Saturday, September 26, 2020

Five Unique Children's Books that will Captivate & Engage Readers 3-12 years

I review lots of children's books for younger readers (aged 3-12) but rarely do I have a set of books land on my desk that are all so different, and yet all have their own unique qualities that sets them apart. I hope that you track them down and enjoy them with some children.

1. 'Go Away Worry Monster!' by Brooke Graham & illustrated by Robin Tatlow-Lord

At one level, 'Go Away Worry Monster loves!' is tale about a boy who has trouble sleeping at night because of the worries and fears of each day. The 'Worry Monster' seems to visit him each night. "Please go away," begs Archie. But the book also shows how the love of parents can help to build the essential resilience needed to deal with anxiety. The book also illustrates how the love and support of others is essential to help our children head out each day with confidence to encounter fears that with help they can conquer. The author and illustrator combine to create a book that offers every parent a window in order to support their children with their fears and worries. But it is also simply a delightful read for any parent and child.

Robin Tatlow-Lord as the illustrator seems to have chosen the perfect medium and colour palette for the topic. She is a writer and animator who has done many things. The author of this wonderful book is Brooke Graham, who is based near Ipswich in Queensland. 


2. 'Rain Before Rainbows' by Smrtiti Halls & illustrated by David Litchfield 

This is a wonderful picture book not much more than 100 words in length (well 145), that brings poetry, illustration and story together in a memorable book. Each word is chosen with such great care to create a book that will encourage and uplift readers while sharing some simple wisdom and truths:

"Rain before rainbows"

"Clouds before sun"

"Night before daybreak"

"The old day is done."

A little girl sets out with a fox for companion fleeing from a sinister looking castle. As they leave what are their hopes and fears? They depart a place where there seems to have been despair and hopefulness to seek a new place. The road ahead will be uncertain times, but will there be hope? The reader is reminded that before rainbows their will be rain, "clouds before sun", "night before daybreak". And while there will be hopeful dreams along the way, there will be "battles to win". But in time there may just be "treasure to find", before finally, a bright new morning might dawn.

This is a wonderful picture book with a careful weaving of a simple yet poignant text, with illustrations that complement and enhance the story and reader journey. I highly recommend this book for readers aged 4 to 8 years.

I commend Walker Books for releasing Rain Before Rainbows as an free eBook to raise awareness for the "Save with Stories campaign" that has been initiated to help children most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The rainbow of course has been an incredible symbol of hope and optimism as the world has battled to cope with Covid-19. 

Above: Author Smriti Halls

3. 'There's something weird about Lena' by Sigi Cohen & illustrated by James Foley

This book comes to us from the award-winning picture book team that gave us 'My Dead Bunny: A Zombie Rabbit Tale'. It is another hilarious rhyming tale. There is certainly something that seems weird about Lena.

On my first day back at school 

I met a girl called Lena.  

Every time she acted mean 

she laughed like a hyena. 

The sound she made was kind of gross: 

a cackling, giggling howl, 

starting as a high-pitched shriek 

and ending as a growl.

Is Lena hiding a secret, or is her behaviour just good fun when she indulges in schoolyard pranks? But how to explain the accompanying beastly and hideous laugh? Will her classmates uncover a hideous truth?

 Sigi Cohen's text will engage young readers, and James Foley's illustrations in black, grey and orange will be familiar to readers of 'My Dead Bunny'. The combination of Sigi Cohen's wonderful rhyming text and James Foley's hilarious illustrations will ensure this is a winner with kids aged 7 to 10. It will appeal to kids who love horror, unexplained weirdness and all things gross. Sigi Cohen's rhyming text is a joy to read aloud! The playful words he uses fill the story with vibrancy and a sense of fun.

Sigi grew up in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but now lives in Perth, Western Australia. His first book, 'My Dead Bunny', was shortlisted for the 2016 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards. This is his third book. 

James Foley started his illustration career in primary school, drawing cartoons for the school newspaper. His book 'In the Lion' was selected for the International Youth Library’s prestigious White Raven List in 2013. He lives in Perth with his wife, son and labrador.

4. 'Timeline Science & Technology: A Visual History of Our World, Written and illustrated by Peter Goes 


'Timeline Science & Technology' is an extraordinary book. In size alone, it will stand out from most books. At 27.5cm x 38cm in size, this almost a folio sized book and won't be easily tucked under the arm. But I can see groups of 2-3 children gathered around reading it at the same time, engaging and interacting as they discover new things. This stunning visual history of the technology of our world is a feast of images and rich text. Each page has a different coloured background, and intricate and fascinating black line drawings, with just a splash of extra colour. The author and illustrator Peter Goes lives in Belgium where he does freelance work as an illustrator. He has also worked as a stage manager and studied animation at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent, Belgium. 

The book is a history of science and technology with each giant double page spread dealing with a distinct period in time. It begins with the 'Old Stone Age or Paleolithic'. Each double page typically has approximately 100 words in conventional text, and a double page spread of related images from the period, with about 10 scenes each time. Each page also has smaller associated curved text next to each of the scenes. The single page image below is just one of the two pages for the Mesolithic era.



Above: One page from the Mesolithic Era

Peter Goes offers an overview of the most fascinating technologies, from first tools to the most specialized IT, from medical breakthroughs to the creation of YouTube. He includes remarkable scientists and innovators and highlights lesser-known stories. It is a compelling history of technology from the Stone Age to the present day, from America to the Southern hemisphere and beyond.

I love the quirkiness of the images and text which children aged 7-12 will enjoy a great deal. Any child interested in their world will spend many hours dipping into and working through this book. It is also a wonderful book for an adult to enjoy with their child.

4. 'Fly on the Wall' by Remy Lai

This is a very funny diary-style illustrated novel from the award-winning author of 'Pie in the Sky'. A twelve-year-old boy goes on a (forbidden) solo adventure halfway around the world to prove his independence to his overprotective family. It is brilliantly written and illustrated by Remy Lai. 


You see, Henry Khoo has a plan to prove his independence. His family always seems (to him) to be on his back, and he feels they treat him like a baby. His “helicopter” family seems to be at him all the time, choosing his clothes, collecting him from after-school activities, controlling his diet. He can't cope with the suffocating attention. So, will he do you do about this? Well, take a surprise solo journey to see you dad who is living in Singapore of course! Sound easy? Nothing could go wrong. Could it? Read this funny book to find out what does happen.

Henry's story (and adventure) is presented in the form of a top-secret notebook or diary. In it Henry records regular entries and illustrates them with comic-like images and diagrams. There's a bit of poetry, a recipe, snippets of different languages, and quirky images. While the book is over 300 pages, each page is filled with variation, including its handwritten text and numerous notes, illustrations and diagrams. The book will be lots of fun for readers aged 8-12.

Remy Lai studied fine arts, with a major in painting and drawing. She was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and lives in Brisbane, Australia where she writes and draws stories for kids, with her two dogs by her side.

5. 'Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad' by Joseph Coelho & illustrated by Freya Hartas

This very funny and wonderfully illustrated book is the first in a three-part series of twisted classic stories, as the the title divulges. Framed by a deliciously funny (and creative) premise that just like food, when old books are left unread, unthumbed and unloved, they start to:

"... bloom on the skin... flesh goes brown and soft... flies lay eggs, maggots squirm, horrid smells find their way into the fruit ... The same happens with books!"

Forget about the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf'! It is now 'The Boy Who Puked Up a Wolf'. And as well, 'Sleeping Beauty' transforms into 'Creeping Beauty' and 'Cinderella' becomes 'ZOMBIERELLA'!!


The wonderful text of Joseph Coelho is perfectly supported by the hillarious illustrations of Freya Hartas. The black line drawings generously spread through the text add life and humour to the wonderful text. It is both a visual and literary feast! As the Prince prepares for the ball things are ominous.

"It was in the cold, dark bite of night that the prince arrived at the mansion.

The mansion protruded from the crown of Grimmsville's only hill like a growth - next to the old abandoned cemetery.

Inside, the prince was preparing for the first of his three balls..."

When Cinderella makes an appearance as the fairy story suggests she must, she slips on the winding stairs and dies (but only briefly!).

"Cinderella, you have died,

Tis sad but true, 

You fell and hit your head,

After slipping on some poo!"

This is a very funny book, that is cleverly written and delightfully illustrated. I look forward to seeing the second and third books in the series from this wonderful English team.