Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Children's Books Worth Reading in 2020

This is the latest batch of books that have landed on my desk for review. It's a wonderful collection to receive at Christmas, particularly in Australia where children are having their long Summer holidays. The books are roughly in order of difficulty starting with simpler picture books and ending with 3 junior chapter books (10-12 years).

1. 'The Underhills: A Tooth Fairy Story' by Bob Graham

This lovely little picture book is a follow-up to 'April and Esme, Tooth Fairies'. April and Esme are back in this story from the legendary Bob Graham.

With their parents off on an urgent molar pickup, April and Esme are ready for a cozy overnight at Grandma and Grandpa’s teapot house by the airport fence. There will be fairy cakes to mix, pancakes and syrup for breakfast, a chocolate on each of their pillows. But then a call comes in about a small girl in a red coat, arriving from Ghana with a baby tooth somewhere in her pocket. Could this be a job for April and Esme, tooth fairy sisters? 

Bob Graham never disappoints. This quirky take on the life of tooth fairies will captivate young readers. All the tine details will draw the readers and 'listeners' in. Like the tea bag that doubles for a punching bag inside the tea pot house of April & Esme's grandparents.

Bob Graham has a habit of taking simple stories and turning them into wonderful engaging adventures. Wonderful!

2. 'Nop' by Caroline Magerl

"A heartwarming picture book from award-winning author-illustrator Caroline Magerl about two unlikely loners who forge a forever friendship. Nop is a scruffy kind of bear. He sits on a dusty armchair in Oddmint's Dumporeum surrounded by the beaders, knitters, patchers and stitchers who are much too busy to talk to him. So, he watches the litter tumble until, armed with a new bow tie, he has an idea that will change his life forever."

This is a delightful picture book from talented and highly recognised author and illustrator Caroline Magerl. I've reviewed 'Maya and Cat' on this site as well as 'Grandma's Shoes' (illustrated by Caroline Magerl but written by Libby Hathorn). Her works always intrigue me. The watercolour and fine black ink line artwork and vibrant splashes of colour, are deceptively simple, but full of depth that will fascinate young readers.

This story is linked to a personal memory of a school holiday in Sydney as a child visits a local dump with her Dad. Nop is a rough looking teddy bear made out of scraps. This not so flash bear who no-one would likely choose, decides on an adventure to "someplace wonderful" in a balloon fashioned from "... rags and tassels, scraps and string..." that Nop had managed to stitch.

Caroline Magerl was born near Frankfurt in Germany and came to Australia when she was two. In 2001 she won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Crichton Award for new talent in children’s book illustration for Grandma’s Shoes (written by Libby Hathorn). Since then she has been awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship and received an ASA children’s picture book grant to work on her book Hasel and Rose. She is a full-time artist, illustrator and printmaker. 

 3. 'Arabella and the Magic Pencil' by Stephanie Ward & illustrated by Shaney Hyde

Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything a little girl could want. That is, until her brother, Avery, the master of mayhem, comes along. While she certainly loves him, she finds that it’s sometimes very hard to like him. So she spends her days creating marvellous, magnificent things with her magic pencil, and trying to ignore him. But when he spoils her perfectly proper tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! 

Any first-born child who has experienced the changes (and sometimes chaos) that a second child can bring, will be able to relate to the problems of Arabella. If only she could get rid of him, to erase him from her life! And she does. But things aren’t the same without him ― can she get him back? A delightful tale that many firstborn children will find easy to understand.

Stephanie Ward is an award-winning children’s author and reviewer who splits her time between London, Seattle and Sydney. She spent 15 years in public relations before deciding to dedicate herself to what she loves – writing stories for children. Shaney Hyde is an Early Childhood Teacher from Melbourne who runs art workshops for children and draws inspiration from her own playful childhood. Arabella and the Magic Pencil is the first book Shaney has illustrated, fulfilling a long-held dream.

4. 'Africa Amazing Africa' by Atinuke & illustrated by Mouni Feddag

This is Atinuke’s first non-fiction title. With it she celebrates all 55 countries on the African continent! Her beautifully-written text captures Africa’s unique mix of the modern and the traditional, as she explores its geography, its peoples, its animals, its history, its resources and its cultural diversity. 
This non-fiction book for children will help children aged 7-10 years understand the complexity of Africa. While as a reader I wondered about some of the claims that Africa was the site of so many firsts, this remarkable continent should be understood by every child. It is a celebration of Africa, as well as a book that doesn't try to hide the heartbreak.
The book divides Africa into five sections: South, East, West, Central and North, each with its own introduction. This is followed by a page per country, containing a delightful mix of friendly, informative text and colourful illustrations. The richest king, the tallest sand dunes and the biggest waterfall on the planet are all here, alongside drummers, cocoa growers, inventors, balancing stones, salt lakes, high-tech cities and nomads who use GPS! 
I loved the wonderful juxtaposition of text and colourful maps and illustrations, African languages cultural insights and key facts about this vast continent made up of 55 nations.

5. 'The Book of Stone' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Coral Tulloch

Every stone has a story, the echo of a memory, a walk in the wilderness, a time and a place lived and loved. This book is about these stones. Every stone has its own unique story – and everybody needs a story stone and a book to collect it in! 

Mark Greenwood has always had a fascination with stones and has been collecting since he was a child. His love and passion shines through in the book.  He argues that there is a special connection that can occur when we pay attention to the stones that are all around us. With illustrator Coral Tulloch, he has created a book that encourages readers to see stones as "nature's gift" that have a history that might just cross millennia. Time travellers that hide many secrets and puzzles. Links to our historic past. Treasures to be found, held on to and that we can learn from. This is a wonderful book.

Please Note: The hardcover version of this book is not released until April 2020

6. 'Madame Badobedah' by Sophie Dahl & illustrated by Lauren O'Hara

"The Mermaid Hotel is the BEST place to live if you're an adventurer. There are rooms to explore, guests to spy on and secrets just waiting to be discovered."  

Mabel lives at the Mermaid Hotel that her parents manage. She has seen many guests, but Madame Badobedah was immediately noticeable. Who could miss her growly voice, and heavy bags filled with jewelry, trinkets and coins; and then there is her beady-eyed pet tortoise.

Mabel is suspicious from the start. She is there to stay "indefinitely" and never has any guests. Mabel decides it requires her best investigative persona.  Children aged 5-8 will love this story.

Lauren O’Hara’s illustrations are also a delight, the detailed watercolour artwork will keep young readers on the page until they've soaked up every detail. I love this picture book. Sophie Dahl's carefully crafted story and the wonderful illustrations will keep young readers engaged from the first to the last page. 

7. 'The Corner of My Eye' by Colin Thompson

I don't think I've ever come across a Colin Thompson book that I could open without being intrigued. Like all of his books, the adventure of reading them is as much about 'reading' the illustrations as the words. And this fascinating book about a small girl and her grandfather who has dementia, is no exception. Every one of his detailed illustrations are masterpieces that draw the reader into the detail and wonder of the illustrations and the story that complements them.

This is a book about a special relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter, who tries to see life through his eyes. This is captured so well in some of Colin Thompson's words tucked away inside the back cover.

"When you get an Old Age, you don't actually forget anything. You've collected so much stuff inside your head there's not enough room for it all, so you throw lots of it away. The trouble is that sometimes you throw the wrong memories away and then it's too late. So some things you wanted to keep seem to be gone forever. Except there still there right back in the back of your brain on a dusty shelf buried under cobwebs and dead flies and the memory of that terrible sweater that your granny knitted for you that you can never get rid of. The sometimes, a little thing as small as one word or the smell of something can make you remember another thing that reminds you of something of something else that brings a whole roomful of memories that you hadn't thought about for years."

8. 'Nine Worlds in Nine Nights: A Journey Through Imaginary Lands' by Hiawyn Oram & illustrated by David Wyatt

This magnificently presented stunningly illustrated 'gift-book' will capture the imagination of young and old readers. The book is a collection of intriguing drawings, stories, illustrations, diagrams, and souvenirs that present 'Nine Worlds in Nine Nights'. It was left in the personal effects of deceased theoretical physicist Professor Dawn Gable for his family.

The book takes the reader on a journey into an amazing series of worlds. From King Arthur's Round Table to the ruins of 'The Lost City of Kor' and to 'Valhall, In Asgard'. Simply stunning illustrations and intriguing worlds. These are lands of myth, fairy tales, facts and stunning illustrations.

This is a rare book that bright imaginative readers aged 7-12 years will love.

9. 'The Secrets of Magnolia Moon' by Edwina Wyatt & illustrated by Katherine Quinn

CBCA award-winning picture book author Edwina Wyatt makes her fiction debut with story of a curious girl who shares many things with the moon, including her surname. A lovely junior novel for readers aged 7-11 years. The delightfully illustrated monochrome images by Katherine Quinn are a wonderful complement to the text.

Magnolia Moon is nine years old, likes Greek mythology, her best friend Imogen May (who understands the importance of questions like, "If you could be one fruit, any fruit, what would you be?"), wishing trees, and speaking crows. She knows instinctively that buffadillos are armadillos crossed with buffalos and believes there are walramingos living in her garden. She's also the kind of person who can be entrusted with a great many secrets. Each chapter in this novel, which captures Magnolia's year of being nine and ends on Chapter Almost 10, reveals a secret that Magnolia is keeping. But the novel also chronicles a year of change for Magnolia. From her best friend moving to the birth of her little brother Finnegan, Magnolia navigates every challenge and secret that comes her way with the kind of authenticity and innocence that comes from being nine years wise.

10. 'Cloud Boy' by Marcia Williams

The diary of an irrepressible girl learning to deal with friendship, grief and growing up, perfect for fans of Jacqueline Wilson.

This is a wonderful multi-layered book in diary form. It is the story of a deep friendship between Angie Moon and Harry Christmas. But when Harry is taken to hospital life starts to fall apart for both of them. It is told in diary form by Angie and tells of her life, including her friendship with her closest friend Harry. The story of their strong friendship is told through the Angie's diary to a "lost kitten". But there is another layer to this book as Angie also weaves into the diary, the story of her grandmother's imprisonment in Changi prison as a child in WWII. This is drawn from the letters of Olga Henderson that she wrote in captivity. The stories are cleverly written in parallel in the diary. The inspiration for the sharing of her grandmother's story was Marcia Williams viewing a quilt made secretly by the women of Changi (including her grandmother) which she saw in 2017 at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The quilt was stitched by 20 young British girls imprisoned during World war II.

Her Grandmother's story helps young readers to understand that tough childhoods are found across all generations. Children across the ages, have suffered hardship, fear and grief. As the reader negotiates the journal with its multiple stories they - in a sense - have the chance to reflect on their own lives and experience hope at times in the face of sadness. This would be a great read for children aged 10-12 years.

11. 'Beverly, Right Here' by Kate DiCamillo

In this new book from two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a tough-talking, inescapably tenderhearted young woman.

DiCamillo revisits the world of Raymie Nightingale, two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo tells the story of Beverly Tapinski who run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was only a kid.

But this time, Raymie figures, it’s not running away, it’s actually leaving! She is determined to make it on her own,

Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mum, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her – and, gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes.