Reviews

Unleash your creative monster by Andy Jones. Illus. by Olaf Falafel

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This new release aimed for the middle primary to early secondary student market provides an honest and entertaining guide to the creative writing process for children. The book is full of tools and tips on how to write and has wonderful story prompts to engage both the reader and budding writer. Written in the first person, author Andy Jones has cleverly used his wit and writing skills to give younger writers a step-by-step guide through the process of creating a story.

The book has a detailed Contents section divided into four sections: Training your Creative Monster, Monster Mistakes, When your Monster Gets Stuck and Feeding your Creative Monster. Each section is then sub-divided further into short chapters. The book begins with an introduction to both the author and illustrator and then moves onto an explanation of the use of the monster analogy. These imaginative and detailed monster illustrations spread throughout the book, add so much to the text and are often accompanied by speech bubbles, labels and amusing information.

The book has been written in a way that the reader/writer can either work through at their own pace as there is clear pathway to be followed in each section or chapter with lots of ideas and the all-important story prompt at the end.  Or the book also could also be used as a quick reference for a particular writing skill when required.

Classroom teachers may find this book a very valuable resource when working through narratives with their students. The humorous approach provided by both the author and illustrator will entertain and provide reassurance that narrative writing can be fun.

There are two worthwhile YouTube clips that would be perfect to share with children before using the book:

Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children’s Guide to Writing with Andy Jones and Olaf Falafel - YouTube 40+ minutes with Andy Jones and Olaf Falafel talking about their book and the collaborative process

Unleash Your Creative Monster! - YouTube 9mins Olaf Falafel drawing a monster for viewers to follow in order to create their own creative monster.

Themes Creative Writing for Children, Story Prompts, Ideas.

Kathryn Beilby

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Pony by R.J. Palacio

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Pony is an extraordinary story by the American author of Wonder. The central voice is a 12-year-old boy called Silas Bird. It begins in a small town called Boneville, Ohio, in 1860. Silas’ beloved only parent, Pa, is kidnapped by a bunch of outlaws. Against Pa’s wishes Silas chooses to risk his life and follow them, riding a mysterious pony which seemingly returns for him.  He faces personal fears in the woods and fortunately convinces a Marshal to take him on his quest to hunt down the kidnappers. Pa has been targeted because of his ability to take photographs using new scientific techniques. Their intention is to use his skills for counterfeiting money. Fortunately, Silas has an imaginary friend only he can see called Mittenwool. Mittenwool guides Silas on his perilous adventure. Silas likens Mittenwool to a ghost/spirit and Silas realizes he can communicate with other such spirits.

There are many great characters in Pony. Silas is a philosophical principled boy who grows stronger and wiser as he faces violent and nail-biting challenges. Sherriff Chalfont’s and the gruff Deputy’s relationship with Silas add humour and kindness. The spirit/ghosts are not light weight and silly but feel real. There are interesting seeds sewn in the plot, such as the violin case Silas inexplicably takes with him. Historical and scientific tidbits also enrich the story.

I particularly enjoyed the authentic language and unfamiliar words and phrases like “I don’t cotton to folderol like that”. As an Australian who is not so familiar with US children’s literature, I found myself drawing on films like True Grit by the Coen Brothers to understand the time and place. Also, Little Women since it is set in the times of the Civil War. This book is gutsy with shoot-outs and deaths but also has emotional impact and strong themes of goodness and love. Each chapter has a quote to ponder and an old photograph of a person whose image inspired Palacio. It was refreshing to read such a unique story and I believe it will be appreciated by both young adults and adults alike.

Themes Love, Kindness, Courage, Goodness.

Jo Marshall

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How was that built? by Roma Agrawal. Illus. by Katie Hickey

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How Was That Built? written engineer Roma Agrawal and illustrated by Katie Hickey is a beautifully presented non-fiction book which focuses on stories behind awesome structures from all over the world. The Contents page contains fourteen “How to build…” chapters which includes ideas of how to build long, clean, a dome, across, stable, in outer space, in the sea, as well as others. Each chapter explains the technology behind a famous construction related to each individual topic with an explanation of how it was built, other interesting fact-related material and ideas for trying things at home.

In the How to Build Tall chapter The Shard in London is described in great depth. The author, who worked on the design of this building, includes information about what makes a building stand and introduces the reader to several technical terms. The How to Build Stable chapter provides a comprehensive look at the Te Matau A Pohe, a bridge in earthquake prone New Zealand. To resist earthquakes the engineers left a small gap between the moving and fixed parts so during an earthquake, they are unable to damage each other. The final chapter looks at Building into the Future and is followed by an extensive glossary and finally a snapshot of some very talented engineers.

The detailed and softly coloured illustrations by Katie Hickey include large scale cross sections and drawings of each structure as well as examples of the engineering techniques shown to the reader. The drawings are clearly labelled when necessary and provide an important visual display to accompany the text.  

This book will be a valuable resource for STEM when looking at man-made structures. There are many ideas for budding engineers or builders and so much to learn. A worthwhile purchase for home, school or public libraries.

There is a teaser for the book on Youtube: How Was That Built? The Teaser.... - YouTube plus other promotional videos.

Themes Engineering, Built Structures, Construction, Technology.

Kathryn Beilby

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The magical bookshop by Katja Frixe

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Mrs Owl owns the magical bookshop where Clara and her friend Lottie spend their free time until Lottie and her mum move away to put some distance between Lottie’s dad and “Smelly Toes” his girlfriend. 

Clara finds comfort in the book shop and the characters that inhabit it, but when an antique dealer claims that the talking mirror, Mr King, is actually his and plays dirty tricks to get the mirror, Clara must join forces with her new friend and find a way to save the bookshop and ensure that Mr King stays with Mrs Owl. 

This book focuses on Clara and the feeling of loss that comes from a friend moving away, she finds comfort in the bookshop and spend more time there especially once school starts and she discovers that her new teacher, Sophie Rose, is the one person she blames for all her unhappiness, and then there is the new boy who is sitting in Lottie’s seat. Leo helps to make things better and slowly a friendship develops and they join forces to work out a solution to help save all her bookshop friends. 

This book is a lovely read with the characters showing real emotions and what happens when we allow ourselves to accept change and be open to new friendship opportunities.  The story feels real, dealing with loss and bullies and new friends and the unsavory elements of any community and learning to move through anger and betrayal to find the positives in a situation and working together for the greater good.  All of these are included in this book without being too overt or feeling like a lecture.

This is a beautifully told story that has been translated from the original German version, that is the first in a series.  I hope that they translate the other stories as I loved this book and can see it being used in a classroom or family home with equal enjoyment from its readers.

Themes Friendship, Divorce, Magic, Books, Bullying, Community, Change.

Mhairi Alcorn

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Ten delicious teachers by Ross Montgomery and Sarah Warburton

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For little ones who would delight in the idea of their teachers being eaten by monsters, comes this rhyming picture book about just that. 'Ten tired teachers are finished for the day, The kids have gone, the homework's marked, the chairs are tucked away' and they're off home. Too bad they've missed the last bus...would they brave the shortcut through the dark forest? And so begins the countdown from ten to one as each teacher is cornered, tricked or trapped into the jaws of a monster. Miss Hunter, the nursery teacher, is the last one standing. But being a feast for a monster is not something she will tolerate. 'Stop that at once!', she shouts at the hungry horde, before declaring their need for a proper education. 'Ten uneasy monsters at their brand-new monster school, Learning how to be polite and follow all the rules'.  

The illustrations in this are perfection and the text is wonderfully paced and fun to read aloud. There is plenty of discussion to be had with children about what is going to happen next, particularly on the front cover that features ten monsters rather than ten teachers. They will also love the naivety of the teachers, who trust the sign that declares 'no monsters here!' and don't notice the monsters lurking in the trees. The hairy, colourful monsters are not scary and while the teacher feast is implied it is in no way evident within the pictures. This is a fun, nonsensical read aloud with wonderful illustrations (and particularly great endpaper artwork).

Themes Teachers, Counting Book, Monsters, Rhyming Story.

Nicole Nelson

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Nelson Eggplants and dinosaurs by Andrew Levins. Illus. by Katie Kear

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This is the third instalment in the action-packed series about Nelson and his vegetable-enabled superpowers. Previous titles (Pumpkins and AliensBroccoli and Spies) have already seen Nelson discover that pumpkin makes him super strong and broccoli turns him invisible...the only problem is he HATES eating them! But being a superhero calls for desparate measures, so in his trusty bumbag Nelson carries around an assortment of the very things he despises the most. He also has on hand a feather so that he can vomit and get back to his normal self. Children in this target age group will love the vomiting (it's even featured on the front cover) and the high-action fight scenes, which are described in great detail.

In this story, somebody is stealing every book about dinosaurs from every library and bookshop in the country and the only one left is in Nelson's school library. Can he protect the book and find out who is behind this crime? In an almighty coincidence a taste of unwanted eggplant sees Nelson turn into a giant purple dinosaur and that might be just the superpower he needs to defeat the awful robot villain who is trying to erase all evidence of dinosaurs. 

Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story, with pops of purple in homage to the featured aubergine. This is quite a long chapter book with extended blocks of text, so suited to more advanced readers in the target age group or as a readaloud. This will be of most interest to children who enjoy funny stories about ordinary kids with superheroes and epic battles with evil villains.

Themes Superpowers, Action Stories.

Nicole Nelson

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Moose's book bus by Inga Moore

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When Moose tells a story to his family each night, they are transfixed. But one night he runs out of stories. He visits his neighbours, Bear, Badger and Fox but not one of them has a book he could use. And neither does Hare, Mole, the Wild Pigs and even the Beavers. No one has a book to lend him, so he goes into town and visits the library. The librarian offers him a stack of books: Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, and Puss in Boots. He takes them eagerly and that night reads a story to his family. Bear’s family has come in to listen as well, and the next day Mrs Bear tells Badger and so each night more of their neighbours knock at the door to listen to a story. Mrs Moose is rushed off her feet keeping up with mugs of cocoa and the sitting room is beginning to resemble a sardine can.

Moose buys an old bus from the caryard and fits it out like a library which the librarian fills with books. Everyone is happy but when Moose suggests that the others read stories to their families in their own homes he is dismayed to find that none of them can read. So Moose teaches them. Another problem solved.

After that the animals can borrow their own books from the library and take them home to read with their families, but some still go along to the Moose household to listen to Moose, as sharing reading is wonderful.

This celebration of reading reinforces the value of reading to a younger audience.  They will be thrilled to hear the titles, Red Riding Hood and Cinderella amongst those mentioned, and sure to ask for them to be read to them after this book is finished. The value of learning to read is encouraged through the book, and all is wrapped up tightly with family and friends, sharing and hospitality.

The understated illustrations are full of life, and eager eyes will dart around the pages recognising the variety of English animals which can be spotted. I love the depiction of the animals in human poses: Moose’s crossed legs made me laugh out loud, while
the image of a cluster of offspring and a parent on the couch is priceless. Readers will love counting all those offspring, working out the names for each, working out which story is being read and enjoy the importance given to reading and books, libraries and librarians.

Themes Animals, Books, Libraries, Problem solving, Librarians, Humour, Family.

Fran Knight

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Kate in waiting by Becky Albertalli

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Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are not co-dependent. Carpooling to and from theatre rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient. Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment. Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.

But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off script. Matt Olsson is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.

Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship.

Kate in waiting is a charming, funny and wholesome story, exactly what one would expect from Becky Albertalli. The emphasis on friendship and platonic relationships was very refreshing and showed that it is very much just as important, if not more, than romance.

The characters were realistic and represented teenagers in a way that was respectful and accurate. There was no unnecessary drama and each of the characters worked their way through their emotions in a way that was a true representation to teenagers in today’s society. 

The representation in this book is fantastic and executed perfectly. The inclusivity wasn't used as a main plot or storyline, it was just a character trait they had. They existed within the story without being used as the token gay/black/disabled etc. character, just for the sake of it.

Overall, a sweet read and one for Becky Albertalli fans to sink their teeth into.

Themes Bullying, Homosexuality, Friendship, Relationships.

Emily Feetham

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Harry Potter - Magical creatures: A Movie Scrapbook

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Harry Potter fans will relish the opportunity to collect and read another movie scrapbook based on the Harry Potter films. Titled Harry Potter MAGICAL CREATURES this latest scrapbook is a treasure trove of information on the beings, beasts and creatures from the movie. This beautifully presented publication provides a closer look at the well-known and in some cases lesser-known creatures of Hogwarts as well as the Fantastic Beasts. It includes bonus art prints, stickers and collectible inserts. Prefect for all readers of Harry Potter.

The Contents page is separated into headings of Companions, In the Classroom and Forest, Dragons, Under the Lake and Castle, Unexpected and Unwanted Visitors under the main heading of Creatures of Hogwarts. The first companion mentioned is Hedwig, the well-known snowy white owl gifted to Harry Potter by Hagrid, and who becomes his trusted ally throughout the series. Another companion is Scabbers, Ron Weasley’s rat, that joins the two friends in the first movie. Under the Fantastic Beasts main heading are five names which may be unfamiliar to some readers. These include the Bowtruckles, which are small woody creatures that resemble stick insects and saplings which nest in wand-quality wood and the Nifflers who are born with an instinctive desire for shiny things.

Each page of information is presented in different coloured sections surrounded by distinct, glossy photos. There are brief and interesting facts presented throughout informing the reader of special effects and how the creatures were created, interacted and cared for in the making of the movies. Did you know that Trevor, Neville Longbottom’s pet toad, was played by a quartet of toads housed in a large, heated moss-based aquarium?

This is a wonderful book to gift to those adults and children who are already fans of the book and movie series or who are just beginning their journey.

Themes Harry Potter, Magic, Beasts, Creatures, Film Effects, Collectibles.

Kathryn Beilby

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Dulcinea in the forbidden forest by Ole Konnecke

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This delightfully funny story, translated from German, has the feel of an old European fairy tale, complete with a dangerous magic forest, a castle with monsters in the moat and a very mean witch.

Dulcinea has always lived happily with her father, helping with chores and playing with the animals, and also promising him that she will never go into the enchanted forest. But today Dulcinea is having her birthday and her father makes her favourite blueberry pancakes for breakfast.  He has forgotten to buy the blueberries but when he goes into the forest to collect some, he is transformed into a tree by the nasty witch who lives in a nearby castle.  When he doesn’t return, Dulcinea goes into the forest and finds him.  She is directed by her tree father to follow the witch into her castle where she decides to steal the book of spells to change her father back.

The amusing, simple, but effective illustrations are done with a limited palette of various browns and black which enhances the fairy tale feel of the book.  The author/illustrator Ole Konnecke also translates the Detective Gordon books by Ulf Nilsson.  The book is divided into six short chapters, perfect for readers starting on novels and is easily read in one sitting.  Dulcinea is a delightful, strong character who uses her brain to outwit the witch and save her father, a great message for young children to read about.

Themes Family life, Magic, Witches, Bravery.

Gabrielle Anderson

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Slow down ... and sleep tight by Rachel Williams. Illus. by Freya Hartas

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Slow Down… and Sleep Tight is a calming picture book full of gentle rhyme which would be a perfect addition to a young reader’s bedtime stories ritual. The author, Rachel Williams, has previously published Slow Down which looks at the amazing mysteries of nature that can be missed in the busyness of the day. This new book also celebrates the joy and mystery of nature and explores the end of the day, into the night and the dawning of a new day.

Each double page spread has a short verse with a brief tale about a feature of nature followed by an illustration of the focus on the same page. The corresponding page has segmented softly coloured pictures, beautifully drawn by illustrator, Freya Hartas, showing a snapshot of aspects related to the verse. The animals showcased in the story are a bee, bat, bunny, blackbird, squirrel, fox and a wolf. Not traditionally Australian animals but the clever rhyme and use of traditionally familiar creatures allows this book to be a universal read.

At the end of the book is a relaxing and mindful slow down breathing exercise that can be shared between the adult and child. This delightful book has an appealing cover with gold foil lettering and highlights. A perfect gift for a young child or parents-to-be.

Themes Bedtime, Rhyme, Animals, Nature, Night, Dawn.

Kathryn Beilby

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Mr Ming and the mooncake dragon by Kathy Creamer & Amy Calautti

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Mr Ming and the Mooncake Dragon is a lively and entertaining read for children. Mr Ming runs a little shop which sells everything, in the bustling city of Singapore. He is famous for his mooncakes which are baked in his tiny kitchen and are sold at mooncake festival time along with painted lanterns. There is a secret though which Mr Ming will not share with anyone who asks for his mooncake recipe. He has a dragon in his kitchen who makes the mooncakes using all sorts of interesting ingredients as well as two very special ones. A greedy shop owner, Madam Moneybag, hears about these amazing mooncakes and tries to buy the recipe. When this does not happen, she creeps in during the night to steal what she can. However, the dragon saves the recipe from being stolen and teaches Madam Moneybag a lesson.

This is a story that children will enjoy as the dragon has very special powers, Mr Ming is very kind, and the evil Madam Moneybag is not happy with where her story ends. The story is quite a bit longer than the traditional picture book length and younger readers would benefit from it being read aloud. Older primary school aged children will enjoy the bright cartoon/graphic style images which complement the text perfectly. This book will be an excellent resource to share with children when the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival is celebrated.

Themes Singapore, Mooncake Festival, Dragon, Good vs Evil, Recipes, Diversity, Greed.

Kathryn Beilby

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Cat dog by Mem Fox and Mark Teague

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There is one word for this book, and it is stunning! Mem Fox, author of such beloved tales as Where is the green sheep and Possum magic, has written a story that will have readers puzzling over it, while Mark Teague’s illustrations are fabulous. This is a story that will have readers calling out with glee as they follow the antics of a cat and dog on a couch, interrupted by a little brown mouse. 'So there was a scary dog, right?' begins the story and the picture shows a very scary dog with ugly teeth and a spiky collar, and the reader needs to call out 'Yes' or 'No' and turn the page to see the real story – of course a mild looking dog, scratching himself. Then there is the question 'But there was a cat, right?' And the reader once again calls out the answer. The book continues in this way, introducing a mouse into the scenario, culminating in the trio being seen together with the reader having to decide whether the mouse came out to say hi or whether something else may have happened.

The illustrations are outstanding. The three characters stand out against the lilac and blue background and khaki of the couch.  The contrast between the very active figures of Cat and Dog and their lounging on the sofa is fantastic, and the little mouse is very cute and will really appeal to a young audience. The expressions on the faces of the animals are priceless – the smirk on the cat’s face and the wagging tail of the dog on the front cover are sure to entice readers to open the book to see what is going on.

Cat Dog will challenge young children, and adults are certain to fall in love with this outstanding picture book as well.

Themes Cats, Dogs, Read aloud.

Pat Pledger

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Little polar bear and the reindeer by Hans de Beer

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First published in 2005, Little Polar Bear and the Reindeer, is one of the Little Polar Bear picture book series written by Dutch author Hans de Beer. This very popular series, first written in 1945, has been made into several animated adaptations as well as feature films and is now being republished for a new generation of readers. In this beautifully illustrated book, Lars the little polar bear, is noticing the change of seasons and the beginnings of the migration of birds and animals. He quickly finds he must move out of the way of the large herd reindeer on their way to warmer places but after frolicking in the first snowstorm of the season he discovers one young reindeer called Oliver who has been left behind. Lars comforts Oliver and promises to go with him to find his mother.

Lars and Oliver have several challenges along the journey and find safety with a herd of giant musk oxen. The musk oxen decide to accompany the young ones to keep them safe. Eventually they find the reindeer herd who have had their journey thwarted by a huge cyclone fence and large concrete pipes.  Lars thoughtfully considers the reindeers’ predicament and comes up with a clever solution.

This is a very appealing book which younger readers will enjoy. It brings in aspects of environmental issues that can affect animal survival which are important to share with children. A welcome addition to a home, school or public library.

Themes North Pole, Polar Bear, Reindeer, Musk Ox, Friendship, Migrations, Journeys, Environmental Damage, Survival, Problem-solving.

Kathryn Beilby

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Grandude's green submarine by Paul McCartney. Illus. by Kathryn Durst

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Following on from his first book Hey Grandude! Paul McCartney presents another magical adventure involving his Chillers (grandchildren).  They are cooling down in Grandude’s Invention shed and see a picture of their adventurous grandmother (Nandude).  Grandude suggests they use his favourite invention, the green submarine, to go in search of Nandude. The journey begins with the submarine skimming through the clouds to find their friend Ravi in a small Indian village, who may have clues as to Nandude’s location.  A monsoon makes it necessary to escape with the submarine down a river and into the depths of the ocean, following the tune of Nandude’s favourite song to find her.  Drama ensues when a giant octopus sends them into darkness until Nandude saves the day in her underwater sailing ship entrancing the octopus with her music and taking them home for tea.  Although the book flows well there could have been some tighter editing to convey the story with less text but the illustrations do a marvelous job of supporting and enriching the story. 

Some links to Beatles music are a little more evident in this book – a submarine, an octopus deep in the ocean, a friend in India; but children will just enjoy the rich visual feast in the gorgeous colourful illustrations in this book.  The story could spark an interesting discussion about what children call their grandparents as a few children who read it commented that there were too many “dudes” – maybe Nandude could have been Nangal!

Themes Grandparents, Submarines, Music, Ocean creatures, Adventure, Inventions.

Gabrielle Anderson

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