Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books 2019

Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson,

Here is the first in my series of children’s picture books reviewed in 2019.

Find some from last year here,  herehere, herehere, and here. Is there a child near you who would benefit from reading some or all of these books?

It’s a Long Way to the Shop is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Heidi McKinnon, and published by Scholastic Press (2018.) RRP: $Au17.99 HB. I have previously reviewed McKinnon’s I Just Ate My Friend.

From the publisher:

They can’t run, swim, fly or jump... so how will these two little rocks get to the shop? Find out in this hilarious tale of adventure and persistence, to reach a snack that’s totally worth it.

Adults often look for children’s books that have a theme of grit and perseverance. They’ll certainly find that in It’s a Long Way to the Shop. I loved that the story is written from the point of view of both rocks, almost in a duologue, with two different coloured fonts to represent each voice. Children of course won’t care one jot whether a book has a theme or voices. They will focus immediately on the bright illustrations, the humour, and the amazing adventures the two rocks have. They will also love the twists and turns of the narrative - don’t forget to include the final endpaper in your read-aloud. McKinnon’s illustrations are a mix of digital and hand-drawn elements, and there is a real emphasis on textures and patterns - very appropriate from a rock’s perspective!

There are so many activities about shopping you could do with kids as a follow-up to It’s a Long Way to the Shop. Make sure kids have the opportunity to role-play shopping, measure and weigh, estimate, heft, experience mass, capacity and spatial activities. The website, has great tips for parents on teaching kids to be smart shoppers. The story also lends itself to the drama/language game, Fortunately/Unfortunately.

Another book about bears. is a children’s picture book written by Laura Bunting, illustrated by Philip Bunting, and published by Omnibus (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB. I have reviewed many Bunting books!

From the publisher:

Ever wondered why there are so many books about bears? Discover the grizzly truth in this bear-all account.

Bears are tired. Sick and tired. And just when they are in the middle of something really good –like sleeping, snoozing or napping – too many storybooks mean they have to stop what they are doing –that is – sleeping, and get up and be part of a story. Every story.

Well, the bears have had enough. They are going on strike. This hilarious book looks at some alternatives for all the parts bears play in stories. But what sort of animal could be… just right?

Can we bear another book about bears? Of course we can. Another book about bears cleverly has the narrator as a character just trying to get on with the story. But because the bears have Had. Enough. they interrupt and then quit. But that’s not the end of the story because the Narrator fights back, putting the main bear into very awkward situations. And then Bear tries to find someone, anyone, to take his place. Can there possibly be a happy ending?

Quirky and even crazy at times, with beautiful graphic design depicted in lovely muted shades, Another book about bears is another triumph for the Buntings. I recommend it for homes and libraries everywhere. Puns will be flying thick and fast, kids will be chortling sideways and upside down, and adults will rest assured they have nudged kids towards truly enjoying reading and books. I’ll be adding Another book about bears. to my list of Hilarious Interactive Picture Books for Kids.

What Does the Crocodile Say? is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Eva Montanari, and published by Book Island (2018.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

The first day of nursery is hard for everyone, even for a crocodile. And on top of this, there are so many sounds and noises to be heard! How does little Crocodile deal with it all? Follow him as he journeys through the sounds he encounters, and tries to make it through to the end of the day, when he will be reunited with his mum again.

A colourful picture book about noise and sound, and a little crocodile who is really not looking forward to nursery.

Lots of kids will remember a time in their lives when they found a situation or experience overwhelming. Perhaps like Little Crocodile, it will be the onslaught of sounds they remember. Little Crocodile contributes his own wailing and plenty of tears as Mum tries to settle him and leave. Will he stay miserable or find something to like about Nursery? I think kids will be as fascinated by the illustrations that accompany the story as I was - coloured pencil sketching with lots of detail. The actions of the little animals are beautifully portrayed and the whole book is as cute as can be. Check it out on Vimeo, below.

'What Does the Crocodile Say' created by Eva Montanari from Book Island on Vimeo.

What Does the Crocodile Say? would be a wonderful lead-in to an activity about developing soundscapes for all sorts of situations.

Butt Out is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Heath McKenzie, and published by Scholastic Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB.

From the publisher:
Baboon likes having his butt out. How cheeky! What happens when all the well-dressed animals in town tell him to cover up?

The front cover of Butt Out certainly demands attention, especially if you are between about 3 and 8. On a bright pink background, there’s a bare-bummed baboon running pants-free and proud of it. The other animals are taken aback but Baboon has cheeky responses for them. For example, when giraffe observes. “Good heavens! Your bottom is out!” Baboon replies, “Sun’s out. Buns out!” And so it goes. Finally the animals get together and deliver a unanimous verdict. Is this the end of Baboon’s bare butt?

Australia has a tradition of larrikinism. I have to admit that although I am no longer the target age for this book, I could understand Baboon’s yen for freedom, and empathise. We have so many restrictions and thou-shalt-nots in our society! Although it is fun, and certainly funny, I think Butt Out would make an excellent book for a lead-in to a discussion on laws and rules in school or in society. More generally though, Butt Out is recommended for children under 8 who enjoy humour or think bare bottoms are the bee’s knees.

The Croc who Rocked is a children’s picture book by Laura Casella, published by Starfish Bay Publishing (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

All alone, in a quiet part of the jungle, Little Croc hatches. He may be small, but he has a big voice and loves to sing. But the other animals don’t like his snap-snap song and send him away. As time passes, he becomes a big croc, and his song gets better and louder, but he is lonely. He asks some birds to teach him their song, hoping the other animals might accept him. All goes well until he gets carried away, snap-snaps in the middle of the song, and is sent away. As he sings sadly to himself by the river, his song attracts an unexpected crowd of admirers, who finally join in on the music.

It’s always great to find children’s books that celebrate individual differences! Croc tries very hard to not be himself - to NOT sing the song that ends up frightening other jungle animals. Luckily he does find a group that loves his loud snappy song, and he fits right in with them. The illustrations are just gorgeous - you can see all the lovely texture lines in the paint and there is a real immediacy and sense of fun about them.

A Stack of Alpacas is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Matt Cosgrove, and published by Koala Books, an imprint of Scholastic (2019.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Smashing and splashing! Jumping and thumping! Fighting and biting! Macca is looking after his nieces and nephew and they are nothing but TROUBLE! How will Uncle Macca tame this unruly trio?

A follow-up to Alpacas with Maracas, and Macca’s Christmas Crackers, this new picture book shows us the problems Macca has with his nieces and nephews when they come to stay with him. Kids will of course find the young alpacas’ high jinks hilarious! There is the usual simple rhyming scheme, and lots of noise words that make the story such fun to read-aloud. But there’s also a change in the children’s naughtiness when they realise what a mess they’ve made. And, at the end, a thoroughly funny and perfect conclusion!

Up the Mountain is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, and published by Book Island (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Dubuc’s Here Comes Mister Postmouse and Mister Postmouse Goes on Holiday.

From the publisher:

Every Sunday Mrs Badger walks up the mountain near her house. She knows the name of every animal and every plant on the way and helps everyone in need. One particular Sunday she meets a little cat, Leo, who would like to join her on her journey. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and many more walks up the mountain. What will happen when Mrs Badger is too old to join Leo?

Up the Mountain is a truly charming children’s picture book. It makes us realise how important it is to be aware of every tiny thing in our environment - of how it might relate to us, and to the things around it. While we adults may talk about mindfulness, children will be more likely to make connections to their own lives. Perhaps they know someone like Mrs Badger. Perhaps they love to go for beach walks and collect shells. Or bush walks to find gum nuts and sticks shaped like something from their imaginations. At each page turn, little Leo learns something new, and Mrs Badger kindly shapes the journey. There is nature lore in Up the Mountain, gentle humour and so much to think about and discuss.

While the standard children’s picture book published in Australia is 32 pages, those published in other countries do not have such strict parameters. Up the Mountain is 76 pages and consequently has lots for young readers to ponder over. I think it makes an excellent choice for libraries everywhere as it is a sturdy, good quality book. It also is a great pick for a read-aloud, perhaps with a few pages in each sitting and pauses for reflection. As a book to read independently, I would particularly recommend it to children 5+ who love to go on nature rambles and collect things they can share with others. I will be adding it to my list of Children’s Picture Books about the Environment.

Maisy's Farm is a board book by Lucy Cousins, published by Walker Books Australia (2019.) RRP: $Au 14.99 BB.

From the publisher:

Maisy's going to the farm! Join her as she drives the tractor, waters the vegetable patch, feeds the chickens, and milks the cow. What a busy day! This brilliant board book from the multi-award-winning author-illustrator Lucy Cousins includes a bonus pop-up play scene featuring pop-out pieces of beloved characters Maisy and Cyril, as well lots of farm animal favourites! Ideal for imaginative play and teaching little ones all about life on the farm.

Kids love the Maisy books and with good reason. They are charming stories, have delightful illustrations using primary colours, and are perfectly targeted at toddlers and pre-school children. This board book has a special treat in store for kids! At the back there is a bonus pop-up play scene and press-out card play pieces of characters in the story. I can't recommend it to libraries, because of the press-outs, but it would make such a perfect gift for young Maisy fans!

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with a Machine

by Susan Stephenson,

My Creative Prompt Series has lots of ideas that nudge kids towards some kind of creativity. You can see all the Prompts embedded below. Today I want children to start with the idea or concept of a machine, or even an actual machine, and create something new from there. And don’t forget:

Challenges for Kids:

* What IS a machine? First discuss this with an adult. Next, list as many machines as you can think of in ten minutes.

* Draw a machine made only of straight lines. Now draw one made only of curving lines. Which one was easiest to draw? Which one do you like best?

* Just imagine all the machines in the world banded together, and rose up against their human overlords. Describe what happens. Use your ideas to create a cartoon or a story with the title, The Rise of the Machines.

* Get together with your friends and make a machine with your bodies. Each person joins in one by one, moving some part of her/his body in a repeated motion. When everyone is moving, then each person joins in and repeats the noise his/her part of the machine makes.

Here is a video that shows one way of doing this. Try speeding your machine up and slowing it down.

* Use geometric shapes and lines and only three colours to create an incredible machine. You might like to check out The Incredible Freedom Machines for some inspiration, or think about something that might defeat my Zaptron, below.

* Use junk material to make a robot.

* Dress up a machine to humanise it. Take some photographs of your machine/human hybrid. Give it a name. Invent its backstory. What does it want more than anything in the world and what stops its dream coming true?

* There is a problem in the world and you must design a machine that can solve this problem. What is the problem? How can your machine solve it? Draw a sketch of your machine and label all the important parts.

* Use LEGO or other building material to each design a machine. Display your machines somewhere safe.

* What would a war machine look like/sound like/smell like/feel like? How could you communicate the idea of war to someone through a drawing? How could you do it through drama or dance or sculpture or some other way? Choose one of these and go for it!

* Follow the same patterns as the one just above but this time with a peace machine.

* Design a cake with a Machine theme.

* If you could transform your washing machine, what might it become?

* Just imagine one morning you woke up transformed into a machine. What kind of machine are you? Are there any problems with being a machine like that? What good things might there be? What happens next?

* Draw plans for a machine you would like to invent.

* Imagine a machine called Trick or Treat. Describe and draw it. Label its parts.

You might also like to check out my list of Creative Children’s Book Week Resources.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

New Children’s Picture Books - Little Book Press

by Susan Stephenson,

I have reviewed Little Book Press books before, and discussed the tremendous work in general of Raising Literacy Australia. Little Book Press is the publishing arm of Raising Literacy Australia, and specialises in board and picture books to support early literacy and numeracy development.

Today I want to introduce you to three of their recent titles.

Let’s Go Strolling is a children’s picture book written by Katrina Germein, illustrated by Danny Snell and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

A delightful story with simple rhythm which centres on a family spending the day together out and about. Strolling to the park they say hello to a neighbour, marvel at the orange bus, wave to a rubbish truck and point to the ducks waddling by.

Look outside. See the Sun. Let’s go now, have some fun.
Puppy dog, butterfly. Aeroplane, cloudy sky.

A story that focuses on everyday experiences and surroundings providing lots of opportunity for talk between parent and child.

This is a charming gentle story, perfectly pitched at kids under five. It is written in simple rhyme, and there are lots of opportunities for children to hear and see the things that make up their own days. I love the way Germein includes vocabulary that involves children’s senses - we meet colours, textures, sounds and feelings as the walk progresses. The illustrations match the text perfectly, contributing to the atmosphere of gentle fun.

The little girl in the story likes to name things when she strolls with Dad - this is an unspoken invitation to play that same game with our youngest “readers” either before, during, after the story, or all three. A nice follow-up activity would be to go for a stroll in children’s own neighbourhoods and “spot” things from the story.

Hush Say the Stars is a children’s picture book written by Margaret Spurling, illustrated by Mandy Foot, and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

All is quiet, all is still as the first stars appear in the evening sky. As night closes in, the farm settles down with all the animals, big and small, knowing that now is the time to snuggle into their warm cosy beds.

Hush say the Stars, it’s time to be still. The gentle cows gather on the side of the hill. Time for sleep.

Beautifully written by Margaret Spurling with superb illustrations by Mandy Foot. A joy to read with your children right from the start.

Here’s a lovely choice for settling down before going to sleep. Spurling has used rhyme, assonance and repetition to great effect in Hush Say the Stars. In my mind’s eye I see freshly-scrubbed youngsters helping turn its pages while their eyelids get heavier. And because of the lovely gentle text, I just know there will be parents fighting sleep too. Foot has matched illustrations to reinforce the text, using water soluble graphite pencils, chalk pastel pencils, watercolour and gouache on Fabriano watercolour paper. It truly is a beautiful picture book, just right for a bedtime read-aloud.

Garden Stew is a children’s picture book written by Carrie Galasch, illustrated by Zoë Ingram and published by Little Book Press (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Join Quokkas, Tattie and Tiny Spud as they head outside for lots of fun.

A pot, some sticks and petals too, it’s time to make garden stew!

Reminiscent of making mud pies in the backyard.

What fun to find a quokka as a main character in a children’s picture book! It’s a very cute, smiley quokka, with rosy cheeks and a red and white striped top. Apparently quokkas, like children, love to make garden stew. Kids will resonate immediately with play that involves combining spoons, bowls and garden bits and bobs. If they don’t already play at making garden stew, I know it will definitely be on the agenda after reading this book.

Garden Stew is full of joy. From the brightly coloured, happy illustrations to the simple rhyming text, Garden Stew brims with things to delight us. On one page, a line of beetles ambles by; over here, feathers and gumnuts; and look there! three snails balancing on each other. The stew itself ends up looking a muddy mess which is just as it should be, and the quokkas end up under the garden hose - summertime fun for Australian kids everywhere. Another excellent choice for children under 5.


Books for toddlers and babies may be dismissed by some, but they are in fact tremendously important. Little ones learn so much from being read to. For a start, they learn that reading is pleasurable. They pick this up from having that one-on-one very special time with a caring adult, who not only reads to them but chats about the story and the illustrations.

Some clever adults also “play” with the story, emphasising certain words that make special sounds like “pop” or copying activities from the story. Little ones also learn from the actual story being read-aloud. They pick up so much about the natural rhythms and cadences of language, they meet characters important to their own culture, and they encounter activities, things and ideas that are new to them.

My sincere congratulations go to all six book creators, above, and to Little Book Press for recognising quality and publishing it!

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

Friday, February 8, 2019

Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions

by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I began a series of Writing Tips for Kids. This is the sixth 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 new List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.

How to Look for and Remove Repetitions

Repeating words can slow a paragraph or whole story down.

Sometimes we repeat things deliberately, for effect. Thud! Thud! The drums were louder now, and her heart thudded an echo. The reader is caught up in the excitement of these thuds. But if we repeat words unconsciously, it makes our story slower, heavier. That might make a reader give up.

Here's an example. "What's in the treasure chest?" asked Pirate Pat. "Is that the treasure chest we've been searching for all these years? It's not much of a treasure chest to look at." Can you think of a different way to write that part of the story to avoid the repetition of “treasure chest”?

Here's one way: "What's in the treasure chest?" asked Pirate Pat. "Is that what we've been searching for all these years? It's not much to look at."

Here’s another example: “The monsters looked mean and had mean grins. They were so mean they gave me the shivers.” How could you re-write those two sentences by removing repeated words and perhaps replacing them with different words?

You could look in a thesaurus and find different words for “mean”. You could sketch a quick picture of a monster and brainstorm different words to describe it - like “evil”, “scary”, or “gruesome”. Try to choose words that give your readers a clear er picture of the monsters in their imaginations.

NOTE: Two words that don’t fall into this general guideline are “said” and “asked”. Real writers use “said” in dialogue rather than fancier words like chortled or exclaimed because “said” has become almost invisible to a reader. Published writers only use fancier words very occasionally and deliberately.

If you suspect you've repeated words in some text, an easy way to check is to paste the text into a Word Cloud like Wordle or ABCya Word Clouds. The word cloud will show you repeated words in bigger font. You could also ask your parent or teacher to help you find a text analysing tool on the internet. You don’t need to worry about little words like “a” “in” and “the” because a reader’s eyes mostly slide over them.

Something else that writers try to avoid is repeating the same kind of sentence over and over. Here’s an example:

The boy jogged to the mountain. The boy climbed the mountain. The boy fell off the mountain. The boy fell onto the rocks. He hurt his arm. He went to the hospital. He got a needle in his arm. He got plaster on his arm.

Those sentences aren’t all exactly the same. But they are kind of the same. Writers try to have a variety of sentence types. They might start “The boy jogged to the mountain.” But their next sentence might be longer, and joined up eg “He climbed and climbed until he made it to the top, but wobbled, overbalanced and crashed onto the rocks below.” Can you re-write the paragraph in italics (above) without having such an obviously repeated pattern of sentences?

Here’s a different example. What has been repeated here that needs to be changed? “The wolf attacked! It jumped for my throat! It scratched its claws along my face! It mangled me! It hurt!”

If you’re keen to improve your writing, searching for, finding and removing repetition will really help.

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 - Start with a Hook.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again

by Susan Stephenson,

Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again is a children’s picture book written by Men Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek and published by Omnibus Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

A companion to Good Night, Sleep Tight!
Join Bonnie and Ben as they rhyme their way through the day...until a twinkle, twinkle, little star calls them home.

From Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, the team behind best-selling classics including Ducks Away, This and That and Where is the Green Sheep?

We first met Bonnie, Ben and their friend, Skinny Doug, in the children’s picture book Good Night, Sleep Tight, also by Men Fox and Judy Horacek. In Bonne and Ben Rhyme Again, the two children go for a walk with Doug and they encounter all sorts of things that prompt them to think of nursery rhymes they know by heart. A hill? Jack and Jill of course. A sheep? Quickly the children recite Little Bo Peep. I am sure real children will use the words and illustrations as “clues” to the nursery rhymes that follow, and I love that Fox has built this element of play into the story as well.

As with Good Night, Sleep Tight, there’s a refrain for kids to proclaim:

I love, I love it!
Well done, and hurrah!
Can you tell me another?
How clever you are!

and I just know families will adopt this refrain for their own nursery rhyme recitations.

Men Fox has long encouraged parents to read and share nursery rhymes with their little ones, so my adult head enjoyed the reinforcement of this precept found in Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again. As well as the classic nursery rhymes, Fox has written the story rhythmically and with her own rhyme, making this an excellent picture book for kids to memorise and “pretend” read. Horacek’s brightly coloured and cartoonish illustrations are perfectly pitched at children 2-8.

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