Kids’ Books: bulk review

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Bathtime for Little Rabbit – Jörg Mühle
Published by Gecko Press – available February 2017

Another gorgeous board book from Jörg Mühle, featuring our friend, Little Rabbit. There’s something so appealing about the simplicity of this book; the illustrations are adorable, with clean lines and simple concepts that are beautiful and endearing. I love the interactive style (blow-drying Little Rabbit’s ears was a lot of fun!), and the gentle responses it elicits from my rambunctuous four-and-a-half-year-old. He loved Tickle My Ears, and Bathtime for Little Rabbit has quickly become a favourite. I know of a few little people in my life who will be getting this book for their birthday!

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The Lost Kitten – Lee (illustrated by Komako Sakai)
Published by Gecko Press – available March 2017

This book is, quite simply, a work of art. Sakai is considered one of Japan’s leading illustrators, and it’s not hard to see why. In The Lost Kitten, she has captured the innocent curiosity of a child, and of a small kitten, so perfectly that each page almost feels alive. My boys were both completely absorbed in this book, and I was in no hurry to turn each page; the story feels so real. As such, it’s also a story I don’t think we’ll tire of, it is such a pleasure to read. My youngest was a bit upset when we first read that the kitten was lost, but fear not, there is a happy ending!

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Bruno – Catharina Valckx (illustrated by Nicola Hubesch)
Published by Gecko Press – available March 2017

This is a delightful comic-like collection of six linked stories about Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far. Bruno is a cat who makes the most of every day, always finding something good or interesting about them all. He has a hilarious little group of friends who bring joy and silliness to his days, and my boys think they are all wonderful. Tweety the canary is a particular favourite; “All done, cinnamon bun” is cackled a number of times each day in our house. I think the main appeal of this book is that it takes rather ordinary moments in time, and turns them into adventures that are always quirky and funny. The humour is aimed at kids, and my two found it hilarious. They get the jokes, and the silliness, and I love seeing what cracks them up about each different story. The lines are so dead-pan, but brilliantly delivered, and the illustrations are bold and perfectly detailed to enhance the text. One of my favourite books aimed at a wide age range, but especially enjoyed by four-and-a-half- and six-and-three-quarter-year-olds!

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Helper and Helper – Joy Cowley (illustrated by Gavin Bishop)
Published by Gecko Press – available February 2017

The thoughts of a six-and-three-quarter-year-old*:

“It’s a chapter book, but with pictures, which makes it interesting. The story is about some friends…some of them are best friends, and some of them are just ordinary friends, but they all want to help each other which is kind. Snake thinks she’s cleverer than Lizard, but they are best friends anyway. Squirrel is a bit nervous but I think she always tries her hardest to help. The book is called Helper and Helper because that’s the job Snake and Lizard do. They argue a lot but never stay cross at each other for long. It’s a good book.”

*At the time of writing, I hadnt actually read the whole book, as it was taken firmly from my hands by my biggest!

Book Review: Ivan and the Lighthouse

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Ivan and the Lighthouse – Grant Sheehan
Published by Phantom Tree House

Ivan is happy enough at Devonport School, but he finds it hard to concentrate, because through the classroom window he can see, gleaming in the harbour, Bean Rock Lighthouse, where his father is the keeper, and that’s where he really wants to be…

Ivan and the Lighthouse is a lovely story about a small boy who dreams of accompanying his father to work as a lighthouse keeper. It is set in 1910, and “loosely based” on real events, and while it doesn’t read as a history book, it gives a great perspective on a little slice of life in Auckland at the turn of last century.

The arrival of this book was very timely, as we’d just returned home from a school holiday road trip. Our first stop had been to The Catlins, where we walked to the lighthouse at Nugget Point. We’d spoken a lot about lighthouses while we were there, and Ivan and the Lighthouse served as a great reinforcer of the mini history lesson the boys had enjoyed (?!) while we were away.

It’s well-written and the illustrations by Rosalind Clark are gorgeous and very appealing. It’s wordier than your average picture book – aimed at the 5-7 year age group – my four-year-old enjoyed it as much as my six-year-old. They loved exploring the detail on each page, and the drama of a hawk in hunt, a grounded ship, hungry sharks and Halley’s Comet was right up their alley. Virtually every page was a little boys’ dream, with boats and animals of all sorts; the illustrations are mostly double-page, and alone tell an expressive and exciting story. Paired with rich and adventurous language, this is a story that will appeal again and again with each reading.

Thank you to the team at Phantom Tree House for our lovely review copy.

Book Review: If I Was a Banana

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If I Was a Banana – Alexandra Tylee (illustrated by Kieran Rynhart)
Published by Gecko Pressto be released October 2016

I don’t know if I have adequate words to describe how much we love this book. If I simply said, “BUY IT! Buy it NOW!”, would that suffice?? No? Well then, I’ll do my best to convince you that this is a book your children need to own.

If I Was a Banana is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s beautiful to read, and the illustrations are sublime; Tylee and Rynhart are a talented duo and I hope they publish a gazillion more picture books together because they are a match made in heaven.

The story begins simply, and quite amusingly:

If I was a banana, I would be that one, all yellow and fat and full of banana.

and progresses through a wonderful train of thoughts that perfectly capture a child’s thought pattern. If I was a cloud…a spoon…a cat…a star…a fish… It’s a simple story, but packs a powerful punch, and each page offers the chance to talk about what your child would choose to be, and why. My six-year-old was able to express some really good ideas about his choices; he loved the book so much that he took it to school and read it to his class (in front of the school principal, no less!).

If I Was a Banana captures the poetic curiosity of a child, both through words and the hazy, dream-like illustrations. There’s a magic to each page, and it feels as though the reader is inside the head of the young boy as he lets his thoughts range where they will.

The ending of the story is rather poignant and quite beautiful; through all his imaginings, the boy doesn’t appear unhappy with who he actually is, and the ending shows that, sending a powerful message to little readers everywhere to be confident and happy within themselves.

This is a gorgeous story, and I’m already planning on buying it as gifts for a number of small humans in my life.

Thanks to the team at Gecko Press for our review copy.

 

 

Book Review: Enid Blyton’s Summer Stories

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Enid Blyton’s Summer Stories – Enid Blyton
Published by Hachette New Zealand

School’s out! So go on a picnic, visit the seaside or throw coconuts at the fair in this enchanting collection of stories perfect for summer holidays.

We didn’t save this until the summer holidays, which seem very far away when winter is still peeking its head out of the clouds every once in a while. However, that didn’t stop the six-year-old and I from snuggling up on the couch to read together…until he told me, politely and using different words, to bugger off so he could read to himself!

Here’s what he had to say about this collection of whimsical Enid Blyton stories:

“I don’t have a favourite story in this book – I liked them all. I liked that at the end of some, the author asked me what I thought or what I would have done. Sometimes I thought some of the characters were a bit mean and a bit naughty, but a lot of them were very kind and helpful.

There was a lot of magic in the book. I liked that some of the characters were real and some were pretend. There was a mermaid in the last story [The Galloping Seahorse].

The pictures were really cool. I liked the hedgehog. I think I’ll start from the beginning again…do you want to read them with me, mum?”

Yes, my darling boy, I most certainly do!

Another stellar collection of classic Enid Blyton, with timeless appeal and that magic that every childhood needs.

Thanks to Hachette NZ for our review copy.

Book Review: Cherry Tree Farm Collection

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The Cherry Tree Farm Collection – Enid Blyton
Published by Hachette New Zealand

This collection brings together some of Enid Blyton’s earliest and most imaginative stories – The Children of Cherry Tree Farm (1940) and two further stories about the same children, The Children at Willow Farm (1942) and More Adventures at Willow Farm (1943).

I grew up reading the stories of Enid Blyton, and as an adult, I’m still a big fan. Her stories are appealing on so many levels, and her ability to make adventure and magic from nothing is second to none.

I don’t know who was more excited when The Cherry Tree Farm Collection arrived for review – me or my six-year-old. That night, we sat down together and read a few chapters; the late hour was the only thing that stopped us from finishing the whole book!

There’s something about this bunch of siblings and their adventures in the countryside that speaks of another time, but of adventures that are timeless and exciting. As a parent who is conscious of getting kids outside to play and roam, it was great to read a book that lacks technology and gadgets, but is full of fun. The children are still a little mischievous, and even though Tiny thought they “speak a little funny”, they are still easy for kids to identify with.

The Cherry Tree Farm Collection is a lot of fun to read. It possesses that quintessential Blyton-ness that brings wonder and magic to every page, making it a joy to read aloud or quietly to yourself.

Thanks to Hachette NZ for our review copy.

Book Review: A Day with Dogs

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A Day with Dogs – Dorothée de Monfreid
Published by Gecko Press available October 2016

Nine funny dogs live their everyday lives in these pages where you can learn all about seasons, colours, food, town and country, night and day, school and work, and much more – including dog breeds, of course.

Dorothée de Monfreid is the author of one of Pickle’s favourite books, The Cake. He was pretty excited when he saw A Day with Dogs, and flicks through it almost daily at the moment.

He thinks the dogs are hilaaaaaaarious. He giggled like a maniac when they were getting ready for school, and then he pointed out all the things he has to do to get ready for kindy.

The illustrations are amusing, and the dogs possess a slap-stick humour that greatly appeals to both of my boys. This is the kind of book that is ideal for toddlers learning more about the world around them, but for slightly older children requires very little adult intervention as they can start to “read” it to themselves. They can go beyond the simple naming of things to the exploration of characters and relationships and the silly things these dogs get up to! Each page is full of fun things to discover, and the illustrations are very expressive.

This is a fun book that children of varying ages will get a lot from.

Thanks to Gecko Press for our review copy!

Book Review: That’s (Not) Mine

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That’s (Not) Mine – Christopher Weyant and Anna Kang
Published by Hachette New Zealand – July 2016

When I saw that super-talented husband-and-wife team Weyant and Kang had produced a new story featuring our favourite fuzzy creatures, I knew my boys would flip for their own copy.

That’s (Not) Mine had a lot to live up, following on from the hugely successful You Are (Not) Small, but fear not – it’s every bit as good as the first.

I can’t decide whether it’s the hilarious illustrations or the straight-to-the-point text that makes these books work so well…I think it’s the combination of the two, with each element lending humour to the other. Whatever it is, Weyant and Kang have developed their own winning formula, and my kids love it.

The illustrations are bold and bright, and Kang has the ability to put a great amount of emotion into her drawings. Oh, how we laugh at the facial expressions of the fuzzy creatures!

In That’s (Not) Mine, the two fuzzy creatures argue over a chair, using all sorts of tricks to claim ownership. Eventually, they realise that sharing is much nicer than fighting, and they are back to being buddies.

Currently in our household, our four-year-old loves to play with his big brother but it doesn’t always go his way; this book arrived at the perfect time, as we’ve been able to use it as a subtle reminder that sharing is cool, and that sometimes, you have to play by someone else’s rules before they will play by yours. This is a great tool for teaching kids the intricacies of sharing and compromise, all without them realising what you’re doing!

Thank you to Hachette NZ for providing our review copy.

Book Review: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

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Yours Sincerely, Giraffe – Megumi Iwasa
To be published by Gecko Press in August 2016

Giraffe is bored, as usual. He’d love a friend to share things with. So he writes a letter and sends it as far as possible across the other side of the horizon. There he finds a pen pal called Penguin.

Oh my. I don’t even know how to begin describing this brilliant book, so I’m going to use the words Gecko Press have used in their press release: Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is “absurd and endearing”. Perfect.

The day our review copy arrived, I sat down with my biggest and asked if he wanted me to read him a chapter. He was busy building something from Lego (surprise, surprise), and agreed to one chapter. One chapter only. As I read, he crept closer and closer, and soon he was reading with me, urging me to keep turning the pages.

He loved it. He loved the simple line drawings on each page, and the handwritten letters that the pen pals exchanged. He thought Pelican, the postman, was hilarious, and that Whale, the professor, wasn’t really as smart as he made out. He thought Giraffe and Penguin were appropriate pen pals, and we talked a lot about why Giraffe might not know what Penguin looked like. He was fascinated by this concept, and after we’d finished reading, spent a lot of time talking about how else Giraffe could have interpreted Penguin’s description of himself.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is so clever, and its humour is perfect for schoolkids. It’s a fun story, and the illustrations are great and very appealing.

Thank you to Gecko Press for our review copy – my six-year-old thinks it’s awesome!

Books for Kids: Tickle My Ears

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Tickle My Ears – Jörg Mühle
Published by Gecko Press

When Tickle My Ears arrived in the post, I thought I’d save it for my littlest one’s bedtime story. I unwrapped it, set it on the coffee table and set about doing some housework…until the littlest one found the book and basically launched himself at me, yelling, “I neeeeeeed you to read me this book!!!”

I turned off the vacuum cleaner (willingly. Oh, so willingly) and we sat down together for a look…and half an hour later, we were still sitting on the couch, turning back to the start for the umpteenth time.

Tickle My Ears is one of the sweetest, most delightful books I’ve seen in a long time. The illustrations are divine; Little Rabbit is adorable and charming, and each page is simple yet so very appealing. It’s a clever concept, which will appeal to a child’s sense of willfulness and determination; there is something very exciting about a book that encourages reader participation.

There are many interactive books available for kids (Help! The Wolf is Coming! springs to mind), but Tickle My Ears is different: even the smallest children will get a huge amount of enjoyment out of “playing grown ups”, being the one to put Little Rabbit to bed. This is the ultimate joke for a kid: role reversal at its finest.

Pickle, nearly four, has asked for this book every night since it arrived. He takes his role as Putterer to Bed verrrrry seriously; he has stroked Little Rabbit’s ears gently and kissed his cheek countless times, and takes great joy in turning out the light and then snuggling down in to his own bed – Herr Mühle, you are a genius, making bedtime just that little bit more pleasant for parents (and children!) everywhere.

Even Tiny, aged six, couldn’t resist putting Little Rabbit to bed, and while he merely air-kissed our cotton-tailed friend, he did so with a cheeky smile and asked if he could read the book to himself.

Eight times.

Thank you, Gecko Press, for another already-much-loved gem of a children’s book! When Pickle saw I was writing about this book, he said, “Tell them it’s a really funny story.”

Book Review: Hare and Tortoise

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Hare and Tortoise – Alison Murray
Published by Hachette NZ

Our copy of Hare and Tortoise was taken to kindy on the day I started this review, so Pickle could share it with his “class”. One of his teachers thought it was a great story to bring in, as they are currently talking to the kids about perseverance, resilience and independence. Their feedback was glowing – they thought it was an excellent re-telling, with mass appeal for the range of ages at kindergarten.

Everyone knows the story of the hare and the tortoise right? It’s probably one of Aesop’s most famous fables. This re-telling by Alison Murray is gorgeous, funny and contemporary, without losing the moral of the story.

My boys love it. The story is so appealing and the illustrations are just gorgeous. They love the comparison between Tortoise, who is very good at standing still, and a rock; they love the energy of Hare, who is not very good at standing still, but can run really, really fast.

It’s a witty re-telling, with such appealing illustrations (also by Murray); every page is a treat to read and explore, while still being snappy and lyrical. You can’t help but be swept along with Hare’s speed, and a few pages later, find yourself ambling along leisurely with Tortoise.

Another gem – already well-loved – from Hachette NZ – thanks team!