"The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise." - author Jackie French

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: Follow the Firefly + Run, Rabbit, Run!

This wordless picture book features two stories. Reading from front to back, children follow the firefly as he looks for a flashing light. He journeys through the jungle, getting directions along the way from different animals, until he reaches his destination.

On the final page, where the story would normally end, an illustration shows several animals in cages on the back of a truck. One breaks free and the challenge is now on to follow the rabbit. Retracing their steps back through the book, children read from the back to the front and discover that in each illustration, rabbit is also present. Chasing him is a dog determined to find him and bring him back to where he belongs. Will he succeed?

Review: Howzat!

“In a little English village there’s a cricket match just beginning.”

Cricket is a sport played all over the world, a fact celebrated in this wonderful picture book. As the text by Mike Lefroy takes readers through the experiences of the players during a game, Liz Anelli’s illustrations tell a slightly different story, highlighting the many countries and cultures that enjoy playing cricket.

Howzat! emphasises the way this game connects children around the world as they play cricket with their friends, whether in backyards, parks or on the beach. The rhyming verse text shares some familiar cricketing terminology – wicket, snick, silly mid-on, spin, googly – as it talks through the progress of the game with players coming in and out, hitting sixes, bowling and fielding.

12 Curly Questions with author/illustrator Tina Matthews

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I am so short sighted that when I am reading without glasses or contact lenses and I turn the page, it touches my nose. That’s how I can do such detail in my books; I take off my glasses and get really close to the page.

2. What is your nickname?
Funnily enough my nickname is Tina because my real name is Christina, but no one calls me that. And my uncle Harvey (who the boy in A Great Cake is named after) used to call me Titi sometimes, which is ‘muttonbird’ in Maori. I don’t think Harvey knew that and I’m not very muttony.

3. What is your greatest fear?
That the huge human herd which now lives on planet earth will wipe out all other life and itself in the process. What a shame that would be when so many other good futures are ready and waiting for us.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
I only use words to say what the pictures can’t.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Review: Monster Chef

Nick Bland's iconic books are renowned for their gorgeous illustrations, charming characters and crowd-pleasing antics. It's little wonder his books are frequently chosen for National Simultaneous Story Time--his books have the perfectly blending of read-out-loud perfection, and audience response.

Monster Chef is no exception.

In it, we meet Marcel the monster, who, like all good monsters should, goes to work nightly as a Child Frightener. The only problem is, he's not very good at his job. Kids love him. There is simply no frightening to be had.

Review: Tim and Ed

Tim and Ed look exactly the same. Same eyes, same mouth, same feet, same head. They came from a single egg, you see, so there's just no telling them apart.

One day, Auntie Pim comes to take Ed for a sleepover.

Um... what? What about Tim? Why isn't he going, too? Tim doesn't know what to think.

KBR Short Story: Oomi

by Michelle Lewry

Every school morning, my Mum whips herself into a busy tizzy.
Busy tizzies begin with Mum jamming her feet into shoes with straight laces.
Busy tizzies end with Mum huffing into a paper bag.

In between, Mum whizzes around the kitchen slapping sandwiches into lunch boxes, signing excursion slips, barking orders and burning toast.

I try to relax Mum by asking important questions about toilets in space shuttles.
She flips up a hand, “Hush, James! We’ll be late!”

I tell Mum about Yeti sightings on Mount Baw Baw to soothe her mind.
Up flips the hand, “Hush James! We’ll be late!”

To quieten her nerves, I ask Mum “Who was your best friend when you were young?”
Mum stops whirling. She drifts into her bedroom.
Crystal and I think paper bag time has come early.

Mum breezes back into the kitchen wearing a floaty skirt I’ve never seen before. She’s carrying an equally alarming canvas bag.
“Oomi was my best friend” she says, “out to the car.”
Crystal and I are bewildered.

Wheeling our Beetle out of the driveway, Mum switches radio stations. She starts dooby-dooing and finger-clicking.
Mum winks at us from the rectangle of the rearview mirror.
Crystal and I are dumbfounded.

Mid morning we pitstop at a petrol station.
Mum wrestles down the Beetle’s rusty roof.
We scoot down the highway with Mum’s hair streaming in the wind like bright orange ribbons.
Crystal and I are astounded.

At noon in a car park, Mum orders us out of the Beetle.
She pats down her skirt and pats down her hair.
She checks for her keys, she checks for her wallet.
She huffs once, takes our hands and whispers, “Close your eyes”.

My feet sink pleasantly into something warm and welcoming.
My lungs expand with tangy air.
My ears are greeted with a friendly hush. We open our eyes.
Mum spreads her arms wide toward the rolling sapphire sea.
“Meet Oomi, my best friend.”
Crystal and I are delighted.

With Oomi, we puddle in rock pools and stick our fingers into sea anemones. With Oomi, we don kelp wigs and play seaweed pirates.
With Oomi, we uncover shells and cuttlefish and driftwood; our beach treasure.

At dusk with the sun turning to toffee, we tumble back into the Beetle, full of fun and giggles. Mum’s mind is soothed, her nerves are calmed.
A busy tizzy seems miles away.
Motoring back down the highway toward home I’m glad Mum is wearing her seatbelt.
She seems so light she might float away.


At night, after her three baby bears are fast asleep, Michelle picks up a pen and wrangles words into picture book form. She's pretty serious about writing stories for children and getting them published. One day, she would like to make publishing books her job. You can find Michelle on LinkedIn.


KBR Short Stories are a way to get your work ‘out there’—and to delight our KBR readers. Stories are set to a monthly theme and entries are due in the 25th of each month. Find out more here.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Ava’s great aunt wanted to be more beautiful, so she turned herself into a canary and her grandmother can smell the difference between good and bad love. For a family that was never really accepted in the first place, the scales are tipped when Ava is born with a complete set of wings.

Don’t be deceived by the lyrical nature of this tale: it has bite. The occasional reference to violence in early chapters hovers like a warning as the tangle of lost loves and forgotten hopes spreads over the Lavender household.

Review: Annabel's Chewy-Gooey Birthday Cake

Ken Williams was runner-up in the Kids Book Review Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award in 2013. Buoyed by his success, he submitted his manuscript to JoJo publishing and is now a published author! As is often the case on the way to publication, Ken’s original manuscript (Too Plain) underwent a name change and became Annabel’s chewy-gooey birthday cake.

I have one word for the finished product: delicious. The rhythm Ken retains from page to page, and his cheeky addition of over-the top ingredients, are a recipe for just plain fun.

Author/Illustrator Interview: Dave Hackett

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome the irrepressible Dave Hackett, who has recently released two books including a great YA novel, The Summer of Kicks.

You are best known for your cartoons and humorous junior fiction stories. What inspired you to venture into writing a young adult novel?
I really wanted to write something with a lot of heart this time around. I was essentially looking to create a story that was character-focussed, to throw myself the challenge of creating characters who were human and real with likeable qualities and faults and honest feelings, and YA allows a lot of room for that, because those years – the back half of your teens – are such a huge time of growth and learning and discovery and mistakes and awesomeness. As Bryan Adams once said “those were the best days of my life”. (I don’t actually subscribe to his way of thinking on that, however. Your best days are the ones where you allow yourself to be happy. Wisdom lesson over).

Was the writing process for Summer of Kicks different to the way you usually approach writing a manuscript? What did you find most challenging about the process? What was the most rewarding?
I hadn’t actually made the distinction until now, but with each novel I’ve written, I’ve had one spot – that one place that really seems to channel the right mix of energy to allow me to string words together that just seem to fit. It turns out that my geographical muse this time around was my walk-in wardrobe at around 4am. Picture me seated on the floor, my laptop balancing on a pile of jumpers, I’m surrounded by cushions, darkness and silence. Nothing but me and my characters. Pure bliss.

As for the actual structuring of the book, yes – The Summer of Kicks isn’t the longest book I’ve written, but it by far took the longest to write. It sat with me for six or eight months, swirling around in my head before it allowed me to start writing it (they can do that – I tried a few times, but the story wasn’t ready. It needed time for the ingredients to bond together, to form a solid, cohesive batter before I was able to knead it into something that would eventually be digestable).

There was a lot more planning by way of structure and timelining all the events, this time around. I wrote most of the scenes separately, then had to try to piece them all together at the end so that they fit and made sense. For months I carried around a folder filled with flow-charts and character lists, each with their own storylines mapped out. Soooo organised, haha.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

WIN! The Wonder

This is a story about a boy whose head is always full of wonder. We follow him on an average-seeming school day, where his daydreams transform the world around him.

Unfortunately lots of other people – the park keeper, the bus driver, the lollipop lady – all tell him to get his head out of the clouds. It is only in art class that he realises he can bring the wonder out of his head for the whole world to enjoy.

The Wonder is a gorgeous picture book that celebrates children's creativity and imagination.

Thanks to the generous people at Five Mile Press, we have five copies of The Wonder to give away. Each copy is valued at $19.95.

To win, tell us in 25 words or less how you express your creativity.

Type ‘The Wonder’ into the subject line and email your answer to susanATkids-bookreviewDOTcom. The most creative answers, as judged by KBR, will win. Be sure to include your full name and address — entries without will be ineligible. Please provide a street address, as prizes cannot be delivered to PO Boxes.

Competition runs from Wednesday, 22 October 2014, 5pm to Wednesday, 29 October 2014, 5pm AEST, and the comp is open to residents of Australia, over the age of 18 (mum and dad can enter on behalf of kids). This is a game of skill, not chance. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. Prizes cannot be delivered to PO Boxes. To be considered valid, entries must include a name and street address. Privacy statement: Winners' contact details are forwarded to the relevant publisher. Other contact details are not shared. All contact details are permanently deleted at competition end.

Review: The Wonder

‘This is a boy whose head is filled with wonder!’

One line in and I’m already hooked. The wonder and imagination of childhood is something so amazing that I can’t help but be drawn to a story that celebrates young minds filled with questions and ideas and creative thoughts.

The Wonder is a truly stunning picture book by author/illustrator Faye Hanson. A young boy with a head filled with questions and creativity finds that he constantly being told to stop daydreaming and pay more attention until a wonderful teacher gives him a blank piece of paper and invites him to use his imagination.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling is a classic Hans Christian Andersen tale which, in my memory at least, always brings to mind Danny Kaye’s performance of the song in the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen.

This gorgeously illustrated version will connect a new generation of young children to this story as they discover that the poor ‘ugly’ duckling does have somewhere to belong where he is appreciated for who he really is.