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Wild Symphony

Wild Symphony

Wild Symphony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Symphony

Dan Brown

Susan Batori

Puffin, 2020

44pp., hbk., RRP $A44.99

9780241467916

Before he wrote classics like The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown wrote music. It was a secret sanctuary for him bringing peace and calm and solace. And in this wonderful, interactive book he has combined those two gifts into a remarkable story for children that offers messages of affirmation and guidance. It is a place for them to seek that same peace and calm and solace.

Led by Maestro Mouse, the reader is taken on a journey of the animal kingdom and invited to learn something from each one that helps them deal with life. At the same time by using a QR code or going to the website, and downloading the app, they can  tune into the music of the creatures. Along the way, Maestro Mouse has left surprises  — a hiding buzzy bee, jumbled letters that spell out clues, and even a coded message to solve – making this a book that has many layers and which begs to be explored again and again.

 

 

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Stew

Neil Gaiman

Chris Riddell

Bloomsbury, 2020

48pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9781526614728

Their parents are having a night out and so have hired a babysitter, but he is not your regular carer.

His hair was grey. His face was scarred.

Right leg a peg, left hand a hook.

He grinned a grin and said, “my card.”

It read

Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook.

Soon joined by others, each the quintessential stereotype of a pirate crew member, they set about feeding the children but it is no ordinary food they concoct.  They make pirate stew.

But rather than joining in the fun and games as all sorts of things are thrown into the pit, the children remain dubious, if not worried, , because if they eat the stew they will become pirates too. But nevertheless, a night of adventures lies ahead which gets even more interesting when their parents arrive home and hungry, devour the children’s bowls of uneaten pirate stew!

This is the most delightful tale from an author absolutely dedicated to getting children to read through entertaining stories, and so richly illustrated that it is impossible to summarise it in a few lines for a review.  Starting with two children who faces show what they think of their parents having a night out and who do not embrace the possibilities of having a pirate cook for a babysitter,  Gaiman’s rollicking rhyme and Riddell’s detailed illustrations offer an adventure that can be and demands to be read again and again and again. Just what was in those doughnuts?  The twist in the ending is unexpected and sets up a whole lot of opportunities for asking “what if…”.

Here’s a taste…

A wonderful opportunity for children and parents to find their treasure…. 

 

There’s Something Weird About Lena

There's Something Weird About Lena

There’s Something Weird About Lena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s Something Weird About Lena

Sigi Cohen

James Foley

Walker Books, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99

9781760651503

On my first day back at school I met a girl called Lena. Every time she acted mean she laughed like a hyena.

But it is not only Lena’s laugh that is weird – look closely at the illustrations and you will see the reason for it. Lena loves playing pranks and gets great delight in seeing others’ humiliation and fear. But finally the others have had enough and decide to play a prank on Lena…

Given the number of storybooks I’ve read over the years, I expected to discover that Lena had some sort of social impediment that hampered her interaction with other children and that this would be resolved through friendship, kindness and understanding so when this is not the case it was a big surprise.  Lena probably does have issues with socialising but whatever they are, she’s content to continue being mean and scaring the children, and the readers. It seems she is happy to be different, on the outer and disliked (although the teacher in me wonders if it’s a case of hurting before being hurt.) Perhaps there could be some discussion and speculation about why she is like she is, just to  help the students understand that there are always reasons for behaviour, and it is not a surface thing. 

Created by the duo who also created My Dead Bunny about a zombie rabbit, told in Cohen’s signature rhyming text and illustrated in a monochromatic palette with splashes of bright orange, this is one for those who love horror, unexplained weirdness and all things gross! Probably a perfect bedtime read for tonight given the restrictions on Halloween activities and one that might introduce a new genre to those craving a bit more than the usual in their stories. 

 

The Fire Wombat

The Fire Wombat

The Fire Wombat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fire Wombat

Jackie French 

Danny Snell

HarperCollins, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

 9781460759332

A curl of smoke appears on the horizon, gradually getting bigger, blacker and more ominous as it comes closer.  The parched earth burns and day becomes night as the ash-thick air envelops all before it and beneath it. 

Nowhere above the ground is safe for anything with two legs or four, but this is not the animals’ first fire and Wombat knows where to go and what to do. And when it is finally safe to emerge, the landscape is unlike the one they had left… grey, charred, burnt, devoid of both food and water. But a primeval instinct drives Wombat and she pushes on and on, seeking the liquid that would mean life…

Written about a little wombat that stumbled onto her Araluen Valley property and then collapsed, this is Jackie French’s own story of resilience and hope amidst the horror that was the summer of 2019-2020 when she and those she loves were surrounded by four fires and the future looked bleak, if not dire. It is a story about how when things seem to be at their worst, basic human nature, kindness and goodness prevails and we look out for those who are in worse circumstances, including our precious but often helpless wildlife. Even though what is done initially may not solve the problem, it is something that can lead to something else and something else… Like the Fire Wombat, we just need to keep searching until we find what we need.

It is a story that  embraces all the age groups – on the surface it is a story for little ones about a little wombat whose basic instinct is preservation and which perseveres to find what it needs; but it is also for older students who can consider the sort of assistance that is required and what they can do; maybe even what they can do to prevent fires of the future. The teachers’ notes which I wrote span all these aspects offering another avenue for our students to heal from that awful summer.  Pandemic or not, there are still many wounds to tend to.

No matter at what level you read this beautiful story – along the lines, between them or beyond them – you  will acknowledge that Jackie French is indeed a master storyteller, and her words have been enriched and enhanced by Danny Snell’s sensitive artwork.

And the rainbow after the rain, the dawn after the dark? Jackie has just shared that the Fire Wombat now has a baby of her own, “black as charcoal, fat and bouncing” . She glimpsed them in the valley three weeks ago and Fire Wombat is fat and happy too! 

 

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain Before Rainbows

Smriti Halls

David Litchfield

Walker Books, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406382358

Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun. Night before daybreak. A new day’s begun…

With pictures as stunning as its title and as gentle as its message, this is a beautiful book that encourages children to hang in there, that whatever they are facing right now will pass and there will be a brighter time coming. The text is quite simple on the surface as the girl and her friendly fox climb mountains, face dragons and endure dark days as they strive towards their dreams.  Along the way they discover that there are friends to help, alternative paths to follow and ropes to hold on to as they seek the treasure of a new day.  While younger readers can follow along seeing the journey in a literal way,  it is the metaphorical message that will resonate with the older reader who is able to operate at a more abstract level.

This is a story about trust, resilience, optimism and hope that will empower young readers to have the courage to keep moving forward, to follow their dreams, to see obstacles as opportunities and to be willing to be open to new things and be proactive.  That, for all the storm might be noisy and scary, there is nevertheless beauty in it and  the calm on the other side is savoured even more deeply because of the contrast.

These themes of courage, resilience and hope are featuring in many recent books for our young readers but given the calamity that has been 2020, it could be argued that the more we have access to the better, because at least one of them has to resonate and reach out to a child in need.  And if it does, then the work of the author, illustrator and the adult who placed it in their world, is done. 

What Do You Call Your Grandpa?

What Do You Call Your Grandpa?

What Do You Call Your Grandpa?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You Call Your Grandpa?

Ashleigh Barton

Martina Heiduczek

ABC Books, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99

9780733340864

In every country around the world are grandpas short and tall,

Though they go by different names, we love them one and all

A Poppy here, a Grampa there – or maybe he’s a Pa?

Turn the page, let’s meet a few of the finest near and far…

My friends and I are definitely in the grandparent generation and amongst us there is a Grandma, a Nonna, a Nanna, a Gr’Anne, a Biddy, a Mimi and a Gran.  But all the grandfathers are either Granddad or Poppy. Not much diversity at all.  So this is an interesting book, both delightful and enchanting, that takes the reader on a journey around the world and introduces them to grandchildren and their grandfathers and the special names they are known. Who knew there were so many?  Saba, Taid, Vô, Babu, YeYe, Koro, Bompa, Nua Nua, Daada, Belo, Nonno, Lolo, Kaku, ..so many terms of endearment from so many languages and cultures, all of which are identified in the glossary on the final page. 

Despite the many terms though, what shines through this story in rhyme is that no matter where we are, that special relationship between a child and their grandfather is universal and the memories made are enduring.  As well as teaching little ones new names – I can envisage of wall display of photos of the children’s grandparents and the special names they call them, especially as the author invites the reader to share – this would also be a grand book for those who are learning English as a new language because they will delight in seeing their own culture represented in a way that connects us all.

 Our family?  Very ordinary.  One of us is Grandma Gruesome and one is Grandpa Grumpy!  And we work hard to live up to expectations! 

Old Man Emu

Old Man Emu

Old Man Emu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Man Emu

John Williamson

Simon McLean

Puffin, 2020

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

9781760898793

Fifty years ago teacher John Williamson wrote a ditty about an old emu racing across the Australian countryside in pursuit of a female friend.  As he goes he meets many iconic creatures such as a galah, cockatoo, wedge-tail eagle, kookaburra and the kangaroo, but while they all they have their unique characteristics, none is as charismatic or as fast as Old Man Emu.

“He can’t fly but I’m telling you, he can run the pants off a kangaroo.”

 

Such hilarious and well-known lyrics, which not only launched Williamson’s career as a singer and songwriter but became essential singing in classrooms, demand to be illustrated and Simon McLean has done an outstanding job bringing them to life so that a whole new generation can  sing and laugh along and be introduced to the work of the man who gave us True Blue , regarded as one of our national anthems, and the haunting Raining on the Rock.

Over the past half century, Williamson has given us so many songs, each with such a unique message about this country, its people, its places, its past that they cry out to be the basis of investigations to discover what it is that makes us unique.  What is he saying in Rip, Rip Woodchip? What is the story behind A Flag of Our Own? So to have this very first one in picture book format to open up a study of not only emus but a whole range of fauna is just precious, and I’m sad that I’m no longer in a classroom or library to make it happen.

Something special for any child, Australian or otherwise. 

Pea and Nut Go for Gold!

Pea and Nut Go for Gold!

Pea and Nut Go for Gold!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pea and Nut Go for Gold!

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99

9780733340680

Pea the panda and Nut the flamingo are best friends but they are also great rivals.  Anything Pea can do, the boastful Nut can do better!!  After the fun that was their version of The Great Australian Bake-Off,  the contest is on again…

This time, while Pea wants to sleep in the sun, Nut is keen to jump in the pool and because they can’t help themselves it quickly becomes a competition to rival any Olympic 100 metres final. except this race has no rules and what follows is the funniest romp little ones will enjoy in a long time – perhaps since the bake-off.

Matt Stanton has proven over and over that if a book has his name on it, it is going to be an engaging story that is full of laughter and love and this is no exception. His philosophy is “books inspire the imagination, imagination births creativity and creativity changes the world” and no matter the age group, he is bringing this to reality and these two lovable characters are proof.  It’s as though he said to himself, “Who are the two most unlikely friends I could pair up?” and the beautiful, elegant flamingo and the slow lumbering panda could not be more diverse, and having determined that, he has asked, “What are the craziest adventures these two could have?” 

As well as being sheer entertainment for our younger readers, this could also start a discussion about why we have rules, particularly appropriate at this time when we are being asked to follow so many.

In the meantime, it will be soon be time for our local pool to open for the summer and I am going to take careful note of those with whom I am sharing the water.  If there is a panda or a flamingo in sight, I will just sit back and enjoy the hijinks. The laughter will be as much exercise as a couple of laps. 

 

The Whales on the Bus

The Whales on the Bus

The Whales on the Bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Whales on the Bus

Katrina Charman

Nick Sharratt

Bloomsbury, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781526603432

Can you imagine whales on a bus riding round the town?  Or some goats on boats?  Dragons is wagons? Sheep in a jeep?  Perhaps bees on skis is more your thing? Well, Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt have and the result is the most vibrant picture book with a familiar rhyme and rhythm that is not only going to enable our littlest readers to read this book for themselves but also put a song in your head and a smile on your face for the rest of the day. 

Because the concept is so familiar  and the pictures so clear and energetic, it won’t matter if your child can’t decode the words yet – they can work them out for themselves.  And voilà! They are reading.  Just like a real reader.  Such a huge boost to their confidence and self-esteem!

This book is just a joyful celebration of silliness in the boldest of colours that it will be loved and read over and over again – just like that song…

I Believe I Can

I Believe I Can

I Believe I Can

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Believe I Can

Grace Byers

Keturah A. Bobo

Balzer & Bray, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9780062667137

One of the downsides of this new instantly-connected world with its emphasis on social media is that there is a generation growing up who are becoming dependent on external validation for everything they do, who view their self-worth through the lens of the number of likes and friends they have, and whose self-belief and self-confidence as a person is very low.  In this look-at-me world, resilience seems to be in low reserves and what came naturally as previous generations dealt with what we encountered, is now explicitly taught.

In this companion to I Am Enough, young children of all shapes, colours and sizes are encouraged to be their best selves and to reach their potential by believing that they can without needing approval from outside sources. They let the power of their imaginations project them into the future and know that because they are just who they are, they can achieve those dreams.  They can be as fierce as the lion’s roar and as powerful as the dragon’s flames, and even though they might falter and make mistakes or not succeed at what they try, they learn from those experiences to build on what they tried and take another step forward.

It is aimed at our younger readers in the hope that they can build their sense of identity and worthiness before they are old enough to officially be on social media platforms (COPPA  restricts membership to 13+) and promote positive mental health, an area that is of increasing concern amongst our youngest.

While the dark side of social media is now being recognised and explored and talked about in mainstream media, this video shows what can be achieved through the power of self-belief.  Molly suffered horrendous epileptic seizures from the age of 2 and in an effort to save her life, had a third of her brain removed at 16.  Look at her go!!!

 

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A must-have and a must-promote in any mindfulness collection and program.