Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: Our Last Trip to the Market

Our Last Trip to the Market

Written by Lorin Clarke and illustrated by Mitch Vane (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781925266962

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Markets are great, aren’t they? Oh, the atmosphere! The incredible smells! Fresh foods! Now imagine sharing your trip to the market with six kids in tow … hmm. Perhaps the word ‘last’ in the title refers not so much to the most recent trip, as it does to the Last Ever.

This entertaining picture book, with hilarious full-colour illustrations by Mitch Vane, is sure to strike a chord with frazzled parents everywhere. The mother in this story is, shall we say, super upbeat. She is not at all daunted by the fact that she’s daring to take six kids, including a toddler and a couple of preschoolers, out grocery shopping. She’s happy, and positive and full of bright energy as she takes in the sights. Her kids, meanwhile …

One is stealing a juggling ball from a busker, another is knocking over a pile of doughnuts. Two have stolen a wheelbarrow. One is digging through a sack of lentils. Another has found some sparkly glue.

Though the mother briefly pauses in her market merriment to discipline the children (‘Please give that back to the man’), she never loses her cool. Why would she? She’s at the market! The glorious market! The story keeps its rhythm as she continues on her way, buying far more things than she intended. The only time she expresses any anxiety is when she realises they’re running late for Grandma and Gramps. As market-goers and stall-owners watch the family, horrified by the trail of destruction they’ve left behind, good old mum suggests they’ll get to the car faster if they ‘stomp like a pack of wild boars’. Why not? Off they go, ‘stompity stomp’, but not without a couple more mishaps on the way. Just when I start to doubt the mother’s neverending patience, the story ends with some sweet revenge on her part. Phew!

Lorin Clarke has written a fantastic story made highly amusing by its unpredictable rhymes and funny caricatures. There is much to see in the illustrations and Vane perfectly captures the children’s cheeky expressions (or innocent curiosity). I particularly loved the gleam in the mother’s eyes on the last page.

The story is suitable for children aged 2 – 5 years … and parents. Of course, parents.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener

Written by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781847809391

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Something magical is happening at Grimloch Lane … trees are being shaped into astounding animals overnight, giving the residents a new surprise to wake up to each morning. William, a boy at the local orphanage, is filled with wonder. First, he wakes up to a huge owl. Then, a cat. One day, it’s an enormous dragon, fit for climbing on. Suddenly, the trees look alive … and so do the people. Neighbours unite to marvel. No longer do they walk alone, heads down. Theyspeak to one another. They laugh together. The crowds grow.

One night, William spots the elusive ‘Night Gardener’ and follows him to Grimloch Park. The gentleman knowingly turns and smiles at him: ‘I could use a little help.’ He teaches William his craft and, together, they work all night to create a magical zoo wonderland. The Night Gardener is not there when William awakes, but it seems the entire town has congregated in the park, in awe.

The story closes with a heartwarming message – though the Night Gardener has gone, and the leaves have long fallen from the trees, the people of the town have changed. They find other reasons to come together. And William, who received the man’s garden shears as a parting gift, continues his legacy in topiary art.

This stunning book has been written and illustrated by two brothers, Eric and Terry Fan. The illustrations are breathtaking, imbued with the perfect colours to evoke the text’s emotions. They are black and white at first, but begin to come to life as the Night Gardener works his magic. The topiary trees appear in vivid green hues, showing life against an otherwise drab town. People start to come to life too, slowly receiving colour in their clothes and facial expressions. The seasons are portrayed in realistic hues, with autumn colours, especially, leaping off the page. The entire town finally appears in colour on a striking double page spread near the conclusion. The illustrations are a combination of ink and graphite mixed with digital colours. (The detailed linework reminded me a little of the work of Ron Brooks!)

This story is a beautiful salute to the magic of nature and its power to bring people together. It will suit readers aged 6 and older.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: There’s a Tiger in the Garden

There’s a Tiger in the Garden

By Lizzy Stewart (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $14.99     ISBN 9781847808073

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

There’s nothing to do at Grandma’s house, or so Nora believes. Even her toy giraffe, Jeff, is bored. Then Grandma suggests a play in the garden with the giant dragonflies, hungry plants, grumpy polar bear and … the tiger. ‘I’m too old for silly games!’ Nora tells her, but she heads outside anyway. First, she encounters giant dragonflies … but she remains doubtful about everything else. Next, she’s forced to rescue Jeff from a hungry plant … but no way is she going to find a polar bear or ‘this ridiculous tiger anywhere’. Then the grumpy polar bear does indeed make an appearance … but she’s still 100 per cent certain there is no tiger in the garden. Is there?

This is a lovely picture book about the power of imagination, beautifully illustrated in hues of green that make a humble back yard look like a jungle. Lizzy Stewart uses digital software to overlap the plants and wildlife, giving the pages a vibrant 3D feel. The colours are always textured, creating the effect of a painted picture with overlaid pencil for finer detail.

The friendly tiger definitely reminded me of Judith Kerr’s tiger in The Tiger Who Came to Tea, both in personality and in looks. Unlike Sophie, however, Nora is not so nonchalant about meeting a tiger. The story even takes on an existential feel when both the tiger, and Nora, question whether the other is real and how they can know for sure.

There are a great variety of sentence lengths and font sizes throughout, making the story suitable for 4–6-year-olds. Nora finally lets her imagination take over and the story finishes with a wonderful twist!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: Old Pig

Old Pig

Written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Ron Brooks (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781760293895

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s hard to believe it has been over 20 years sinceOld Pig, a heartwarming tale about the circle of life, won the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award (1995). Thereafter, it went on to receive a number of other awards and nominations around the globe!

Granddaughter and Old Pig have lived together for a very long time, sharing everything – including their daily chores. When Old Pig hints that she might not ‘live forever’, Granddaughter feels afraid. Then Old Pig starts to feel tired and, one day, doesn’t even get out of bed. Granddaughter is very worried. When Old Pig forces herself to get out of the house the next day, saying she has lots to do and ‘must be prepared’, Granddaughter knows she must soon say good bye.

Old Pig sets about returning library books, closing accounts and paying bills. Then she comes back for Granddaughter and, together, they take a walk around the town so Old Pig can ‘feast’, but not on food … ‘on the trees, the flowers, the sky – on everything!’ What follows is a beautiful celebration of the senses and of nature. Old Pig teaches Granddaughter to appreciate the colours, smells, sounds and tastes of the world. In the heartwarming end to the story, Granddaughter holds Pig tightly as she sleeps – just like Old Pig used to hold her at night when she was little.

Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks have brought us much joy with their countless contributions to children’s literature. (They are also the award-winning team behind the book Fox, which won the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award in 2001.)

Ron Brooks’ expressive illustrations are well suited to the thought-provoking text. His gentle line work – subtle forehead creases, downcast eyes or mouths and posture – perfectly evokes the emotions of the pigs. It is wonderful to see this new hardcover release of the book, marking its 20-year anniversary. It will no doubt touch the hearts of a whole new generation of young readers.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: My Friend Tertius

My Friend Tertius

Written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Owen Swan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781760113827

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It is Hong Kong, 1941, and Arthur and Tertius are best friends. Arthur spends his days decoding Japanese air force signals for British intelligence. Tertius spends his days springing about the office furniture like the ‘inquisitive trapeze artist’ that he is. Tertius is a gibbon.

When Arthur is ordered to leave Hong Kong, he can’t bear to leave Tertius behind. He sneaks him onto the ship to Singapore, where they ‘live the high life’ … until the Japanese fighter planes arrive. Arthur is ordered to evacuate immediately. He takes Tertius with him, barely making it onto the last ship out. His journey eventually leads him to Australia. He successfully smuggles Tertius into the country, until a police officer discovers him in their Melbourne hotel room. Tertius’ illegal status means his life is in question, but he is sent to the Melbourne Zoo after Arthur begs for an alternative fate. Before long, Arthur is summoned to London. He leaves, heartbroken, but comes back to visit Tertius in 1947 after the war is over. The story ends on a tender note, with Tertius not only remembering Arthur but also wrapping ‘his arms about [him] as if he’d never let go’.

This is a heartwarming, true story, told by award-winning writer, Corinne Fenton, and superbly illustrated by Owen Swan. Though Fenton acknowledges the wartime setting, she states that ‘it’s not a war story’ but ‘a love story between a man and his beloved pet’. The story is told from the first-person perspective of Arthur, and is quite informative. Younger readers might find the war themes quite confronting, with vivid language describing the bombings and their associated terror. (‘There were bombs whistling, exploding, shattering, but worst of all was the screaming. Tertius trembled in my arms.’) The suggested age group for this picture book, therefore, is 5–8 years.

Swan’s pencilled sketches appear in a soft, vintage palette throughout. He varies and limits the colours on each page to great effect, with frightening war scenes often depicted in only two or three tones. The washed-out appearance of the pictures perfectly complements the historical setting.

This talented duo have beautifully told Arthur Cooper’s story of companionship, loyalty, and the importance of holding on to love during times of war.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: Gus Dog Goes to Work

gus dog
Gus Dog Goes to Work

Written by Rachel Flynn and illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781921504884

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Sheep dog, Gus, does much the same thing every day. He has his breakfast, hops into his owner’s ute and goes to work with him. One day, though, he wakes to an empty bowl. What’s more, his owner, Tom, seems to have left home without him! What follows is a warm and witty tale of Gus Dog’s mischievous trek around town to locate Tom. And perhaps to find some breakfast.

Tom has taught Gus Dog several colloquial expressions that come in handy on his adventures: ‘gidday, getup, getdown, come’ere, getoutovit, gohome and goodboy’. (There is some fantastic alliteration with the letter ‘G’ in this book!) Gus Dog goes to school, rounds up people’s chickens and sheep and forages through some garbage bins. He receives tirades of abuse from people around town and is never really sure what he has done wrong, but he certainly recognises some of their words. He even learns a new word, mongrel, after it’s said to him a couple of times. Somewhat confused, he good-naturedly trots off elsewhere each time he is berated.

Eventually, Tom finds him and Gus Dog gets to hear a far more comforting expression: ‘goodboy’. The author cleverly contrasts the use of the phrase ‘gohome’, also, subtly showing how it can be interpreted positively or negatively in different situations.

Popular author-illustrator team, Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, have published several books together and have a complementary style. Smith’s illustrations – a combination of pencil and Corel Painter – are superb, as always. The rustic colours throughout the book perfectly reflect the dustiness of rural Australia. Gus Dog has a comical appearance, to match the humour in the text, and a soft expression in his eyes that makes him very endearing. Whenever Gus is being spoken to, the language appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations. Gus Dog’s journey is beautifully reflected in a wider view in the endpapers, where sepia-toned pictures offer an additional picture revealing Tom’s path. (Smith’s illustrations in the story itself also reveal the reason why Tom disappeared.)

This simple story reflects on the power of language, while observing country life, pets, working dogs and animal behaviour. At around 800 words, it’s a great length for lower primary school students aged 5 years and up.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: I Love You

I Love You

Written by Clemency Pearce and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow)
HB RRP $12.99     ISBN 9780857638793

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When you feel so very small, when no one seems to care at all, what can make you ten feet tall? Three little words …’

This sweet story, told in verse, is based on feelings. Originally published as a hardcover book (Three Little Words), it is now presented in a board book format – perfect for the target age group of 2–4 years. It gives children examples of situations where they might feel ignored, upset, frustrated or shy. It reassures them that in any situation, their parents will be there to comfort them and offer those three little words to make them feel better: ‘I love you’.

There is a lovely, gentle question/answer pattern to the story that makes it great to read aloud. Children will enjoy chiming in with the phrase ‘I love you’ upon each turn of the page. The author cleverly describes how the phrase can be used in different situations by changing one adjective each time. If the child is feeling small, the answer lies in three ‘little’ words. If the child has lost a race, there are three ‘winning’ words that can help. Feeling left out? Perhaps three ‘sharing’ words will do the trick. If they’re feeling shy, three ‘friendly’ words are what they need.

The ending of the book suddenly changes the pattern of the story by describing five situations where others might not be feeling happy. It helps show children how to empathise with others by suggesting four special words to help them through … ‘I love you too!’

The illustrations are colourful and expressive, warm and affectionate. Animals are shown in, first, a negative situation and then a positive one. Beardshaw has used a combination of coloured pencils, watercolours, and overlaid stencils to great effect.

Toddlers and preschoolers will no doubt be enticed by the simple language, repetition, lively pictures … and those seven cutout love hearts on the front cover that they can stick their fingers through!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website: