Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review :: The Traitor and the Thief

The Traitor and the Thief - Gareth Ward

"A thief, a spy and a steampunk showdown at Traitor's Gate!"

This is a well-paced little number!  I whipped through it in a couple of days and for the most part, really enjoyed it.  A large part of my enjoyment was derived from how richly detailed and immersive the book is.  The descriptions are so good!  So many vivid pictures in my mind, so much atmosphere.  I am all for detail and it was so fun to slip into a completely filled-out, deliberately drawn, Steampunk world.  So fun.

The story contains a mystery, though somehow it doesn't at all feel like the centrepiece.  A lot of time is given to world-building, to the benefit of the novel (the world-building is just. so. good). But it means that the mystery somehow lacks oomph.  The outcome of the mystery didn't dazzle me.  In fact, the final sequences of the novel didn't dazzle me.  I still read feverishly, despite the hindering ? ?? 👀😕

Okay, I was all in with the setting and premise.  Fun fun fun.  But I was not so invested in the characters.  There's potential there for sure, but all of the major characters lack the warmth to make me really buy in.  Meanwhile, the minor characters are more familiar, like they could've walked out of a Dickens novel.  That said, I think I'm going to like the centrals, once I get to know them better.  Sometimes that's just the way with the first in the series.  I can accept that.

Okay, here's one thing that's super problematic for me.  Early in the book there's a bit of negative commentary around weight.  Zonda is ridiculed (including by Sin) for being overweight, and caricatured by her cake-eating habit.  I do appreciate that Sin becomes an encouraging friend and champion to Zonda, but again, his focus is on changing her - making her "lighter and stronger."  I mean, she's a trainee spy I guess, but still.  *There's a little more on this past the page break but it's almost a spoiler so #duewarning.

I'm holding out hope that there'll be some #radicalselflove and #bodypositive vibes in book two!  I should also mention that everyone ridicules Sin for being uneducated, and the terminology they use is not nice.  Come to think of it, there's a lot of meanness.  Is that par for the course with YA?  Probably, but I don't know why.  It's all #conditioning in the end, and sometimes norms are only so because we let them be.... < #deep #verydeep 😂

Overall I was engaged with the story & universe - I wanna go back.  I hope the next instalment lingers on descriptions in a similar way because this was such a strength!  There's a spooky magic and cleverness about it all, that never feels overdone.  Loved it.  Give me a little more character development and little less fat-shaming/meanness in book two and I'll be happy girl!

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Book Review :: See You When I See You

See You When I See You - Written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

"A stand-alone follow-up to the acclaimed and beloved chapter books that began with New York Times Notable Book My Happy Life."

Get ready for a long review, because there's a lot to unpack with this little book.  See You When I See You is very much emotion-driven, and threaded with unexpected undercurrents.

There's plenty that is relatable to young school children, and Dani really is a sweet and authentic character.  She is well cared for by family who obviously attempt to keep a close eye on her.  It's also sooooo beautifully presented.  I absolutely adore Eriksson's illustrations, as per usual.  In fact, a lot of the sweetness of this book can be confidently attributed to the illustrations.

Concerning safety, too much is left unresolved for me to say I love this book.  For instance there are some issues with disclosure that unsettled me.  There were at least two major instances where Dani's safety was deeply compromised and neither herself nor the adults caring for her revealed this to her father.  Even more worryingly, her cousin Sven has a close and private friendship with an adult male.  There's no suggestion of its being sinister, but having recently read an article in which a father details how his daughter was groomed by someone, I couldn't help but draw comparisons.  And worry.  This is an unnecessary inclusion in the first place (it has no bearing on the story), and it's described in a way that sets alarm bells ringing.  Now I don't know the back story, but neither does Eleanor.  We'll have a conversation about it, for sure.

Further to this, Dani seems to be being bullied by school mates, while her best friend is bullied and manhandled by her teacher!!!  Perhaps this is acceptable in Sweden?  It's certainly not legal here!  Ella and Dani's friendship itself doesn't provide the healthiest example.  Ella coerces Dani into activity that make Dani feel unsafe (running away and avoiding adults trying to help her).  Yet Dani's biggest motivation in the book is to ensure Ella's happiness.  Eeeeek!  So there's a few conversations I'll need to have with Eleanor.


I know, it's a lot.

There is a story thread that is (mostly) worked through in a meaningful way.  Dani's widower father has found a new love, causing tensions between himself and his daughter and with her maternal grandparents.  There's an openness to the way Dani expresses her feelings, and resolves them.  She is supported by her grandmother, and also by her father's new love, and eventually by him, too.

It's a short read, so I would suggest a quick pre-read before deciding if it's for you.  Perhaps prepare some follow up questions to go over with your little one.  I haven't read the other titles, but the synopses suggest that they are really sweet, and given the tenderness that is regularly applied in this story, I will definitely seek them out and give them a try.  

Monday, August 7, 2017

Book Review :: Play by Jez Alborough

Play - Jez Alborough

"From the award-winning creator of HugTall and Yes comes another classic picture book for the very youngest children. Using only a handful of words, Jez Alborough skilfully tells the bedtime tale of Bobo the chimp. The sun is still up and this little chimp wants to play with his jungle friends, but then the sun goes down and he’s all alone… The perfect bedtime read for every playful little monkey!"

Some pros and a con for this little number.  Pro - the illustrations are vivid and sweet.  I love the style.  The images are formatted in a subtly graphic novel-ish way.  I found them very pleasing!   Pro - there's little text, other than a handful of speech bubbles with a few basic words.  Words that may have already been collected by a beginner talker.  Perfect for little, little peops, who will easily comprehend the message.  Con - I'm just really not sure about the message.  The story is about a little chimp that disobeys his mama's commands and runs away, to do as he pleases.  I didn't feel as though the 'play is for day' message overrode the content.  I dunno.  Maybe it did?  Pro - perhaps it would be useful as a discussion point - "What might happen if..?" sorta thing...

Overall, pretty cute, but not one for the favourites pile, this time.  I will definitely keep an eye out for others in this series though, I'm pretty confident I'll be a fan.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Book Review :: My First Board Books - Donovan Bixley

My First Board Book - Shapes

"A wonderfully illustrated Donovan Bixley board book for learning shapes in both English and Maori.  Including the circle (porowhita), diamond (taimana) and stars (whetu). Perfect for Kiwi kids."

Yay for more Donovan Bixley!  He's becoming a firm favourite around here.  This time we're getting in early and introducing the baby to Bixley's quirky, kiwiana illustrations.  And if you think that a book introducing the shapes isn't gonna have any quirky kiwiana illustrations, think again.  Bixley goes for the unexpected for his examples and we love it.  For instance, 'square' is depicted by bee boxes (hives) and mirror dice.  I love that he included the koru/coil too.  So good!

My First Board Book - Things That Go!

"This fun and educational book from award-winning illustrator Donovan Bixley is full of things that fly, things that float and THINGS THAT GO!"

Again, Bixley finds the perfect, unexpected examples: a caravan, a quad, a rubbish truck.  All the other faves are there too, with a range of cute and sometimes familiar animals at the helm.  Little ones will love moving straight from these into Bixley's other picture books, with some cool little crossovers in each.  As with 'Shapes', 'Things That Go!' finishes with a little game to test knowledge.  Fun for little peops, and a handy way to try out new kupu.  With both books, the bright bold colours will likely appeal more to the littlies than they did to me (imagine these in pastels, yusss!), but otherwise they are total winners.

I'm particularly pleased that these books are in both english and Maori, one small step closer to becoming bilingual. Yuss!

Both books are out today.  We have to complete our collection with 'Animals' and 'Colours' now too 👍

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review :: Soda Pop

Soda Pop - Written by Barbro Lindgren & illustrated by Lisen Adbage

"Soda Pop is an anarchic story full of playful nonsense in which the usual rules and prejudices do not exist."

This book is bananas!  I had nooo idea what was going on, lol; next level silliness of the very best kind (think Spike Milligan with a touch of Tove Jansson and a smidge of Astrid Lindgren).  The illustrations are equally playful, with a naivety and exuberance that is completely aligned with the story content.  I had Eleanor share a synopsis, and I think it really captures the spirit of the book.  Handing over to her...

Soda Pop has a weird house and a barn that's turned into a swimming pool.  He also has a giraffe and tigers.  The giraffe and tigers are usually hungry so he usually stops off at the hot dog shop to get them hotdogs.  Then there's an old grumpy man.  He's grumpy because Soda Pop has some yellow owls that come and sleep in his mailbox.  Soda Pop also gets a robber friend.  He's a robber, but he's a nice one.  There are other funny characters too, especially the grandpa who thinks he's a cuckoo. 

I thought it was funny, hilarious and incredible.  My favourite bit was when Soda Pop thought he was a dog.  He acts like a dog and so does his daddy, and when the hot dog man comes to pick up a tiger, Soda Pop nearly bites the hot dog man.  It's pretty funny!

Sound like your cup of tea?  If you haven't already, check it out!

Review copy kindly provided by Gecko Press :-)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Family Travel :: Emirates vs. Qantas

He's like a bull in a transit lounge. #holdme

It's been a long while since I wrote a blog post /book reviews aside/ so here's a special treat for you!  We are in the fun planning planning planning stage of a family holiday, though the date seems forever to be pushed out of sight :-(  Never mind, I actually L O V E the planning part because RESEARCH!  Yes, Victoria University English Lit. tutors, turns out I love it after all.  Who knew?!  We're all disappointed I didn't find this sooner...

Onwards!  My point!  In all the planning and researching, the thing I get most fixated on is, dun dun nah NAH: Flights.  Surprised?  I have a *sliiiiiiiiight* fear of flying, that as it turns out, doesn't always eventuate into not enjoying the flight.  It's too long-winded to explain - let's just say, anticipation isn't always the best part (unless we're talking about Christmas, in which case - it is).

I've been known to watch long boring youtube clips of flight journeys - my own dorky form of desensitisation // managing anxiety 101.  I also read tons of blog posts reviewing flights, all of which has revealed that, when it comes to flying, the little things truly matter.

Our recent trip to Melbourne we big-time noticed how different a similar flight can be.  And how suckful airline partnerships are.  #booairlinepartnershiiiiiiips.  We booked return Emirates flights, because if there's one thing I know, it's that I like Emirates flights.  I know a whole bunch of other things too, and one of those other things is that I don't like Qantas flights.  Imagine my horror when I found our flight home was with Qantas?!  #boooooooairlinepartnershiiiiiips.  Here's our little compare and contrast, with a couple of blurry phone pics too, #yawelcome


I have to say, I didn't expect the difference to be as drastic as it was.  Emirates hands down won here.  Not only were our seats comfier and like, bigger?  Maybe?  Felt like it... We were also all seated together in the aisle - with a bassinet for our use.  This is kind of a cheat, because there's only a limited timeframe in which to make use of the bassinet rows (and all bassinet rows aren't necessarily alike), but it was such a big bonus.  Leg room GALORE.  We didn't even use the bassinet, but we def used the leg room.  For stretching out our legs, that's what.

On our Emirates thrones.  Not pictured - sooooo much legroom!

Qantas seating was almost the pure opposite.  We were seated waaaaaaaaay down the back of the plane with all the other families ("we're all in this togeeeeether"), AKA hell on earth... or...air.  We were cramped.  There were babies crying (no, not my perfect child who slept through both flights, #yessmug).  We were separated and I ended up with all three kids while lucky Zan got to sit next to other peoples kids.  I actually don't know who wins the parent-martyr stakes in this kind of sitch... We both... win?  I felt about the complainiest I've ever felt.  Also, anxious.  Dangit.

Snug AS on Qantas.  Not pictured - my sad-emoji face.  

Emirates win.


Is it just me, or is food THE most important part of the flight?  // rhetorical question - it's not just me.  I've put quite a lot of thought in and figured this out.  Flying is boring, and dumb, and sometimes scary.  The things that make up for that are movies, and surprise meals.  But, the surprise needs to be a good one, aiight?

 Kids meal - Emirates.  Eleanor brushed her teeth directly after consuming, because mini-toothpaste // must find and buy

Food-wise, Emirates have always been a reliable win for us.  It's still plane food, but it's the kind of plane food that you're like, yaaaaay, plane-food (also plain food sometimes)!  The kids meals were definite winners, the same as the adult meal but with a bunch of fun extras.  If you don't mind all the packaging (just for this once, because you're stuck on a plane for hours and I think a little pre-packaged food is warranted), you'll be happy.  Our kids were happy.  Eleanor was in heaven.  She also gets reeeally excited by the meals served in hospital - maybe it's the idea of service and free (ish) food that appeals??

Kids meal - Qantas.  Not the same.  That's scrambled eggs btw, and I thiiiiink baked beans?  

And when a girl that gets excited by a hospital tray turns down an inflight meal?  You know you have another loss for Qantas.  I don't blame her.  I didn't want to eat mine either...

Delicious, delicious adult meal 😂

Emirates win.


I promise I'm not making this up!  This is legit!  I know you're like, really?  Everything??  But for real, everything.  In every area, Emirates wins.  Emirates crew are tha. best.  They're all bringing you hot towels and keeping your kids happy, and even keeping it cool when horrible drunk people harass them (seen on a different flight).  I imagine being an air stewart can be a very not fun job at times, but you'd never know it from the demeanour of the Emirates crew.

Qantas.  I just... There was a marked difference, okay?  I'm gonna leave it there because I don't like bagging on people who are just doing their sometimes-not-fun job.

Best flier. Asleep 2 mins later.

Bonus Points

Emirates gets two bonus points for their sweet kids packs.  Eleanor got a little bag filled with activity books and things.  Stoked-as.  Garland received a little penguin softie that concealed a snuggly blanket.  Whaaaaat?!  That's a legit handy travel item!  The baby was given his own pack of freebies: a bib, some moisturiser that smelled like talc #gag and some other things that #haveforgotten.

They also lost one point for the complete confusion we felt about where our screens were (they were hidden down the side of our seats, I think), and thus the slow start to screen time.  This was especially felt by the children who watched other passengers leap straight into watching stuff, before the plane was fully seated.

Totes happy now.

Qantas actually wins a bonus point too, for providing a baby meal!  Never mind that it was some gross fake stuff that we would never feed our precious snowflake 😉  but appreciated nonetheless.  

I think that makes it Emirates 1000 points, Qantas 1??  In other words, Qantas = basically terrible, Emirates = heart eyes.  

As you can see, I'm pretty passionate about Emirates being better than Qantas.  From this experience I figure that my extensive researching is probably worth it, when considering a long-haul flight.  #rationalized.

Managing a five year old in a transit lounge?  We'll, that's a whole separate post...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review :: Chook Doolan

Chook Doolan - Written by James Roy and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford

Despite the nickname (Chook is a 'chicken') these stories provide a support for children experiencing anxiety, rather than ridiculing.  Yuss!  This young character is learning early on which tools and strategies are most beneficial in overcoming his fears.  We were super glad to have these great little books sent our way.  Like most kids, ours experience anxiety from time to time.  I so appreciate having helpful references for times of need.  If you're looking for something to add to your own toolbox, these will make an excellent addition.

The Chook Doolan books are a perfect match for early readers who are keen to move away from picture books.  Competent readers will whip through these, but I would recommend unpacking the text a little, post-read (and have a quick pre-read yourself, first - they're short).

Eleanor has shared brief synopses below, and check out Angela's excellent review too!

Chook Doolan - On the Road

Chook Doolan is going to see his twin cousins.  He's wondering how he could ever play with them because they're younger than him.  He finds out that one of the twins can play his favourite game which is chess, and she loves it.  My favourite bit is when Chook and his big brother were saying 'no one sweats playing chess' and he says, 'dad does.'  It's really funny.

Chook Doolan - Up and Away

His dad is a pilot.  Chook's a bit wary about planes and then he acts like a pilot while he's at the airport.  A little girl is scared that the plane might fall.  He knows all about planes now because his dad told him all about them, so he comforts her.  His dad said he really acted like a real pilot.  It's not really a funny book, it's good though.

Chook Doolan - Let's do Diwali

He has a friend whose family loves Diwali.  His friend tells Chook that they're celebrating Diwali and he should come over.  He's a bit scared at first because there's lots of people there, but then he really likes it because it's fun and colourful and there's nice food.  It's a bit like a lantern walk but with different kids of lights.  I'd really like to celebrate Diwali too because it sounds really cool.

Chook Doolan - Unhappy Camper

The school is having a camp and he's worried that there might be snakes and he might be sick.  It ends up that the camp is at school and so it turns out to be quite exciting.  My favourite part was when he asks if there's a doctor somewhere close, because he thought they were going out into the wild and he was gonna get sick.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review :: Double Take!

Double Take! - Written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Jay Fleck

"When it comes to opposites, it’s all a matter of perspective! Lively text and fun retro art engage kids in the finer points of a favourite concept."

Double Take! is a playful and lyrical read aloud.  I really love the concept, and the opportunity for some interesting discussion.  What a cool way to introduce perspective and relative relationships to kids.  There's a level of complexity that you don't always find in children's books, and you may get a few questions as you read.  Or your little ones might just enjoy the rhyme and go with it, as mine did.  The illustrations are bold and engaging for any who aren't quite grasping the meaning yet, so there's pretty much something for everyone.  Basically, this is a clever little number!

Check it out for yourself, Double Take! is in stores now.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review :: Nanna's Button Tin

Nanna's Button Tin - Written by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Heather Potter

"Nanna’s button tin is very special. It has buttons of all shapes and sizes and they all have a different story to tell. But today, one button in particular is needed. A button for teddy. A beautiful story about memories and the stories that shape a family."

What a sweet book!  It's a simple (and very familiar) story, snapshot memories as a little girl and her Nanna sort through a button collection.  The illustrations star for this one, understated and impossibly cute!  Potter is especially clever at capturing expressions, so much is conveyed in the slight press of lips or softened expression.  As with (almost) any picture book, the pleasure for me is in the details, and this one has details!  Many, sweet details.

Surely the perfect book to store at a grandparents house, or gift it with a selection of thrifted buttons 😍.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review :: Timmy Failure books 1-6

We recently had the good fortune of being sent the Timmy Failure series 👊.  These are popular books!  In truth, the cover art wasn't really calling to me, but they come with rave reviews so we were excited.  When I say 'we', I am most definitely referring to 'she', for clarification.

I read the first one and was quickly drawn in by the punchy chapters and quirky humour.  There's a level of comedy that skipped right on over Eleanor's head, which will make these fun for her to reread later.  I intend to finish the series, perhaps when I'm through my own, slowly diminishing TBR pile.  They're silly and fun, two things I will always advocate.

I'll let Eleanor give y'all the full lowdown...

Book 1 - Mistakes Were Made

The main characters are Timmy, Molly Moskins, Rollo, and Total (the naughty polar bear).  Most of the story is set at home or school, and sometimes at different houses.

Timmy Failure (the detective), has a hard life.  He just always gets into trouble but sometimes it's not his fault.  Other times it's all his fault like when he crashes the car into Corrina Corrina's house.

Book 2 - Now Look What You've Done

In this book, Timmy Failure is trying to find one of his classmates' spoon which has gone missing.  While he's on the hunt he gets sent to the bad people's school.  He can never seem to realise where the spoon is even though it's obvious.  Ed - #describetheseriesinasentence #nailedit

His business is called Total Failure inc.  Get it?

Book 3 - We Meet Again

I love this one!  Timmy makes some Garbanzo Man comic books that are funny.  Also, Rollo accidentally steals the nature report and then they have to make another one.  Someone else gets blamed until Timmy Failure explains it.  Ed - is that a spoiler? #sorry

Book 4 - Sanitized For Your Protection

This one's a good one.  He's super naughty in this one.  Timmy Failure's car has broken down and it broke next to a hotel where Molly Moskins and her family are staying.  He's so unhappy because he doesn't like Molly Moskins.  The naughtiest bit is when Timmy Failure and Molly Moskins run away.  After that Timmy Failure isn't allowed to do detective work anymore. Ed - those first two lines 😂

Book 5 - The Book You're Not Supposed to Have

Timmy Failure secretly does detective work without his mum knowing.  His mum is going to get married to Dave which means that he might be moving to Chicago, but only if Dave likes the job he's got there.  If he moves there, Timmy won't be able to do detective work at all.

I like the bit where Timmy writes something and he wants you to believe that Molly Moskins wrote it.

Book 6 - The Cat Stole My Pants

It's his mum and step-dad's honeymoon and they go to Key West.  Timmy doesn't believe that his mother has married Dave because he fainted when they got married. He has to do detective work with Emilio, who is Dave's nephew.  They find a letter in a shell and they want to figure out what it means.

My favourite bit is when Total (the bear) stole the lights and tables and stuff from where they were staying in Key West.

I would recommend these books because they're interesting and it's fun seeing what happens to Timmy Failure.  They're easy to read and they're exciting and they're funny, most of the time.  I think I would read them again.

✌ Eleanor

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review :: Release by Patrick Ness

Release - Patrick Ness

"It's Saturday, it's summer and, although he doesn't know it yet, everything in Adam Thorn's life is going to fall apart. But maybe, just maybe, he'll find freedom from the release. Time is running out though, because way across town, a ghost has risen from the lake... This uplifting coming-of-age novel will remind you what it's like to fall in love."

First up, that cover art.  SO beautiful!  It does all the things I want cover art to do! Perfect.

Release opens with a classic line (deliberately lifted straight from Mrs Dalloway), which sets the task of the book - a day in the life of Adam Thorne.  I love the episodic nature of the novel, broken into distinctive parts that cleverly piece together Adam's life, all fitting neatly into the course of a day.  They read almost as a series of short stories, with connecting threads running through.

I feel less enthralled by the paranormal story that is braided in with Adam's.  There doesn't seem to be a compelling enough reason for it to be there.  Furthermore, the connection between the two comes too late, for me.  It's clever when it does arrive (wrapping a motif up in a tight little bow), but I still think I would've prefer to read Adam's story, alone.

The real strength and beauty of this story comes from the moments of everyday, the musings, the conversations, the simple observed details.  The central relationship in the story - a platonic friendship, is authentic and littered with sweetness.  Ness has a beautiful turn of phrase and writes some punchy dialogue.  It felt rich, sensory* and sensitive.  Overall, a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece.

*On the sensory - there's a lot of sex, and talk of sex.  Just fyi.  

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review :: The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Secret of Black Rock - Joe Todd-Stanton

"Out there in the deepest sea lies the Black Rock: a huge, dark and spiky mass that is said to destroy any boats that come near it! Can Erin uncover the truth behind this mysterious legend?"

This is suuuuuuch a stunning book, right from its embossed cover to those rich, evocative illustrations.  I think I audibly gasped when I saw that cover, and continued to gasp as I flicked through the pages.

The text itself is somewhat irrelevant, in light of the storytelling that occurs on each page.  Probably the book would work just as well without any text at all.  The illustrations tell so much more, and with such incredible detail, urgh!  I would happily frame almost any of the pages, especially those conveying the entirety of Black Rock.

Sorry guys, but I think you really need to see this one for yourselves, no review is gonna do justice.  #fact.

The kids found it exciting and magical, and Eleanor said she thinks it's a true story (lol), which means the subtle 'environmental awareness' message might just hit the mark too!

Illustrations to get lost in.  #siiiiiiigh.

The Secret of Black Rock is due out on July 1st, so make sure your local bookstore is putting aside a copy for y'all.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review :: Donovan Bixley classics in te reo Māori

I'm late to the Donovan Bixley party (but I've admired from afar), these are the first Bixley books we've put our hands on.  Well, it was worth the wait because they're crackers!

Ngā Wīra o te Pahi - The Wheels on the Bus

Translated into Māori from The Wheels on the Bus, Ngā Wīra o te Pahi features a gorgeous tour of the country in a colourful, musical bus (I love the nod to Blerta, an all but forgotten piece of kiwi history).  We didn't know every landmark, but it was fun spotting the ones that were familiar.  The kids also loved spotting the shy little Pīwakawaka on every page.  Bixley cleverly creates a familiar, kiwi feeling atmosphere with each illustration; from the sunny, beachy ice-cream day, to the (All)black sheep playing rugby under the stars.  Super adorable!

Te Pāmu O Koro Meketānara - Old MacDonald's Farm

My favourite of the two titles, the illustrations in this one are filled with gorgeous details.  There's such movement in drawings, especially so in the sweeping landscapes.  I think Bixley has successfully included every kiwi icon, though I'll have to have a hunt to see if there are any pineapple lumps.  The level of detail is exquisite, and makes for books that cannot be hurried through.  We read/sang them through, and then went back again to study each and every illustration.  We also found that the song has the most comfortable rhythm in this, of the two.

This is such a fun style of illustration and my kids will pore over these books.  They are especially fun for Garland's age-group, he thinks the animal antics are hilaire!  It's so nice to add some truly kiwi books in our collection, and in te reo at that. Big win!

Both books are available now, and so worth adding to your collection even if you have the English version.

Review copies kindly provided by Hachette NZ

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review :: Wild Animals of the South by Dieter Braun

Wild Animals of the South - Dieter Braun

"Famous German illustrator Dieter Braun offers his readers an accurate representation of animals from the southern hemisphere in this gorgeously illustrated volume."

This is one hefty, beautifully presented book, with so much potential for instructing and entertaining!  The striking cover and the matte pages, the tidbits of information on many of the pages, ahhhh.  I expected my animal-obsessed kids to go wild (no pun intended) for this one.  It was not so.  Perhaps the illustrations are a little too stylized for their taste?  Or perhaps the accompanying text is the ish, it's so small as to almost feel like afterthought (I soooo wanted info on each of the animals, not just some).  Whatever the case, we haven't (yet) spent hours flicking through the pages of this undeniably beautiful book.  I wonder if it's one that will grow on us and find its place as a middle-of-winter fireside read...  If not, it will serve as a lovely reference point for animal studies 💯 💯

Have you seen this beauty yet?  Or its predecessor, Wild Animals of the North?  Is it a yay or nay or somewhere in the middle, for you?

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Friday, June 2, 2017

Book Review :: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin

Finding Nevo - by Nevo Zisin

"Meet Nevo: girl, boy, he, she, him, her, they, them, daughter, son, teacher, student, friend, gay, bi, lesbian, trans, homo, Jew, dyke, masculine, feminine, androgynous, queer. Nevo was not born in the wrong body. Nevo just wants everyone to catch up with all that Nevo is. Personal, political and passionate, Finding Nevo is an autobiography about gender and everything that comes with it."

I was pretty excited to see this title in Walker's new release list.  While it wasn't a perfect read, this is for sure a book I will enthusiastically recommend this to all the teens in my life.

There's never been a more important time for LGBTQIA+ (a couple of those acronyms are new-to-me, though helpfully explained in the book) to have a voice in publishing, so big props to Walker Books for providing a platform for Nevo.  With so many opposing, negative voices getting way too much airspace, #fistbump to Nevo and Walker for getting a positive message through.

As a parent I've always advocated for breaking down the gender divide, though as Nevo rightly points out, so much has become intrinsic to how we perceive gender 'differences'.  I know I'm still getting it way wrong some of the time.  Big picture, there is so much work to do, but specifically, in terms of my own family, I just want my kids to know that I have their back 100%, however they identify themselves.  I would be glad for them to read Nevo's story, once they begin navigating the adolescent years.  For themselves, and for their peers and for everyone.  I do so hope I'm raising kind humans 😢🙏.

I'm gonna level with you, I didn't find this an especially well-written text.  It has such a strong and important message, the conveyance of which I think lets it down, to a degree.  I also I tended to skip through some of the 'educational' passages (ideas I've encountered elsewhere, already).  However, I think the relevance of the content outweighs my irritation with the narration.  I'm glad I read it, for the fresh perspective it offered.

I can see that Finding Nevo will become an important resource for young people.  I'd imagine especially so for YA living in isolated communities - kids without nearly enough access to LGBTQIA+ support networks.  No doubt Finding Nevo will provide a life-line for some of these precious young people.  I hope that school libraries will consider adding this to their collection (I'm donating my copy to ours), in the hopes that it falls in just the right hands.

Finding Nevo is in stores now.

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review :: Ambulance Ambulance! by Sally Sutton & Brian Lovelock

Ambulance Ambulance! - by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock

"Bleep, bleep. Emergency! News just through: Crash, crash, there’s been a crash. Let’s go, crew! Nee nar nee nar. An exciting new collaboration from Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock, bestselling and award-winning creators of RoadworksDemolition and Construction."

Our homeschool Social Studies work sometimes has us looking at different occupations and how they contribute to our society.  Ambulance Ambulance! is a great lead-in to conversations about paramedics and hospital workers (we're prettttty familiar with the latter, these days).  Where we live (I'm guessing it's the same in most smaller communities?), paramedics are volunteer workers, so it just feels really nice to read a book honouring their incredible work.

Ambulance Ambulance! itself is filled with bright, bold illustrations and simple, to-the-point text.  The rhymes are simple and punchy, quickly conveying a sense of urgency that pairs perfectly with the content. My only difficulty is deciding whether to hold on to our copy, or donate it to our local hospital where we continue to receive so much wonderful care.  I'm leaning towards the latter.  Are book hampers a thing?  They should be! #mission.

Ambulance Ambulance! was released this month 👍  #shoutouttotheparamedics

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Friday, May 26, 2017

Book Review :: Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer - Laini Taylor

"In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage."

Oh, how to review a book like this!  As one would expect from Taylor, Strange the Dreamer is a textured and lyrical and beautiful read.  It's all heartache and mystery and tragedy and romance.

The novel was a fairly slow burn for the first half, but with such rich and beautiful descriptions - Taylor's turn of phrase is so ☝.  We meet Lazlo, our dreamy, sensitive anti-hero, here a young boy immersed in a rich, self-constructed fantasy world.  Lazlo is lovely, and I must say, I do have a soft spot for orphaned protags (hello, Harry, Kvothe, Anne with an 'e').  There is something of Patrick Rothfuss' magician in the initial chapters, both in the gorgeous writing (every sentence is delicious), and the character archetype.  I do, overall, prefer sweet Lazlo to the showier Kvothe, but was perhaps a little less swept up in this story?  That may change...

Lazlo is not the only great character, central and side alike are multi-faceted and beautifully drawn.  Most evoke a full revolution of feelings towards them.  Taylor is so good at this.  There's a messiness that feels human and true, despite her stories being all. the. way fantasy.  The bad characters are bad, but you're kind of aching for them too.  The 'good' characters have hidden darknesses.  This is what I love most about her stories, though the large-scale adventure-y-ness is pretty topnotch too.

On that, I have to admit the journey isn't as epic as it sets out to be.  The setting actually starts to diminish as the story unfolds, perhaps in part because a chunk of the second half is set in dreamscape.  These tilt-shift perceptions are a little disorienting and pull away from story dynamics that are truly compelling.  For instance, super interesting characters are a side-lined for the sake of the romance.  Urgh.  Lol.  Is it okay to say I just want to skip through the kissy bits and get to the crux?  #sry.  I also feel confident that the loosened strands will be picked up in the next book, so I'm fully prepared to forgive all the kissing, lol.

All said, this isn't a completely perfect read for me, not in the way the DOSAB series is (if you're new to Taylor, start there!), but there is the exact level of complexity, authenticity and, well, heartbreak that I require from a story, so, definitely a winner.  I'm so glad this is a Book One.  I assumed it was a stand-alone and felt increasingly desperate watching the leftover pages diminish at a rapid rate, with still so much to resolve!  Whew!  Bring on tome two!

Strange the Dreamer is available in stores now, which you'll already know if you are as rabid a Laini Taylor fan as I am!

Review copy kindly provided by Hachette NZ

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review :: Can't Catch Me! by Timothy Knapman & Simona Ciraolo

Can't Catch Me! - Written by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

"this is the story of Jake ... the fastest mouse there ever was. NO ONE can catch him. Not the fox, not the wolf, not even the bear. “Can’t catch me,” teases Jake. “I’m the fastest mouse in the world!” But cunning Old Tom Cat has his eye on that sweet, young mouse for his dinner and he’s got a plan…"

It seems that picture books using heavy repetition will always retain popularity with the kiddos.  From Hairy McClary to The Pancake That Ran Away...  Can't Catch Me! is a sweet addition to this little sub-genre of kid stories.  It has a similar narrative arc to The Gingerbread Man & The Pancake, making it an insta-fave for Garland who laps those two stories up.  He will consistently ask for this book, and spend a good while hunting if ever it goes astray.  

I'll admit to getting a little bored reading picture books that rely on repetition, but I enjoyed the illustrations for this one.  There's a colour palette of pretty, Spring tones, and an exuberant, sketchy drawing style.  I don't love the depiction of characters' faces especially, but overall, pretty.

Can't Catch Me! is out in stores now, check it 📘

Review copy kindly provided by Walker Books

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review :: Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm

Waiting for Goliath - Antje Damm

"Bear waits patiently for his friend. The robins fly to the south and the first snow falls. When Bear awakes from a long sleep, he hears a noise like a hand sliding slowly across paper. Goliath is coming! But Goliath’s identity is a big surprise."

Goodness me, what an unexpected delight!  I think Triangle may have some competition for my favourite kiddo book of the year, Waiting for Goliath is irresistible!

Illustration-wise, this is one adorable and perfect book.  This diorama type style is a favourite for me, deceptively simple and visually beautiful.  Damm has done such a great job creating her lead, too.  Bear is the sweetest character, expressive, innocent, and immediately loveable.  His unfailing loyalty is touching, and makes that ending feel even more delicious.

The playful title cleverly sets up the novel for two surprises.  I think I actually laughed out loud when I got to there.  Literary and theatre-y parents definitely need to add this one to their collection, for sure!

Published by Gecko Press, Waiting for Goliath is in book stores now.

Review copy kindly provided by Gecko Press

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review :: Everybunny Dance! by Ellie Sandall

Everybunny Dance! - Ellie Sandall

This one is for all the fans of Guess How Much I Love You, and You're All My Favourites.  Everybunny Dance! is perhaps a more light-hearted, fun piece, but there's the same lovely illustration style.  Heaps of cute little bunnies and one hard-done-by fox, all in nice soft tones with lovely, exuberant composition.

Everybunny Dance is an action book, so if your kids love those this will go down well.  Ideal for mat time if you work in ECE or NE classrooms, and leads in well to discussions about inclusiveness.  Perfect!

Review copy kindly provided by Hachette