Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review :: Wing Jones

"With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing's speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.."

I'm a little back-and-forth on this one.  Wing won me over by the end, but there were a couple of things I didn't love, that took a little pleasure out of the reading.  I'm gonna hit you with some bullet points:
  • I like the characters.  Wing feels genuine. Her character growth is visible and deserves a fist-pump or two.  She is very passive and naive to begin with, but gathers strength and is pretty powerhouse by the end.  Her love interest is decent, and their back story is sweet.   
  • This is more a coming-of-age story and less a romance (although there's a definite romance - lots of pining). I like that it's character-centred. Coming-of-age stories are A++ in my books.
  • Wing makes running seem like it might be reeeeeally fun!  I know for a fact that it isn't, but I was tempted more than once to try again, just in case I'm actually wrong and Wing is right.  Anything that (almost) motivates me to run for fun has gotta be pretty good. I know, I know, running IS fun for some of y'all. 
  • Wing Jones opens a dialogue about some important stuff, and there's a clear sense of consequence - natural and enforced.  
  • There's a slice-of-life feel that is pleasing.  There are many superfluous details that ground it in real life.  I caught the Friday Night Lights vibe at the start, too, though this is quickly dropped.  Disappointing, because that would've been a hook, for me.
  • There really wasn't a good enough hook, for me.
  • I found this a bit of a slog to get through.  It has all the ingredients for being a novel that I would enjoy, but it's so slow moving.  In the last quarter things speed up but too quickly, finishing in a rush.  Many threads left hanging.  Much frustrating.
  • Some of the descriptive language feels clunky/over-reaching.  
  • Wing's two grandmothers live with her, and I love what they brings to the novel.  As characters they are well-drawn and oftentimes they feel as though they should be the centre of the story.  I care most for them, of all the characters.
  • The magic realism is fine, but it feels unnecessary, imo.  I get that it's a connection to her grandmothers, further emphasising how central they are to the story, but I think this could have been drawn out in a different way.  However, this element doesn't detract from the story at all.
  • This is set in the 90's.  Who knew?  The 90's is my era!  I'm all over it with the 90's!  Damn, how did I miss that?  Really, how was that so easy to miss?  
  • Diversity in YA literature is 👊  (white author though, fyi).

All up, this might not be my favourite book of the year, but it was a pleasant read and I would happily recommend it to the young 'uns.  Wing Jones makes for an empowering role model, so on that merit alone I'm recommending!

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review :: Where's Wally? Travel Edition 1 & 2

Where's Wally? The Totally Essential Travel Collection & Where's Wally? The Colouring Collection by Martin Handford

Where's Wally? is popular AS in our house.  Garland frequently requests them for bedtime stories (#nope), and we often take them with us for trips away.  So, MUCH EXCITE when we were sent TWO adorable travel size Where's Wally? books.  I gotta say, these are totally floating my boat, combining so many of my main loves (books, adventures & treasure-hunting).  

Obs. not the perfect title match, soz.

Both travel editions have bonus extras, yuss!  The Colouring Collection comes with a fold-out colouring poster, while The Totally Essential Travel Collection has 6 postcards to colour in.  My kiddos are gonna be pretty thrilled to get their hands on these.  Naturally I'm saving both books for our next trip away, much more convenient to pack than the big books!  These are pocket size, fyi.  Perfect for a carry-on bag!

Where's Wally? is celebrating 30 years, whoooop!  That's pretty great going!  I know that I was crazy about Where's Wally? when I was a kid, and nothing has changed.  Still the most popular guy to don a stripy shirt and matching woollen hat.

These little cuties are part of the WW? birthday celebrations, and if you want to get your hands on them, look out for the Colouring Collection from May 1st, with the Essential Travel Collection hitting shelves June 1st.

Review copies kindly supplied by Walker Books x

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review :: Princess in Black Takes a Vacation

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation - Written by Shannon & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

"Even monster-battling princesses get tired sometimes! But a peaceful time away is hard to find as the humorous New York Times best-selling series continues."

Princess in Black is a brand new discovery for us, and immediately popular!  Eleanor is chewing through books these days, so hard to keep up.  She'll happily reread her favourites, but it's always a welcome treat to get hold of some fresh new reads.  Both kids thought this story was hilarious!  They loved the characters, and will basically give a run-down of the entire story to anyone who will listen (usually me, I know sooo much about the Goat Avenger, fyi).

The story length is short, not much longer than a picture book, and suitable for beginner readers.  It's loaded with cute illustrations that will slow your speedy readers down (a little), and hopefully entice a more reluctant reader.  Actually, The Princess in Black series would make perfect bridging books for readers just approaching chapter books.   Packaged in hardback with a shiny dustcover, young readers will definitely feel as though they are stepping up, with a nice shiny book reward to boot!  I wish we'd discovered them earlier, as moving into chapter books can be an intimidating transition.

We're super keen to get hold of the others in this series (and keep an eye out for upcoming titles).  Garland is just as keen to have these stories, so they may make the perfect enticement when we start the process of learning to read.  Eeeeep!  I have no idea how that's gonna go...

Check your bookstore or library for The Princess in Black, including this most recent title.

Review copy kindly provided to us by Walker Books.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review :: Raymond by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

Raymond - by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

"This is the story of Raymond – an ordinary dog who, for a while, lives an extraordinary life."

Most fun book!  The illustrations are 👌👌.  The cover is 😍.  I flippin' love it!

At first I incorrectly assumed the kids weren't as into it as me.  From our box of delicious Walker books they each had an instant fave, and the others weren't getting as much read-time.  However, when I sat down to read it with them, they both warned me it was funny.  "He just really had to get that ball," Eleanor said.  I thought the humour would kinda go over their heads and some of it definitely did, but overall it was a fun read for everyone.  Yuss!

Raymond is the work of a brotherly team, hailing from France.  Gwendal's illustrations have graced the pages of The New Yorker, and I'm picking that this book will be displayed on many a pretty NY bookshelf (helloooo, Pinterest).  The book's message is very apt, and I loved the turn it took.  Raymond, so taking your message to heart.

Raymond is due for release on May 1st, so keep your eyes peeled.  Meanwhile I'm trying to work out how I can build one of those little floating shelves so I can display this pretty cover!  I'm not much of a handyman, so it could go either way 😕  but I'm also a huge procrastinator, so my walls are probably safe...

Review copy kindly sent to us by Walker Books Aus

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review :: What Girls are Made of by Elana K. Arnold

What Girls Are Made Of - Elana K. Arnold

"An ultimately hopeful story of a girl who is deeply confused and self-destructive, who must confront her own sense of what it means to be a girl, and what it means to give and receive love."

I'm an avid reader of YA lit.  I'd say about 80% of my reading is YA.  With that, rarely do I find myself sitting back and feeling like maybe I'm too old to still be reading in this genre.  Almost never.  What Girls Are Made Of made me feel like that.  I was all, do I really want to be reading about someone's first experience having a pap smear?  Do I need to have the function of the morning after pill described to me?  Do I... I mean... the list goes on.  There's so much of this.  It's not hidden in the story, either.  I would say that these little snippets of sex ed. are one of the biggest take aways from the novel.

So maybe that's a good thing, right?  Except that I don't think young people necessarily want a novel to be lecturing at them.  Surely no teen isn't able to see right through Arnold's intentions here, and it does the story no favours.  Some of the 'conversations' are so carefully scripted it's painful.  An early scene, in which Nina overhears a young woman purchasing the morning after pill is the perfect example of this.  The entire scene has no narrative purpose other than to educate the reader.

I would forgive these inserts (no pun intended) if it weren't for the fact that I didn't enjoy the story one little bit.  The characters are all jerks, perhaps with the exception of Bekah, who is such a minor, 2D character she barely counts anyway.  Furthermore, what a young person might 'gain' in sexual health education, they will surely lose in the role-modelling of super catty behaviour.  Nina is basically a mean girl, who describes her (apparently only) friend as "harmless--kind of vapid, but nice."  Errr.  Yeah.

The book aims to shock.  It's rough and 'edgy'.  I've read shocking, rough and edgy.  I'm not afraid of a subversive novel, but I do tend to expect something more from them.  I don't think there was enough here.  For me there is so much power to be found in subtlety, but this is a brutal perspective of femininity, and for all that, it leaves so, so much out.

In her rationale for the novel Arnold describes a 'regrettable' incident in her youth, where she admits that her own legs are 'perfect', to a friend who's legs were 'not as lithe as (hers)'.  I couldn't help but think that she is surely missing the point here.  There's nothing to regret about self-love, but knocking someone else down (not in the moment in this case) in the process is #allthesadfaces in my books.  Likewise, Nina isn't un-feminist for obsessing about her boyfriend.  She's perfectly human for feeling that way.  It's her attempt to hurt and humiliate a woman she's jealous of, for the sake of that boy, that is perhaps the un-feminist action she should be calling herself out for.

In short, I don't think What Girls Are Made Of was the transgressive tome it set out to be.  I respect the intent, and can see that it will appeal to some, but it was not for me.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review :: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

"Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice."

Thomas handles this charged topic with immense tenderness.  Starr's account of her friend's murder and the aftermath makes for a raw and often painful read, but Thomas weaves magic into the narrative too.  It's a tragedy, but it's also funny, and it's hopeful.  It gives young people a voice, asking them to stand strong against the tide and one day, maybe, hopefully, turn it away.

Small, familiar tensions underly the greater tension of the narrative.  There are familial relationships to be strengthened.  There are friendship battles to be faced.  Starr has to figure out some things between herself and her boyfriend. The relationships are complex, stretched taut at times, and entirely authentic.  They web, picking up secondary characters, none of whom are flat or two dimensional, all of whom add a little something to the picture.  These characters are all vivid and beautifully drawn.

Starr herself is adorable.  Her family, including (and maybe especially) her grumpy old nana, is right up there (with the Weasley's) amongst my favourite book families.  This is partly due to perfect comedic timing coupled with some sharp dialogue.  Example:

          "You no gon' say hey to me, Adele?" Fo'ty Ounce asks.  When he talks, it jumbled together like one long word.
          "Hell nah, you old fool," Nana says.  The door slams behind her.

The snappy one-liners and hilarious exchanges are so, so good, and Starr in particular has such a perfect, dry sense of humour.

John Green is not lying, this book is stunning.  I was hooked from the first page and stayed so to the bitter end.  I'm picking The Hate U Give for a bunch of awards, and was psyched to read that it's heading straight onto film!  I think this will make for a powerful cinematic experience and cannot wait to watch.

Many thanks to Walker Books for this review copy.  It will be read and reread many times.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Space Party Printables

Fiiiiiiiiiiiiinally.  Seems like it's taken a million years to get these printables ready to share.  The Solar System poster is my favourite and was fun to make.  We used it for a Pin the Martian game, and now it's tacked to the wall in the kids room.  The badges were fun too, and looked super cute on the kids.  I really wanted to laminate them and make them into lanyards, but time and resources were thin, so a little duraseal and a safety pin hot glued to the back.  Bam.  Done.

I hope you get some joy out of these.  If you're on facebook or insta and you use any of them, tag me in your pics so I can look!  Links for all the printables are at the bottom of the page.

Enjoy x

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review :: Rock Pool Secrets by Narelle Oliver

Rock Pool Secrets - Narelle Oliver

"At first glance there’s nothing much to see. But the rock pools are full of secrets. Nestling in crevices ... hiding in the seaweed ... camouflaged against the rocks ... What creatures will you find? Rock Pool Secrets features beautiful linocut artwork by award-winning author/illustrator Narelle Oliver and includes big, easy-to-use flaps and a glossary of rock pool creatures."

    Visiting rock pools is one of our favourite pass-times, making this book a winner for our little guys.  I'm always a fan of educational books.  They make my job easier, and homeschooling that much more fun.  This one makes a perfect addition to our homeschool kindergarten --> Where Garland is at (he was an absolute fan of Rock Pool Secrets from the get-go).  And while Garland may be the perfect target audience, I learnt a thing or two myself.  Next time we go rock pool hunting we'll have added purpose to our observations.  I particularly appreciated the picture index at the back.  Always a bonus!

    Rock Pool Secrets is a lift-the-flap book, appropriate considering (as the name suggests), you need to keep your eyes peeled when spotting real-life rock pool creatures.  The camouflage style illustrations provide a challenge (albeit slight) for younger readers spotting critters.  Honestly, ours found it easy, but fun, regardless.  I'm looking forward to reading it to Wilco when he's bigger, our kids always loved these 'find-me-a...' type books when they were around 2-3 years.

    We've spotted most of these creatures in our rock pool hunts, but still keeping an eye out for an octopus or sea slug.

    Rock Pool Secrets is out in hardback on April 1st, so keep an eye out!

    Many thanks to Walker Books for this review copy.

    Monday, March 20, 2017

    Book Reivew :: Triangle by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

    Triangle by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

    "Multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen conspire again on a slyly funny tale about some very sneaky shapes."

    Fans of I Want My Hat Back rejoice!  Another Klassen classic for your collection  👊  (yes, I do realise how 👍 that sentence is).  We're big-time fans of Klassen, who has teamed up with Mac Barnett for this hilarious tale.  I haven't encountered Barnett before, but with a string of awards and that collab partner choice, I'm figuring he's an author we need to know about.  We'll be keeping an eye out for him, for sure.

    Triangle is everything I wanted it to be.  Beautifully illustrated, as per, with that trademark wry humour we've come to expect from our (I'm gonna call it) favourite children's author.  I love the sneaky shapes.  I love how their sneakiness comes undone.  I love the twisty, surprising humour.  It's funny in a way that's accessible for kids, but really 👌 for adults too.  

    This is one beautifully packaged book.  Matte pages, soft corners and a restrained colour palette.  Guys, it's so pretty!  It's pretty hard to say who was more excited when Triangle arrived in our letterbox, the kids, or me 😻.

    If you haven't given Klassen a go, I urge you to hunt down some of his books.  Triangle is a great place to start and can be found in stores now.

     Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books Aus.

    Friday, March 17, 2017

    Book Review :: Penguin by Polly Dunbar

    Penguin - 10th Anniversary edition - Written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar

    "A penguin turns out to be the perfect present in this beautiful 10th anniversary edition of an award-winning classic."

    Why have I never come across this little cutie before?? It's adorbs!  I immediately recognised Dunbar's illustrations of course (we have Down the Back of the Chair).  She's a multi award-winning talent!  🙌

    As you can see, Ben and Penguin are adorable book characters, perfectly epitomising that intense relationship between toddlers and their favourites, be it friend or pet or toy.  Nothing cuter than this type of fierce love.  Dunbar does such a cute job of expressing it too!  The twist at the end is 👌.  The pages in Penguin aren't over-crowded with words and imagery, making this a perfect read for the little ones.  Having said that, Eleanor (at 7) still enjoyed this, and thought it was pretty funny!

    Penguin -10th Anniversary edition is available now (if you don't have it on your bookshelf already).

    Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books Aus

    Tuesday, March 14, 2017

    Book Review :: Nanette's Baguette

    Nanette's Baguette - Mo Willems

    "Today is the day Nanette gets to get the baguette! Is she set? YOU BET!"

    Nanette's Baguette is fun!  If you love trying out a bad French accent in the safety of your own home, with an audience whose ears are too untrained to tell the difference, then this is the book you've been waiting for!  Seriously though, I was a little dubious at first, having never encountered Mo Willems *hides face*, but I'm so on board now!  Nanette's Baguette is just the right mix of funny and silly and very rhyme-y.

    Okay, here's the trickier bit for me.  As you know by now, I'm all about the illustrations (aren't we all, though?).  I was like "yes!" as soon as I saw the cover.  Love the kitsch diner vibe!  I do like the style of his drawings, and Nanette's expressions are perfect.  Furthermore, the paper village is spot on, and I love the comic book stylings.  Buuuut.  I really didn't love the layout.  It's a small thing, but it matters.  The shadow boxes in particular gets a 'no' from me.  I would've been so happy with a white background and comic style frames...

    Not gonna let it stop me from loving this book though!  Perhaps I'm totally behind the curve (wouldn't come as a massive surprise), and shadow boxes are back in, along with a bunch of other 90's trends that I'm still not ready for...

    Okay moving on, here's a v. cool behind-the-scenes timelapse of the making of, that made me want to DIY a paper village asap.  So.  Cool.

    Are you a Mo Willems fan?  Which of his books do you recommend we try next?

    Nanette's Baguette is out in paperback now so go check it!

    Review kindly supplied by Walker Books

    Saturday, March 11, 2017

    Mangonui - Northland

    So I figured out why half of New Zealand heads up the East Coast of Northland as soon as summer hits.  It's super pretty, that's why!  Mangonui is like, the peachiest, perfect, pretty seaside town.

    We didn't stay all that long.  After gorging on fish and chips at the renowned Mangonui Fish Shop (yum but super spendy) we walked off our full pukus' along the waterfront.  There are some beachy vibe stores, though nothing tempted us, and plenty of cute, old buildings to look at. The heritage trail looked interesting, but everyone was kinda done by that stage (we'd earlier stopped at the very beautiful Matauri Bay).

    Definitely worth the visit and we'll 100% be back.

    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    Book Review :: Boo! by Ben Newman

    Boo! - Ben Newman

    "All the animals are keen to show off their bravery – from the crocodile with his mighty jaws, to the tiger with her scary claws! But who will be the bravest of them all?"

    Flying Eye Books is such a pretty imprint.  Another beautiful matte cover, quirky cool illustrations and cute story.  There's a bit of a retro, timeless feel to Flying Eye books which we are lurving!  Boo! massively tickled Garland's fancy.  He thought it was hilaire.  He's five, mind you, which means that Newman has nailed the comedy-for-small-children bracket.  For my part, I loved the bold, stylised illustrations.  Very cool.  The text is minimal so that's another points win, for those preferring the shorter length bedtime tomes.  I can go either way on that one, but it's always best to have a few short-and-sweets' on the shelves, particularly if one child has requested a Magic Schoolbus book, amiright?!

    Here's the very cute book trailer if you want to take a sneak peek!

    Overall, we adore this book!  It's been strictly on the favourites list since arrival, and it's available now in bookstores, so check it out!

    Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

    Friday, March 3, 2017

    Book Review :: The Land of Nod

    The Land of Nod - Robert Louis Stevenson & Robert Hunter

    "Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic children’s poem about dreamland, as narrated by a convalescing young boy, is given new life in this wonderfully illustrated book. Accompanied by Robert Hunter’s bold and beautiful illustrations, this picture book will bring the beloved Scottish author’s work to a whole new generation of young readers."

    If you haven't come across this pretty book, you're in for a treat.  If you consider children's books a treat, that is... I do... The illustrations are soooooo lovely!  The Land of Nod is printed on matte pages, with a simple colour palette that is spot on.  Largely blues and pinks, with a smattering of other soft hues.  Very dreamy indeed.  The discerning toddler will love spotting familiar items in the dream scenes, lifted from earlier pages in the book.

    The text is short, but a great way to introduce/include a little poetry in your daily routine.  Slow reading is good for this one, further emphasising that dreamy tone (and hopefully priming the scene nicely for sleep).  You'll want to spend a little time on each illustration anyway, so #perfect.

    The Land of Nod is available now, RRP $27.99, so keep an eye out in for it.

    Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books Aus

    Sunday, February 12, 2017

    Space Party

    Hurrah!  The baby slept some last night!  I feel *almost* like a regular person today, and in celebration of that fact I'm posting some stuff!  

    Garland's birthday fell right in the centre of the most whirlwind time.  New baby, summer holidays, all the friends and family... Just... all the things.  A few weeks ahead of his party, Zan quietly suggested that while Garland had agreed to a beach party (coz, summer), he was secretly still hankering after a space party.  I was feeling all the post-baby-don't-leave-the-other-kids-out feels, so I felt I had to pull something out and make this party happen. 

    I'm not gonna lie, I did love the challenge.  I immediately started making some party printables, ordered some cute stuff from Pop Roc Parties, and dug out all the spacey things I could find.  We stuck mainly to traditional party food - cocktail sausages, popcorn, fruit kebabs etc, and I made up astronaut packs with Mars bars, Crunchees and Milky Way bars for fun.  We had soda water and milk, galaxy jellies, mini donuts (UFO's), mini pavlovas (Moon Cakes) and scroggin (least popular by a mile).  I decorated some cookies to look like the galaxy and I was and am, total smug about how cute they turned out.  

    I had initially planned a moon cake, but saw this Boston bun in the supermarket and was like, um, perfect!  So I made a Mars cake instead, and that was pretty fun. We had these candles from Pop Roc Parties, and I added this Space Shuttle from Toyco as a cake topper.  

    Pin the Martian game

    Party Favours, tutorial to come

    I used black cloth as a back drop and decorated with this oversized moon I used in the classroom a few years ago (it looks like they've changed the design a little).  I also hung a bunch of cute starry balloons from Pop Roc Parties, and of course these space printables.  I do wish I'd printed out two lots and double-sided them.  It was pretty hard to get these pics.

    I had the MOST fun making ID badges for all the kiddos, and I'll include the template when I post all the printables for you.  

    We played Pin the Martian on Jupiter ('cause turns out Mars was too small for our party numbers...) and Pass the Parcel.  But the total absolute hundred percent highlight was when my brother-in-law dressed up as a froggy alien, and chased them around the lawn while they pelted him with water balloons.  It was everyone's favourite bit.  Hilaire.

    I'll be back with printables and a simple tutorial soon.  Peace out x