Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books 2019



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




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, raisingchildren.net.au 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!

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