Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great New Children's Books for 5-18 year-olds (July 2012)

This post is my latest review of children's books.  All except 1 or 2 have been published this year. They are mostly Australian authors with a few English and one Canadian. They arranged in an age appropriate order from youngest to oldest.

Picture books for beginning readers

1. 'Demolition', by Sally Dutton (illustrated by Brian Lovelock). Published by Walker Books (2012).

Swing the ball. Swing the ball. Thump and smash and whack. 
Bring the top floors tumbling down. Bang! Clang! Crack! 
Work the jaws. Work the jaws.
Bite and tear and slash.
Dinosaurs had teeth like this!

What rollicking action, fun and wonderful play with language as busy workers and noisy machines demolish a building and build a new playground. This book is a great follow up to Sally's wonderful book 'Roadworks', which won the Picture Book category at the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards in 2009. Brian Lovelock brilliantly illustrates this book with bright, bold and rugged illustrations to match the excellent text.

2. 'Dotty Inventions and some real ones too', by Roger McGough (illustrated by Holly Swain). Published by Frances Collins Childrens Books (2005).

Curious children just love creating new things, or strange distortions of old things. Creating a new type of dinosaur, a strange spacecraft, or a car that can fly, to name a few. This book taps into that urge to invent everyday things. Professor Dotty Dabble uses a mix of fantasy and science to create some crazy things, and a few sensible ones. Professor Dabble sets off to London with Digby her pet robot. The aim is to enter a competition for the world's best invention. While reflecting on the professor's invention we learn about many real inventions like the parachute, frisbees, Velcro, the biro and lots more. Children aged 5-8 years will just love this crazy book. The slightly stylised illustrations by Holly Swain are as lively and as much fun as the text. A wonderful, quirky and interesting book that teaches and entertains at the same time.

3. 'The Greatest Liar on Earth' "A true story" by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Frané Lessac. Published by Walker Books (2012).

I love the winning team of Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac (see my review of their work and interview HERE). I've reviewed many of their wonderful books on this blog; two recent notable examples were 'Simpson and his Donkey' and 'Ned Kelly and the Green Sash'. 'Simpson and his Donkey' was CBCA Honour Book for the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in 2009. This latest book is the story of Louis de Rougemont, a man who turned the world upside down in the 1800s with tales of great adventure. This book brings to life the rise to fame and eventual fall from grace of perhaps the greatest liar of them all. It is a story in which truth and fantasy become horribly confused. It is brilliantly told by Mark Greenwood and as usual Frané Lessac's bright, simple and unique illustrations engage child and adult readers alike. The book ends with a wonderful postscript that shows how some of Louis de Rougemont's stories were not quite as far-fetched as people might have thought. Plain coincidence, or was there some truth to his stories?

A picture book for older readers 

4. 'In the Beech Forest' by Gary Crew and illustrated by Den Scheer. Published by Fordstreet Publishing (2012).

My first peek at this remarkable new book led me to put it straight down again; almost scared by the strange images the youthful Den Scheer (sorry Den) had drawn. What type of picture book is this, I thought? My second peek, led me first to the words and the realisation that this was a picture book for readers aged 10 to 100! The exquisitely crafted text of the less youthful Gar Crew (sorry Gary) captured me first. In fact, Crew's opening paragraph had me as a reader. And as I glanced across at Den Scheer's haunting image of a boy wandering into a forest I entered the forest too! As I read further, image and word captured me with their composite story.

"He was an ordinary boy, nothing special, and he went into the forest alone. He had no particular purpose other than to look, as adventurers do, or to slay imaginary monsters, as children do, so he held his head high, and gripped his toy sword, in case". 
 As the boy wanders into a beech forest, he remembers the words of his father who no doubt experienced this forest in his way - 'Antarctic beech; ancient, primal. The oldest of trees.' It was here that the images spun their magic, helping to bring something of the fears of a child when alone flooding back to me as reader, five decades after they were experienced.

As the boy negotiates the 'real' and imaginary world of the forest, he remembers the experiences of his computer games, and the forest is suddenly much more threatening. Each tree, rock, shaft of light and shadow brings new fears, but then he thinks of 'the safety of home'. The valiant young hero continues his journey and the forest's heart, and his own heart, are revealed. There is life in the forest, as real as the blood in our veins and he is in the presence of both. 'So the boy left the forest, wondrously renewed'.  

Read this book and marvel at the power of words, image and book design in unison! Congratulations to author, illustrator and the book production team, so many subtle 'touches' (love the buttons for the page numbers!).
Chapter books for younger readers

5. 'Little Witch' by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Cat Chapman. Published by Walker Books in the Walker Stories series (2012).

'Walker Stories' are one of a number of new series for young readers ready to transition from picture books to chapter books. Each title features three highly illustrated, individual short stories linked by one character. In this book, we meet Little Witch who's favourite things are broom races with her best friend Billy Wicked and lemon-and-slime ice cream with crunchy spider sprinkles. She would love to eat marshmallows for breakfast too, but she’s stuck with toadflakes. Little Witch doesn’t mean to get into mischief. Somehow though, she always does. This is a lovely 60-page (large print) book that 6-7 year olds will enjoy. Its themes include friendship, politeness and tolerance all mixed with a dash of magic! MacIver and Chapman are both from New Zealand.

6. 'Come into this poem' by Tony Mitton and illustrated by Caroline Holden. Published by Frances Collins Children's Books (2011) and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This is an exceptionally varied collection of poetry for children aged 7-10 years. It includes lyric verse, legend, everyday narrative verse like 'The Sandwich', riddles and lots more. The book showcases the versatility of Mitton with delightful line drawings from Caroline Holden that add to the collection.

7. 'The Language of Cat and other poems' by Rachel Rooney and illustrated by Ellie Jenkins. Published by Frances Collins (2011) as a companion to the Tony Mitton collection.

Find out who cast the P from a spell; read about the queen who dreams of eating burgers and chips; see what happened to the friend who swallowed a DVD; best of all, learn the language of Cat. With wordplay and riddles, and poems that make you laugh, tell you stories and make you think. This is such an excellent and varied collection of poetry that it's hard to believe that it is a debut collection from an exciting new children's poet. There are some remarkable poems in the collection. I love 'Mirror', 'Halfway', 'Boast' - "I've got a friend who swallowed a lie-detector. Honest!" No I love them all. The poems are a little more challenging than the Mitton collection. Once again, beautifully illustrated, this time by Rachel Rooney. Great for children aged 8-11 years.

7. 'The Windvale Sprites' written and illustrated Mackenzie Crook. Published by Faber and Faber (Nov 2011).

Many readers of this blog will know the author from his starring role in television comedy 'The Office' as Gareth, or as one of the pirates in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies. This debut novel is wonderful. How can a 40-year-old crazy man write such a sensitive story about a young boy who sets out to discover if fairies exist?  The fantastic line drawings sparingly used are also his work. The book was nominated for the 'Waterstones Children's Book Prize' in the fiction section for children aged 5 to 12 years.

A great storm sweeps through the countryside and Asa Brown wakes to find an unrecognisable town. Trees and power lines are down and houses have collapsed. As he explores the debris he sees something remarkable in his own garden. Floating in a pond face up, is a creature he'd only ever seen or heard of in storybooks. Not more than 6 inches long with large black eyes and four transparent wings - it was a fairy! A mission begins that leads him to the lost journals of an eccentric, Benjamin Tooth, and a quest to discover what he could about fairies.  He sets out on a secret trip to Windvale Moor, where he discovers much more than he could have expected.

Books for older readers

8. 'Other Brother' by Simon French. Published by Walker Books (2012).

'Other Brother' is the latest novel for older readers from acclaimed Australian author Simon French. Simon will be known by many readers for his brilliant novel 'Cannily, Cannily' published first in 1981 but released again just recently by Walker. This was Simon's first novel, that won Book of the Year in 1982 in the CBCA awards and was made into a very successful film as well. Of course, Simon has written many books since and all have been well received and he has won many awards. His latest offering will not disappoint devotees and new readers.

This is a story about an ordinary boy, in an ordinary family, in an ordinary town. But like every Simon French book, in the ordinariness of life he manages to find telling stories. Kieran is an unremarkable kid in a family that loves him. He meets a cousin on the day of his father’s birthday - an unhappy 'meeting' - and things are changed. It will be two years until he sees Bon again. This boy, who is different to Kieran, turns up in his life again at an inconvenient time. Kieran seeks to be part of the in crowd, and then Bon turns up at his school, on the same day as an 'interesting' girl named Julia. And so begins a struggle within him as he tries to work out where he 'sits' in life and, what type of person he really is. What is most important to him? Will the need for popularity win out, or will he stand with his cousin in the face of bullying and other challenges? This is an excellent novel for readers aged 10+ who like Kieran need to deal with issues of identity and acceptance and the negotiation of complex relationships and how to judge others. All this, while they are trying to grow up.

9. 'Forget me not' by Sue Lawson. Published by Black Dog Books (2012).

In the centenary year of the launch and sinking of the Titanic, Sue Lawson has contributed a wonderful piece of historical fiction. The story is based on facts about the Titanic, but uses a fictional family, the Gilmores. The story tracks their experiences on the eight days of the ill-fated liner, using the alternating voices of teenage siblings Thomas and Evelyn as narrators. Thomas is excited about the journey and a new life, but not so Evelyn, who sees it as taking her away from all she knows and loves

"I am filled with the worst feeling. Everyone says it is the safest, most luxurious ship in the world, but something about it is extremely unsettling."

The cross over from fact fiction is bolstered at the end of the book with a two-page glossary of nautical terms, some 'real' people who were on the Titanic, and a detailed timeline of the events of the voyage and the days that followed.  The true story is one not easily forgotten generations later, and this book will help a new generation to grasp something of the calamity evoked by the word 'Titanic'. Ideal reading for children aged 10+.

10. 'Rainbow Street Pets' by Wendy Orr. Published by Allen & Unwin (2012).

Wendy Orr has written six wonderful multi-chapter stories about kids and animals; all within the one 352-page book. While the animals and their relationship to the children is always central, each story is set against a backdrop of different families, complex relationships and the Rainbow Street Shelter for animals. They are delightful stories about the companionship and love pets offer, as well as the responsibility, pain and complexities that pets can bring to families.

The author was born in Edmonton, Canada, and spent her childhood in various places across Canada, France and the USA, but she now lives in Australia, on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. She is the author of a number of award-winning books for children, including 'Nim's Island', 'Nim at Sea', 'Mokie and Bik', 'The Princess and her Panther', 'Raven's Mountain' and for teenagers, 'Peeling the Onion'.

11. 'Metro Winds' by Isobelle Carmody. Published by Allen & Unwin (2012).

Isobelle Carmody is one of Australia's most loved fantasy writers who also has a big following in Europe and North America.  She is perhaps known best internationally for her brilliant 'Obernewtyn Chronicles', however, she has been prolific and has won many awards for her work. For example, 'The Gathering' won the Children's Literature Peace Prize (1993) and the CBCA Book of the Year Award (1994) and 'The Red Wind' (first book in 'The Kingdom of the Lost series') won the 2011 CBCA Book of the Year Award (for Younger Readers). The back cover blurb alone is interesting enough and promising:

'In this stand alone novel for young teenagers and young adults (ages 16+) a girl is sent across the world to discover her destiny in the dark tunnels of the Metro. Another seeks a lost sister in a park where winter lasts forever. A young man fulfils a dying wish. A mother works magic to summon a true princess for her son. A man seeks an ending to his story. An old man goes in search of his shadow.'

But the first lines have a hook that will get most readers. It begins:
‘So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce.'
The book is a collection of five short stories, with the to be expected elements of fantasy, but it is still very much situated in the 'real' world.  As with all great writers, Carmody's words are used sparingly, and powerfully. They evoke emotions, imagery and stretch imaginations. Wonderful stuff!

As a postscript, let me add that Isobelle Carmody's previous collection of short stories 'Green Monkey Dreams' (1996) has been released again by Allen & Unwin in 2012. Two great collections for older readers to enjoy (16+ to young adult).

12. 'Sea Hearts' by Margo Lanagan. Published by Allen & Unwin (2012)

Margo Lanagan is a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed Australian author well known for her exciting speculative fiction. This story tells of an unremarkable young woman, Misskaella Prout who struggles to find her place in the stormy and isolated island of Rollrock. She discovers she has natural magic gifts and can use them to coax selkies (mythological creatures found in Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore) out of their sealskins. Her world is changed and is the community in which she lives. One by one the local men are captivated by the allure of the beautiful sea-wife. Will all the men fall captive to her as all the 'real' women leave the community. This is a powerful story of desire and revenge, human weakness, as well as all-consuming love and even a dash of loyalty.


Jeff Rivera said...

Thanks, Trevor, for this amazing post and great reviews.
I think it's helpful for anyone planning his to-read list.
It's even categorized by age!.
Nice effort and also the books mentioned are very interesting.
Looking forward to reading more of your book reviews.

Jeff Rivera

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks for your comment Jeff and for visiting my blog. I'll check out your latest eBook publication. Trevor

Jeff Rivera said...

Thanks, Trevor. I appreciate it. I want to put together a list of funny books for boys 4-8, any other suggestions?

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi again Jeff. I've mentioned some funny books across a few of my posts on boys. I usually find that boys like authors like Roald Dahl (e.g. 'Boy', 'The Twits' etc), Paul Jennings, Lemony Snicket and Seuss. They combine action, fast paced stories, clever use of language, absurd life situations, misadventure etc. Boys also like joke books that allow them to dip into them, and share some with friends and family. I did a post on humour HERE. Hope this is of some use. Trevor