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Billy And The Epic Escape

Billy And The Epic Escape

Billy And The Epic Escape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy And The Epic Escape

Jamie Oliver

Puffin, 2024

416pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9780241683965

Billy and his best friends Anna, Jimmy and Andy are looking forward to a summer exploring Waterfall Woods, discovering more about the magical creatures who live there and the Rhythm of nature, the beat that keeps nature in harmony and keeps their world, and ours, in balance.

Then the woods come under attack from a mysterious red lady, forcing the sprites and brothers Wilfred and BiIfred into hiding, and the gang rush to the rescue! But what does the red lady really want? Could she be connected to Bilfred’s disappearance all those years ago? And, if so, how is it possible she looks exactly the same decades later. . .

Can Billy and his friends uncover the truth and stop the red lady’s plans, before the Rhythm is put in danger once again?

The sequel to Billy and the Great Adventure, this is an adventure fantasy, a genre popular with many young readers as they see themselves in the role of the hero conquering evil and saving their family, friends and even the world.  But what I love most about the series is that author Jamie Oliver has been deeply involved in its production using his own childhood experiences of having difficulty processing text and so it is formatted to be accessible to those with dyslexia as he is.  The print edition is in a sans serif font while the audio version has state-of-the-art sound effects, multiple voices including narration by the author so that the characters and situations are brought to life in “a fully immersive experience”. But apart from those physical concessions, at its heart this is an engaging, entertaining tale for all readers who enjoy these sorts of adventures. 

How children learn to read has been the subject of research and pedagogical debate for decades – in fact, a century when one considers the breakthrough works of Sylvia Ashton Warner – and clearly, if there were one approach that was the silver bullet for all children, it would have been identified by now.  But as factions and their fads wax and wane, there are kids who fall through the cracks as the favoured method does not meet their needs, and so there are many who get to be 8,9, and 10 for whom reading is a chore, who see and label themselves as failures already, and for whom the school experience becomes a negative to be endured with all the implications of that  Thus, any book that identifies and then caters to the needs of these children gets a big thumbs-up from me.  To add to the positivity, is the fact that the author is celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and it is so easy to find stuff by and about him that he can be held as a role model for these students with their fragile self-esteem.  Not only has he made a successful, high-profile career from cookery but even with his reading difficulties he has written two books – so if he can do that, what can they do?

They can start by enjoying an action-packed adventure that carries them along at a fast clip and enables them to join in discussions with their friends so they too can be part of something they felt excluded from.  And having achieved that success, who knows…. 

Grey

Grey

Grey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grey

Laura Dockrill

Lauren Child

Walker, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406389562

Today I am grey.

I don’t feel sunshine yellow, or balloon orange bright, or treetop green…”

Or, indeed, any of the other colours of nature that surround me.  Today I am grey like the scribble on the page, the puddle on the road, the storm when in the clouds…

And that’s fine.  It’s  OK to be grey. Grey days are normal and natural  but the colours are still inside you, they’re just a little overwhelmed right now . They will peek out and come back soon.

This is a charming book exploring those feelings we all have, and its simple, direct text combined with Lauren Child’s iconic illustrations including clever cutouts offers the child not only validation of their emotions but also reassurance and hope that the brighter days are close by.  It also provides the little one with a way of expressing their feelings as often they don’t have the words to articulate either the how or the why of their mood.  

Colour is used to express  emotions across languages and cultural traditions, and particular colours are associated with various feelings regardless of our beliefs or origins.  We feel blue, see red, or we are green with envy and while this could be an area to investigate, perhaps for this intended audience it is the metaphorical use of the language that could be fun.  Little ones don’t necessarily need to know adult words like “simile” and “metaphor” but how engaging is the phrase “as grey as tea when it’s gone cold” or “lullaby blue”?  What fun they could have sharing their own favourites and how rich their language and writing will become.

But for all that, this is a story that tells our little ones that no matter how they feel, the feelings are natural and the adults in their lives will understand and love them regardless.  And that’s a message they need to hear over and over again.  

Jonty’s Unicorn

Jonty's Unicorn

Jonty’s Unicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonty’s Unicorn

Rebecca Fraser

ifwg Publishing, 2024

140pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99

9781922856678

In the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene, twelve-year-old Jonty Fairskye’s mother is gravely ill. A tonic from Dagatha, the fearsome witch who dwells in the dark heart of the Terrenwild Woods may be her only hope, but everyone knows Dagatha’s cures cost dearly — both in gold and regret.

Determined to save her mother, Jonty resolves to enter the King’s Annual Horse Race on her beloved horse, Onyx. The prize, a pouch of gold — more than enough to pay Dagatha. When Jonty discovers Rose, an injured unicorn, during a woodland training session, she is wonderstruck. There hasn’t been a unicorn sighting in Irrawene for over a century. Jonty smuggles Rose back to the safety of her barn to recover.

As the great horse race draws closer, disaster strikes and Jonty is forced to make a decision that will impact the lives of everyone she loves. Danger and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Jonty will learn that the true meaning of kindness and bravery comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice.

If ever there were a stereotypical entry into the world of fantasy for young readers, then this would be it. From setting to situation to characters to plot, it has all the hallmarks of what you expect from this genre for this age group from the ailing parent and the young child down to their last pennies; the possibility of a cure from the wicked witch who lives deep in the forest but at a cost too much to pay; the possibility of winning the money; the child ready to save the parent whatever it takes;  the disaster, the disappointment, the redemption – and of course, a magical unicorn.  But this is not a bad thing for the newly independent reader because it confirms and brings to life all those mind-pictures that they have formed already from listening to such stories and seeing illustrations in picture books.  Beautifully descriptive, here, in words alone, are all the things that have been imagined and now they can read them for themselves and solidify that platform they have built, perhaps even extending their reading by seeking others in the same genre.  

It also has the classic plot structure of a novel for younger readers with problems, possible solutions, complications and suspense to the final resolution making it an ideal way to introduce this longer format and the value in persevering rather than expecting the story to be done and dusted in one sitting like a picture book or television episode, while the underlying perennial message of being resilient and standing up for what is right is also strong as it carries the story along

Perhaps a little more expensive than other paperbacks, nevertheless its value as a mentor text for examining the tropes of this genre, the construction of a plot, and descriptive language that would enable even the lousiest artist like me to construct a mental or physical image of the setting and the characters, and its potential to extend the readers interest to find similar stories,  make it a worthwhile investment. 

Big Gorilla: A Book of Opposites

Big Gorilla: A Book of Opposites

Big Gorilla: A Book of Opposites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Gorilla: A Book of Opposites

Anthony Browne

Walker Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781529509588

Even though he has more than 50 books to his credit, when one thinks about award-winning creator Anthony Browne’s works, most often it is his connection to primates that feature in so many, particularly the stories about Willy the chimp, that come to mind most readily.  Even his website depicts one as a signature image. As he himself says,  “I am fascinated by them and the contrast they represent – their huge strength and gentleness. They’re thought of as being very fierce creatures and they’re not.” Perhaps it was that very contrast that inspired this book about words and their antonyms.

So it is really no surprise that in this latest addition, designed to teach very young readers about opposites, that he has chosen to use primates to illustrate the words. From gorillas to chimpanzees, white-faced capuchins to orangutans,  each capturing the unique facial features and expressions, little ones can develop their vocabulary in the most charming way.  

With the question on one page – and the same wording is used repeatedly so the reader will learn to ask it for themselves, and the answer on the next, there is plenty of time to predict the answer before it is revealed so there is a sense of empowerment as they make their way through it, as well as the sheer enjoyment of being engaged with such a text. 

Where is the Green Sheep?

Where is the Green Sheep?

Where is the Green Sheep?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is the Green Sheep? 20th Anniversary

Mem Fox

Judy Horacek

Puffin, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761347832

Resplendent in a gold foil cover to celebrate its 20th birthday, is one of my favourite early childhood books of all time.  

Few children in Australia in the last 20 years would not be familiar with these words…

Here is the blue sheep, and here is the red sheep.
Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep.
But where is the green sheep?

And among them is my own granddaughter who gave me one of my most memorable grandma-moments when she sat up in bed at just-turned-2 and read it to her older sister. We had yet another reader in the family!!!

And now she is 13 and reads everything she can, (as does that sister) and all because of the fun, predictable, rhyming text of an Australian classic with its gorgeous illustrations that allowed her to predict what the words said even if she didn’t quite recognise them yet.

Could anyone ask any more of a book for little ones? My copy will be put aside for her to share with hers when she is older. But it will also be a must-get for a brand-new grandmother… 

Read about how it came to be here

Where is the Green Sheep? is 20 years old

 

 

 

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words Between Us

Angela Pham Krans

Dung Ho

HarperCollins US, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780063224544

Felix and Grandma have always lived oceans apart—until the day Grandma arrives in the city from Vietnam. Felix is so excited to meet Grandma and spend time with her. But it’s tricky when he speaks no Vietnamese and she speaks no English. They get by with both showing each other special things like Felix’s pet iguana Pete and Grandma showing him how to care for the garden but one day, when Felix and Grandma are visiting a big festival,  Grandma gets lost and doesn’t know how to ask for help.  It is then that Felix decides to teach her English, and by working together and teaching each other, they bond closely as they learn to share words as well, culminating in their shared love of pizza.

With end papers that have flashcard translations of common words, (and Grandma’s recipe for pizza), this is another story like I Hear a Buho and Giovanni  that allows us to share and celebrate the languages spoken by our students as they take the opportunity to teach us the common words for the things that unite us regardless of our heritage.  Having bilingual books in our collections and actively promoting them is a way that we can build bridges and open doorways for those who are not native English speakers by showing them that we value what they can bring to the teaching and learning experience.  

For many newcomers to this country not speaking the common language can be a very isolating experience, compounding the difficulties of what must have already been a difficult decision, but if we can reach out to families through stories – perhaps even inviting them into the library to share the stories of their childhood in their own language to encourage those of the same background to hear them and learn about them – we show the parents, particularly the mothers, that we care and that their child will not be lost.  And, in return, we all gain so much!!!

I Hear a Búho

I Hear a Búho

I Hear a Búho

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Hear a Búho

Raquel Mackay

Armando Fonseca

Scribble Kids, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781761380495

As night falls, a  mother and daughter snuggle together in a hammock on their porch, and listen to the sounds of the night. The young girl makes animal calls and her mother responds, identifying the creatures in Spanish while the striking illustrations identify them for those who don’t speak that language. Then to their surprise a real búho appears and flies across the night sky.

When she was little, Ms Almost-18 and I drove regularly between Canberra and Cooma and on the way she would delight in teaching me the Spanish words that she learned from watching Dora the Explorer and took even more delight in the words she knew and which I didn’t (and I had to guess from her clues).  Children are fascinated by other languages and so this new book, the first bilingual text from this publisher, not only gives young Spanish-speaking readers the buzz of seeing their language celebrated in a book but also offers non-Spanish speakers some new words to add to their vocabularies so they, too, can baffle their elders.

I recently gave another bilingual book to a friend teaching a couple of Italian-speaking children and she told me that the doors it opened and the bridges it built between school and home were remarkable as the whole family got involved in sharing it, so we should never underestimate the power of acknowledging the languages spoken by our children and demonstrating to parents that we do this.  The animals that are featured in this seemingly simple rhyming story are a dog, cat, frog and owl, so how inclusive would it be if we invited all students to teach us what their words for these creatures are, and then extend that to teaching us their words for other creatures that we see around us in the local environment, or for the sounds we hear as night falls.  The sights and  sounds of the city are very different to the sights and  sounds of the country.

As with many well-written picture books that appear at first glance to be for the very young, in the hands of an imaginative teacher they can become powerful teaching tools for all ages, and this one has great potential too.  

Dexter Lost His Boo-Woo

Dexter Lost His Boo-Woo

Dexter Lost His Boo-Woo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dexter Lost His Boo-Woo

Shane Hegarty

Ben Mantle

Hodder Children’s, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781444966350 

HELP! Dexter’s lost his Boo-Woo.

It’s a scary sounding beast! It has fiery eyes and floppy ears, and twenty pointy teeth!

Soon the whole town is on the hunt for the Boo-Woo… police officers, firefighters and so many more join in the search, each getting more and more concerned as Dexter describes the Boo-Woo.  They are very relieved when they find it,  but have they?

At first glance, this is a story written in fast-paced rhyme for very young children about finding something precious that has been lost and the emotions that that engenders, but it has the potential to be so much more because as the locals join the search, Dexter adds more and more information building up the picture of what his Boo-Woo looks like.  So much like The Dudgeon is Coming, young students can build group or individual pictures adding features as they are revealed, particularly if the first reading of the story is read aloud without showing the illustrator’s interpretation of the words (wrap the cover in brown paper) so the listeners really have to engage with the text as each new detail is revealed.  

It not only provides an excellent opportunity to focus on description and descriptors which will enrich their own writing, but also on perception because each drawing will be different and none will be the same as that of Ben Mantle.  You can talk about how our experiences shape our mind’s eye, and perhaps even introduce the classic poem, The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Extend the experience by having them draw the king in The King’s Breakfast by A. A. Milne, Dahl’s BFG as he walks down the street blowing dreams through the windows, or even Gandalf’s first meeting with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Each has a description that lends itself to be interpreted in a graphic and because each of us interprets what we see and hear differently can lead to discussions about perception, what is truth and how it is shaped by our beliefs, values and even our role in an incident.   

But to be able to hang such a series of lessons on a story, you first need an engaging story that appeals to its audience on the surface, and Dexter and his Boo-Woo is certainly that, with the ending lending itself to even more possibilities!  

The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes

The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes

The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Book of Australian Nursery Rhymes

Frané Lessac

Walker Books, 2024

96pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781760655099

Take a bunch of familiar nursery rhymes from time immemorial, give them a new, uniquely Australian twist, add the iconic illustrations of Frané Lessac and you have the perfect present for any book-based baby shower, or newborn’s welcoming present you could ever wish for.

We know it is not so much the words of rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Old MacDonald had a Farm that little ones respond to, so much as the melodic rise and fall of the voice as it moves over the rhyme, rhythm and repetition of these hand-me-down jingles, but to embed our native wildlife into them is pure genius.  So it is not little stars that we wonder about, but southern stars; it is not the cow jumping over the moon but a big kangaroo; and it’s not Peter picking a peck of pickled peppers but Pygmy Possum picking a peck of pickled pollen…

So while Jack and Jill will always climb the hill to fetch their pail of water, perhaps a new generation will see them as something other than two little children, or it will be four and twenty kookaburras emerging from that famous pie…

Brilliant.

Rainbowsaurus

Rainbowsaurus

Rainbowsaurus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbowsaurus

Steve Antony

Hodder Children’s, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781444964516

We’re following a rainbow to find the Rainbowsaurus.
We’re following a rainbow. Would you like to join us?

Two dads and their three children  set off on an adventure to find the Rainbowsaurus. On their way, they meet animals that are all the colours of the rainbow who all want to find the Rainbowsaurus, too.

This is a fun read for little ones as they join the quest with its crazy collection of creatures, all different colours and lots of opportunities to join in with the noises and actions as they seek the Rainbowsaurus.  And if that isn’t enough there is always the song to sing as it has been set to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Music, movement, colour and a dinosaur – what’s not to love?  Especially if the young reader is invited to be a creature and colour of their choosing and really join in!