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

Monday, 22 December 2014

Review: The Squickerwonkers

Squickerwonkers. It’s a fabulous word that evokes something unusual, and that’s what this story is, unusual. The Squickerwonkers is a cautionary tale, a story of tough love, playfully told in verse form by actress, and now author, Evangeline Lilly (Lost and The Hobbit trilogy).

When a young girl named Selma explores an unusual fairground ride alone, she finds the mysterious Squickerwonkers inside. The Squickerwonkers are a troupe of marionettes, and each of them has a vice (pride, meanness, greed, gluttony and so on). Selma has one, too, but it’s not visible until she is challenged by the Squickerwonkers and puts on a temper tantrum of royal proportions.

Be prepared for anything, because there’s a surprise waiting in the shadows, and it’s one that just might lead Selma to think twice about how she behaves.

Review: I Love You, Father Christmas

Oh, I still remember by childhood in Tassie when we called Santa 'Father Christmas'. Those days are long lost, but the magic of this jolly man in red stays the same, no matter what modern children call him.

Another book in the wonderful pairing that is Andreae/Dodd, I Love You, Father Christmas features Dodd's beautifully charming illustrations and Andreae's equally charming text that resonates so beautifully with young ones.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Review: Top Top Secret

Sid is a secret agent spy, and Top Top Secret is the story of how he recovers a stolen ring.

Top Top Secret is told in rhyme, and the book design is really important. In many places the words are printed to demonstrate what’s happening (as Sid goes “up steep steps” the words are found in that very spot, on an angle leading up the steps).

In search of the stolen ring, which belongs to the King, Sid makes his way through a drain and long, muddy shaft, then a river infested by dangerous animals. Watch out for self-destructing letters and trapdoors, too.

Review: Christmas in Australia

John Williamson's classic Christmas song is brought to life in this festive celebration for kids.

It's Christmas in Australia and Dad wants that perfect Christmas family photo, but someone is always missing (can you relate?).

First it's Sam. Then baby Bubbles. Then Cher. Annie's next, then Ami. And soon enough, Heddi's out of the picture. Why can't everyone be in the one spot at the same time!?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Review: Hippu

First published in 1967, this adorable book for little ones was considered super modern for its time. And indeed, its graphics could easily have been produced by some hipster GDer in Fitzroy on a high-tech computer, such is the gorgeousness of its imagery.

Finnish author illustrator Oili Tanninen came up with the concept for this book while living in London.

He was pondering a new book and wanted to fulfill three points: it should be small and square--perfect for a toddler's hands. It should be cheap to print, s he opted for bi-colour. And lastly, it had to tell a story about everyday things small kids can relate to.

12 Curly Questions with author Michelle Heeter

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
I am 1/64th Native American.

2. What is your nickname?  
Micho. In high school, it was “Mitch,” sometimes “Mitch the Bitch.”

3. What is your greatest fear?
Being poor in my old age.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.  
As in “how to describe your writing” (which is what you probably mean): Dramatic, unflinching, occasionally mean, reflects the variety of human experience.

As in “your style when you go about writing” (which probably isn’t what you mean.)This is a 10-step sequence, from picking up the pen to polishing the final draft:
Afraid, hesitant, frustrated, uninspired, plodding, determined, curious, engaged, absorbed, satisfied.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Perceptive, precise, irreverent, unconventional, unpretentious.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Review: Star Bright

Author Alison McGhee tells the traditional nativity story in a new way, and with the combination of Peter H. Reynold’s beautiful illustrations, it looks and feels as contemporary as it does ancient.

Star Bright is a gorgeous re-telling of the Christmas story from the point of view of a young angel who wants to give the new baby a gift.

Everyone else, all the other angels and the people on earth, have the perfect gift to give, but what about the newest angel? What could someone who feels so small and inconspicuous find to give a baby whose birth is anticipated with such joy?

Review: A Chick 'n' Pug Christmas

Chick is feeling rather chilly. His bestie, Pug, is not. He's rather toasty warm because he's wearing a rather special outfit. He's Santa.

Chick quizzes Pug about Santa. He sounds amazing. He must be a superhero. Does he have a sidekick?

'Well, he does have elves,' says Pug.

Chick is beside himself. He wants to be an elf. So Chick and Pug set about spreading some elfish joy.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review: Draw!

Draw! is a wordless picture book about “creativity and imagination”. It’s filled with wonderful, inspiring illustrations of wildlife and landscapes.

We see a boy sitting in his bedroom reading a book about Africa. He gets out a sketchbook and starts drawing. The next thing you know, he’s on safari in the midst of elephants and zebras, giraffes, monkeys, lions and many other wild animals.

Sketchbook and pencil in hand, the boy is depicted as part of the landscape as he draws all the animals, until finds himself being chased by a rhino! Escaping up a tree, the tables are turned on the boy with one of the animals drawing a picture of him. The boy finally rides off into the sunset on an elephant.

Review: Everything I Need to Know About Christmas, I Learned from a Little Golden Book

After the rip-roaring success (ah, nostalgia) of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from a Little Golden Book, comes the festive version of the same, featuring glorious illustrations from the Little Golden Books of our recent and far distant past.

Really made for adults, but absolutely something kids can utterly enjoy, this drily humorous retrospective will make adults chuckle in that Pixar-film-only-adults-get-it way.

Each (totally PG) page features an illustration from a past Golden Book, ranging from the 1940s through to 2011. The variety of illustration is truly enchanting, and more than once, I was magically transported to my own childhood, as Little Bear and the Poky Little Puppy and the Naughty Bunny came to life.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Review: My Bubble Writer Christmas Book

Stocking Stuffer Alert! No stocking would be complete without this fabulously fun activity book, beautifully produced by Laurence King.

Superbly-designed pages jostle with hand-drawn imagery and fonts to boggle kids into a creative zone adults will envy.

From Christmas postcards and wishlists, to spot-this and decorate that, kids can also cut out tags and decorations of their own, to add to gifts and bedeck their rooms with papery fun.

Festive shenanigans for all ages.

Title: My Bubble Writer Christmas Book
Author/Illustrator: Linda Scott
Publisher: Laurence King, $23.99 RRP
Publication Date: 1 September 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781780671918
For ages: 3+
Type: Activity Book

Author Interview: Bernadette Kelly

Kids' Book Review Editor Jo Burnell was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Bernadette Kelly, author of the popular Riding High and Pony Patch novels. Jo asked Bernadette about her latest book, Australian Writers of Influence, published in October 2014 by Black Dog Books.

The Our Stories Series by Black Dog Books has covered explorers, heroes and the federation. Your recent addition to this series introduces us to Australian Authors of Influence.

From where did the idea for this particular book come?
I have always enjoyed writing non-fiction and I find it an incredible opportunity to learn about all kinds of things. When I became interested in looking more closely at the lives and work of some of our early Australian writers, I happened to mention the  idea to the publisher for Black Dog Books. She then suggested I do a book on the subject for the 'Our Stories' series.

How did you go about digging up information from so many years ago?
I started with the internet. Google is one of the best tools for writers. Researching for me is a bit like what it must have been for the miners in the gold rush. With each new 'turn of the spade', I look for another shiny nugget of information to show itself. There is a treasure trove of information online if you are prepared to spend some time exploring.

Finding just one small but intriguing fact gives me 'gold fever'. The wonder of it spurs me on to see what else I can find and before I know it I have a whole pile of interesting snippets and I'm trying to decide which are the best ones to put in the book. But the internet can also be misleading. All facts need to be carefully checked and double checked for accuracy and that's where the library, old newspaper articles, and reference books become really, really useful.