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

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Review: The Man Who Loved Boxes

Kids come in all shapes, sizes and sorts, and that's something we read about a lot in children's literature. However, so too do parents.

I'm not referring to gender, age or culture. In this context, I'm referring to the ways parents express their love for their kids.

Unfortunately, it's not easy for all parents to do so for one reason or another. Which brings us to The Man Who Loved Boxes.

Review: Florette

When Florette arrived at my house, I slipped the book from its packaging and placed it gently on the kitchen bench. I read it immediately.

When I was done, I said aloud the following words:

No way, Anna. No way.

Let me explain.

When I read Mr Huff last year, I believed nothing could be better. I didn't think Anna could outdo herself. Strangely, I don't think Mr Huff has been at all superseded here, because each book stands alone, especially Anna's books.

12 Curly Questions with author/illustrator Anna Walker

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
When I am in the studio by myself I love listening to show tunes turned up loudly. Be My Guest is my current favourite.

2. What is your nickname? 
 My brother calls me Fred, and I call him Freddy.

3. What is your greatest fear? 
Letting people down.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Review: My Friend Tertius

Many people have much loved pets who are like one of the family. My Friend Tertius is a true story about one such animal, told from the perspective of Arthur Cooper, a British intelligence officer.

Author Corinne Fenton found this unusual story of the friendship between Arthur and Tertius, a gibbon.

In a Hong Kong market, before World War II, Arthur met and made friends with Tertius. The cheeky and playful gibbon kept Arthur company, swinging in the trees in the garden and causing havoc when he played with objects around the house or ate something he shouldn't.

Review: This is a Serious Book

This metafictional tale features a battle between the narrator and a veritable plethora of animals.

The animals refuse to follow an edict: everyone and everything in this book must be very serious.

As such, the narrator has banned loud noises, colour, funny faces, back flips and more. Unfortunately for the narrator, the animals aren't exactly on board with the idea.

This book is giggle worthy, and young kids are likely to enjoy the silly acts of rebellion by the featured animals. However, I wanted full on belly laughs and I can't say that's what I got.

Review: The Fix-It Man

Grief and loss is a difficult thing to master in picture books. Children have a vastly different way of both comprehending and understanding the concept, particularly when it's the loss of someone close.

The world surely becomes an incoherent tumble--a washing machine of confusion and uncertainty. And, ironically, it's often adults who struggle to come up with the answers--both in regard to explaining loss, and in providing comfort to children.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Review: Crocodile Cake

In this entertaining rhyming tale by Palo Morgan, a little girl heads to the kitchen to make a scary, slurping crocodile cake. But when the crocodile cake comes to life and starts eating her family, the little chef must find a way to save everyone from the cranky croc.

Crocodile Cake is a highly engaging and wild tale full of excitement and humour. Morgan has taken the simple act of baking a cake and turned it into a hilarious adventure that is sure to trigger smiles and gasps from both young and old.

Review: Mr Romanov's Garden in the Sky

Since her Dad's tragic death, Lexie's Mum has spiralled deep into addiction. Every morning, Lexie hovers near her mother's sleeping form, hoping she has survived another night.

There's rarely money for food and even catching the elevator from their high rise housing commission flat can be fraught with danger. But Lexie is a survivor.

When a little dog's remains splatter the pavement and Lexie witnesses the outpouring of an old man's grief, her world shifts. Lexie rejects the idea that this broken man could ever live up to his nickname, the Creeper. Soon after, a chance sighting on the commission's rooftop, a life-or-death encounter and a messy apartment give Lexie new purpose.

She talks her best friend Davey into joining her quest to help an old man and together the three plant new seeds of hope. Little do they realise their actions could lead to a journey where dreams are both fulfilled and destroyed.

With an old car for transport, a visit to Beechworth prison and the police on their heels, the action keeps unfolding.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Review: Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator

Edward Ardizzone was a prolific artist and some of the books I remember most clearly from my childhood are by him.

There's just something about his pen and ink and line and wash illustrations that resonates with me and makes them immediately recognisable, and I must admit to having geeked out over this fantastic biography.

Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator was researched and written by Alan Powers, and accompanied a retrospective exhibition held at the House of Illustration in London, which Powers co-curated.

It's a stunning book from start to finish, including the endpapers which are a collage of Ardizzone book covers, and is filled with reproductions of his illustrations and other artwork - working drawings, sketches and final pieces - along with detailed information.

Review: The Princess and the Pony

Princess Pinecone is a warrior. But when you live in a land FULL of big, tough warriors, and you are rather small, super sweet and very cute, it can be hard to be taken seriously. And Princess Pinecone has serious issues with not being taken seriously.

Review: We Come Apart

A realistic story about two oppressed teens from very different backgrounds who meet at a juvenile community work program in modern day London. Nicu is a recent immigrant from Romania and Jess is a local girl from a troubled family.

Fifteen-year-olds Nicu and Jess try and get through days tinged with sadness and oppression, but the moment they forge an unlikely friendship, sunlight and hope enter their burdened lives.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Review: Croc and Bird

Two eggs hatch, side by side. One is a bird and the other a crocodile, but sharing the moment they come into the world, makes them brothers.

Encompassing great warmth and exquisitely gentle humour, Croc and Bird is a book that will call to the hearts of readers, both young and old.

Review: Touch Think Learn: ABC

An absolutely stunning board book that will grab you with it's cover design and drag you and your rambunctious toddlers right in!

Touch Think Learn: ABC is much bigger than a standard board book, almost the size of an A4 sheet of paper and as thick as 5 or 6 picture books all stacked up together. But as soon as you open the pages and take a look inside, it becomes apparent why this size has been selected.

Each page is home to two letters of the alphabet and an illustration of something (usually an animal) that begins with that letter. Where it separates itself from the usual ABC board book suspects however, is in the use of die cutouts for each letter, offering curious hands a raised texture to trace and feel. And it gets even better!

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning

A Shadow Bright and Burning is powerful, thrilling and addictive. An epic fantasy like no other, it will leave you questioning who you are and how far you would go for the people you love.

The story is set in Victorian London, but with a twist. There are queens, carriages and curtseying, but also sorcerers, magicians and magic. Add in hideous, giant demons from a mysterious, unknown realm and you have one interesting and intense backdrop for chaos to reign and heroes to rise.

And the hero in question? Her name is Henrietta Howel, and she has a unique talent for creating and manipulating fire. This special gift has her quickly labelled a sorcerer and places her in the middle of a prophecy to defeat the invading demons, called Ancients. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review: First Words (English)

Lonely Planet Kids have done it again. This is the second children's book I've reviewed from the popular travel guide publisher, and hot-diggity-dogs, I'm floored again!

I'm reviewing First Words: English, but there are also French and Spanish editions available.

I love so much about this book that I'm not quite sure where to start; the concept, the quality, the illustrations or the word choices.

OK, let's start with the concept. The concept is just so darn cool!

The book is structured similarly to travel guides and phrasebooks, but is simple enough that youngins will be able to learn and benefit from this book -- and fall in love with other languages in the process!

Review: That's Not a Daffodil

When Mr Yilmaz gives Tom a daffodil bulb, the two embark on a journey not only of discovery, but curiosity, laughter and imagination.

Tom doesn't see a daffodil in the many stages of the bulb's growth but he does see a desert, green fingers and a street light, among other things. When a simple accident threatens the daffodil's survival, Mr Yilmaz and Tom join forces to ensure its rescue.

Meet the Illustrator: Alison Smallwood

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Evocative, thought provoking, always evolving and fun.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
As I do most of my thinking and planning outside my studio, when I’m in the studio I need to be surrounded by everything I might possibly need so I can create as quickly and efficiently as possible – heaps of art materials like paints, charcoal, pastels, pencils, inks etc. computer, scanner and tablet, inspiring books, sketch books and lots of paper and pencils.  I adore my speedy electric pencil sharpener and I have a sink for washing brushes etc.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
Mixed media. A combination of traditional materials and digital FX. I use whatever mediums will give me the atmosphere and feeling I’m trying to portray.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
The opulent detail in the paintings of Gustav Klimt, the simplicity and superb compositions of Hiroshige’s Japanese woodblocks and the spiritual insight of the Russian expressionist, Wassily Kandinksy.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Giveaway: We're Going On A Bear Hunt


After over 25 years of entertaining youngsters with their brave and bold attempts to track down that elusive bear, Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, the baby and Rufus the dog bound into new life with a special ABC Kids animated adaptation airing at 5 pm on February 26. Join them as they splash, splosh, swish and squelch onto your screens and into the hearts of a new generation.
Then, email your answer along with your name and postal address to the Managing Editor. The five responses we like the best will win a copy of the book. 

Competition is open to anyone, worldwide, so long as they have an Australian postal address for delivery of the book. Please note, we cannot deliver to PO Boxes. Entries without a name and street address will be ineligible. Winners will be announced right here on our website on Thursday 2 March 2017.

Competition runs from 5 am Wednesday 22 February to 10 pm Sunday 26 February 2017 (AEST). Adults can enter for those aged 17 and under. This is a game of skill, not chance. The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Good luck!

Review: Agatha Christie

This might come as a shock to you, but I've never in my life read an Agatha Christie novel. I know! I simply must make the time. And I must say, this abridged version of this remarkable woman's life makes me even more keen.

Part of the Little People Big Dreams series from Frances Lincoln Children's Books--a series I love so much, most especially because of the female focus) Agatha has been released this year alongside Marie Curie.

Agatha's life began with books. She would read a book with her mum every afternoon, and Agatha always had an opinion on how the story should end.

Review: I Love Me

When your daughter announces, at the mere age of four, that she hates her curly hair, a small part of your heart breaks.

And so, it was with great delight that we cuddled up together to read this joyful book about all the reasons you might love yourself.

The spirited rhyming text is funny and inclusive, with reasons ranging from the bizarre to the beautiful. Rich with onomatopoeia, repetition and rhythm, it's a glorious book to help children embrace their individuality and celebrate it in others.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review: Traitor to the Throne

We first met Amani, Jin and the rest of the rebellion leaders in Rebel of the Sands. This international best-seller was the first instalment in Alwyn Hamilton's YA trilogy, and set a very high standard for books 2 and 3 to live up to.

I'm relieved to report that Traitor to the Throne doesn't disappoint! Carrying on seamlessly from where Rebel of the Sands ended (it is essential that you read book 1 before starting on this one), it plunges us straight back into the action and adventure.

Review: One Crazy Summer

This multi-award winning story takes us deep into the heart of the black revolution in 1968.

Eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters travel alone to Oakland, California to stay with the mother who abandoned them five years before. But she's not interested in spending time with them.

Cecile, aka Nzilla, sends the girls to the Black Panther breakfast program and tells them not to come home till its dark. So the girls attend Black Panther summer school to while away the hours.

In this roller coaster of laughter and heartbreak, the girls experience Black Panther social support projects and learn revolutionary philosophies for social change. They hear about heroes risking their freedom, even their lives, in the fight for justice and learn to be courageous in small ways.

12 Curly Questions with author Julia Lawrinson

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I once shaved my hair off just to see what it would feel like. (Answer: cold.)

2. What is your nickname? 
Jobbo, Jobbly or Jobblinees (because my best primary school friend was (and is) called Nobbo, Nobbly or Noblinees).

3. What is your greatest fear? 
Hairy, jumping spiders. Or non-hairy, ground-dwelling spiders.

4. Describe your writing style in 10 words. 
Realistic, humorous and serious in turn, with lots of dialogue.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer. 
Accessible, clear, warm, sensitive, engaging.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review: Wormwood Mire

After her exciting adventures in Withering-by-Sea, Stella's aunts banish her to Wormwood Mire, the crumbling mansion where she was born. She is to live there with two cousins she's never met and study under their governess but dark secrets lurk within the mansion's walls and something huge slithers in the lake.

Apart from these sinister undercurrents, Stella begins to remember snippets of her childhood at the most unexpected times. Are her recollections linked somehow to her many questions?

What is the mystery behind her missing mother and twin sister? Is there really a child-eating monster that lurks in Wormwood Mire's at night? And what is turning living creatures to stone?

Review: You Don't Even Know

This novel is a representation of the destructive power of actions and words in the context of two life-changing events, and how the path to healing can come from someone you've never met.

Alex, a high school senior, is recovering in hospital from an event he doesn't remember. Slowly, as Alex pieces together his life before the accident, the reader learns the heartbreaking events that led to his hospitalisation.

Set in Melbourne, Alex's home life is at best, tolerable. His parents are poor at communication, love and support. His father is cruel, his mother submissive and his brothers exist to please their Dad. The most important person to Alex is his four year-old sister Mia, whom he cherishes and would do anything for, and she adores him.

Review: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

Have you ever put a message in a bottle and set it afloat? This story is about all those bottles sent out into the world and what might happen to them.

In The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, a nameless, lonely man spends his days finding and opening any bottles he finds at sea.

The Uncorker is always looking for bottles and when he finds one, he makes sure it is delivered to the intended recipient. His deliveries take him on journeys through the four seasons, through sunshine, wind and rain.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Books as Heirlooms

Go Ahead Secret Seven by Enid Blyton

I have several books which have been on my bookshelves for many years, and I recently got them down to take a closer look, the first in quite a while. They were handed down to me by my parents, the kind of 'heirlooms' that are perfect for a book lover.

Tania's Picks: Divine Picture Books, February 2017

Today is my birthday and I'm doing whatever I like! (That's the rule in our family.) And what I like is picture books. And sharing picture books. Here are some of my recent purchases--and all have swept me off my feet.

Some are a few years old, so you may have to hunt for them. Dots, I cannot find much info anywhere online, not even on the publisher website. So do keep on the lookout for it, especially for those of you looking for books on human rights and refugee issues. It's truly glorious, and really needs to be more readily available.

Enjoy every heady moment! All highly recommended.

Mopoke by Philip Bunting, Scholastic, $24.95, 9781742991658, ages 3 - 8

Review: Brobot

Sally Tinker does not like her little brother, so she invents a new, better robot brother: Brobot. But things don’t go exactly to plan, and Brobot may not be the perfect brother Sally intended him to be.

Brobot is a funny junior graphic novel written and illustrated by the talented James Foley. Fun and quirky, the story has a special kind of pizzazz, with the star of the book, Sally Tinker, speaking directly to you as if you were a character in the story.

Sally shares her thoughts and grievances, goals and mistakes, as she shows off her inventions and deals with their entertaining malfunctions. And you're invited to join her for every catastrophe. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review: Summer Rain

Boldly colourful and beautifully written, Summer Rain brings Australian animals and Indigenous Art to little hands, in a way that toddlers will recognise and respond to.

First...the land wakes in the morning light.

In simple, concise language, Summer Rain weaves a narrative between land and animals. We see turtles crawl and lizards creep, then we watch as wind scatters dancing leaves.

Review: The Royal Rabbits of London

Once upon a time, there was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There were also the Rabbits of the Round Table. They were the forebears of the Royal Rabbits of London who now live in the Grand Burrow beneath Buckingham Palace, protecting the Royal Family from danger, although they don't know it.

Meanwhile out in the country, lives Shylo Tawny-Tail, a shy yet curious young rabbit. He's the runt of the litter and often teased by his many brothers and sisters. His mother worries that her children might be caught by one of the dogs that roam the farm, and she worries for Shylo most of all.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: The Land of Stories, Book 3: A Grimm Warning

A series that has definitely gotten more thrilling and more adventurous as it goes on, The Land of Stories Book 3: A Grimm Warning does not disappoint!

Teen twins Alex and Conner Bailey have been living separately from each other for the first time in their lives, with Alex staying behind in the Land of Stories to be the apprentice Fairy Godmother, and Conner carrying on with his life in the normal world.

Conner has taken to writing down their Land of Story adventures, and it is this writing that lands him on a special school trip to Germany to hear the first ever reading of a Grimm Brothers' story, that has just been opened from a 200 year old capsule.

Review: The Playground Meanies and The Big Snow Adventure (Pickle & Bree series)

Those lovable best friends Pickle and Bree are back and they’re tackling a whole new range of social and behavioural issues in Alison Reynolds' delightful new picture books.

In The Playground Meanies, Pickle and Bree are at the playground with their friend, Jason, when they meet two little bears with a taste for teasing. The bears start making fun of Pickle and Jason, and their rather large feet, eventually reducing Jason to tears.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Review: Word Hunters Top Secret Files

What a brilliant book! I sadly regret not reading the trilogy of the Word Hunters.

This book was created as a companion to that series. It is an exceptional book full of the history of letters and words, their discovery and definition, reconstruction, and ancient origins. I learned so much from this book, especially about the origins of terms used in cricket, and many stunning sports facts of which I knew very little.

Top Secret Files reveals information about the Word Hunters’ quest to save lost words, recover obsolete ones, and resurrect others that have evolved through time.

Review: Boy 23

Boy 23 is outside but he has no idea how or why. His only guide is a letter telling him My Place, the only world he has ever known, is not safe. The people there want him dead.

With nothing but a few basic essentials and a small screen to guide him, Boy 23 runs with no clue to his destination. Even with his strange regenerative powers, his chances of survival are slim. For a start, he has never met or spoken face-to-face with another human being in his entire life.

Carina spends every waking moment scheming her escape. She remembers what it was like before, but anything has  to be better than being a child slave. She is not in My Place, that much is clear. However, where she is and how she fits into the story is a mystery at first.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review: Trouble and the New Kid

This fabulous new book in the Trouble series by the wonderful Cate Whittle is fun, clever and witty – perfect for early independent readers starting to gain confidence with chapter books.

Nina is the new kid at school. She is tidy and organised and smart and, well, she’s not at all like Georgia. When Georgia tells Nina about her dragon, Trouble, Nina rolls her eyes and says ‘hmnph’. Nina doesn’t believe in dragons. Nina doesn’t like to talk about anything that is not real.

Despite the efforts of Georgia and all the other kids at school, Nina refuses to believe that dragons exist. When Trouble finds out Nina doesn’t believe in him he starts sulking. He won’t even eat his favourite potato chips and fizzy sarsaparilla drink. Then, something terrible happens – Trouble starts to fade away!

Review: One Would Think the Deep

Event, circumstance and character can ruin you or define you.

Set in Sydney in the 90s, the sudden death of Sam's Mum means he has to live with the Aunty they no longer associate with and his cousins Minty and Shane. Minty's on the cusp of getting into the Surfing Pro tour and Shane just seems to hate Sam. A lot.

Sam is reeling from his mum's death and his life as he knew it is falling into free fall.

A promising student, he hasn't commenced Year Twelve, takes dangerous risks, drinks and doesn't care about his life. Beneath it all simmers an aggression he can't control and he's on a road to destruction he may not recover from.

Review: The Wonderful Whisper

A Whisper is whisked through the dark on a shooting star, past the moon and sun, through clouds and across the sea, with each bestowing a gift upon the Wonderful Whisper as it passes them.

A Spirit that will 'shine like all the stars' from the Shooting Star. A Smile 'as gentle as mine' from the moon. Eyes 'as bright as me' from the sun. Touch 'as soft as ours' from the clouds. And a Laugh 'as sparkling as the waves' from the ocean.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Review: I'm in Charge

Rhino is stubborn, loud, selfish – and adorable: just like any two-year-old. He wants to have his own way with no obstruction. In short, he wants to rule his world.

Being on the big side, rhino uses his bulk to exert his influence. As with any despot, not all subjects are prepared to comply. Is there someone big enough in Rhino's world to push back?

Join Rhino and his companions as they chart a path around and sometimes through each other and eventually find a way to share.

12 Curly Questions with author Jodi McAlister

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I am a fairly open book, so this one is tough for me. But here’s one: For many years, I completely misread the word 'misled' and thought 'to misle' was a verb.

2. What is your nickname? 
My siblings occasionally refer to me as Big Jodes. It’s like an inverse Little John – I’m tiny and they’re all over six feet tall.

3. What is your greatest fear?
I’d like to say it’s completely humiliating myself in public, because that sounds like a completely reasonable fear, but it’s only No.2 on the list. The real answer is sharks.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Review: I Don't Know What to Call My Cat

One day, a cat turns up on a little girl's doorstep and makes herself at home. It's okay: the girl likes cats and is happy to keep her. She just doesn't know what to call her …

She tries 'Kitty' — and most of the cats in the neighbourhood come running. 'Lorraine', 'Ethel', 'Betty' and even 'Princess High and Mighty' don't seem to fit either. Then a quick trip to the vet reveals the cat is actually a boy!

Review: Boo!

Feeling scared is so subjective. What scares you may not scare me. What scares her may not scare him. And, of course, what scares an owl may not scare a tiger.

In this clever book, Ben Newman takes us through a variety of animals as they realise they're not so fearless, after all... there's always something bigger than us, perhaps more fearsome that us, and that none of us are immune to feeling vulnerable!

Terrific 10: Books About the Library

Happy Library Lovers' Day! Make sure you celebrate by stopping in and connecting with your local library or immersing yourself in one of these fabulous picture books all about the wonders of the library! (Please note: officially Library Lovers' Day is tomorrow - the 14th February. We are so in love with our libraries here at KBR, we just couldn't wait to share these. Enjoy! ED)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, Simon & Schuster, $24.99, 9781442457027, 4-8, KBR eBook Review, Animated Short Film

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes, Walker Books, $16.99, 9781406305678, 4-8

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara, Pan Macmillan, $14.99, 9780230736092, 3-7

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Review: Valentine - Connie's YA Book of the Month

'How do you choose what to wear when you're going to die?'
Reading Valentine zooms forward in pace and events until the moment Pearl Winford is faced with this question.

Pearl lives a fairly ordinary life in an Australian town, where nothing ever happens according to her journalist sister, Disey. Pearl is in Year 11, she's smart, sensible, has an awesome best friend, has a wild crush on a guy at school and loves music and singing.

Pearl also shares a Valentine's Day birthday with three other teens at school ... and that's where the trouble begins.

Review: The Last Shot

Danby plans to kill the megalomaniac who killed her mother and is trying to take over the world. But is he really a psychotic killer? Every time she thinks she's worked him out, he surprises her. Perhaps it's all in her imagination. She lets down her guard.

Then something more terrifying than her worst fears happens and Danby has to escape. She has no idea if there is anywhere safe to go but she has to try, if it's the last thing she does.

I thought The Last Girl was compelling until I picked up The Last Shot. Reading this second book in the series was like being sucked into a void.