s eyes, it's called point of view. Sandy makes the point of view strong by choosing words that suit the character. Her hero, Iluak, describes his grandmother in words we would expect a boy from a land of snow and ice to use. “Nana’s face is crinkled like caribou hide, brown and withered hard.”

If a character from a very cold place was scared, what words might he use to describe his fear? Can you use words that make us remember being very cold, and afraid as well?

When you’re reading, be on the alert for writing that grabs you and puts you inside a character’s head or feelings. I like to keep a note pad handy and jot down ideas the author gives me for my own writing. A tablet can work just as well.

Using skills that published writers use, like strong point of view and word pictures that make us feel something, is one more way to make your stories effective.

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, Writing Tips for Kids 4 - Writing Funny Stories, Writing Tips for Kids 5 - Start with a Hook, Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions, Writing Tips for Kids 7 - Use Strong Verbs. Writing Tips for Kids 8 - Use Specific Nouns, Writing Tips for Kids 9 - Remove Fluff Words.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Lottie and Walter

by Susan Stephenson,

Lottie and Walter is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Anna Walker and published by Penguin Random House (2019.) RRP: $Au 24 99 HB. I have previously reviewed many books either written and illustrated, or just illustrated by Anna Walker eg Florette and Go Go and the Silver Shoes.

From the publisher:

'I'm not swimming,' Lottie announced.

Lottie doesn't want to be afraid, but no matter what she does, she just can't go in the water.

Until she finds a surprising friend, who turns out to be more helpful than Lottie could ever have imagined...

I love Anna Walker’s picture books. There is always such a warmth and kindliness to them. I believe young children need lots of positive books in their lives, and Lottie and Walter is a fine example of this. Lottie is a little girl, who like many, is afraid of learning to swim. Mostly because she knows there is a shark hiding in the pool, waiting to EAT her. Luckily she meets a walrus called Walter who doesn’t seem to mind her decision not to swim, but sings gently, and eats lots of fish fingers.

The illustrations in Lottie and Walter are excellent. Water colours now hint at the terror of a lurking shark, and next at the delight of sharing a bubble bath with a walrus. Kids will make connections to their own lives via all the lovely details of pool parties and getting changed after a successful swimming lesson.

I loved that the adult characters in the story don’t pressure Lottie to swim, and that it’s her friendship with Walter that finally enables her to conquer her fear. Lottie and Walter reminds kids that it’s okay to be afraid, and that there are ways we can overcome our fears. It’s going straight on my list of contenders for Top Picture Books 2019.

Parents and teachers will be pleased to find that Penguin has a Lottie and Walter downloadable activity pack available. There’s also a gorgeous Youtube trailer you can show your kids to whet their appetites for this excellent children’s picture book, embedded below.

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