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

Friday, 29 May 2009

Review: Animal House

Title: Animal House

Author: Catherine Ledner

Photography: Catherine Ledner

Publisher: Hachette

Format: Hardcover, dust jacket

Language: English

ISBN: 978 0 73362 246 5

For ages: 0+

Type: Picture Book

About: Although not specifically a children’s book per se, Animal House will entrance and delight anyone from babies to grandpa. Whimsical, with stunning, vintage-inspired settings and exquisite photographs, this book will charm even the animal-wary.

Peppered with poetry and adorable peek-a-book cut-out pages, this is a true tribute to the personality of animals. Catherine Ledner has captured the most illustrious animal moments for our viewing pleasure – from the cow poking out his tongue to the lion in the midst of a delicious daydream, to the sassy strut of a hen, this is a compilation that will not fail to make anyone smile, or even coo out loud.

There is no want for detail in this book – the colour and gorgeous design are infallible, and the gentle play on animal rivalry and natural predators is delightful – pairing a stalking lion on one page with the clueless stance of a staring sheep on the opposite page. Then there’s the hen with a lift-out surprise fox, looking frisky.

I love this book – and am giving it to my pet-loving daughter for her ninth birthday. It’s going to be fun perusing the pages together.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Review: Dear Dumb Diary

This review by: Ella (8)

What is the book called? Dear Dumb Diary

Who is the author?
Jim Benton

Who is the illustrator? Jim Benton

Who is the publisher? Scholastic

ISBN: 0 439 62908 X

What is this story about? It’s about Jamie Kelly – it’s her diary. And it’s about where Angeline, her enemy, raises some money for charity. Then her friend Isabella goes crazy and buys contact lenses and now is probably blind. The was a jumprope-a-thon coming up to raise money for charity, so they did the jumprope-a-thon but Jamie and Isabella had to sit down and count how many skips everybody did, then they had to have their turn last. It was Angeline’s turn. Jamie always talks about how Angeline is so stupid, how she hates her, and then Angeline said “I need to speak in private before my go” and then she tells Jamie she can’t jump rope. Jamie is just really happy that she is better than Angeline at something.

Who are the main characters?
Jamie, Angeline and Isabella.

What problems or challenges do these characters face? Jamie faces a problem where she tries to raise more money than Angeline. Jamie was having a garage sale and Angeline walked past in the walkathon and saw all her stuff like the duck tshirt with big splotches of pudding on it, so she was really embarrassed.

What is the climax of the story, when things get the most problematic or exciting? When they both raise money against each other and they try to raise the most money. I thought the bit where Isabella bought contact lenses using all the money they had raised was really funny.

Were there any shocks, twists, turns or surprises? What were they? Well, there was a shock when Angeline said that she couldn’t jump rope and that she could only jump rope if someone was holding the rope for her.

Can you describe the illustrations? They are good; they’re not that detailed but they’re really really good. I really like them. And there are funny illustrations of Angeline, funny stuff like the times when Isabella yells. They’re in a plain style but more cartoon. They have writing to go with the pictures and sometimes charts like when Jamie has an angry face, then an angrier face, then an angrier face.

What do you like about the illustrations? I like that they’re just simple and they’re neat, they’re not all scribbly. I’m used to cartoons and when they have cartoons, it actually makes it more funny. I also like when Isabella colours in her contact lenses while they’re in her eyes.

What was your favourite part in this book? My favourite part was when they went up against each other to raise money.

Is there anything you didn’t like about this book? No.

Did you learn anything new from this story? I learned to not colour in your contact lenses in your eyes, especially when you’re wearing them. Or not to wear them when you’re eight years old.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Comic Book Illustrator Bob McLeod

Kids Book Review is thrilled and delighted to interview renowned US comic book illustrator and children's book author, Bob McLeod.

Who is this man? Bob McLeod

What’s his job? Author/illustrator

Where can you take a squiz at his stuff? http://www.bobmcleod.com/

Let's have a stickybeak at Bob's life: I was born and raised in Tampa, Florida, and had a wonderful childhood. I played sports, did a lot of water skiing. I always read a lot of books and comic books, and was a particularly big fan of Mad magazine.

I started drawing around age five, and drawing always came very easily to me, so I took it for granted and was usually occupied doing more physical activities all through school. I also played the trumpet in junior high and high school, and dreamed of being a professional musician.

I started my art career in 1974 at age 23, working in the production department at Marvel Comics; I soon became a freelance comic artist and had a very successful career at that for thirty years. I didn’t do any published writing until 2004 when I decided to try doing a children’s book.

I’ve been married 28 years, and Superhero ABC was actually my wife Lucy’s idea. Our daughter Molly works in publicity for Simon & Schuster, and we have two sons, Jeff and Andy, in college. We also have a little dog named Penny. We’ve lived in Pennsylvania near Allentown since 1989. I started playing tennis with my father-in-law after I got married, and I’ve been an avid tennis player ever since.

How long has Bob been writing and illustrating? I wrote and drew a 36-strip proposal for a newspaper strip called Tom Nosey, with myself as the title character. I tried (unsuccessfully) to sell this when I was 19 (you can read it on my website here), and I also sold a 10 page Red Sonja script to Marvel back in the 1980s, but Superhero ABC was my first published attempt at writing.

What genre does he usually illustrate in? Most of my career I’ve been illustrating comic books. I began drawing humour satires for Marvel’s Crazy magazine, then switched to doing superheroes when the industry shifted in that direction. But humour has always been my main interest.

What other genres has he worked in? I’ve illustrated western, romance, horror, sci-fi, martial arts, war, funny animals… every genre I can think of, really.

Why does he draw? I guess mainly because I’m good at it. I started drawing when I was small and have always loved it. I always wanted to be a cartoonist of some sort. I’d be very depressed if I could no longer draw.

What made him decide to do such a fantabulous children’s book? My wife Lucy always wanted me to do them, but I was hesitant because I had heard they didn’t pay very well, and I was making a good living doing comic books. But I finally decided to give it a try. I was very interested in being able to do the complete art by myself, after decades of mostly just doing pencils or inks in comics.

Can Bob remember the first story or first pictures he ever completed? My earliest drawing was a character called Buffalo Bee, copied off the Wheat Honeys cereal box. I then started copying the newspaper comic strips and drawing Disney characters. In high school, I started writing and drawing one-page humour comics, usually with myself as the main character.

What pesky obstacles he has experienced on his writing and illustrating journey? I was never able to find any instruction in cartooning in school. I had to teach myself almost everything I know about art, and was repeatedly rejected when first trying to get work in comic books.

The art director at DC Comics told me I needed “to go back to school and learn how to draw”. But I took it as a challenge and persisted until I succeeded. Editors at Marvel and DC constantly frustrated my efforts to do quality work in comics. And now, even after Superhero ABC has received great reviews and sells very well, my subsequent book ideas have been rejected by my editor and publisher. I’ve just recently written two more children’s picture books that I think HarperCollins will publish, but I don’t know yet. I should hear sometime in June.

What does Bob love most about producing books for children? I love writing and drawing funny pictures. And the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response my ABC book has received from my readers has been so gratifying. It’s so wonderful to see the excitement and joy children get from my efforts.

What advice does he have for kids (or adults) on writing and illustrating children’s stories? I would say try to entertain yourself, and you’ll probably entertain others. My favourite parts of my work are usually cited by my readers as their favourite bits, too. But you also need to consider who your audience will be, and keep their interests in mind as you write.

If he couldn’t be a writer, what would Bob be? Writing is a distant second to my love for drawing. But my next love is teaching. I think I would have enjoyed a career as a college art professor. I also would have loved a career playing trumpet in an orchestra.

What are Bob’s favourite things to do? Figure drawing, playing tennis, teaching, painting and writing – in that order.

What about his top five children’s books of all time? That’s practically impossible. There are too many I love equally. Off the top of my head, certainly Ferdinand, The Quarreling Book, Don’t Fidget a Feather, Peter Rabbit, and Caps For Sale would be at the top of my list, along with many others.

What books did he enjoy reading as a child? I read almost all of the Black Stallion series, Freddie the Pig, Gulliver’s Travels, and many more I can’t recall.

What was Bob’s favourite game as a child? We played a lot of Monopoly, Sorry and Canasta. I also loved playing cowboys and slot cars.

And his perfectly scrumptious day? Waking up in Paris to blueberry waffles and eggs, drawing or painting most of the day, getting a royalty check in the mail, going out with my wife and all three kids for a steak dinner, and then playing tennis and winning. I’ve very fortunately had many days like that, except for the Paris part.

How would Bob describe himself? In the positive: calm, creative, confident, accommodating, nice. In the negative: shy, opinionated, stressed, lazy, quiet.

What’s next for Bob the masterful Comic Man? I’m looking forward to writing and drawing many more children’s books. I’m very excited about my newest book idea, but can’t reveal any details at this time, except to say it features two characters from my ABC book and their children. It may be two to three years before it’s published.

We’ll be waiting with baited breath for Bob’s newest book at his website. And don’t miss Superhero ABC – a must-read for all little heroes and big heroes alike. You can read the review here.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

The Australian Launch of Riley and the Sleeping Dragon

A packed crowd of scumptious kids mingled at Dalton's Books in Canberra city for the Australian launch of Riley and the Sleeping Dragon - a party compendium of fun, kids books, reading, signing, giveaways, balloons, goodie bags, fairy bread, juice poppers - all the good stuff.

Adult companions grazed on delicious bickies, cake and tea and coffee, kindly provided by the lovely Meredith Wright of Dalton's (pictured at the till, below right).

After a short introduction, we got into the main thing behind every launch - a book reading. Such a wonderful thing to see kids so totally enjoy something you've created. It's why I do this. I also do it because I can't resist the questions they ask afterwards! Just brilliant.

After everyone had had their fill of chocolate crackles and had mauled goodie bags packed with yummy stuff, we gave away some pretty sensational prizes. People had to wrench them out of my hands, they were so good. Huge thanks to my gorgeous sponsors, listed below. Thanks also to Penguin Books Australia for the book giveaways.

Schmoozing with Fit Mums - and the owner of Canberra Fit Mums, the lovely Jenny Tiffen (right)...

Signing books and signing books and signing books and signing books...

Thank you to everyone who came along to support this fun event, and to all my sensational and generous sponsors for all the cool prizes. Huge thanks to Meredith Wright for all her support and to all the kids - who make this book journey so worthwhile.

See you at the Riley in Hong Kong launch!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Review: Chicken Soup With Rice

It’s difficult to review one of your favourite books of all time, because of the bias leanings, but I’m certain the brilliance behind this Maurice Sendak classic cannot be overstated.
Like his contemporary, Dr Seuss, Sendak is a master for quirk. For unique illustrations that have developed a cult following over the years, and for mastery of rhyme, for lusty stories that hit straight at the heart of children everywhere.

I love it so much, I even framed the pages, which currently decorate my kitchen walls.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Review: Love You Forever

There are a plethora of schmaltzy ‘love you’ books on the market, capitalising on the unique bond between parent and child/grandparent and child/siblings/extended family/guardian angels, etc etc. Most of them do a decent job of tearing up the parents and boring the kids.

Love You Forever does well to skim around the outskirts of kid-boredom whilst still managing to bring a tear to mum and dad’s eye.

Writing and Publishing Your Own Book

During a recent reading of Riley and the Sleeping Dragon at Mawson Primary School in Canberra, I was thrilled when teacher's aide Dorothy approached me about teaching her kids more about the book writing process.

Explaining the ins and outs of writing and publishing your own book to an 11 year old is kind of huge, so I sent her a list of ideas that she could use to help the kids better understand the whole book completion process.

I'm hoping this simple list can also be shared with your own children/students, or even learned from in your personal quest to become a published children's writer. Enjoy. And if you have any questions, please ask!


Story Ideas

  • Something that has happened to you
  • An interest – a hobby, a sport or an interest you enjoy
  • Something you want to do one day or someone you want to be
  • Something a little crazy or imaginative
  • It helps to have a theme – adventure, mystery, scary, romantic, funny
  • Think of the characters first then the storyline will follow
  • Look and listen – sometimes stories are right in front of you
  • Brainstorm in a group – have everyone start talking about storyline ideas
  • Read books!

Planning Your Story

Set the scene
Choose the characters
Introduce the storyline
Tempt the reader

Keep the story moving
Bring up a problem to be solved
Create conflict
Bring the story to a climax
Make hints about the ending

Wind the story up
Solve the problem
Make it a surprise!
Have a message

Creating the Book

  • Source an illustrator
  • Design and typeset the book’s pages
  • Find a printer
  • Calculate costs
  • Does your book have a market? which market? who is it aimed at? research this!
  • Have a focus group reading to garner children's interest
  • Have someone you trust edit and look over your work; be open to criticism
  • Purchase ISBN(s) – this is done through Thorpe Bowker in Australia
  • Purchase a barcode (can source through Thorpe Bowker)
  • List your book with Global Books In Print and other online book agencies/databases
  • Register your book for Educational Lending Rights (ELR) and Public Lending Rights payments – these are annual funds you receive for having books in librarys and schools
  • Contact your national library about Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) data needed to publish the book – you will be given a dewey number
  • Send a copy of your printed book to your national library and it’s then “published”!

Promotion and Marketing

Writing and printing your book is only the beginning… marketing, sales and distribution is where the hard work really begins.

  • Advertising – contact magazines, newspapers and post about it on the internet; creating your own blog is a great idea
  • Events – launches, readings, markets, book signings in stores
  • Schools – book weeks, book fairs and book readings
  • Stores – selling in bookstores, online
  • Distribution companies
  • Literary festivals and writer’s weeks
  • Giveaways to magazines and online sites, book clubs, literary websites
  • Networking with other writers, illustrators, children's magazines, websites, and companies
  • Join writer's societies and the Children's Book Council of Australia

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Review: The Great Escape from City Zoo

Things at City Zoo become shady when ant eater, elephant, turtle and flamingo skip incarceration and flee to the fringes of life – as fugitives.

Tohby Riddle’s stunning monochromatic illustrations prove a solid point – that children’s books do not have to be flashing like neon candy to attract and charm children.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Queanbeyan Chronicle Article. Yay!

I raced out to bring the bins in after lunch today and there was the Queanbeyan Chronicle on my driveway.

Nothing unusual about that, but inside was a lovely present - a fab interview by Shae McDonald, talking about my Riley and the Sleeping Dragon journey. And just in time for the Riley book launch this weekend.

Thanks, Shae and thanks Chronicle!

Review: Superhero ABC

Renowned comic book illustrator, Bob McLeod, gives children, adults and comic book addicts a major treat with this lustrous alphabet book. Not your average, run of the mill ABC book is this, no no.

Flush with colour, drama, wit, action and bulging biceps, it’s the quintessential book for boys of all ages – even beyond mastery of the ABC. Oh – and girls love it, too. Bob certainly hasn’t forgotten the chick heroes in this gorgeously funny book.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Review: Harry the Dirty Dog

Harry is a white dog with black spots, who doesn’t like having a bath.

So much so, that Harry, on this rollicking neighbourhood adventure, ends up a black dog with white spots – and his own family don’t even recognise him!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Review: Never Use A Knife and Fork

It’s rare to find a children’s picture book that makes you laugh out loud. A giggle – yes. A smirk – most certainly. But when mum or dad lets out an almighty guffaw – this is a funny book indeed. Oh – and the kids get a giggle, too.

Neil Goddard’s simple, adorable, rhyming picture book is a study in hilarity. Not only because the actions of these food-munching kids is very true to life, it’s something we’ve all done and something we constantly harangue our own children NOT to do.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Review: Alphabet City

I love ABC books, always have – but this one has a little something different. It’s urbane, artsy, even chic… and very very clever.

Johnson has taken his tripod and nipped all over the city with a very clever eye, to take photographs of anything and everything that look like letters of the alphabet. The only thing is – these amazing photographs are NOT photographs. They are paintings.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Review: The Cat in the Hat

The ubiquitous Dr Seuss books probably don’t need reviewing – we’ve all read them and we’ve all read them to our children, and we all love them to bits, but I feel Kids Book Review would not be complete without at least reviewing my favourites and the favourites of my kids – so you’ll see one pop up from time to time.
The Cat in the Hat was one of my favourite Dr Seuss books as a child, along with Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Fox in Sox, The Lorax and Where is My Mother?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Review: 100 Things You Should Know About Oceans

I love love love information books and when you love something this much, it rubs off on your kids.

Riley is slowly collecting this series of 100 Things You Should Know About… and he loves every single one of them, particularly oceans, weather, science and space.

Available in both paperback and larger hardcover, these books are packed with fascinating, kid-friendly information and colourful, relevant illustrations and cartoons.

Written in kid-language ('black swallowers are real greedy-guts!', the books are not only informative for children, their content delves deep enough to teach adults a thing or two. Did you know that leopard seals sing in their sleep and that a gentoo penguin can swim 27km per hour!?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Review: Amelia Ellicott's Garden

Amelia Ellicott is an older lady with the last big house on the street. All the other flats and buildings have grown up around her and now overlook her little backyard garden.
Amelia keeps to herself and doesn’t speak to the people in the flats around her, as they are often from other countries, but this decision makes her very lonely. The people who live in the flats look down into her garden - remembering special times of their own, often in places far away, and long to have a backyard again.

Contributor - Cate Hale

Canberran Cate Hale is a multi-talented mum of four who is currently a Pheonix Trader, probably due to her total addiction to paper. On that theme, she absolutely adores kids books, an addiction we both share. Click on her pic to see her reviews!