Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Gifts for the Whole Family

by Susan Stephenson,

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.

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