Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books 2018 (5)



Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com





This is the fifth in my series of children’s picture books reviewed this year. Find the first here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here.

I’m the Biggest is a children’s picture book by Stephanie Blake, published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ $ 17.38 PB. I have previously reviewed Blake’s I Can’t Sleep.

From the publisher:

Simon is annoyed. Casper has grown a lot: three centimetres! But Simon is only one ridiculous centimetre taller than last time. “So what!” he says, “I’m the biggest!”

The mischievous rabbit from Poo Bum is back!

I very much appreciate the way Blake is tuned in to what kids do and say, as well as the things that are important to them. I can remember fighting with my brother over who got the biggest half of …well, almost anything! My understanding of fractions has never improved. Simon doesn’t like it when his baby brother proves to have grown more than Simon - and he acts up. Upon being sent to his room, Simon says (in a tiny voice), “I hate that silly baby”.

Kids will understand the depth of feeling and appreciate how angry Simon is! It seems as if Simon is going to abandon his brother to a bully, but luckily family feeling steps in and he changes his mind. There’s a lovely little twist at the end when baby brother Casper reveals how like Simon he is. Blake’s trademark use of primary colours and simple unfussy images nevertheless are full of humour and emotion. Perfect for kids 2-7, and libraries everywhere.

Baby’s First Bank Heist is a children’s picture book written by Jim Whalley, illustrated by Stephen Collins and published by Bloomsbury. RRP: $Au 14.99 (online price $Au 13.49) PB.

From the publisher:

Move over, Bonnie and Clyde, because there's a new criminal mastermind in town ... Baby Frank!

Baby Frank's parents say that he can't have a pet – 'Pets are for older kids', 'Be happy with your teddy', 'They cost too much to keep' – which leaves Baby Frank with a BIG problem because he REALLY wants a pet. What's a baby to do ... ? Rob a bank, of course! But will money buy Baby Frank the fluffy pet he so desperately wants?

I loved this picture book! It’s a great rhythmic, rhyming story - wonderful to read aloud. I’ll definitely be adding it to my List of Children’s Picture Books with Strong Rhyme and Rhythm.

Both writer and illustrator contribute so much humour. Whalley gives us a thief who is also a baby. But that doesn’t matter a bit. We cheerfully accept that Baby Frank is able to plan and execute a bank robbery. We also chortle as he stuffs his baby clothes with bank notes and exits the bank looking like a blimp - but still undetected. Collins gives us not only hilarious visuals but very attractive ones. His cartoon style characters are often angular and elongated and contrast well with Baby Frank’s roundedness. The character expressions are fantastic.

Kids will love the story, the visual details, the clever rhyme and the satisfying ending. Book Chook Feather of Approval for Baby’s First Bank Heist. I’ll  be adding it to my List of Picture Books about Babies and it's a definite contender for my Top Picture Books 2018.

Selma is a children’s picture book by Jutta Bauer, published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 13.03 HB.

From the publisher:

(To Selma, …) Happiness is eating a little grass at sunrise, playing with the children until lunchtime, a little exercise after lunch, a little more grass, a chat with her neighbour Mrs Miller in the evening and then a lovely long sleep.

And if she had more time? She would eat a little grass, play with her children until lunchtime, do a little exercise after lunch, eat a little more grass, have a chat with her neighbour Mrs Miller in the evening and then have a lovely long sleep.

And if she won a million dollars? She would eat a little grass, play with her children, do a little exercise…

There isn’t much to Selma’s story. And yet it is quite profound. Basically, Selma is contented with her lot. Her life is simple, even repetitive, and yet when asked by a reporter how she would change it, she wants it to be the same. She is not driven by ambition, competition, jealousy or greed. The pattern of her life seems satisfying. I wonder how many of us can say the same?

This is an unusual picture book. Its format is different, measuring 13cm x 17.5cm. The publisher calls it a “mini hardback for all ages”. I agree. It’s the sort of quirky, thought-provoking book that will appeal to any aged person who gets the wry humour and appreciates the philosophy behind it. It would be an excellent text to compare with the poem, Cows, by James Reeves. The lovely water colour illustrations are simple, almost understated, yet definitely add to the gentle humour.

Seed Magic is a children’s picture book written by Natalie McKinnon, illustrated by Margaret Tolland and published by Starfish Bay Children’s Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

As he gathers food for the winter, Anxious Ant disturbs the garden peace. But Little Spider has a better idea—Seed Magic! She shows Anxious Ant how to grow a giant spring feast, so he won’t need to work so hard next year. Seen through the eyes of the creatures preparing for winter, this kind-hearted tale of coping with the seasons, with its engaging language, will take you on a fascinating journey into the miniature natural world.

Some kids will be scared of spiders, but Seed Magic shows us the world from Spider’s perceptive, allowing us to understand what she feels and hears and sees. McKinnon tells a simple tale, about an anxious ant who learns from Spider that growing and harvesting seeds brings a greater reward than simply gathering them. Tolland’s detailed illustrations really give us an appreciation of the complexity of the natural world. The creatures depicted are realistic with just a tiny hint of expression.

I’ll be adding Seed Magic to my List of Picture Books that Focus on Environment.

We Wear Pants is a children’s picture book by Katie Abey, published by Bloomsbury (2018.) RRP: $Au 14.99 (online price $Au 13.49) PB.

From the publisher:

Interactivity adds to the fun as readers are invited to count up all the hats, spot the stripy socks and find the hidden animals, complete with silly speech bubbles and shoutouts such as 'What are pants for? Your bottom!', 'Why should you wear a hat? Because it keeps your head warm', 'Whose socks are too long?' Children will soon start to recognise animal names, colours and patterns as they laugh their way through this book.

Have you noticed that animals wearing clothes makes us giggle? There are giggles galore in We Wear Pants because there are so MANY garmented animals - a racoon wearing socks on its hands, a cheeky monkey in a t-shirt (when everyone else is wearing shoes!) a frog in a clog, a cheeky monkey in a scarf (when everyone else is wearing glasses), a goat in a coat, and so many more. Their bright colours and expressive faces are found in each of twelve double page spreads.

Kids will love searching for different animals; they’ll love searching for the same animals wearing different clothes to the page before. We Wear Pants celebrates being able to dress ourselves (something I’m thankful for every day!) It also makes an excellent choice for bedtime because parents and child can observe and discuss, choose funny parts, read the speech bubbles, answer questions and giggle together.

We Wear Pants is loads of fun. It’s a little bit of a stretch but because of the questions to kids, I’ll be adding it to my List of Hilarious Interactive Picture Books for Toddlers.

Barney is a children’s picture book by Catherine Jinks and Stephen Michael King, published by Scholastic Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 17.99 HB.  I have previously reviewed many of King’s books, including Snail and Turtle are Friends, The Duck and the Darklings and Leaf.

From the publisher:

Barney loves cat food. Barney loves greens. Barney loves bacon and biscuits and beans...

Barney the dog loves to eat. In fact, Barney not only loves every food he has ever encountered, but he also loves to eat all sorts of things that aren’t really food at all!

I’ll just bet children know a dog that eats anything! Barney is a lot like my labrador - he doesn’t look like her but he sure has the same enthusiasm for scoffing down almost anything. The poor cat doesn’t get a mouthful, the baby happily drops her greens on the floor for Barney, he can even snatch a grilling steak off the BBQ. Dirt? Yes. Squashed bananas? Yes. Chilli? You’re starting to get the idea. But regardless of his insatiable appetite, Barney loves his young owner, and she loves him.

This is a simple story, perfect for the pre-school set, and it makes a satisfying read-aloud. King’s illustrations are charming and full of humour. I loved the paw prints for kids to follow, and the garden maze to navigate. A happy book that will leave both young readers and adults smiling.

The Cat Wants Kittens is a children’s picture book written by P.Crumble and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, published by Scholastic (2018.)  RRP: $Au 17.99 HB. I have previously reviewed The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles.

From the publisher:

Kevin has some new playmates. They are cute and cuddly and theyre here to stay... but not if Kevin has anything to do with it! See what happens when two adorable kittens barge into Kevins life and make themselves at home. How will this fussy feline cope? Sequel to the highly successful The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles.

Kevin the Cat quite simply has great attitude. Books about him make kids laugh. They also recognise themselves and others in Kevin, and laugh even harder. There’s so much humour in what Kevin thinks about the situations life presents him with - in this story, his nose is definitely out of joint because of two delightful kittens. The kittens wriggle their way into every aspect of Kevin’s life. Can they possibly also win his heart?

Cyril and Pat is a children’s picture book by Emily Gravett, published by Two Hoots, an imprint of Pan Macmillan (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Cyril is the only squirrel in Lake Park, and he's very lonely. Until one day he meets Pat – Pat the big, grey . . . other squirrel. Cyril and Pat have lots of adventures and fun together and Cyril is so pleased he's made a friend. But everyone is adamant that Cyril and Pat simply cannot be friends, and they soon reveal why: Pat, as the reader has known all along, is actually a RAT!

But Cyril's life turns out to be a lot duller and quite a bit scarier without Pat by his side, and in the end the two friends learn that some things are more important than being the same, or listening to others.

It’s obvious to everyone except Cyril the Squirrel that his best friend Pat is actually a rat. Kids will adore trying to set Cyril straight about Pat’s identity - Gravett uses language skilfully to milk the humour of this. But finally the beans are spilled and everyone tells Cyril he can’t possibly have a friend who is different from him. Cyril goes back to being lonely and scared until Pat saves the day. The story is written in rhyme and makes a great read-aloud or model for a poetry lesson.

Gravett’s illustrations are delightfully detailed and add so much drama and action to the story. The book is obviously set in the UK and has entrancing glimpses of many inside and outside environments. With its themes of friendship, differences, loyalty, diversity and being true to yourself, I think this picture book makes a great choice for everyone!

Sports are Fantastic Fun is a children’s picture book by Ole Könnecke, published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ 30.43 HB.

From the publisher:

Cycling, ice hockey, athletics, tennis, climbing … There are so many sports, and they’re all fantastic fun!
Football is fantastic fun, except when your team keeps missing goals: that can make you cry. Horse-riding is also fantastic—so long as the horse goes where the rider wants. Running, cycling and swimming require fantastic agility and endurance. Billiards is quieter, but still fantastic fun!

Sports lovers small and big will find the one they love best—and some surprises—in this witty picture book, with funny animal characters trying out all the sports and a laconic commentary.

The premise is simple - Sports are fun! Obviously kids who already love sport will grab the book but it will also win the hearts of those who enjoy humour and quirky illustrations. This book reminded me of those wonderful Richard Scarry books with all the detailed vignettes. Sports are Fantastic Fun is a sort of visual encyclopaedia of a huge range of sports, much of it written tongue-in-cheek, yet still managing to be factual. It is not a traditional 32 page picture book, running to 52 pages. I believe it makes a good non-fiction resource for libraries and a must for young lovers of sport.

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