Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Max and George by Cori Brooke and Sue deGennaro

Max has a friend, George, who lives in windows but nobody else can see him.  Max and George are both shy and usually feel the same way.  But Max has to start school and leave George behind.  Max finds a friend in Sam, and school isn't so scary anymore.  (Don't worry, George finds his own friend, too).  The illustrations are adorable, such a gently retro vibe, and subtle use of collage.

~ Reviewed by Monica Walker

Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman

Will Sparrow runs away from his father, who sold him for beer, and from a sad life.  This is the story of Will's journey, alone, without food or money and how he tries to avoid capture.  Some of the travellers he meets on the way are kind but others trick and cheat him.  The author paints a colourful picture of the Elizabethan fairs Will passes through.

~ Reviewed by Monica Walker

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Romance or erotica?

I’m a reader of many genres, and many a non-fiction subject.
I have been a longtime romance reader. Depending upon my mood, I will read romances with sexuality explicit content. And, some times I won’t. But, that doesn’t make me a fan of erotica.
Let me explain…
Within publishing- and library-land, romance novels – ie ‘category romances’ – are about characters and their relationships and Happily Ever Afters (HEAs).
Erotica, conversely, is about sex. (Feel free to dispute this.)
In fiction, as in real life, I’m not a fan of sex for sex’s sake. Therefore, erotica, sans romance, is not my cup of tea. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t understand its appeal to others – both in fiction, and in real life.
I prefer to read character-driven well-plotted books – and that includes romances – in which sex (present or not, explicit or not) adds to the characters’ relationship and on-going story. I am not fond of books with lots of explicit sex scenes which have characters and plot thrown in, only to kill time, or so it seems, until the next sex scene.
(Therefore, I’m at a lost to explain the appeal of Elizabeth Amber’s Lords of Satyr series, but I’m not the only romance reader confounded by the compulsion to read them all. That said, the author makes a good attempt at world-building, and deals with characters’ and emotions, and not just the sex. I’ll keep telling myself that.)
Recently, I’ve found myself defending the inclusion of ménage books in the romance section of the library. Humans are weird. Emotions are weirder. Relationship, weirder still. So, along as it works and makes sense – in fiction and in real life – I can believe in romance between more than two people.
Isn’t limiting love to a couple just as discriminatory as denying a same-sex relationship? (Don’t misunderstand me, that doesn’t mean I support polygamy or polyandry when it is not based on mutual love, respect and trust. I do not defend any relationship not based on these.)
Now, does reading romance novels – explicit or not – affect my relationships? Am I just waiting for Mr Right to sweep me away? No. And I never have. I know that they are fantasies. Just like my reading of crime (novels and true-crime non-fiction) doesn’t make me a serial killer. (Nor, I hasten to add, a criminal of any description.)
I knew there was a disconnect between what you read and enjoy, and what you do and believe, early in my life. I might have hoped that my wardrobe was magical, but I didn’t spend hours inside it, hoping to travel somewhere else. I didn’t read scary or horror stories as a child, but there were still monsters under my bed. (They were there before I started watching the creepy and scary Sapphire and Steel TV series. A show that was so scary my parents were afraid to watch it, leaving me – about 10 – watching it by myself, after they’d gone to bed. And, yes, I had permission.)
When a teacher at my secondary school realised I was reading romances, she commented to my mother (who was on the staff). I overheard my mother say ‘I don’t care what she’s reading, I know she’s not going to go out and do it.’ (That’s because none of my older siblings had turned into Satanists, even if they had been reading Mum’s Dennis Wheatley’s Duke de Richleau books.)
Where does this leave me?
  • Still reading romance, when the mood strikes, after 30(ish) years
  • Although I do still feel defensive library staff look at me sideways, or make comments, when I request said romance.
  • Which leads to point three: in my not-terribly-grown-up head saying ‘I have a Masters degree in English lit. Take that, and stop judging me by my reading’.
In searching the Oxford English Dictionary for help with the definitions, I find:
Romance: A story of romantic love, esp. one which deals with love in a sentimental or idealized way; a book, film, etc., with a narrative or story of this kind. Also as mass noun: literature of this kind.
Erotica: Matters of love; erotic literature or art (freq. as a heading in catalogues).
Pornography: The explicit description or exhibition of sexual subjects or activity in literature, painting, films, etc., in a manner intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings; printed or visual material containing this. A distinction is often made between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ pornography, on the basis of how explicit or taboo the material in question is held to be.

~ Editorial by Aud Selene.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

No bath, no cake!: Polly's Pirate Party by Matthias Weinart

Pete, the pirate parrot is the first to notice the envelope that came through the mail slot, but soon all the pirates know that they have been invited to a birthday party at Polly's house.  They are all excited about going to the birthday party, but Pete the parrot wants to make sure that they are presentable for the party, so it is soon a race against time to wash up and get ready for the birthday party!

This book is loads of fun with a cast of crazy characters that are each uniquely drawn and have their own part to play in the story.  This is definitely one to read out loud to an audience (even if it is just an audience of one little person) with lots of different voices and pirate antics.  One of my favourite picture books this year that is fun just because it is fun!

If you like this book then try Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer and Karen Blair, The man who's mother was a pirate by Margaret Mahy, and Banana! by Ed Vere.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sister assassin by Kiersten White

Would you do something you hated, something that made you feel like dying inside if it would save the life of your sister? Would you give up your own life, your own freedom, so she can spend the rest of her life in a gilded cage to keep her safe from you?  This is the choice Fia has made, as long as she does what Keane and his son James want, Annie will live a long life safe in the school, where they will provide everything she needs.  It seems like a simple trade, Annie is blind and will never live a truly normal life, and until recently she has been relatively happy at the school, but with each day it seems as though Fia is slipping further and further away from her.

When Fia is sent on a mission to assassinate Adam, things become incredibly complicated very quickly - because she can't kill him, even though she knows that failure means her death and Annie's.  Keeping the thoughts hidden inside her mind, Fia has to figure out how she is going to save them both when the Seers and Readers know how she is feeling and what she is going to do before she even knows it herself.  Her complicated relationship with James makes it even worse, she should hate him for what he has done, for the part he plays in her enforced servitude - but it is not that simple.

Time is running out for Fia and Annie, and as the net closes around them Fia may have to make the ultimate choice - her life, or Annie's.

If you like this book then you may also like Every other day by Jennifer Lynne Barnes, Revived by Cat Patrick, and Adaptation by Melinda Lo.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

The dogs of winter by Bobbie Pyron

When five year old Mishka finds himself lost and alone in the streets of Moscow it seems as though all hope is lost - especially when he can't find the beautiful read coat his mother always wore - but he seems to be safe in the care of the street children who call one of the train stations home.  But it is just an illusion as they are all interested in protecting themselves, in staying alive, they have no real interest in a small child who is too young to be living on the streets by himself.  It seems as though death is only a short time away, until Mishka discovers the dogs that roam the streets begging and stealing just like the street children.

When Mishka strikes up a friendship with a dog he calls Lucky, he has no idea that he is making the connection that will help him survive his first winter on the streets.  Lucky is part of a pack of street dogs, a pack with a strong leader that accepts Mishka grudgingly into the pack.  Working together, Mishka and the dogs may just find enough food for them all to make it through a harsh Moscow winter - even if they have to steal food to make ends meet.  As the world around them changes, Mishka and the dogs must adapt to survive, and they must always stay one step ahead of the people who believe that all street children should be rounded up and shipped off to an orphanage for their own protection.

A powerful and gripping novel based on the true story of a child from Russia, one that will have you laughing, longing, and grieving along with Mishka and his pack.  An unforgettable story.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

The game of red, yellow and blue by Herve Tullet

Books about colours are a great tool for teaching children about colours and what happens to different colours when you mix them, and too often they are boring books that just tell you to mix one colour with another to get colour number three - not so with The game of red, yellow, and blue.  The author has found a fun way to talk about where some of the different colours come from, and while there are only a few secondary colours in the book, they are enough to get little minds thinking about colours and how they are made.  The best part is that the story stands up on its own, so you don't have to worry about teaching colours through a good story, it is more a great story that just happens to have colours in it. 

The edition I have is a sturdy little board book just perfect for little hands and fingers to explore themselves, and there are some cut out sections that lead from one part of the story to the next which are great for encouraging little minds to keep thinking and exploring.  Definitely my favourite colour book of this year (yes I know it is less than two months into 2013, but I see a lot of picture books and board books at work).

If you like this book then try Yellow dress day by Michelle Worthington and Sophie Norsa, Nana's colours by Pamela Allen, How do dinosaurs learn their colours by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, and The splendid spotted snake by Betty Ann Schwartz and Alexander Wilensky.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tiny Miss Dott and her Dotty Umbrella by Michelle Osment

Meet Miss Dott the awesome charity store volunteer, who incidently, has a beautiful dotty green coat with mismatched buttons and a gorgeous green bag and tights. While at her volunteer job, her beautiful yellow dotty umbrella, which she leaves just outside the front door, has a little adventure all of its own. At hometime, Miss Dotty collects her umbrella from just outside the store where she had left it a few hours earlier. The sun has come out, it is a beautiful day and Miss Dotty is delighted that she didn't need her umbrella after all.

A delightful story, beautiful illustrations, bright and bold and I bet you can feel the raindrops as they fall. This is a story that bounces along with a lovely rhythm. A great book to read aloud and the kids are going to get the hang of those read out loud words really quickly. I don't know why it took me so long to notice it. Themes in the book surrounding kindness, sharing, friendship and appreciation. Miss Dott is one very cool lady and she is not afraid to give it a whirl "with a twist and a twirl" to an old gramophone on occasion.

This book was also the recipient of the Storylines Joy Cowley award in 2008. Other Michelle Osment books include the character Percy the Pukeko (a swamp bird). I like the one about crossing the road safely, a pukeko definitely needs to know how to do this (and perhaps a few children might as well). Beautifully illustrated, lovely to read aloud.

~Reviewed by Thyme

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Usborne Big Book of Holiday. Things to make and do.

In the tradition of all good Usborne books, you know, even before you open the cover, that this book is going to attractively set out with clear and concise information, and that you are going to pleasantly entertained, one way or the other. "The Usborne Big Book of Holiday Things to make and do" does not disapoint.
Not messing around, you dive straight from the title page to the first of many colorful pastel pages - the chapter index of all the marvelous arts and craft compiled within - Pirate treasure map pg 4, Collage fish pg 34, Painted plant pot pg 52, Mermaid Tiara pg 74….. the list of goes on - an even supply of classic gender favorites themes…. mermaids and pirates, fairies and farmyards etc,

You can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the planning of each of these activities. In fact because of the way each activity can be made fairly much on a shoestring, with lots of use of recycled and easily sourced materials, and seems to cater perfectly for young attention span's, you get the impression that the authors/creators of the this book may have had experience with teaching. You could just as easily see this being used as a teachers reference book for the class room, as you could a book for holiday or maybe children's party entertainment idea's. Each activity has been mapped out with clear precision - step by step by step, almost color by numbers. The odd's are high for a room of happy children having followed the formula, walking away with an piece of art, just like the one in the book.

As a child, this is just the sort of book that I would have picked up and had a go at. Being a bit of tomboy, I would have been equally as enticed to make the pirate sword as the fairy wings, and would have had a great time choosing what to do next. As an adult, I feel that this book offer's many great arts and craft skills and idea's and although quite prescribed, would allow for all levels of accomplishment, to achieve an artwork, while allowing those more adventurous, a great starting place, with clear instructions on techniques.

~ Reviewed by Aquilegia.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer and Karen Blair

Grandparents are amazing, they know so much, can do so much - and some of us are lucky enough to have memories built by spending time with our grandmothers and grandfathers.  One child spends time with their grandmother down at the beach, and spends time with the Granny Grommets as they paddle, surf, and dive.  It is a chance to spend time with a much loved family member and her friends, but it is also the chance to gain the courage to try something new.

This is a story for grandmothers to share with their children, or to share with any child that needs a reminder of just how special grandmothers can be.  There is no preaching, no hidden meanings, it is just a story where a child learns something amazing simply because they spend time with their granny.  The illustrations are simple and match the story well, and because the child is not named, and because of their androgynous features and hairstyle the story works well for boys and for girls.

If you like this book then try The great granny gang by Judith Kerr, Countdown to Grandma's house by Debra Mostow Zakarin and Stacy Peterson, Nana's colours by Pamela Allen, and The grandma book by Todd Parr.

~ Reviewed by Elspeth Sweetman