Reviews

The bookshop cat by Cindy Wume

cover image

The Bookshop Cat is a wonderfully told story of a gentle book-reading cat who does not quite fit into his busy working family. He says to his family who are always encouraging him to find a job . . . ‘With a book, I can go anywhere and be anything I want.’ And that is exactly what he does. He travels around the town and he eventually finds his perfect job as a bookshop cat. He and his young employer Violet set out to create a warm and inviting reading space. They tidy the shop, make new displays, order new books and soon the Children’s Bookshop becomes a busy and welcoming place. Unfortunately a huge rain storm causes a pipe to burst and flood both the store and the street. Sadly the shop is not visited for days after this. Violet has an idea to take the books and place them all over the town with a map leading back to the store. The family of cats all help as well and soon the shop is up and running again.

The illustrations by Cindy Wume are both vibrant and very appealing. This is a perfect story about the power of books and reading and would be ideal for all bookshops and libraries.

Themes Books, Bookshops, Cats, Reading, Children, Family, Imagination.

Kathryn Beilby

booktopia

You can't take an elephant on holiday by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and David Tazzyman

cover image

After the successful You can’t take an elephant on the bus (2015), You can’t let an elephant drive a digger (2018), and You can’t call an elephant in an emergency (2020) comes the equally hilarious expose of an elephant and other animals going on holiday. Kids will laugh out loud as they spy the elephant trying to grab the ice cream cone from the top of the ice cream van, or the surfing orangutan, the meerkats playing mini golf, the bison sitting on a very small boat in the English Channel shipping lane surrounded by rather large container ships, or even piranha fish in the backyard wading pool. Each illustration accompanies a verse outlining the plight of the holiday makers having to contend with a strange assortment of animals.

The very funny verses will attract children immediately, putting themselves in the place of the hapless holidaymakers, wondering what might happen when such an animal becomes part of their family holiday. Kids will love predicting the rhyming words, learn some of the verses to read with the adult, and join in with the merriment as the story unfolds. The illustrations will certainly delight as the ostrich tries to sit on a deck chair, the lion’s efforts at being a tour guide fall flat, the rhino finds camping a little messy and the albatross makes a bee line for candy floss.

Each illustration is intriguing, detailed and hilarious, adding to the humour of the book. And the last few pages where the animals group together, complaining that they only want to have fun, putting aside their attempts at a family holiday where after all, they can enjoy all the fun of a fair, signals the next outing of this hilarious story. Can’t wait!

Themes Animals, Holidays, Humour.

Fran Knight

booktopia

Little Days Out: At the shops by Sally Garland illus.

cover image

Young children will recognise the familiar trip to the supermarket and have fun identifying the different food that can be purchased there. In this brightly coloured lift-the-flap book, Mum gets ready to take her two children to do the shopping. She decides to carry the baby.  Children lifting the flap will discover that a little girl is coming too, riding on her scooter. After a walk, the supermarket’s sliding doors will open to reveal the interior. Baby is put in the shopping trolley and opening the flaps the reader will discover that the little girl wants bananas to eat in the fruit section. More shopping for vegetables, freshly baked bread and finally a treat follows.

Toddlers will enjoy this book and will easily recognise the things that are put in the trolley. Their vocabulary will increase as they point out things that they don’t recognise and learn new words and ideas about healthy eating. The book is very sturdy and the lift-the-flaps will last the heavy use of eager little fingers opening and shutting them.

The little family is shown as a loving one with happy faces on the mother and her children and it is obvious from the illustrations that shopping is a pleasant adventure for this family. Bright colours are used to illustrate the different types of food and will draw the reader’s attention. The prose is sparse, just right for young children who are listening and easy to remember for older children who might want to memorise the text.

Themes Shops, Shopping, Supermarkets, Food.

Pat Pledger

booktopia

Stranger shores by J.M. Coetzee

cover image

Coetzee’s early collection of essays, Stranger Shores, begins with ‘What is a classic?’ exploring T. S. Eliot’s idea that civilisation has its roots in Rome, and therefore the originary classic must be Virgil’s Aeneid. Turning then to Bach and the classics of music, Coetzee comes to the conclusion that the classic is that which survives and that the role of criticism is to interrogate the classic.

This sets the context for the essays that follow: essays on classical writers such as Defoe, Richardson, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Turgenev among the more familiar, but also including more modern writers such as Byatt, Rushdie and Doris Lessing.

Coetzee extends his gaze wider than Europe; there are also a number of essays devoted to Middle Eastern and South African writers such as Mahfouz, Mazrui, Pringle, Rooke, Breytenbach and Paton.

The essays would be of interest to students of literature, for criticisms of particular writers, or for a better understanding of the world view of Coetzee himself.

There are two more volumes of essays, Inner workings, and Late essays providing insight into some of the world’s greatest writers.

Themes Classics, Literature, Criticism.

Helen Eddy

booktopia

One hundred days by Alice Pung

cover image

One hundred days is the story of the claustrophobic relationship between a pregnant teenager, Karuna, and her obsessively demanding Chinese-Filipino mother, Grand Mar to the baby, a driven and highly superstitious migrant worker, struggling to care for herself, her daughter and her expected grandchild. The story is told as a letter from Karuna to her baby, following a casual relationship with her tutor in the local homework help centre. It’s a relationship that Karuna drifts into, not really knowing what she wants, perhaps just seeking something more meaningful in her life.


However the pregnancy becomes a power struggle between Karuna who just wants something of her own, and her mother who becomes tyrannical in the restrictions she imposes, imprisoning her daughter, and regulating every aspect of her life. It is a case of emotional abuse, and the sense of powerlessness that Karuna feels is very real; her mother knows how to present the right story to get outsiders on her side.

Whilst at the beginning Grand Mar seems almost a caricature of the traditional blinkered ‘tiger’ mother, her speech, her fears and warnings all expertly brought to life; Pung rescues her from the stereotype to reveal a backstory that allows us to sympathise more with her situation. The novel becomes a story of gradual understanding and reconciliation between mother and daughter, overcoming the suffering of the past. It is a coming-of-age story, of migrant experience in Australia, sharing some common themes with Tiger daughter by Rebecca Lim, but elaborated for a slightly older reading audience.

This is an outstanding book of a teenager’s struggle for independence amid the hardship of migrant life in Australia, racism, and conflicting social values. Highly recommended for YA readers.

Themes Teenage pregnancy, Parent child relationship, Migrant experience, Love, Control.

Helen Eddy

booktopia

Pablo by Rascal. Translated by Anton Shuhaar

cover image

The solid board cover and strong paper ensures this a hard wearing book and it needs to be as it will be read and read again, its message of birth and development one which delights and intrigues all ages.

It starts with an egg.

Inside that egg, Pablo knows this will be his last night in  the shell as he knows he is now too big for his shell. After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of a small croissant and a hot chocolate, he apprehensively pecks open a little hole. He peers out into the world, and wants to see more. He opens more holes: he listens to the wind and hears the crows and the buzz of a fly. He does not want to miss any sounds. Next he makes a hole for his beak and becomes aware of the smell of the soil and the flowers. He feels he wants to move in his new world and makes holes for his legs. He can wander around. He pecks holes for his wings and he can fly. But his shell still comes in handy.

This beautiful story of growing up, of setting out, of being introduced to the world around will bring laughs of recognition from the readers as they recall the first time they did something which is now taken for granted. Many families will recall their child’s first words, or the first steps, or the first laugh, and this book will be a wonderful sharing tool for readers at home and in the classroom.

Discussions may centre around the ideas of learning about a new environment, of the trepidation some feel at having to embrace something new, or adapt to change. The wonders this book evokes are endless. And it all starts with an egg.

But what an egg! Belgian illustrator and author, Rascal imbues the oval shape with emotions as the eyes peer out from the holes it punches in the shell, and all readers will watch as the senses come into play, the chick finding his feet and feeling his wings.

Gecko Press is an independent, international publisher of curiously good children’s books, based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Themes Development, Birth, Growing up, First steps, Humour.

Fran Knight

booktopia

Macca the backpacker by Matt Cosgrove

cover image

Cosgrove’s aim of making kids laugh hits the mark in this very funny new adventure for Macca the alpaca.

Originally published in 2018 (it seems to have been around for much longer) and followed with Alpacas with maracas, Macca’s makeover, Macca’s Christmas, and A stack of Alpacas (those on my shelf). Each is very funny, causing loads of laughter from the audience, inviting spirited involvement in the verse story and illustrations.

Macca’s bright cheery face invites readers to look further. They will notice his backpack and hat, knowing these are the usual accoutrements of backpackers and explorers of all kinds. So what will Macca do as a backpacker, they wonder as they open the first pages. We are introduced to Macca and his constant companions, all eager for him to achieve his dream of being an explorer. They support him in his endeavours, waving him goodbye, but it is when he needs them most that their support bolsters his efforts.

When his spirits are low he listens to Yak’s soundtrack for inspiration, when his path is steep and muddy he recalls the llama’s words, 'No drama!', when his energy is low, he munches on Rhonda’s healthy snack. At each turn he is able to recall the words and encouragement of his friends, until he finally climbs that mountain, taking a pile of selfies, and sitting down to draw what he sees. But all he sees are his friends, so he retraces his steps and he reaches home where they are all waiting for him, welcoming him back.

This is a deceptively simple and funny look at friendship and what it means: being there when things are less than agreeable, supporting each other through good times and bad. Above all, Macca’s strength and perseverance shines through, encouraging all readers to emulate his behaviour.

Themes Perseverance, Friendship, Effort, Strength, Exploration, Backpackers.

Fran Knight

booktopia

Grumpy monkey party time! by Suzanne Lang. Illus. by Max Lang

cover image

Suzanne Lang is an American children’s book author and TV Producer who partners with her husband Max Lang who illustrates her publications.  She has written three picture books in the Grumpy Monkey series so far.  Grumpy Monkey was the first and reached No 1 on the New York Times best seller list.  Grumpy Monkey Party time is the second book and Grumpy Monkey up all night is the third she has written.

In the first book Grumpy Monkey the author tackles the issue of unexplained feelings and how children can deal with them without hurting others.  In this second picture book the main character, Jim Panzee, is invited to a party and reveals to his friends that he cannot dance. So, they teach him all the cool dance moves they know to help him fit in. But as the party continues Jim realizes that he does not like to dance and proceeds to tell everyone. To his surprise he finds others that agree with him and they find other things they like to do at the party. The author attempts to uncover ways to enable children speak up if they don’t like something and to demonstrate that they don’t necessarily need to follow the crowd to enjoy themselves.

The bright colorful, funny, cartoon style characters reveal their emotions and reactions throughout the story as the illustrations take us to a fabulous party, including a double-page fold out of the Conga line dance that tips Jim over the line. They capture the true joy of a big party and the many things that are happening which children will enjoy discovering time and time again.

Themes Parties, Chimpanzees, Dancing, Feelings.

Gabrielle Anderson

booktopia

The ones we're meant to find by Joan He

cover image

This dystopian novel creates a world where eco-cities protect people from a toxic environment. Celia (Cee) and Kasey Mizuhara are sisters who are devoted to each other but very different in temperament. They live in a class structure determined by the degree of environmental damage an individual’s family heritage has inflicted on the planet across their lifetimes.

The reader meets Cee living on a deserted island. She has few memories to rely on yet is determined to find her sister. Kasey is searching for her sister. Cee disappeared in mysterious circumstances and it seems Kasey is the only one looking for her.

The story is expertly crafted to combine science fiction and mystery, revealing a complex world where environments, science, politics and relationships are exploited. Told in alternating narratives each sister adds to a story that reaches an unexpected and apocalyptic conclusion. The reader is offered opportunities to consider: What does it mean to be human? What sacrifices can be justified in the quest to preserve humanity? Are human lives more valued than other life? To what extent do we really make choices? How do we know what is real? There are many questions raised by He in her writing – and not all will be answered. Cee will draw the reader to her because of her zest for life - and this will ultimately provide an exceptional provocation in the end.

The twists and turns of this story are what makes it a page turner. The reader will find themselves reflecting on the intriguing and complicated threading of ideas and issues that support an engrossing read.

Themes AI; Climate change; Loyalty; Sacrifice; Relationships – friends and family.

Linda Guthrie

booktopia

Good night, Ivy Bright by Ben Long and Andrew Plant

cover image

Ivy cannot sleep. She has tried counting sheep, but her mind is still active and buzzing. She decides that she will paint her dreams, and finding her favourite paintbrushes, begins. She paints the sky the loveliest blue, picking out the stars in yellow; she paints a mammoth whale purple, but finds that when she must complete his tail, her purple paint has all gone. So she sets out to find some more purple, roaming all over the place to find the correct combination of colours. She spots an island where she splashes some white; she mixes in some red to show her the way back home, mixes blue and yellow to make green, and red and white to make pink, then puts red and green to make a silky brown, causing a moose to grow his antlers, before the spring. Then red is mixed with yellow to make orange and as the snow melts away to herald spring, lots of flowers appear, but no purple ones can be seen. The moose tells Ivy to eat the red and blue berries from his antlers, and she discovers that these two colours make purple. She follows her trail of pink back to the whale where she is able to complete his tail.

A beautiful, imaginative, colour filled look at sleep and dreams, the story will help younger readers settle down for the night, using the colours they see in their dreams as a pathway to sleep. Each of the colours of the rainbow is used, and with the bright splashes of colour on each page, will help younger children understand the concept of colour and its use in their environment. Lots of places, flora and fauna are mentioned, adding another layer of interest and excitement to the read. Plant’s use of acrylic and watercolour pencil is mesmerising as colour fills each page, wrapping the reader in its warmth. Children will love following the actions of Ivy in her lemur pyjamas, working to find the correct combination of colour to finish her whale.

Themes Imagination, Sleep, Dreams, Colour.

Fran Knight

booktopia

Sooley by John Grisham

cover image

John Grisham has made a name as a writer of renown, with a number of his legal-world drama stories made into movies. This book takes another of his interests – sport, and specifically basketball, and weaves it around a young talented player from South Sudan. Samuel Sooleyman (Sooley) has made his way on to a youth team representing South Sudan, and able to play in the USA in a competition that might give the team a chance to be noticed by USA scouts that could rescue them from the difficult circumstances of their lives in villages and towns in their own country. While he is in the USA his family are attacked by rebels and eventually become refugees as they escape their own country. Sooley’s life is also turned upside down and the hopes for his future now also include hopes to rescue his family. Amidst the incredible world of the College basketball system and with the wealth of the USA in full view there is an unbelievable trajectory for Sooley as he goes from being an ordinary player from a background of poverty, but blessed with height and a poor shooting record, to become a spectacular game-changer with dreams of an NBA contract.

This book is both uplifting and sad as it paints the incredible disparity between the worlds of Sooley’s homeland and his new adopted country. It also reads like a biography with detail of all the games played and the minutiae of the Basketball world for the young central character and his close friends and team mates. The complications of the draft system for the talented player and the wealth that floods in his direction are also mystifying and confronting. This could easily be a fairytale journey, but Grisham has cleverly made us wonder all the way to the end.

Recommended, for lovers of basketball, aged 15+.

Themes Basketball, South Sudan, Refugees, Professional sport.

Carolyn Hull

booktopia

The rock from the sky by Jon Klassen

cover image

The Rock from the Sky is a charming picture book with quite subtle humour divided into 5 stories.  They feature a turtle, an armadillo/mole creature, a snake and an alien and explore friendships, emotions, the future and stepping outside your comfort zone.

In the first story the turtle sits in a favourite spot and invites the Armadillo to join him.  The Armadillo feels uncomfortable in that spot and finds his own a little further away, where the snake joins him.  A little jealous, the turtle tries to get them to come over to his spot without success. All the while the readers see a rock on its way down from the sky, but don’t know where it is going to land.  When it does land one of the characters is glad that he followed his instincts.

Each story stands alone so the book would be perfect to read in sections at bedtime or to a young class over a week at school.  It also lends itself for readers to try different voices for the characters as the text is written in different tones to show which character is speaking.  The illustrations are very muted tones in black, browns, greys and a smattering of red/orange.  The characters eyes cleverly convey their emotions when things happen in the story. The animals all wear a hat (of course) as this is Klasson’s first book since his acclaimed Hat trilogy - I want my hat back, This is not my Hat and We found a hat, which will tie this book to that series for young readers.

Themes Turtles, Armadillos, Friendship, Emotions, Imagination, Future, Aliens.

Gabrielle Anderson

booktopia

What happened to you? by James Catchpole and Karen George

cover image

Joe is playing pirates on the playground equipment and a loud voice calls, ‘You’ve only got one leg!’ Joe and the girl go on to examine the possible reasons for Joe having one leg, and others join in. Perhaps it was bitten off by a shark, perhaps it fell off, or was burgled, or a lion took it. Each time the expression on Joe’s face tells the reader how exasperating these questions can be, especially when they have been heard so many times before. The girl begins to understand.

Using his own experience, Catchpole captures the reality of questions in the playground and a child’s reponses to them.

The next day Joe is playing on the equipment again and this time the girl comes along and joins him in his game.  They introduce themselves and she wants to know what he is playing. 'Pirates' he replies, and that is so cool, that Simone joins in, as do the others. This time, no one asks about his leg, and Simone has developed an understanding that perhaps he gets quite bored with people asking about his leg, and decides not to.

This is a very concise, apt and funny look at a problem some disabled people have: that of curiosity. Some people cannot separate the person from the disability, blurting out the obvious, without quietly reflecting that there might be a better way of talking to that person.

Simone develops empathy towards Joe, understanding that he is still Joe, no matter what has happened to him, and deciding it makes no difference anyway.

A very neat solution to a perennial problem: Catchpole reiterates some ways of tackling the issue in the endpaper, where he gives advice to an adult of how to deal with a curious child.

Themes Disability, Curiosity, Playground, Humour, Children.

Fran Knight

booktopia

The other half of you by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

cover image

Framed as a letter to his newborn son Kahlil, Bani recounts the story of how he came to meet and love his child’s mother. It is a story of struggle with parental and community expectations. His father had warned him to never marry an outsider, someone who wasn’t Arab Muslim Alawite, a branch of Shia Islam that does not accept converts and can only be passed on through the bloodline. But when Bani falls in love with Sahara, a tomato-faced Lebanese Christian, he comes to realise the one thing his father asked of him, is everything.

Coming to grips with losing his true love, Bani submits to the traditional matchmaking arrangements his parents undertake on his behalf, making for many humorous scenes, along with the explosive tinderbox of male Lebanese aggression around him. This expose of Muslim family and customs is reminiscent of the 2017 Australian romantic comedy ‘Ali’s Wedding’ about a Muslim torn between his father, his community and following his heart. There is a serious undercurrent to Ahmad’s book though, as the setting is Sydney, post Cronulla riots, where young Lebanese men are routinely stereotyped as predators and potential terrorists. Ahmad highlights sexism and racism both within his culture and in the wider Australian community.

Ahmad’s novel reveals the heartache and struggles of the young Bani, a sensitive man who tries to honour his parents but falls in love with the most unlikely people and dreams of being a writer. There is a lot of humour, and also a heartwarming honesty that makes this book a real pleasure to read.

Themes Muslims in Australia, Lebanese culture, Parental expectations, Love, Racism.

Helen Eddy

booktopia

The king's birthday suit by Peter Bently and Claire Powell

cover image

A wonderfully funny take on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy story, The emperor’s new clothes, this verse story will delight new readers as they follow the efforts of a canny pair of tailors aiming to bring the haughty king down a peg or two.

The king with the beautiful name, Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third has an enormous range of clothes. He changes his outfits readily, taking every opportunity to show off. Even going to the loo offers the chance to wear something different.

With his birthday imminent he asks for the very best new suit, rejecting all that he is shown but he is impressed when a pair of tailors arrive, promising the very best he could desire. The cloth they weave is so fine that it can only be seen by the wise and the clever.

They are hired and set about their business. The court, not wanting to be seen as stupid, praise the cloth they see being made. It is indescribable, nothing has ever been seen like it, it is unbelievable. The king likewise says similar things, no-one wanting to appear stupid in the eye of those around them.

The reader of course knows exactly what is going on and cannot wait for the denouement where the king appears naked in front of his whole court.

This rollicking tale beautifully told in rhyming couplets will cause the readers to laugh out loud. They will predict the rhyming word, offering others as suggestions, laugh at the many references to behind and red cheeked, loo and bum. But most of all laugh at the silly king, so wrapped up in himself and his appearance that he is unable to see through the duplicitous tailors and his fawning court.

The hilarious illustrations will entertain the audience as they pick out the huge amount of detail, wonder at the number of clothes he has and the range of people who fawn over him in his court.

I love the different courtiers in their array of costume, and touches of the indolent life led by them all. The endpapers with the headline news and their wonderful examples of puns will give another level of humour to enjoy.

Themes Clothing, Verse, Humour.

Fran Knight

booktopia