Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett [Picture book]

The Girl and the Bicycle
By Mark Pett
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781442483194

This timeless picture book is a little charmer which delivers a message about perseverance, hard work and generosity, all told without a single word.

The illustrations are spare and classic, as is the bicycle, this could be the '50s. There's no brightness here, with the manilla flavoured background, pencil drawings with touches of grey and less of green watercolour. It's the spirit of the little girl that adds the spark. She and her brother are walking past the shops when she sees a green bicycle in a shop window. She checks her piggy bank when she gets home but there's not enough for the bicycle so she decides to earn the money. She has a lemonade stand, searches down the back of the sofa, sells her toys, then has the brainstorm - doing chores for the neighbours. 

She finds a lady down the street who has her help rake the leaves, but this is just the beginning of a special relationship. As the seasons go by we see the girl and the lady working together. While walking the lady's dog the girl spots the bicycle again and when she counts out her money she has enough, but when she returns to the store the bike is gone. In spite of her disappointment she makes a generous choice and buys a tricycle for her little brother with her money instead. There's a lovely turnaround ending that finishes it just so, reinforcing the spirit of generosity, and reward for a job well done.

I loved the relationship between the older woman and the little girl - you can see their fondness for each other, there are hugs and mugs of steaming drinks, and they work together. The siblings are also linked together beautifully. The boy is always present when his sister is, except when she is working with the lady, he's always slightly behind, sometimes pulled along by the hand, or in the background playing with the cat. At the woman's home her dog is always the extra presence. 

Although the pages have lots of empty space there's always a little something happening in addition to the main momentum of the story - the boy tries to pick up a coin from the pavement but they're moving to fast; the dog chases a squirrel up a tree. Ordinary things, but as you leaf through the pages, in the absence of text, your eye sweeps across the page picking up details you didn't see the first time around. This is the joy of wordless stories, you are rewriting it every time you read the book.

On his website, Mark Pett calls himself an authorstrator - a title he adopted after a 5-year-old boy at a school visit asked him "How do you like being an authorstrator?"

One of my favourite places to read about picture books is Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. You can read about the predecessor and companion book to The Girl and the Bicycle, also wordless - The Boy and the Airplane. I'll have to look that one up too - I wonder if it's the same boy as we see in The Girl and the Bicycle.

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith [Picture book]

I've been reading lately about de-classifying some books - rather than labelling them 'junior' or 'YA' or 'Adult' they are in the AAA section - for Any and All readers (thanks Sheryl Gwyther for sharing that info). Examples have been the Harry Potter series with hordes of adults seen reading the books, as well as children. And how about Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - so great that they shouldn't be restricted to the 8 to 12-year-olds.

Picture books too have a large adult audience, whilst the format is often assumed to be for children, and little children at that. This couldn't be further from the truth, as anyone who knows picture books well understands, there are many which should be read by all, shared between the generations and pored over for their wonderful design and illustration, their language and ability to say much with few words and pages.

When I picked up the beautifully cloth-bound The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith, it was clear from first glance that this was something special, something very high quality, and the contents didn't let me down. From the perfectly balanced white print on the cover and the densely patterned end papers, a forest of trees, and the creamy weight of the Munken Pure Rough paper, to the story itself and the gentle character of the fox, with just the right touch of magic. The typography is carefully laid out, the illustrations vary in scale from the distant star in the sky, to a deliciously orange close up of Fox's face, cutaway perspectives show his home underground, and the message - a marvellous double-page spread where the text is spelled out in leaves - "Look up beyond your fears". What better advice could there be.

It is obvious that every element of the book was carefully chosen to make the most perfect package possible. This is what we should have known to expect from book design pro Bickford-Smith. She's the name behind many exquisite covers for Penguin including the Hardcover Classics series.  The Fox and the Star is published under Penguin's imprint Particular Books. 'Particular' seems a good word here - a couple of definitions I found for it were 'especially great or intense' and 'a detail'. She is very particular about the detail.

Pattern rules throughout the book, I wasn't' surprised to read that Bickford-Smith has a great fondness for the work of William Blake; that influence is clearly seen in her work. It takes a fastidious designer to build such detailed patterns that fit together so precisely, and with the added magic of the skilled illustrator to ensure the patterns do more than just look good, they have purpose, they are very much part of the story.

The story itself is of young and timid Fox who loves to look up through the trees at Star, who becomes his only friend, helping him seek out food, lighting his way on his nocturnal adventures. But then things change (I guess that winter arrives) and star can no longer be seen. Fox is bereft and takes to his den underground. When beetles on the move underground stir him he heads out to find Star. This is his greatest adventure but I won't spoil the ending here.

Coralie Bickford-Smith has provided a great look into her process on the Creative Review blog that's definitely worth a read, and to see her sketches and design workings. You can see the wonderful array of bookcovers and more on her website too.

My love for children's books is as much for the design as for the stories and pictures; this book rings my bells on all counts. A beauty. I'm not the only one who thinks so - it's also the Waterstones Book of the Year.  I borrowed my copy from the library, but will definitely have to get a copy of my own, and probably a couple as presents too, and not just for children.

The Fox and the Star
By Coralie Bickford-Smith
Particular Books, imprint of Penguin
ISBN 9781846148507
Hardback

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Playground by 50 Cent [YA Fiction]

Playground
A novel by 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson III) with Laura Moser
Illustrations by Lizzi Akana
Razor Bill, an imprint of Penguin Group
ISBN 9781595144782

I spotted this novel on the 'Librarians Recommend' stand in the teen section of the Auckland Central Library and thought it might be a good novel for the boys I'm going to be seeing in my new library job at an intermediate school, and I think I was right.

Written by hip-hop superstar (that bit I knew), writer, actor and entrepreneur (those bits I didn't), 50 Cent, and based on events in his own life. It's about bullying. I think when I tell kids about it I'll read this from 50 Cent's introduction:
"I'll be the first to admit that not everything I've done in my life has been role-model material. I've been on the wrong side of the law. I've been in violent situations. I've also been a bully. I know how a person gets to be like that. That's why I wanted to tell this story: to show a kid who has become a bully -- how and why that happened, and whether or not he can move past it."

The main character is Butterball - nicknamed because he's overweight. He's black, in 8th grade, so around 13, at a not very flash school in a boring suburb where his mother moved them to when she left his father who lives in New York city. Butterball idolises his father, although he doesn't appear to be a positive role model, encouraging shoplifting and mocking his son. Still, Butterball blames his mother for his life not being great, and actively dislikes her friend Evelyn who often minds him when his mother is working, which is a lot. Early in the story he attacks the one person who was his friend because of something he thinks Maurice has done, gaining himself a reputation as a tough guy, and regular sessions with a counsellor, Liz. We come to understand a lot of Butterball's life through regular chapters centred on his sessions with Liz where he either tells her about events in his life, or refuses to tell her, but then tells the reader what happened, and so we put together a picture of his past life and how he's got himself into his current situation. 

Unfortunately there are not a lot of positive role models, the good guys are Liz and his mum and Nia, a girl from school he likes. A pity not to include a decent male in the mix, a school teacher perhaps.

There are many issues: peer pressure, new love, parental influence, moral values, homosexuality, violence, food choices... I felt I came to know Butterball and ached for his misery at the life he's found himself in, but holding on to the hope that things can be better. It takes some work and understanding and changes, but it's possible, although it seems only by removing himself completely from the environment where he's been in so much trouble.

Nice inky line drawings are scattered throughout add to the appeal, and the style of writing is believable - so yes, there's lots of swearing and slang.

Read the first 20 pages of Playground

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Bold Ship Phenomenal by Sarah Johnson [Junior fiction]

The Bold Ship Phenomenal
By Sarah Johnson
Illustrations by Deborah Hinde
Flat Bed Press, 2015
ISBN 9780473313142

Another New Zealand junior novel, this time from Raglan's Sarah Johnson, which I enjoyed so much I couldn't get anything done today, I kept having to pick up Phenomenal to see what was going to happen next.

As is obvious from the cover, The Bold Ship Phenomenal is a ship in a bottle, found on the beach by 11-year-old Malachi. He's feeling despondent and putting off getting to science class which he finds difficult. His teacher, Mrs Green, is hugely enthusiastic, in fact she sounded like a great science teacher, certainly better than many I've experienced. But Malachi finds it tough, and when she is explaining the details of their latest project he switches off and doesn't really know what he's meant to be doing. One of the reasons he's down is that his dad isn't being a very responsive father, refusing to do anything interesting, like going camping, but just wanting to stay at home, as they've done since Malachi's mother died. It sounds as if she, like Mrs Green, was full of enthusiasm for everything and her husband and son both miss her terribly. 'Phenomenal' was one of her favourite words which Malachi chooses to name the ship. As in most school stories, there's a bully boy too - Jarrod, but his own story isn't straightforward either, as Malachi finds out as the story progresses. 

After seeing an article about an environmental protest up north Malachi decides to take himself on an adventure and get his science project done at the same time and stows away on a truck. He gets more than he bargained for with snails, a piglet and a whole lot of native wildlife involved. 

At the same time as Malachi is having his not-so-fun adventure, there's also action, much to his surprise, on the ship in the bottle, which in many ways mirrors the challenges that Malachi is facing. It's all mighty exciting, with humour thrown in, and I reckon readers will be as reluctant to put it down as I was.

This story was shortlisted for the 2013 Kobo/NZ Authors E-publishing prize, and Sarah was previously published by Scholastic after winning the 2011 Storylines Joy Cowley Medal for her picture book Wooden Arms, and a beginner chapter book called 'ella and 'ob.

Have a look at Sarah's interesting website.

The Bold Ship Phenomenal is also available as an ebook.
8-12 years.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock by Jane Bloomfield [NZ Junior Fiction]

Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock
By Jane Bloomfield
Illustrations by Guy Fisher
Luncheon Sausage Books, 2015
ISBN 9780908689910

Lily Max is a bright and lively character with a passion for fashion. She makes her own clothes and very original accessories (would YOU wear boots with doll heads glued on?). She's also pretty passionate about her friends, school and anything else that takes her fancy. I can hear her voice in my head as I read - high pitched and a hundred miles an hour. Now this might not be the voice that I most want in my head, but as my daughter pointed out to me, that's exactly the sort of character she loved to read about when she was younger - in her Louise Rennison days, and she's quite right. I can think of any number of girls in the 7-10 age group at the school I used to work at who would love this story of creativity, competition, family, trickery and triumph.

Queenstown author, Jane Bloomfield, has had this feisty character in her head for 10 years and she's made a great start with publication by Steve Braunius' publishing baby, Luncheon Sausage Books, putting it out in time for Christmas and making it into the Whitcoulls Christmas catalogue - no mean feat for a New Zealand book that's not from a mainstream publisher.  Illustrations scattered throughout are loose and a little bit weird (just like Lily Max) and concocted by Guy Fisher, ex Arrowtown local, now living in Spain. 

With such a lively character as Lily Max I'd expect that there will be more stories (and extraordinary outfits) from her in the future.



Friday, 22 January 2016

The Wonder Garden by Kristjana S Williams, written by Jenny Broom [Illustrated Nonfiction]

The Wonder Garden
Illustrated by Kristjana S Williams
Written by jenny Broom
Wide Eyed Editions (imprint of Aurum Press), 2015
ISBN 9781847806475

In recent times there has been a wonderful crop of oversized books available for children, and this is one of the most over-the-top beautiful examples. Blessed with what I think must be newly available in the book-printing world - fluorescent colour, the cover topped off with an ornate gold foil fence, like a magnificent Victorian zoological garden. There are so many layers of flash that you need to calm down a bit and look closely to see what you are holding in your hands. 

The sub-title says: Wander through 5 habitats to discover 80 amazing animals.
I like that the habitats are not generic - a desert, a rainforest, mountains etc, but specific places - the Chihuahuan Desert, the Amazon Rainforest, the Himalayan Mountains, the Black Forest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Each habitat has a lush double page heading with innumerable creatures and plants illustrated in vivid colour followed by a page of general description faced by several of the creatures found there, which have numbers and a key to identify them, but no other information. The two spreads after this have a handful of interesting animals, insects etc with their Latin name and some specific information about them. There is a problem here though - there are many creatures on these pages, but only a few are written about and it's not always obvious which creature the text is about. It must have been an unbelievably hard task to choose the few to write about, from the multitudes there. I expect there will be many parents having to put in some extra research with their child who wants to know what each thing on the page is called. 

The colour is quite extraordinary, almost an assault on the senses as you turn the pages. The fluoro pink background for the Chihuahuan Desert information page almost seems to give off the heat of the desert itself. The drawings of the animals and plants have been done in a style reminiscent of engravings, with the colouring veering between natural browns and greens and the vivid orange, red and pink. 

Scale is not to be relied upon, the tiny drawn large, the enormous reduced to suit the layout. Take the High and Mighty - the birds of the Black Forest, where kingfishers balance on enormous acorns. I've never been diving in a coral reef, but I'm doubtful that if I found a common octopus there it would be fluorescent orange with dazzling blue suckers.

Rather than a giant fact book, this is more of a glorious fantasy anchored in the real world but requiring some more serious and accurate reference books, or the internet on the side to get to the truth of the matter. A coffee table book for kids.

The illustrator, Kristjana s Williams is originally from iceland, but trained as a designer and illustrator in the UK, where she has won numerous awards. Have a look at her website and see some of the extraordinary things that have been made from her art. Whilst her art looks like it is made with intricate engraving prints she creates them digitally. An amazing talent.

The text is by Jenny Broom who was also responsible for one of the other 'big books' out in recent times - Animalium. I couldn't find a book trailer for The Wonder Garden, but there is a great one for Animalium.






Thursday, 21 January 2016

Michal Shalev shares the creative process for her picture book 'How to Be Famous'

The other day I reviewed How to Be Famous by Michal Shalev . When I found Michal's website I sent her an email asking about the media she had used to create the illustrations. She very kindly answered me and has sent the following information about her process for creating the illustrations. Thank you so much Michal! 


The illustrations in the book “How To Be Famous” are a combination of colored pencils, chinagraph and various textures that I layered digitally together.

When I started developing the book, I wrote the text and created the illustrations simultaneously.
I started with some rough pencil sketches to get a general idea of the compositions and the story's sequence.

Once I have decided on the final sketch I traced it to a digital, more detailed version.



Then I printed the sketch and hand-traced selected parts of the illustration with colored pencils and chinagraph.



Sometimes this step can take a while in order to find the one I'm most happy with.


Next, I scan it again.  I created various textures with every possible medium I could find on my desk, in the yard or even in the kitchen.  All the textures were scanned and categorized.
Afterwards, I started working on the digital collage, combining the different layers together in order to create the shapes and colour palettes I wanted for each spread.
It was important to me to create a clear contrast between the grey pigeon and the various colourful environments in order to distinguish and emphasize its presence.

The final illustration is:







Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Sharpie Art Workshop: Techniques & Ideas for Transforming Your World by Timothy Goodman [Art inspiration]

Sharpie Art Workshop: Techniques & Ideas for Transforming Your World
By Timothy Goodman
Rockport Publishers, 2015
ISBN 9781631590481 - Paperback with flaps
eISBN 9781627883672 - eBook

I have a not-very-secret passion for stationery. I bet lots of people who read this do too. Stationery can be very specific and if you make art with your stationery you are bound to have specific brands that you always use, that special pen that almost brings you to tears when the manufacturer decides to discontinue it.

The Sharpie is one of those brands. When I think of a sharpie I have a specific pen in my mind - the fat pen shape with its robust tip and ink that obliterates whatever it covers, on pretty much any surface - well I've pretty much always used the black, it's my go-to permanent marker. When I spotted the Sharpie Art Workshop book I first thought it was odd that it was so specific about the brand - was this just a selling tool for Sharpie? It might be that, but it's also a great resource for anyone wanting a little kick along in their creativity. I was also quite surprised hen I opened it up to discover the range of other Sharpies available - way more that what I've owned and used. I felt an urgent need to get to an art shop and add some to my collection so I can get into action.


Author, Timothy Goodman, (his excellent website is definitely worth a look) is a designer/illustrator/art director from New York, so a man with much practical experience of his craft. We don't just get to see his ideas either, there are some great illustrators who share their ideas here (including one of my favourites Kate Bingaman Burt whose daily purchase drawings must have used up a mountain of black pens). 

Try out different sorts of mark-making, making patterns and using the pens on more materials than you'd have thought possible (decorating a pair of shoes has caught my eye). 
I'm looking forward to having a go at some of these projects myself.


Monday, 18 January 2016

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon [Illustrated Poetry]

Beastly Verse 
Illustrated JooHee Yoon 
Enchanted Lion Books
ISBN 9781592701667

This is a wildly glorious collection of poems about beasts of various kinds, written by an assortment of well-known poets, and illustrated using three-colour screenprint technology on satisfyingly fat matte paper, and with a delicious yellow cloth spine. This is a very special book. 

Designed and illustrated by JooHee Yoon who is a prodigiously talented young illustrator and printmaker with a great list of clients including The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Boston Globe and NPR. Have a look at her tumblr blog for some examples of this work. She has a nice stash of awards so far too.

The illustrations that accompany the poems are eye-popping, and all the more astounding when you discover they are created with only three colours of ink - cyan, magenta and yellow - vivid and glorious and layered to create secondary colours. It looks rather kaleidoscopic as the shapes and colours overlaid reveal other shapes and colours behind. 

To add to the colour trickery there are a number of gatefolds which open out to reveal further details. William Blake's 'The tiger' shows only the back 2/3rds of the beast until you open the page up to reveal his anxious face. 
The most startling though is 'The Hummingbird' by D.H. Lawrence where the flap opens to reveal an entirely new form of hummingbird - with sharp teeth  swooping in to attack dinosaurs.


My favourite poem in the collection has to be the wonderfully titled 'The Spangled Pandemonium' by Palmer Brown, with the challenge of creating an image for this imagined animal, revealed in the dark by the zookeeper's torch, supposedly fierce but looking rather wretched.
This collection, with its menagerie of creatures, real and imagined, and its vivid colours and strong mark-making, is perfect for use in the classroom too. I'd love to see what readers would do given the chance to illustrate their own creatures using this layering technique, and discovering the magic of the blended colours.

10/10 for me. The copy I'm looking at is from the library but I will certainly want to own this one.
check our the Brain Pickings article about the book, which is where I first found out about it.
Also worth a look is Joohee Yoon's own website.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher [YA]

Silence is Goldfish
By Annabel Pitcher
Indigo - imprint of Hachette
ISBN 9781780620008

I always meant to read My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece, Pitcher's first novel, but somehow never got around to it, it's still waiting unread on my shelves. I did read, and enjoy, her second, Ketchup Clouds in my book group (we are adults reading YA fiction), so I had good expectations when I started Silence is Goldfish and I did mostly enjoy it, but couldn't quite be convinced with some aspects of the story.

When the story opens Tess has run away from home and is thinking about the household's morning scenario in her head, wondering how they will react when they find out she's gone, except things very quickly go wrong and she heads back home to her bed before anyone even wakes up, but now armed with a plastic torch shaped like a goldfish. The torch will go on to have a major role in the story (this is the main aspect I wasn't convinced by), having conversations with Tess, while she's not talking to anyone else. Hence the title.

You very quickly get to the crux of the matter, the reason she was running away - she's read something on her father's computer that tells her that he's not actually her father, and that his first feelings towards her when she was born were of disgust. Shocking. Destroying in an instant her previously great relationship with him. She is in such a state of turmoil that she can't find the words to communicate with anyone, so simply stops talking, refusing to speak or follow instructions.

It's a great idea - I've long been intrigued by stories of people who have stopped speaking after undergoing some trauma and think it must be like taking control over one of the few things you can be in charge of, a strange sort of power.

Tess's story is nicely complicated with its various layers of characters who each have their own story, and of course the complications of who her father really is. She starts to look at every significant male around her to see if he is potential father material, becoming quite obsessed with one possible candidate. Tess also has body-image issues - she's quite overweight, and friendship problems - she's told her dad that she's school friends with the most popular girl at school, but in reality that girl insults her constantly. She does have a good friend, Isabel, but Isabel's a bit odd too.

I loved how all the characters wound around each other, drawing an ever-complex net around Tess until things get quite out of control and the truth has to come out. The only thing I had the problem with was that damn fish and couldn't help thinking there could have been a much more convincing way of getting the story to work without this unrealistic ploy.

You can check out the author's website or follow her on Facebook and here's an interview from The Guardian website, about Silence is Goldfish.



Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Imaginary by A F Harrold & Emily Gravett [Junior Fiction]

 The Imaginary
By A F Harrold
Illustrated by Emily Gravett
Bloomsbury, 2015
ISBN 9781408850169 (Paperback)
ISBN 9781408852460 (Hardback)

Imaginary friends seem to be even more popular than usual, with a number of recent children's books - Beekle the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat won the 2015 Caldecott Medal, Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers are two of the excellent picture book examples.

The Imaginary is for an older reader, but still with some gorgeous illustrations from the marvellous Emily Gravett (another on my Top 10 Illustrators list) separate the good characters (with their sweet turned up noses and wide eyes) and the bad with their shadows and blacked out eyes.

Amanda Shuffleup (excellent name!)  has an imaginary best friend Rudger, and they have a great time together, until a suspicious someone comes to the door - Mr Bunting, apparently conducting a survey but in fact with more sinister intentions.

When Amanda has an accident Rudger is in danger of disappearing and taken in to a home for invisible friends with no friends, if you see what I mean. How it all works is a little complicated but the puzzle fits together well as you make your way to the end of the book. There are some distinctly scary moments and you won't want to put the book down until all is resolved.

I ended up with two copies of the book, the paperback, with it's rather cheery yellow cover which does reflect the happiness of the relationship between Amanda and Rudger, and the hardback with the dark shadowy cover, which to my eye is rather more enticing and reflects the sinister undertones of the story. Take your pick!

The dark cover features on the author's website  and Emily Gravett's website has information about all her books. Here she shows us how she draws the imaginary girl in The Imaginary.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey by Özge Samanci [Graphic novel]

Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey
by Özge Samanci
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015
ISBN 9780374316983

I learned a huge amount reading this graphic memoir. I can't believe how little I knew about Turkey's history. This was the most entertaining history lesson ever - a beautifully constructed graphic novel that incorporates not just drawing but collaged papers, photographed objects, pencil scribble and perfeet spot colouring; set in the good quality white pages. The flaps on the paperback jacket give an added feeling of value too, I really like this touch with gives a feeling of the weight of a hardcover without the cost.

The author lives in Chicago now, but the book follows from her childhood years through to university, beginning with her sneaking in to school with her big sister whilst a pre-schooler. (I'm very familiar with this desire, as I left home by tricycle myself, as a four year old, determined to go to school, but was eventually returned home by the police, after a dangerous journey into the middle of town). 

As well as her own story she tells the story of  Turkey's history from its days as part of the Ottoman Empire, becoming a republic in 1923, headed up by Ataturk. In just one page I learned that prior to this time people in Turkey didn't have last names, there was a clothing revolution where fezzes and veils were replaced by modern clothing, and the Ottoman alphabet was given the boot in favour of the Latin alphabet. This is just the beginning... the story up to modern day is part of the story of Özge's own life. The restrictions about what women were expected to do with their lives, beginning with what girls could do at school; the struggles to get into a good school or face a lifetime of misery... Religion is also a major component of life at school and causes many rifts between Özge and her friends, and  authority figures.

Özge has her own personal battles to fight. She's nowhere near as brainy as her big sister who qualifies for one of the best universities in Istanbul. Özge is determined to also go to Istanbul but can only qualify for a degree in mathematics which she struggles with continuously, but can't give up because of the pressure her father puts her under to study and get qualified so she won't have a miserable life. The two parents - the mother nurturing and encouraging and the father strict and rather forbidding, each have their influence on her and she eventually has to work out what she wants to do with the rest of her life herself. The title directly references the fact that she is going to have to disappoint someone in making her own choices for her life's path.

This book is evidence of the path she finally chose, and it can't have been easy. I felt as if I'd got to know Özge well, in addition to learning so much about life in Turkey. 

There is quite a realistic take on some dramatic events, including the execution of a teacher and a near rape so this isn't for younger readers, but intermediate and up should take to this multilayered story. 

Take a look at Özge's blog where she documents her observations of life in illustrations.

Publishers Weekly 2015 Children's Starred Annual

Publishers Weekly 2015 Children's Starred Annual

Publishers Weekly​ - who generally have all the big news in the publishing world for the USA - have a great feature on their website - you can read all the children's starred reviews from 2015 (and the book does have to be super good to get a starred review so these are the best of the best) collected together in this annual, along with a bunch of authors who have picked their favourite children's books and interviews with authors and illustrators dispersed throughout. There are 124 pages of kidlit goodness.

I like that they have books grouped into some interesting sections, like one for 'Family Tales'. Also interesting to see the heading 'Nonfiction & History' as if history is somehow not necessarily nonfiction. (And points for using the one word 'nonfiction' rather than non fiction or non-fiction - this might not matter to many of you but, as a proofreader in one of my previous lives, these things cause much debate.) In YA we have 'Realism & Romance' and, as two separate sections, Fantasy & Beyond' and 'SF & Dystopia' which must have been quite tricky to separate as there seems to be a lot of crossover there.

This is certainly going to be one of my go-to resources when I start buying library books this year.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

How to be Famous by Michal Shalev [Picture book]

How to be Famous
By Michal Shalev
Gecko Press, 2016
ISBN 9781776570300

Learn how to be famous from a totally self-centred pigeon. His family have been famous for generations and live on a famous statue. On a visit to the zoo he sees every situation he is in, and some of them are very precarious - including balancing on a crocodile's nose which he thinks is a catwalk, as further evidence of his fame.

There is a laugh on every page as the reader sees the truth of the pigeon's situation and his view of it.
The illustrations are marvellously loose, with scribbles of crayon and coloured pencil over washes of limited colour. It gives the impression of having been very hurriedly done, but this is not a negative quality, rather it adds to the impulsive enthusiasm of the character and the speed of the rollicking tale. The pigeon is optimistic right to the very dark end. A great tale for this selfie age to be enjoyed by readers young and old.

The author illustrator has an interesting background, coming from Israel where she studied illustration and animation at the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education, then moving to the UK and getting a MA in children's book illustration from Cambridge School of Art. Have a look at her website , particularly see the page dedicated to her favourite animal - chickens!


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Drama by Raina Telgemeier [Graphic Novel]

Drama
By Raina Telgemeier
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9780545326995

I put in an order for this book because girls in my junior school library were thoroughly enjoying Raina Telgemeier's earlier autobiographical graphic novels Smile and Sisters - the first about her years with braces (with just a little bit of boy trouble) and the second about the relationship with her sister.

I loved these two books and Drama was just as good, but for an older age group than my junior school girls. Middle school is where its at and Drama explores lots of the issues that girls, and boys, start to experience at that age, including first love, and same-sex attraction,.

Callie has always enjoyed drama; her middle school is putting on a show and she is determined to be a part of it. She's not much of a singer so she takes on the set design role in the stage crew and comes up with a very complex plan which not everyone is convinced can work. There's drama on-stage and off, and a fabulous pair of brothers, one extrovert and one introvert, who also happens to be a great singer but is too shy to appear in the show. If you've ever been part of a production like this you'll know it's a very intense time for all involved but the payoff when it all goes to plan - or otherwise, and everyone pulls together, is triumphant, though a little hard not to feel deflated when it's all over. It was marvellous having the main character be part of the stage crew - the very important people who are so often not acknowledged. They are a brilliantly geeky bunch.

The book is cleverly structured like a stage performance too, complete with an overture and intermission. The artwork is very well done, I love all the different perspectives she's used and her use of colour.

So I didn't add Drama to the junior school library, but when those girls get to middle school they'll be just the right age for it.

I've enjoyed exploring Raina Telgemeier's website, and you can take a look at the preview for her next graphic novel, coming out later this year - Ghosts about an 11-year-old girl.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Banjo and Ruby Red
By Libby Gleeson
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2013
ISBN 9781921541087

I'm looking back a little way here. I always meant to buy this book but somehow never got around to it, but spotted it in the library the other day and had to bring it home.

I adore the illustration work of Freya Blackwood, she is in my top 10 list of favourite illustrators. Somehow she just manages to capture the special individuality of her characters, be they a dog and a chicken, or a child, or even a home. They are somehow filled with warmth and life when Freya draws them.

Banjo is a farm dog. Each day he rounds the chickens up so they get back into their enclosure, safe and sound for the night. When he barks they jump and fly to their roosts. But not Ruby Red. She just ignores him until he makes a jump for her then she's off up into the air and down where she's meant to be. But one day Ruby isn't there. Banjo goes searching. There is probably a tear in your eye when he finds her lying on the ground 'lying still, her feathers flat, her eyes closed'. But this is not the end, the end is warm, and unexpected, and just right. But I'm not going to tell you how it ends, you'll have to read it to find out.

Look for more books illustrated by Freya Blackwood too, she's a treasure, and there are others where she's worked with the fabulous Libby Gleeson too. A few months ago I reviewed their book Cleo's Stories for Family Times, a lovely set of stories about an ordinary sort of little girl called Cleo, which I really loved, and you can spend absolutely ages getting lost in Freya's website.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Wolfie the Bunny by Anne Dyckman & Zachariah OHora

Wolfie the Bunny:
By Anne Dyckman
Illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Little Brown, 2015
ISBN 9780316226141

At the school where I've been working, one of the little girls, Sienna, was completely crazy about wolves; in particular the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, but she'd be pretty pleased to be given this book to read too. If there's a wolf in it, Sienna will read it.

This particular wolf is found as a baby, on the doorstop by Mr and Mrs Bunny who think he's ever so cute and decide to bring him up as their own. Through all his adorable behaviour,  and much eating of carrots, bunny-daughter Dot is the only voice of reason: "He's going to eat us all up!" However Dot is not the potential dinner, but the hero, in the dramatic climax of the story.

These lovely characters are so full of personality. I love the strong line of the illustrations, with the sunny colour palette of pink, yellow and red, plus grey Wolfie, often in his gorgeous pink bunny suit (a potential book character costume in years to come, I'm sure).

I'm also a sucker for great end papers and these are certainly special.
Wolfie the Bunny is in the running for the Caldecott Medal this year (being announced very soon) and had a great write-up in the Mock Caldecotts on Horn Book's website. If you're not familiar with Horn Book, it's an excellent American magazine all about children's books and one of my go-to resources to find out what's great in the US book world.

And finally here's the trailer for Wolfie the Bunny:

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau

The Lightning Queen
By Laura Resau
Scholastic Press, 2015
ISBN 9780545800846

The tale is told by a grandfather to his grandson, both named Mateo - Teo. Chapters alternate between the two but for most of the book the modern chapters are very short and the main part of the story is that of the Grandfather's youth, living in a little village in Mexico called Hill of Dust, where his own grandfather is the healer. Teo's sister was drowned the previous year and his mother is lost in her grief. Teo has a  role as translator and assistant to the grandfather, and also has a special talent for rescuing animals which plays a part in the story from beginning to end.
Every year travelling gypsies visit, bringing movies to show and telling fortunes for the locals who pay with crafts and food. The Lightning Queen of the title is Esma, a vibrant young gypsy girl called Esma who explains her limp and deformed hand by saying she was struck by lightning. She captures Teo's heart from the begninning and when his fortune is told it is predicted that they will be friends their whole lives.
There are many problems for both children, each culture - Romani and Mixteco, have their own rules about how they should behave and they have to find clever ways to work around it. Esma has an amazing life force and determination that she is going to have a special life and achieve her true fortune - to be a famous singer. Teo finds the strength to do many things he would not have done without Esma's urging, like going to school to learn to read (their combined actions to get the cruel teacher on their side is fabulous).
I don't want to reveal more of what happens in the story, you should read this magical, mystical tale for yourself. I learned much about both cultures and about having determination to change your own life, and accepting those around you as they are. A great read for 8+, and definitely for adult readers too.
You can check out the author's website here.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Maple by Lori Nichols

Maple
By Lori Nichols
Nancy Paulsen Books | Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015
ISBN 9780399160851

I know of plenty of girls/women named for flowers, but can't think of any who are named after a tree, but in this lovely book we meet the very sweet Maple - her parents do consider various other lovely names, but Maple it is, to match the tree they planted when she 'was still a whisper'. Maple grows along with her tree, singing and dancing to it, trying to keep it warm in winter, playing games. I particularly loved the small image showing Maple standing in the tree yoga pose. She does wonder if a friend who wasn't a tree would be a good idea and obvious resolution to the story comes when a new tiny tree grows... along with a new family member. Maple and her tree also become very good at keeping baby Willow happy.
Very charming. Maple is a round-faced ball of energy. The illustrations (created in pencil on mylar then scanned and digitally coloured) include leaf rubbings from a real maple tree int glorious autumnal colours and fresh spring greens, also conveying the lovely dappled light a deciduous tree provides.
The child reader will hardly notice that they are learning - finding out about seasons, and what happens to deciduous trees in winter, and that their family might change as time passes. Maple has already garnered a couple of awards  - one interesting award I hadn't heard of before is the Giverny Award for analysing and improving biology instruction. They complimented Maple on its accuracy in depicting the growth and seasonal changes of the tree and the wider ecosystem - birds nesting and the phase changes of water. The picture book is such a perfect vehicle for teaching children about science, so much potential. You can download a very lovely activity sheet from the author's website to extend reading into activity.
And finally, here is the rather lovely trailer for the book with banjo accompaniment!

Friday, 8 January 2016

See What I Can See: New Zealand Photography for the Young and Curious by Gregory O'Brien



See What I Can See: New Zealand Photography for the Young and Curious
By Gregory O'Brien
Auckland University Press, 2015
ISBN 9781869408435

I've been a long time admirer of Gregory O'Brien's facility with words, and his ability, in particular, to decipher the sometimes mysterious world of art;  his poetry and printmaking are also superb. 

He's written two previous art books for AUP - Welcome to the South Seas (AUP, 2004) and Back and Beyond (AUP, 2008), both winners of the non-fiction prize at the children's book awards, and it wouldn't surprise me if this book takes that same prize this year. This book should certainly be a compulsory addition to every school library's book shelves, but in fact every household has something to gain from Greg's insightful explanations of the whys and hows of New Zealand photography.

I recently reviewed See What I Can See for Family Times:
Photography is available to everyone these days and this marvellous book explains its many facets and shows the work of New Zealand artists from the very early days to the selfies of the present. The explanations of methods and meaning behind the diverse range of images are easy to understand and will develop the readers understanding and enthusiasm for this versatile artform.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Smelly Louie by Catherine Rayner

Louie is a marvellously scruffy dog. He's just had a bath and smells of roses and apple blossom, not how a dog should smell at all, and he's determined to find his old aroma Such a lovely character drawn with scribbly, splattery lines and puddles of watercolour, you can almost see his smell emanating from him. I suspect that kids will love this story and delight in all the stinky, dirty things Louie explores in his search.

Smelly Louie
By Catherine Rayner
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781447271802