Childrens Book Reviews

This is Belle

Review by: Michael Lambert
Published: February 14, 2019

Every parent is looking for a book to inspire their children, and this book is special in so many ways.

For starters, the entire book is presented with beautiful graphics. Graphics are a part of every childrens book, or at least they should be, but the graphics often are an after thought. These graphics actually paint the picture that the story is telling. It's easy for a child to focus on the book because of these well presented graphics. Not too "slick", not to goofy, just right to speak to your child.

To further aid in your childs development, the book is written in two languages...showing side by side. Coming from south Florida this is invaluable. But should be considered valuable by anyone interested in language skills. Exposing a child (as well as the parent) to multiple lanaguages as early as possible is a great way to help insure an open mind, for language, as well as various cultures. And obviously a primarily spanish speaking family will be thrilled to have a well written childrens book written in english and the original author!

But there is no doubt that the true value of this book is it's message. I would actually say there are two distinct messages within the book. One is showing that any child that has difficulty finding friends or mixing in should realize that they are not alone. This simple fact can put your child at ease, and allow them to feel less alone and awkward. The second message suggests that the child find things in common with others, and build relationships based on the commonality. A message that should speak to children as well as adults, but too often doesn't.

I have had the opportunity to meet this author, as well as to "fight" with her, as she is a 3rd degree black belt in Aikido, and I am a shodan (1st degree). When Isabel is not swimming, running or pursuing other physical challenges, she teaches Aikido to children and exhibits great patience training the children to be respectful and controlled, but have fun. She and her family are amazing people, and their children are a testament to her ability to speak to and inspire children.

Title:This is Belle
Paperback: 26 Pages
Author: Isabel De La Vega
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication Date: 13 April 2017
Format: Paperback
ISBN-10: 1524687308
ISBN-13: 978-1524687304
For ages: 5 - 12


Miss Eliza Flowerdew Can Nearly Touch the Ceiling

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: November 15, 2019

Lucy is five. She is curious as to how long it will take her to do and see as much as grown-ups can. Her grandpa changes a light bulb without a ladder. Her mum can reach the clothes line, while Lucy can only now, reach the biscuit tin. She wonders how high someone 100 years old is able to reach. She’s determined to find out.

She discovers Miss Eliza Flowerdew, who is 99 years old, lives next door! Imagining at that age she could reach the ceiling, Lucy sets out, tape measure in hand, to get solid proof of her theory, and be witness to this mind-blowing event.

Miss Eliza Flowerdew can only reach her biscuit tin. And she needs help from cushions and other height enhancers to do it.  In her biscuit tin, memories are stored, captured in photographs. These she shares with Lucy, along with the stories that come with them. There is no sign of disappointment at the result from Lucy, as the time spent together, gifts to the young and old, new beginnings and a valuable friend.

This is an exquisite story of the benefits of intergenerational interaction, and friendships formed from the unusual beginnings. It also presents a delicate view of children’s perception of adults; of their age and abilities.

Stunning illustrations by Helene Magisson transforms the story into something ethereal. The coloured words interspersed within the text are visually effective and add a sense of freedom. Clever design and layout perfectly represent the warmth and companionship being built between the two characters at opposite ends of their lives.

Equally stunning images that appear within the story, decorate the end pages. There is opportunity for young readers to copy the colours used in the illustrations into the duplicated images from inside the book, with the colour in pages provided. I thought this a perfect ending to a perfect book. I loved the concept of this book, the messages it carried and the way they were introduced.

Miss Eliza Flowerdew… will be launched by Shane Jacobson in Victoria, on Sunday the 17th November at 1.45, at New Leaves Bookstore (81 High St Woodend).

Title: Miss Eliza Flowerdew Can Nearly Touch the Ceiling
Author: Brenda Gurr
Illustrator: Helene Magisson
Publisher: Red Paper Kite Publishing, $26.99
Publication Date: November 2019
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780648502302
For ages: 5 - 9
Type: Picture Book

For a comprehensive look behind the scenes at the illustrations of this gorgeous book, read illustrator, Helene Magisson's fascinating Guest Post from this morning.

Animals At Night

Review by: DimbutNice
Published: November 14, 2019

The sun sets at the end of another day, but have you ever wondered what happens after dark? 

This beautifully illustrated book shows different parts of the world and the animals that come out after dark. 

This is so much more than a picture book; it really is an introduction to animals and their homes.

Author Katy Flint has written this book with younger readers in mind who are just learning about animals. 

It features an overview of the selected area and provides pockets of information about the animals and their habitats.

Discover information about jaguars in South American rainforests, kangaroos in the Australian outback and lions in the Savannah. Each area focuses on animals, but also plants and the surrounding area. The brightly detailed illustrations by Cornelia Li encourage children to pick objects out that they recognise assisting in their understanding and knowledge.

Other areas include coral reefs, mountains, the arctic, mangroves, deserts, woodlands, the beach and the city. Each area is explored in an easy conversationalist manner. The young reader will enjoy discovering the variety of animals and learning about the areas themselves and how it all fits together.

One of the highlights of the book, is the fold out poster of the ocean that glows in the dark – it provides an interactive experience and will become a talking point.

Title: Animals At Night
Author: Katy Flint
Illustrator: Cornelia LI
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions, $22.99
Publication Date: 1 June 2019
Format: Hardback
For ages: 4+
Type: Junior Non Fiction

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever by Matt Tavares

Review by: Tanya
Published: November 14, 2019

Dasher by Matt Tavares
Review Copy from Candlewick Press

Tavares, author of the marvelous holiday picture book from 2017, Red & Lulu, a tribute to the home grown trees that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Rockefeller Center in New York City each year, is back with another holiday story. Sure to read and loved every year, Dasher is the origin story of Santa's eight reindeer that begins not at the North Pole, as you might expect, but in an arid setting with palm trees and a glaring sun.
Dasher, a young doe, lives with her family, working as part of J.P. Finnegan's Traveling Circus and Menagerie where they spend "long days crammed together under the hot sun as an endless stream of curious people jostled to catch a glimpse of them." But, every night, Mama would tell  Dasher stories about the magical place where she grew up. There, the ground was always covered with a "cool blanket of white snow" and  she was free to "roam under the glow of the North Star." Looking up one night, Dasher asks if that is the same North Star in the sky and Mama tells her, "The very same. We always knew we were home when it was directly overhead."
Knowing that Finnegan is not kind to animals who try to escape, Dasher takes her chance when it comes anyway. Following the North Star throughout the night, she doesn't find the fields of snow but she does find a man and a horse, pulling a sleigh, who seem to need help. It's Santa Claus and his original partner, a horse named Silverbell. Silverbell is struggling to pull the sleigh, it is so heavy this year. Dasher steps forward and offers to help. Asking if she would like to make "a whole bunch of children really happy on Christmas morning," to which she replies, "I would like that very much." Together, Silverbell and Dasher fly off into the night, eventually heading home, the North Star directly over head. Granting her a wish of her own, Santa brings Dasher's whole family to the North Pole where, the following year, all eight of them pull Santa's sleigh as he travels the world delivering toys.

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, Forward by John Green

Review by: Tanya
Published: November 13, 2019

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper
illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Review Copy from Abrams Books
With The Golden Rule, Cooper and Swiatowska take the moral principle that can be found in many religions of the world and frame with a story featuring a discussion between an grandfather and a grandson. Peering up at a the words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," a boy asks his grandfather what it says. As the boy asks questions, the grandfather explains what the moral principal means, sharing that it can be expressed in different ways, listing the many religions, from Christianity and Judaism, to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Shawnee tribe. From there, the two talk about how to practice the rule, starting with empathy at a personal level, expanding outward to families and countries and the world. Cooper ends her book with the words, "You. It begins with you."

In his brief forward, John Green calls the Golden Rule the, "simplest, hardest, most beautiful rule human beings have ever discovered." It is also one that is not easy to adapt to a 32 page picture book without a little bit of didacticism. In spite of this, I am grateful to have the Golden Rule in a picture book so that I can read it to students and start a discussion. And, while the characters of the grandfather and grandson do not bring much diversity to the book, I do think that Cooper does an fine job expanding on the simple sentence that is the Golden Rule and turning it into a story that gives children something to grab onto. Cooper adds a marvelous layer to her book by incorporating the other religions that have this an an underlying principle, with an author's note that quotes them.

Swiatowska's illustrations have an old world look to them and admirably bring the words to life. In her artist's note she shares that this was a "remarkably conceptual book. Religion tends to dwell in the place of personal philosophy and way of life. It stays close to one's heart. Not an easy subject to broach, especially while making it "safe" for one to look at others' beliefs and appreciate their different opinions and views." In this, I feel like she perfectly sums of the challenge of both illustrating and writing a book like The Golden Rule

Roly Poly by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer, photographed by Jeanne Birdsall

Review by: Tanya
Published: November 13, 2019

Roly Poly by Mem Fox & Jane Dyer
Photographed by Jeanne Birdsall
Review Copy from Beach Lane Books
I can't resist a picture book that is illustrated with photographs of dolls and stuffed toys as characters, probably because I grew up reading The Lonely Doll books by Dare Wright. Filled with hand-felted polar bears, Roly Poly is a double delight as it reunites picture book greats Mem Fox and Jane Dyer. This pair partnered for the bedtime classic, Time for Bed in 1993 and a tiny version of this book can be found in the adorable bedroom Dyer created for her red scarf wearing, reluctant big brother, Roly Poly, created using wool from the author's own sheep!
With the single-minded simplicity of a toddler mindset, Fox tells the story of Roly Poly, who is happy being an only bear. When he wakes up one day to find a little brother named Monty next to him, he puts his nose in the air and pretends not to see him, proclaiming, "I never asked for a little brother and I don't want one now," an attitude and sentiment he will repeat often over the course of the books. Roly Poly tries to tolerate Monty, but when the cub snatches Roly's walrus-tooth-toy right out of his paws, Roly wishes he would get lost. And he does! The ice they are on groans and breaks and Monty drifts away, crying for help. Roly dives into the icy sea to rescue his brother and they live happily ever after, mostly...

A few books by Mem Fox

A few books by Jane Dyer

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

Review by: Tanya
Published: November 12, 2019

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
illustrated by Carson Ellis
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
Susan Cooper, author of the Dark is Rising Sequence for which she won a Newbery Medal, wrote The Shortest Day as a poem "for the theater, for a joyful celebration of the winter solstice, in music, dance and words, that's known as the Christmas Revels." Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis marvelously brings Cooper's words to life, connecting the long distant past to today. Four illustrations precede Cooper's words, and show a personified sun, a giant walking a bit bent over, walking stick in hand, across the land where early humans hunt and gather with the rhythm of the day and the seasons. Cooper begins her poem with, "So the shortest day came, and the year died." Yet, in the dark, there is "singing, dancing, / To drive the dark away." Candles are lit, in windows and in the "winter trees," and homes are hung with evergreen. Fires burn through the night, the revelers beseeching the year to stay alive and rejoicing when the sun "blazed awake" the next day. Connecting these ancient rituals with our lives today, Cooper writes, "Through all the frosty ages you can hear them / Echoing, behind us - listen!" Ellis illustrates this echo perfectly, with three revelers holding hands in a snowy field and greeting the sun on one page, three children holding hands and running up the driveway to a house, garlanded in evergreen and strings of lights, a winter sun low in the distance. The final joyful pages of the book show communities caroling, feasting, giving thanks, dearly loving friends and hoping for peace.
Cooper's author's note adds a depth and richness I greatly appreciate, as someone who replaced Christmas celebrations with Solstice celebrations in my nuclear family over fifteen years ago. Discussing the equinoxes and solstices, she touches on the deeply human experience of being governed by "the patterns of light and darkness, summer and winter, warmth and cold. And, of course, life and death." She reminds us that rebirth rituals have long been traditions we have celebrated, writing, 

It's a universal impulse, this celebration of the light as a symbol of continuing life. The Yule and the evergreens of my poem come from northern Europe, but the candles in those Christmas trees belong to the same family as the menorah candles of Chanukah or the oil lamps of Diwali. Christianity and many other faiths share their intention; they are lights of hope, reaching for the triumph of good over evil. The Shortest Day is for everyone.

Not practicing a religion and being exhausted and frustrated by the consumerist trappings of the holiday, choosing not to celebrate Christmas was an easy decision for my family. Yet, I still felt a deep desire to mark this time of year, to connect with loved ones, to open my home and share gratitude and food. Celebrating the Winter Solstice proved the perfect holiday and Cooper and Ellis have captured this and lifted it up beautifully and succinctly with this superb book.

Pumpkin Island by Arthur Geisert

Review by: Tanya
Published: November 11, 2019

 Pumpkin Island by Arthur Geisert
Purchased from Barnes & Noble

Pumpkin Island is yet another wonderful, magical picture book by Geisert created from copperplate etchings that were first hand printed, then hand colored using watercolor. Always imaginative and possessing an understated sense of humor, Geisert's stories and illustrations keep small town, rural American life alive on the pages of his picture books like no one else. 

When a storm washes a pumpkin from its patch, down the river and onto an island in a river near a bridge in a small town, exciting things happen. A new pumpkin grows on the island and soon vines are stretching across the river and into town where more and more pumpkins begin to grow. As the town fills up with pumpkins the townsfolk come up with an abundance of creative ways to use them, starting by lining them atop the buildings of main street then tossing them off. Catapults come into play as the pumpkins proliferate. While there are kids in the book, it is mostly adults on the page turning the bigger pumpkins into coracles and counterweights. Soon enough, Halloween arrives and the townsfolk carve the many, many pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, the town holding its biggest celebration ever, long into the night. Afterwards, the vines are cut and the pumpkins are turned into mulch and the "following spring, the flowers were more beautiful than ever!"

My reviews of books by Arthur Geisert


More by Arthur Geisert