Book Review: Have You Seen Elephant?

Have You Seen Elephant_front cover 300dpi_gecko

Have You Seen Elephant? – David Barrow
Published by Gecko Press

There are two Gecko Press books on rotation in our house at the moment: Ko Wai e Huna Ana? and Have You Seen Elephant?

Since it arrived last week, David Barrow’s beautifully-illustrated Have You Seen Elephant? has been thrust under my nose at every opportunity, accompanied by Pickle’s huge brown eyes and a cheeky grin.

He loves it.

Scratch that.

We love it.

It is, quite honestly, one of the funniest children’s books I’ve read in a while. Elephant wants to play hide-and-seek. The boy is keen, but Elephant just has to warn him…he is very good at hide-and-seek.

Such a simple concept, yet Barrows has executed it with some of the loveliest illustrations I’ve seen in a long time. They are so witty, so appealing, and just…well…beautiful.

We laugh our way through it every single read-through. Elephant’s great hiding skills elicit the same giggles from Pickle each time, especially when I pretend I can’t see that Elephant is hiding under a lamp or behind an incredibly skinny tree.

The ending is a little subtle for my three-and-a-half year old, but my nearly-six-year-old got it straight away and I thought he was going to choke on his own laughter: Turtle asks if they want to play tag, but he has to warn the boy…

Yet another Gecko Press gem that is yet to make it on to a shelf; thanks team!

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Book Review: The Big Book of Animals of the World

The Big Book of Animals of the WorldThe Big Book of Animals of the World – Ole Könnecke
Published by Gecko Press, September 2015

A large-format boardbook looking at the common – and uncommon – animals that live side-by-side all over the world.

The Big Book of Animals of the World is a gorgeous pictorial “encyclopaedia” featuring animals and landscapes from across the globe. Each double-page spread covers one continent or ocean, and features a variety of animals and scenes. The animals range from the well-known (lions, bears, hippos, whales…) to the less-well-known (tapir, marmot, sanctuary bird…), and each illustration is simple and appealing in Ole Könnecke’s signature style.

We had a great time exploring each page, looking at the variety of animals that inhabit the earth, and seeing what the little mice “people” were doing in each scene.

This is a lovely addition to our non-fiction collection of books, and it has been popular with the children in Tiny’s class, too.

Thank you, Gecko Press, for another stellar publication for us to review!

Book Review: Hello, World!

Hello, World!Hello, World! – Paul Beavis
Published by Gecko Press, September 2015

I was beyond excited when I heard that Paul Beavis was writing and illustrating a second book featuring the loveable monster from Mrs. Mo’s Monster, and when our review copy of Hello, World! arrived, we couldn’t wait to dive straight in.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations are cute, quirky, colourful and clever; I loved the moment that my boys realised the monster was being followed, adding a new element to the fun. Tiny especially enjoyed looking at all the things the monster decided to take on his journey, giggling at some of the more unusual items and guessing at the purpose of others.

The story itself is charming and funny; the monster reminds me of certain three- and five-year-olds who are often told they need to wait, when they are bursting to do something.

We are big monster fans, and this is another Gecko Press gem that is yet to be shelved!

Book Review: I Want Spaghetti

I Want SpaghettiI Want Spaghetti – Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press, September 2015

Simon, that cheeky little rabbit, is back in this latest gem from writer/illustrator, Stephanie Blake.

We’ve enjoyed A Deal’s a Deal and I don’t want to go to school, but I Want Spaghetti has taken first place as our favourite bunny book. On our first reading, both of my boys giggled hysterically as Simon got more and more vocal about his desire for spaghetti, and they walked around the house yelling, “I want spaghetti!!” for a good twenty minutes after we’d finished. When I dished up dinner that night, Tiny looked at me with a cheeky grin and said, “But mum…I want spaghetti.”

Parents of toddlers and young children will think that Stephanie Blake has been spying on them at meal times. Blake has captured the fussy, changeable habits of children perfectly, as well as the clever tricks most parents employ to get their children to eat.

A very clever, simple story sure to delight the fussiest of children.

Thanks to Gecko Press for our review copy.

Book Review: The Great White Man-Eating Shark

The Great White Man-Eating SharkThe Great White Man-Eating Shark – Margaret Mahy
Published by Hachette NZ – July 2015

Norvin has small eyes, sharp teeth and a pointy head – just like a shark! If you were pretending to be a great white man-eating shark just imagine what you’d get up to.

When this Early Reader edition of Margaret Mahy’s brilliantly clever The Great White Man-Eating Shark arrived for us to review, Tiny’s eyes grew wide and he stared at me for a moment before asking, “Is this one really for me?” When I assured him that yep, it was, he was silent for a moment, before hugging the book to his chest and whispering, “I love this story.”

We’re read it previously, but this red* Early Reader edition is perfect. Tiny’s appetite for reading keeps on growing, and he’s now at a point where he can pick up a book and work out the vast majority of new words on each page. The great thing about this book is that it’s a story he is already familiar with, so he can practise his reading without losing the meaning of the words. However, as he is just a beginner reader, he also loves to be read to and we have sessions where he reads some, and I read some, which suits us both.

The print is large, well-spaced and easy to read. There are only a couple of sentences on each page, giving the book the feel of a chapter book, without being daunting.

Jonathan Allen’s illustrations are simple, expressive and really quite marvellous. They are a little quirky and suit the story of shark-like Norvin perfectly.

The Great White Man-Eating Shark is a classic, hilarious and clever story that will appeal in any form, but this Early Reader edition is perfect for encouraging your children to pick up a book and get lost in the amazing world of Margaret Mahy.

* Hachette NZ have published a series of blue Early readers – ‘perfect for sharing and reading together” – and red Early readers – “the next step on [the] reading journey”.

Book Review: Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Tales of an Extraordinary Hamster – Astrid Desbordes
(published by Gecko Press, June 2015)

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster, a chapter book told entirely through speech bubbles, has been a big hit with both my boys; we’ve read it over and over again. We’ve come across Hamster and his friends before, having checked Reflections of a Solitary Hamster out of the library before.

Hamster is an incredibly selfish but very likeable character. Everything he does is driven by greed and self-purpose, but there’s still something endearing about him. His actions make us roll our eyes and shake our heads, yet we still love him. His friends put up with his self-obsession and they love him regardless. I’m a big fan of Hedgehog and Mole, and their burgeoning relationship, too.

The dialogue is great, and really funny. I can’t wait for the time when Tiny can read this himself, as the humour is right up his alley. Pauline Martin’s illustrations are colourful, simple and cute. Each animal is perfectly represented, and the backgrounds are kept to a minimum, meaning the characters and dialogue take centre stage.

Tales of an Extraordinary Hamster is going to be another favourite that will never make it onto the boys’ bookshelves, purely because it will be read every single day for a long time to come.

Thanks to Gecko Press for providing us with this review copy.

Book Review: When I am Happiest

When I am Happiest – Rose Lagercrantz
(Published by Gecko Press, July 2015)

When I am Happiest

When I am Happiest is a beautiful tale of joy, sadness and friendship; it deals with a difficult subject in a graceful and accessible way, making it a pleasure to read. To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether Tiny would like it, but we sat down to read a couple of chapters together, and suddenly, we’d finished the whole book. He didn’t want me to stop, and I didn’t want to stop either.

The chapters are short, the sentences snappy. The pace is fast and it is interesting to read. I loved that it was a simple tale, yet Lagercrantz wasn’t afraid to challenge young readers by throwing in a few more interesting words and ideas. I liked that the characters didn’t just “ask”, but asked “questioningly”; this appealed to my love of words and my desire to encourage my boys to be voracious readers.

Each chapter is accompanied by Eva Eriksson’s simple line drawings. The illustrations are perfect, and convey so much emotion. At moments where children might not understand the seriousness of the story, the illustrations help them to understand what it going on.

When we’d finished reading When I am Happiest, Tiny and I talked about the story, and how it made us feel. I was surprised at how perceptive and articulate he was as he explained how he felt, and surprised at how emotional I felt too.

This is a beautiful book, aimed at five- to seven-year-olds, although I think it would appeal to older children (and adults) too.

Thank you to Gecko Press for providing this beauty for review purposes.

Book Review: When Dad Showed Me the Universe

When Dad Showed Me the Universe – Ulf Stark
(Published by Gecko Press – April 2015)

When Dad Showed Me the Universe

My boys have been slow to warm to this beautifully-illustrated (Eva Eriksson) picture book about a father who decides to take his son out one clear, dark night to show him the universe.

I think Pickle is simply too young (he isn’t yet three; the book is aimed at children five years plus), but I’m surprised that Tiny didn’t love it straight away, especially with its hilarious surprise ending. I suspect it’s due largely to not fully understanding the whole idea of the big, wide universe.

Personally, I like it. I like how Stark takes a fairly complicated idea and breaks it down into a lovely children’s story. I like that the journey that father and son go on is a journey that could easily be replicated (perhaps minus the stepping-in-dog-poo ending!), and I like that it sows the seed of doing just that.

I also really like that Stark has been able to capture the idea that even if things don’t go to plan, that doesn’t mean an endeavour fails. After the stepping-in-dog-poo misstep (ha!), Dad looks dejected (Eriksson’s illustrations are clever; she captures emotion beautifully);

“You’re probably too little anyway,” he says. “All I wanted was to show you something beautiful that you’d remember forever.”

but his son has had a wonderful evening and will remember their adventure – just not for the reasons his father had hoped.

Tiny does love the ending; last night he giggled, “I think it’s really funny that the dad steps in dog poo!” The more we read the story, the more he is taking in, and the longer our discussions become. We’ve been talking about stars and constellations, breaking down the concept of the universe into small, palatable chunks, and he is starting to appreciate When Dad Showed Me the Universe a whole lot more.

(Review copy kindly provided by the team at Gecko Press)

Book Review: Help! The Wolf is Coming!

Help! The Wolf is Coming! – Cedric Ramadier
(To be released by Gecko Press, May 2015)

Help! The Wolf is Coming!Oh no! The wolf is coming! He’s getting closer and closer – you’d better turn the page, tilt the book, shake it, and then slam it shut.

I could write the world’s shortest book review here: Pickle laughed so hard at this book; go buy it.

Seriously, he almost self-combusted with giggles, and if you could hear those two-and three-quarter-year-old giggles, you would know that this book is good.

It is a great interactive story; I like that it was simply interactive, so Pickle could follow the instructions and begin to predict the consequences. When they are told, on repeat, to treat books with respect, there’s something naughtily-forbidden about shaking, tilting and slamming the pages.

The cyclic nature appeals to both my boys (Tiny got it more quickly than Pickle), and like most children, they like the repetition.

The illustrations (by Vincent Bourgeau) are simple and bold, similar in style to Pickle’s other favourite, The Cake. While Tiny is of an age where he likes illustrations that can be pored over, Pickle still appreciates the simplicity of this style.

Help! The Wolf is Coming! is already a firm favourite in this house, and will be read on repeat for some time.

Review copy kindly provided by the lovely team at Gecko Press.

50 Dangerous Things: 21

Number 21: Spend an Hour Blindfolded

This one came about while the boys were waiting for dessert one evening over the weekend. I’d been in the kitchen, and came out to find Tiny with a tea towel wrapped around his eyes, with Tall leading him around the lounge asking him to guess where he was.

He was giggling and I was surprised to see him so comfortable without his sight; he’s not a kid who panics easily, but he does have a tendency to want to watch someone else do something before he gives it a try.

50 Dangerous Things: 21 50 Dangerous Things: 21Back at the table, he ate his meringue and ice cream blindfolded, and we played a game of Guess the Fruit as well. It was interesting to see him instinctively searching for the edge of his bowl with one hand, with his other resting on the mat right beside it. After dessert, all three of my boys played a game of Guess the Toy, followed by Guess the Schleich Animal which Tiny was very good at.

Tiny’s thoughts:
“It was dark, but I wasn’t scared.”
“It was easy guessing the animals but [Pickle] kept telling me the answer which was silly.”
“I liked following the sound of your voice [from the lounge into the dining room].”

He didn’t spend an entire hour blindfolded, but we’re ticking this one off anyway.

50 Dangerous Things: 21 Spend an Hour Blindfolded – DONE

50 Dangerous Things: 01 Lick a 9-Volt Battery
50 Dangerous Things: 11 Throw Rocks
50 Dangerous Things: 15 Throw Things from a Moving Car
50 Dangerous Things: 28 Climb a Tree
50 Dangerous Things: 32 Change a Tyre