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

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review: Truly Tan Hoodwinked (Truly Tan series)

Tan Callahan has the mind of a great detective: she’s sure of it. In all her previous adventures, she’s tried with every fibre of her being to divine mysteries in need of solving. The fact that others detect nothing suspicious has never been an obstacle for World Headquarters or her Secret Spy Files.

At last in Truly Tan Hoodwinked, a real live mystery, perhaps even a crime, awaits. This escapade might be dangerous. There could even be a criminal involved. If only Tan and her best friend Gloria could make sense of the odd clues. Tan’s line of investigation might not always achieve results. In fact, you could be tempted to think Tan and her best friend Gloria are barking up the wrong tree but the adventure is half the fun.

Review: Hello World

You know those books that you see online or on a shelf and you fall into the cover and are simply unable to extricate yourself, you are so intrigued? That's Hello World.

Subtitled A Celebration of Languages and Curiosities, it's doubly difficult to extricate yourself from the interior--a wonderland of imagery and peppered text that causes the eyes to pop in wonder.

Every time I become enchanted by a book like this, I'm reminded of the impact it must have on children, whose brains are far fresher and are so keenly sharpened for fascinating information and imagery. I imagine the impact of such works on kids, and it makes me very happy indeed.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: Here Comes Mr Postmouse

Here Comes Mr Postmouse is the first title in the Mr Postmouse series by Canadian author-illustrator, Marianne Dubuc. Translated from French by Greet Pauwelijn, this delightful story will open the world of animals to the very young.

Mr Postmouse loads up his cart and sets off on his deliveries. He has parcels and letters to distribute to many of the houses in the surrounding area. There is Bear, Rabbit, and Snake (Postmouse is glad there’s nothing for him today); the Birds’ house, Mr Squirrel, Dragon, and lots of other animals. But one parcel is left. You’ll have to wait to discover what that is.

10 Quirky Questions with Dianne Wolfer

1. What's your hidden talent?
I have double-jointed elbows that are able to turn inwards in a strange way.

2. Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
I love anti-heroes who come good in the end, or characters like Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series who appear as villains, but are actually working for the greater good. Mrs Coulter (His Dark Materials) is a literary villain who is fascinatingly evil and complex, but I’m not sure that I like her.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
I’ll choose ‘dead’ because there’s always the chance that I may still meet fav ‘alive’ authors and I’ll limit it to Australian authors or the list would be endless.

A girls-night-in dinner party would be fun, so maybe;May Gibbs, Elyne Mitchell, Ruth Park, Dorothy Wall and Ethel Pedley. Can we squeeze in Nan Chauncy and Pixie O’Harris …?

4. Which literary invention do you wish was real?
Harry’s cloak of invisibility.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: When Michael Met Mina

When Michael and Mina meet, they are standing on opposite sides of the debate at a rally for refugees. Michael can’t believe it when the beautiful girl from the rally turns up as a new student at his school soon after the event. Unfortunately, as an Afghani refugee, Mina has no time for Michael’s views on closing Australia’s borders, especially when she discovers Michael’s father is the head of a new political party called ‘Aussie Values’ which promotes religious intolerance.

Can Michael and Mina overcome their differences to find some common ground?

I love books that start conversations and Randa Abdel-Fattah’s When Michael Met Mina certainly offers plenty of opportunities to springboard discussions about hot topics such as refugees, racism, islamophobia, religious intolerance, political activism, and social justice. Through the interactions of Michael and Mina, readers are given insight into the impact of racial and religious intolerance on everyday families and the various influences that can impact on how we view political and social issues.

Review: At the Beach

This tiny little creation sure does pack a punch design-wise. Using just a handful of fluorescent colours and loads of cleverness, the retro illustrations are as much a drawcard for adults as they are for toddlers.

A textured cover encases a small format book (perfect for tiny hands) with a series of beach objects and happenings. Shells. Swimming. A sandcastle. A seagull. Snorkeling. Sunglasses. A sail boat (what is it with the beach and everything starting with S!?).

There's also freckles and flip-flops and towels and ice creams, of course. And all of it adds up to a smile-worthy trip to the beach.

Accompanying text makes it an ideal Very First Reader, where kids can associate word structure with image.

Just gorgeous.

Other books in this series include Shapes are Fun!, Let's Go Outside and How Many Legs?

Title: At the Beach
Author/Illustrator: Katja Spitzer
Publisher: Flying Eye Books, $12.99
Publication Date: 1 July 2016
Format: Hard cover, small format
ISBN: 9781909263932
For ages: 1 - 4
Type: Picture Book

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Review: Love, Lies and Spies

Described as an homage to Jane Austen, Love, Lies and Spies takes its nineteenth-century heroine and hero on a rollicking ride in this debut novel from author Cindy Anstey.

Juliana Telford is fascinated by Coccinellidae, otherwise known as lady beetles. They are a hobby she shares with her eccentric father. An interest serious enough that Juliana wants to have their research published. It’s for that reason she agrees to have a ‘season’ in town. She has no expectation nor desire to find herself a husband, unlike her cousin, Carrie and her snooty friend Vivian. Juliana plans put her time to better use meeting with publishers, and hightail it from town as soon as possible.

Review: Noisy Nights

A farm is a noisy place to be at bedtime. All those animals make LOTS of noise. How will Farmer Hayden ever manage to get to sleep?

Well known for her best-selling rural romances, Fleur McDonald brings a rural setting to a younger audience with Noisy Nights, a delightful story about a sleepy farmer and the noisy animals that keep him awake.

With dogs, cows, sheep, horses, foxes, crickets and more filling the night with their sounds, it’s no wonder Farmer Hayden can’t get to sleep. The list of animals and their sounds grows gradually, with the repetition building to a peak where the animals are so noisy they can no longer hear Farmer Hayden’s shouted request that they all ‘Stop that noise!’

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Review: The Amazing Animal Adventure

I squeaked when I slid this book from its packaging. Yes. Squeaked. The cover illustration was instantly enchanting--those adorably cute (not not twee) animals eyeing me from their natural habitat. It was enough to stop me in my tracks, and send me to kitchen to flick on the kettle, and plump the cushions on the couch.

What a joyful book. Subtitled An Around-The-World Spotting Expedition, it truly feels like you're donning your Biggles cap, jumping in a Sopwith Camel and soaring into the sky on a nature world tour when you open the pages of this book.

Along the way, young readers are encouraged (as they so love to do!) to seek and find certain animals and happenings in the busy, beautifully-rendered scenes. We're taken to the Amazon Rainforest, the Russian Taiga, Japanese hot springs (those monkeys!!), the Great Barrier Reef, a mangrove forest, Galapagos islands, an Antarctic ice shelf, and so much more.

Guest Post: Hazel Edwards Behind the Scenes of 'Hippo Hippo the Musical'

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Hazel Edwards to share some behind the scenes secrets and anecdotes from Hippo Hippo the Musical, the nationally touring Garry Ginivan production, inspired by the 36 year old picture book There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake illustrated by Deborah Niland.

As an author, how do you feel about your book There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake inspiring a musical?
Thrilled. It's surreal to watch actors sing, dance & play characters who were just in my head. But especially to have others acknowledge that Hippo is theirs.

Any unique moments 'behind the scenes'? 

  • Mummy-bloggers turned up with gift platter of pink hippo cupcakes. Photo taken with hippo but impossible for him to eat as his eyes look through the mouthpiece.
  • In the theatre bar, had a coffee with actor Andrew a.k.a. Hippo. Grinning he said, 'Would you like a cake with that?' He was not in costume.
  • In the National Theatre seat alongside me, my 6 year old grandson was inter-acting with a performance, based on a book inspired by his uncle and Mum, 38 years earlier. 
  • Bus-jam in Gippsland theatre carpark.' Bunyip Line' signage on country school bus. Another imaginary creature? Crocodile lines of excited students, clutching their jungle animal masks, going into the theatre.
  • Theatre truck has been driven through severe storms to ‘bump in’ Canberra, Sydney and South Australian performances. Drip Drip Drip seems apt.
  • Blackout! Lights out due to Upwey storm 20 minutes into the performance. Power failure so Hippo 'mingled' with thrilled children and also gave replacement tickets as power predicted not to return until 1am.
  • Importance of sound/music.  Children with disabilities have always loved the print reassurance of the big, colourful friend with the answers.  But in performance, the music was a cue that hippo was about to appear, and they picked it up intuitively and leaned forward to watch. ‘The hippo is coming now, that’s his music’ said one child.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Review: Looking for JJ

Looking for JJ is the story of a child murderer without the sensationalising. It opens with teenaged Alice reading an article about Jennifer Jones, child murderer, who is due to be released from jail. Why is Alice so obsessed with Jennifer Jones? Does she know what happened that day so many years ago when a young girl died? Was Alice there? What pushes a child to go too far like this? What happens to that person as they grow up? I was creeped out from the first page but needed to know.

10 Quirky Questions with Rosanne Hawke

Photo credit: Dylan Coker
1. What's your hidden talent?

2. Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
The phantom of the opera, because he could love and sing like an angel.

3. You're hosting a literary dinner party, which five authors would you invite? (alive or dead)
Claire Zorn, Kirsty Murray, Tim Winton, Louisa Alcott, Mark Twain

4. Which literary invention do you wish was real?
The flying carpet.

5. What are five words that describe your writing process?
Mindmaps, objects, images, research, music

6. Which are the five words you would like to be remembered by as a writer?
Inspiration, light, joy, love, hope.