Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Recent Children’s Picture Books 2018 (3)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

This is the third in my series of children’s picture books reviewed in 2018. Find the first here and the second here.

Sandcastle is a children's picture book by Philip Bunting, published by Allen and Unwin (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. Previously I have reviewed Bunting’s Mopoke,  Koalas Eat Gum Leaves,  Excuse Me! and Kookaburras Love to Laugh.

From the publisher:

A story for anyone who likes to spend a day at the beach, and for everyone who has ever pondered the big questions about our place in the universe.

Rae and Grandad set out to build a sandcastle.
They make a tall tower.
They raise great ramparts.
They dig a deep moat.
They even find a dragon.
But will it be enough to hold the tide?

Sandcastle is a beautiful exploration of the ebb and flow of life.

Sandcastle has many of the features I treasure about Bunting’s books. The illustrations are a perfect combination of clean simplicity and just enough detail to be fascinating. The colours evoke a day at the seaside anywhere in the world, but the colours also change with the movement of the sun. We get shots from a wide perspective, and close-ups to the point of seeing grains of sand. But there is less humour in this latest book I think, with the author instead choosing to weave in a comment about the ebb and flow of life and the universe. So this is not a read-aloud to choose when you want kids guffawing, but one that induces a mood of quiet contemplation and remembering.

I like that Sandcastle can be read on at least two levels. For the pre-school set, it’s a story they can connect to - spending time building with someone in their family. They’ll love the way Bunting uses real castle terminology like rampart and moat, and giggle over the sea dragon. They’ll feel tension as the waves creep closer to the sandcastle and wonder if it will survive the sea’s onslaught. But for older kids, there’s a lot more to think about. Why doesn’t Grandad answer Rae’s questions? What does Grandad mean when he says the sandcastle is still here? Why don’t we see Grandad in the final pages? What is the meaning behind the author’s endnote? Do we need to understand every single thing before we can enjoy or appreciate a book?

A Stone for Sascha is a wordless picture book by Aaron Becker. published by Walker Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 27.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Becker’s Journey, Quest and Return in Book Chook Favourites - Wordless Picture Books.

From the publisher:

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth.

Whether or not children have experienced the loss of a beloved pet, I think they will understand the grief of loss because of SOMETHING that has happened in their own lives. I am not sure A Stone for Sascha will give them comfort, or give them answers even. Instead it will prompt them to muse, and to ask questions about Life with a capital L.

As with many wordless picture books, A Stone for Sascha really repays close "reading" and repeated "readings". The illustrations are striking, almost sombre, detailed, and encourage imaginings and wonderings. This is the sort of picture book which will mean different things to different people, and indeed, different things to the same people over the course of time. There are classroom notes available at Walker Books Classroom.

I’ll be adding A Stone for Sascha to my List of Wordless Children’s Picture Books.

Square is a children’s picture book by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, published by Walker Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Triangle and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Barnett and Klassen.

From the publisher:

Every day, Square brings a block out of his cave and pushes it up a steep hill. This is his work. When Circle floats by, she declares Square a genius, a sculptor! “This is a wonderful statue,” she says. “It looks just like you!” But now Circle wants a sculpture of her own, a circle! Will the genius manage to create one? Even accidentally?

Poor Square. It seems almost sisyphean to have to push rock blocks from the cave to the top of the hill. But it’s his work, and he does it day after day. Then along comes Circle and reveals that she believes he is a sculptor and a genius, commissioning him to make a sculpture that looks like her. Poor Square indeed. Try though he may, he despairs of ever achieving something as perfect as Circle. Is he a genius or not?

With the usual deadpan humour and stunning art work, Barnett and Klassen continue not only their shape stories, but show us how to involve children in tales with a twist that make them laugh and make them think. Book Chook Feather of Approval for Square! It’s also a definite contender for my Top Picture Books of 2018 list.

Dogasaurus is a children’s picture book by Lucinda Gifford, published by Scholastic (2018.) RRP: $16.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Gfford’s The Cat Wants Cuddles.

From the publisher:

Imagine if you found a strange egg in a mysterious forest, and then you brought it home... And when it hatched, out popped a baby DINOSAUR!

Maybe you'd adopt it as your pet? You could play and do chores together and have lots of fun.

But what would you do when it grows... and GROWS... and GROWS?

Find out what Molly does, in this funny tale about a special friendship.

When you’re walking in a Mysterious Ancient Forest and you find a Mysterious Thing, you can be pretty sure it will turn out to be amazing. And so it proves. Amazingly fun…and amazingly big as Rex grows and GROWS.

This is an excellent book choice for kids to do some predicting. In fact, try stopping them! I know they will suspect the outcomes, both minor and major, but that is half the fun. Gifford’s illustrations are loads of fun too. Humour is there in the form of word play: Rex “took care of the chickens” accompanies a cartoonish sketch of Rex with an “Oops” expression and feathers escaping from his jaws. I really enjoyed Dogasaurus - giggles escaped like those chicken feathers! - and plan to read it aloud to a captive audience soon.

The Penguins are Coming by Meg McKinlay and Mark Jackson, published by Walker Books Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

The penguins are coming and there is great excitement at the zoo. But what’s a penguin? The animals don’t quite know what to expect – but they all have an opinion, each more outlandish than the last. When the truth about penguins is finally revealed, everyone is in for a surprise!

Right from the first double page spread, the excitement is palpable: the penguins are coming! There’s a banner announcing it, signs directing to the penguin enclosure and the animals are all discussing penguins. But…what are they exactly? Different animal groups give a penguin description and McKinlay’s writerly skill is evident in their “voices”! Just like we humans: some complain, others boast, most embellish a little or even a lot. Jackson’s illustrations take off from these flights of fantasy with enthusiasm, gifting us varied scenes starring penguins in all their imagined finery.

One of the triumphs of The Penguins are Coming is that it’s truly successful as a fiction book with real facts in it. The animals’ speculation over what a penguin actually is? Hilarious! But then the zookeeper interrupts and explodes all the penguin myths, presenting the truth about penguins. And then? One final twist that is oh so funny, and ultimately very satisfying. I have added The Penguins are Coming to my Top Picture Books of 2018 list.

The Visitor by Antje Damm, translated into English by Sally-Ann Spencer, and published by Gecko Press (2018). RRP: NZ 26.08 HB. I have previously reviewed Damm’s Waiting for Goliath.

From the publisher:

A story about friendship and shyness, full of light and colour, that plays out in a mini theatre.

It is my personal belief that it’s wonderful for children to be able to access books from a range of countries. Picture books that have been written and first published in Europe are often quite different to those published in (for instance) Australia. Some don’t follow our conventional 32 page format; others deal with slightly darker or more serious themes. Wise parents, librarians and teachers, of course, will read books first to assess their suitability to any child or group. But in general, I believe kids can benefit by encountering writers and illustrators who introduce them to something new.

In The Visitor, we meet Elise. She is frightened of almost everything to the extent that she never leaves her house. Kids will understand what it’s like to be afraid and will be able to discuss things and events that have frightened them. Many will understand a fear of spiders, and perhaps some will share Elise’s fear of people, or even trees. And then one day there is a knock at the door. Whether or not children can verbalise their fears, I like to think of them taking strength from what happens after Elise opens the door to her visitor.

The illustrations in The Visitor are very special. Damm created dioramas from cardboard and then photographed them, giving a real depth to each scene. The scenes begin in sepia and grey with Elise a black and white cut-out. As the visitor interacts with Elise, more and more colour appears until there is a riot of luminous colour all around, and even Elise’s pale cheeks are rosy. This is a such a feel-good picture book, and it makes an excellent one to share with older kids too.

You can take a peek inside The Visitor at Gecko Press’s website.

Ocean Lullaby by Sally Odgers and Lisa Stewart, published by Scholastic Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Ocean babies in the deep, waves are rocking them to sleep.
Listen as the deep sea sighs. That’s the ocean’s lullaby.
I very much enjoyed Rainforest Lullaby, Bushland Lullaby (my reviews) and Outback Lullaby so I expected this next picture book in the series to be as good. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Odgers is a fine poet and she knows how to speak to children in ways they will respond to. Sharing a lovely lyrical book like this with kids is a wonderful way to make poetry a natural part of their lives. Stewart’s mixed-media illustrations sustain the gentle lullaby theme with muted pastel colours and delightful animal families.

I am an Artist is a children’s picture book by Nikki Slade Robinson, published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

A beautiful hand-crafted picture book that will inspire and encourage children to create art using everyday objects from the natural environment.

If you’re a regular reader at The Book Chook, you’ll know how much I love to find books, tools, apps, ideas, concepts - ANYTHING that encourages children to create. I was delighted to find that I am an Artist features a little girl who not only loves to create, but has the imagination and confidence to use all sorts of tools and media. In the forest? No need for paper, not with lichen, leaf skeletons and twigs around! On the beach? So much to use, so much to explore and experiment with.

I have previously reviewed Robinson’s Muddle and Mo, and Muddle and Mo’s Worm Surprise and enjoyed the art work in I am an Artist very much too. It makes an excellent choice for kids who love to think outside the box, or for those who’d like to do so.

Elephants Have Wings is a children’s picture book by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro, published by Ford Street (2014). I have previously reviewed Gervay’s I am Jack and Super Jack.

From the publisher:

Inspired by the strength, courage and endurance of the mythological and spiritual elephants, Elephants Have Wings is a magical story of two children embarking on the great journey of discovering the humanity in all of us.

Elephants Have Wings is a most unusual children’s picture book. It is based on the old story of the blind men and the elephant, and makes a great introduction to this parable, common to different faiths. But the story is more than this, because two children fly off on the elephant and explore new vistas. Some landscapes are wondrous, “the sky is diamonds and the moon golden.” Some make the elephant cry, and they plunge “through cracked skies and into babbling noise.” At the end of the story, the big sister confides that she has learnt a secret: “Everyone is different, but we’re the same too. The elephant is in all of us.”

Pignataro’s illustrations are just as unusual as the text. There’s a gentle softness to some pages, a riot of colour in others. Am I being too fanciful in saying there’s a real sense of mysticism in this book? I believe it will spark some fascinating discussion with kids. Teachers can access a Study Guide on Gervay’s website.

Let’s Visit the Olobobs by Leigh Hodgkinson, Steve Smith, illustrated by Leigh Hodgkinson, published by Bloomsbury (2018.)RRP: Au 12.99 (only $Au 11.69 from the website!)

From the publisher:

The exciting world of Olobob Top comes in all shapes, colours and sizes! Say hello to Tib, Lalloo, Bobble and all their friends! They are made of shapes too.

Who wears a triangle dress? Who is sleeping underneath a semi-circle shell? And what are those BIG long rectangle shapes stomping through the Olobob Forest?

Lift the flap to find out...

Tib, Lalloo and Bobble are characters in a new animated TV show for pre-schoolers. They live in the biggest tree in Olobob Forest. Whether or not the series is available on your TV, I believe kids will respond positively to the book. Hodgkinson’s graphic design is just superb. The characters are bright, colourful and quirky and the book asks kids to participate in activities such as counting, opening flaps, identifying shapes etc. I loved the emphasis on striking patterns and vibrant colour, and kids will too.

Olobob Top: Make Your Own Olobob Home by Leigh Hodgkinson, Steve Smith, illustrated by Leigh Hodgkinson, published by Bloomsbury (2018.) RRP: $Au 9.99 (only $Au 8.99 from the website!)

From the publisher:

There are lots of different homes in the wonderful world of Olobob Top. There are tall ones, small ones, tidy underground ones and bubbly underwater ones. But, every home is missing SOMETHING...

Tib, Lalloo and Bobble need comfy furniture for their tree house, Crunch wants to decorate her home with acorn stickers and Deeno has tidied EVERYTHING away and now his room is empty! Can you find the stickers they need to make them feel at home?

In this creative sticker book from the exciting new CBeebies series, you can build amazing tree houses, dens, shops and forests out of so many stickers. Bring the whole world of Olobob Top to life with colour and let your imagination free!

This is a sticker book, and as such probably not suitable for libraries. It’s not just stickers though, exciting though that activity may be. Children are also encouraged to follow directions, create, draw, match pairs, colour, invent patterns etc. It would make a wonderful activity book to pack in a pre-school child’s holiday bag, or a fun way to celebrate shape, pattern and colour.

The Old Man is a children’s picture book by Sarah V, illustrated by Claude Dubois and published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 21.73 HB.

From the publisher:

Day breaks over the town. Wake up, everybody! It’s time to go to school. It’s time for the old man to get up, too. The night was icy and he’s hungry. His name? He no longer knows…

This is the story of a person with no job, no family, no home—a nobody, who can’t even remember his name. But his day changes when he is noticed by a child.

Drawn in soft, watercolour pencil, this is an important story for our times. This gentle, compelling book will appeal to children’s sense of justice and to every reader’s compassion.

Some subjects are tough to talk about. That’s often where children’s books come in. Homelessness and poverty are in every country in the world, and real people’s lives are touched by them. In The Old Man, we see a town waking up after a freezing night, people leaving home - and a man without a home. He is cold, really hungry and very, very tired. And yet, when something simple, natural and spontaneous happens, his day changes, and we dare to believe that things can be different. Dubois’ muted watercolour sketches work seamlessly with V’s simple narrative to present a story that makes us think and feel.

Gecko Press publisher, Julia Marshall, says, “The Old Man … is not an easy book to publish, as many may be inclined to walk past and not look it in the eye, or even say hello.” I probably wouldn’t choose it to share with a group of wriggly four-year-olds on a windy day, but I think The Old Man should have a place in every library. When the time is right, these are themes we need to discuss with kids, not shy away from.

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

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