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Picture Book Nook: Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis

Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are incredibly talented in their own rights, but when they combine their talents they create magic.  Juliette and Sarah have previously worked together on the wonderful Marmaduke Duck books for Scholastic, and when I heard they were collaborating on a new picture book for Gecko Press I knew it was going to be a great book.  In their new picture book for Gecko Press, Toucan Can, Juliette and Sarah introduce us to a very colourful and talented Toucan.

Toucan can do lots of things!

Toucan dances!

Toucan sings!

Toucan bangs a frying pan!

Can you do what Toucan can?

 

Toucan Can is one of my favourite picture books of the year.  It’s got all the ingredients of a wonderful picture book.  Juliette MacIver’s delightful text will tangle your tongue and trip-up your lips, and once you get going you just can’t stop.  Toucan certainly can do lots of things but I’d like to see him try to read this book perfectly without tripping up.  Sarah Davis’ illustrations are absolutely stunning and they make the colourful characters jump off the page.  I love Sarah’s style of illustration because you can see each brush stroke and pencil line, and the colours she uses are so rich.  I really like the layered effect that Sarah has used in these illustrations.  The further back the animals are in the illustration, the more faded and washed out they are.  The expressions on the animals faces are also delightful.  Toucan especially has lots of different expressions, from ecstatically happy as he dances to slightly worried when he’s asked ‘Can Toucan do what YOU can do?’

One of the things I like the most about Toucan Can is that it addresses the reader and engages you.  You’re asked ‘Can you do what Toucan can?’ and Juliette suggests there are many things that you can do that Toucan can not.  Sarah’s illustrations also bring the focus back to the reader.  As Toucan and his friends dance, juggle, flip and flop, they’re looking out at you from the page.

Everyone should go out and grab a copy of Toucan Can to treasure and read again and again.  It is certain to add colour and laughter to your life and will have you dancing along with Toucan and his friends.

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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I love the world of Fontania that Barbara introduced us to in The Traveling Restaurant.  I reviewed it in September last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.  You can also read my interview with Barbara Else and Barbara’s guest post about The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

Last year, Barbara Else took us on a magical journey through the land of Fontania, with Sibilla and The Traveling Restaurant.  Now she takes us back to Fontania and introduces us to some wonderful new characters in The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Hodie is the unpaid odd-job boy at the Grand Palace in the Kingdom of Fontania.  Fed-up, he decides to leave and better himself.

The young Queen, 12 -year-old Sibilla, is fed-up too.  Sick of gossip about her lack of magical ability, she decides to run away with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a magical story, full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, stinky trolls and poisonous toads. Trouble is brewing from the very beginning of the story.  The Emperor of Um’Binnia threatens war with Fontania and he hopes to destroy what magic there may be in the world.  The Fontanians have been looking for ‘The Ties’ for many years, but nobody really seems to know what they are, and for the Emperor to carry out his plans he must get his hands on them too.  Little do they know how important an odd-job boy might be.

Your favourite characters from The Travelling Restaurant return, including Sibilla and the pirate chef, Murgott.  Hodie is the main character of this tale of Fontania.  Even though he’s not treated very well in the Palace, he’s smart and brave, and determined to make something of himself.   My favourite quote from the book sums up Hodie, ‘Whether a boy was somebody or nobody, if he was normal he was expected to be curious.’  Hodie and Sibilla meet lots of other interesting characters on their journey, including a rather strange Um’Binnian spy called Ogg’ward, and a very persistent squirrel.  The Um’Binnians themselves are quite interesting.  They have a different way of speaking and their names look and sound strange.

If you loved The Traveling Restaurant you have to get your hands on The Queen and the Nobody Boy, but if you haven’t read it this book will make you fall in love with the land of Fontania.  You certainly won’t be able to go past this book on the shelf without wanting to see what magic is inside, thanks to Sam Broad’s brilliant cover.

4 out of 5 stars

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The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting  breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country.

Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush.

Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is a touching story about war told from the unique perspective of a girl who is caught in the middle.  The war that is taking place in the story is not identified as a specific war, only that the north is fighting the south.  The events of the story, including families being split up, fathers going away to fight, children being sent away, and a dangerous journey to get to safety are applicable to any war though, which makes Joke’s story universal.

As in some of the best stories about war, this story is narrated by a child (Toda) who is caught in the middle of this horrible event.  Toda is one of those characters you can’t help but love because she has a unique way of looking at things.  It’s her view of things that bring some humour to the situation she is in.  When Toda is hiding in the forest waiting for the coast to be clear, she finds the best thing to do is to give her brain something to do.  She lists her favourite foods (including her father’s pastries), her classmates, and then she lists things in alphabetical order (from Ape to Zebra).  I love the way that Toda describes different things too, like the way that she feels.  When an old couple take her in to their home and offer her some food she says, ‘My stomach was full of homesickness.  There was no room for anything else.’

On her journey, Toda meets some strange and interesting characters too.  There are some families who come to the public welfare home to give books and toys to the children, but then end up taking them away as they seem ungrateful, there is a room of old women who want to adopt her as their granddaughter, a strange old couple who try to kidnap Toda, and a captain who has deserted the army because he can’t command.  This captain was one of my favourite characters because he gives you a different perspective of the captains who give the orders during war.  One of my favourite quotes from the book came from this captain.

“I couldn’t command,” he said. “When I had to call out, ‘Open fire!’ I said instead, ‘Perhaps we should try shooting now, as long as it’s not too dangerous and not too much trouble for anyone.'”

Special mention needs to be made of the wonderful translation of Joke’s story by Bill Nagelkerke (recent winner of the Margaret Mahy Medal).  You really get the sense that Bill has remained true to the tone of the story while carefully choosing language that is beautiful to read.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is the best war story I’ve read that is told with so few words.  There is more emotion and character packed into this little book than some authors put in to 300 pages.  It can stand alongside John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword as a must-read war story.

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Picture Book Nook: That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the little frog finds an egg.

“That’s mine!” he says.

But the snake wants his egg, and so does the eagle, and so does the lizard…But what does the angry elephant want?

 

 

 

That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren is a gem of a picture book that’s simple, yet surprising.  You start off thinking you know where the story is going, but it veers off in a completely different direction (these are the best sorts of stories).  The illustrations are bold and I love the expressions on the animals faces, especially right at the end.

 

The thing I like most about this book though is the text and the design.  As each of the animals appears the sound they make turns into a word, like the eagle who flies in saying “Ack…ack…ack..actually it’s mine.”  Children can follow the direction that each animal appears from by following the direction of the words (the hsss of the snake drops down from the top to the bottom of the page).  I love the way that the text changes size depending on how loud the animal is talking and in relation to their size.  On a page featuring all the animals, the text is largest for the elephant and smallest for the frog, so it’s clear that each of the animals has a different voice.

That’s Mine! is the perfect picture book for reading aloud.  You can do different voices for all the animals and make it really silly.  It could even be acted out in the classroom, with each child being a different animal.

4 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Anton and the Battle by Ole Konnecke

Anton and the Battle is one of those picture books that you know is going to make kids laugh just by looking at the front cover.  How can you not laugh when the two boys are swinging a cow and a cello at each other?  The cover hooks you in and you want to find out what the battle is about.

The story starts with Anton and Luke arguing about which one of them is the strongest.  Anton can lift a big stone, but Luke can lift an even bigger stone.  They keep trying to out-do each other by proving that they’re stronger or louder or braver – until they meet a ferocious puppy.

Anton and the Battle is a wonderful story about the power of the imagination and the joy of play.  Both the text and the illustrations are so simple, but really funny.   Ole has coloured his two characters but left the rest of the page white so that they and their imaginations stand out.  The white space allows the giant horn or the bombs to take center stage and draw the reader’s attention.  The illustrations will have children laughing out loud, as Anton and Luke chase after each other with giant hammers, swing lions and tigers over their heads and get stuck up trees.  The page where they are swinging lions and tigers over their heads is hilarious (just look at their faces)!  I love the twist on the story when Ole throws a puppy into the mix and even when they’re stuck up a tree, they’re still trying to out-do each other.

It’s a story with lots of anticipation that keeps children guessing.  Before you turn the page you could ask them what they think might happen next.  Even after the story is finished you could ask children to suggest other things that Anton and Luke could battle with or ways they could show they’re stronger, louder or faster than each other.  They could even draw their own Anton and Luke battle scene.

Anton and the Battle is one of Gecko Press’ first releases of 2013 and is available in libraries and bookshops now.

 

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Win Mister Whistler by Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop

Mister Whistler is the wonderful new picture book by Margaret Mahy, with stunning illustrations by Gavin Bishop.  I absolutely love Mister Whistler and it’s my favourite New Zealand picture book of the year (you can read my review here).  Everyone should have this book on their bookshelf!

Thanks to everyone who entered.  This competition is now closed.

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Picture Book Nook: Stupid Baby by Stephanie Blake

One of my favourite picture books from last year was Stephanie Blake’s Poo Bum!, published by the wonderful Gecko Press.  It’s a book that kids immediately love (and end up repeating Simon’s favourite phrase) and divides adults (they either love it or hate it).  Thanks to Gecko Press I have a Poo Bum badge that I wear with pride in the library, which makes a great talking point.  Gecko Press have just published Stephanie Blake’s second book featuring Simon the rabbit, Stupid Baby, and it’s just as hilarious as Poo Bum!

In Stupid Baby, Simon has just gotten a new baby brother.  Simon is always getting told off because he’s making too much noise.  Of course, Simon doesn’t like his new brother at all and wants the ‘stupid baby’ to go back to where he came from.  His parents tell him that the baby is here to stay, but he won’t stay forever will he? What a stupid baby!

Stupid Baby is a spectacular picture book!  I loved Simon in Poo Bum and he is certainly on fine form in this book.  He’s such an amusing character, who is pretty horrible, but loveable at the same time.  Although he acts all tough and mean, he worries just as much as most kids.  He’s scared of the dark and the wolves that are coming to get him, and he’s scared that his baby brother might stay forever.  The text is simple, but the wonderful translation and the design of the text make the story special.  The variation of the text size helps the reader to put the emphasis in the right place, whether it’s the Ka-boom! of the rocket or whispering around the teeny, tiny baby.  Stephanie Blake’s illustrations are big, bold and bright (similar to Lucy Cousins’ illustrations) making them appealing to kids.  There is no white space in Stupid Baby, every page is colourful.  The bright red cover, with Simon in his superhero outfit, jumps off the shelf and shouts ‘READ ME!’  I love the page where Simon is worrying about all sorts of things, as his expression goes from worried to angry.  I also love Simon’s wide-eyed expression when he’s worrying about the wolves.

The ending is unexpected and will have kids rolling around on the floor laughing.  Get a copy of Stupid Baby now and meet the worst role model in the picture book world.

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Picture Book Nook: Mister Whistler by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Earlier this year we lost one of our national treasures, Margaret Mahy.  Margaret wrote many wonderful stories in her time, from picture books to novels, that are treasured by children all over the world.  October sees the publication of two of Margaret’s last stories, including the wonderful Mister Whistler, featuring gorgeous illustrations by Gavin Bishop.

Absentminded Mister Whistler always has a song in his head and a dance in his feet.  In a rush to catch the train, he is so distracted he loses his ticket.

Is it in the bottom pockets of his big coat or the top pockets of his jacket?  Perhaps he slipped it into his waistcoat…

Where is Mister Whistler’s ticket?

Mister Whistler is an absolute treasure.  It’s Margaret and Gavin’s first collaboration and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect pairing for this story.  Margaret’s story is delightfully old-fashioned and Gavin matches this with the styles and fashions of another era.  Mister Whistler is a rather distracted fellow, one of those people who would forget his head if it wasn’t screwed on.  He gets carried away by the music in his head, that makes his twitching feet long to dance.  While he is looking for his ticket he’s dancing out of his coat and tap dancing impatiently.  Children will love that they know something that Mister Whistler doesn’t – where his ticket is – and they’ll want to yell it out and tell him.

Gavin Bishop’s illustrations for Mister Whistler are my favourite of all of his work.  There’s so much joy and energy in the illustrations and you can see it bursting out of Mister Whistler, who is always smiling.  I love the way that Gavin has made the story flow from one page to the next, both my Mister Whistler’s dancing body and the musical notes which follow him.  Mister Whistler himself is quite gangly and I love the way that Gavin has him throwing his long limbs all over the place as he dances.  Gavin’s use of colour is spectacular, from Mister Whistler’s blue, checked trousers and very loud wall-paper, to the flaming sunrise in the background.  Gavin has added a real spark to Mister Whistler’s character too by giving him a crazy dress sense.

Once again, Gecko Press have produced an absolutely beautiful book that will be treasured by children and adults alike.  Mister Whistler is my favourite New Zealand picture book of the year and my pick for the winner of next year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

5 out of 5 stars

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Interview with Barbara Else, author of The Queen and the Nobody Boy

Barbara Else is the creator of the Land of Fontania, the magical setting of her award-winning The Traveling Restaurant and her latest book, The Queen and the Nobody Boy.  Her books are full of magic, adventure, pirates, spies, and wonderful characters.  I had a few questions about Fontania and its inhabitants and Barbara very kindly answered them.

  • What’s your favourite place in Fontania?

I’m a city girl so it has to be the City of Spires. But I’d like to visit the High Murisons. There (so I have heard) live the only wild bears in Fontania. They have a growl deeper than any other living creature.

  • The Um’binnians have strange names and speak quite differently than the Fontanians. How did you come up with them?

The name for Um’Binnia just typed out under my fingers when I was wondering what to call the neighbouring country. It seemed to me that a good way to identity the Um’Binnian characters would be to use commas in their names too. They speak the same language as Fontanians but, just as all English speaking countries have different accents, I thought the Um’Binnians would sound different too.

  • The Queen and the Nobody Boy features some wonderful new characters, creatures and machines. What is your favourite creation from this story?

I love Hodie for his courage and determination.  And I love the squirrel for its single-mindedness.  But I think Princessa Lu’nedda is the character I cherish the most. She’s very troubled by her father, seems far too cutesy and fluffy at first, but is full of courageous surprises.

And I’m very pleased with the wind-train.

  • If you were the Queen of Fontania what would your first royal proclamation be?

‘Royal Proclamation, Part the First:  Every city, town and village in the Kingdom of Fontania shall have a library stocked to the brim with books to suit each child.

Royal Proclamation, Part the Second: At the end of each year of successful reading every child shall be rewarded with a cake shaped like the Travelling Restaurant.’

  • Can we look forward to more Tales of Fontania?

I’m certainly playing around with more ideas.

 

 

Barbara’s follow-up to The Traveling Restaurant, called The Queen and the Nobody Boy, is out now in NZ.  It’s another wonderful story, set in the world of Fontania.  You can read my review of The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

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Win a Gecko Press book pack

The Magical Life of Mr. Renny and My Happy Life are the latest releases from the wonderful Gecko Press.  I LOVE The Wonderful Life of Mr. Renny and reviewed it here on the blog in my Picture Book Nook feature. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of their ‘curiously good books from around the world.’

Thanks to Gecko Press I have a special pack of 4 of their latest releases to give away.  The pack contains:

  • The Magical Life of Mr Renny by Leo Timmers
  • My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz
  • The Best Singer in the World by Ulf Nilsson
  • The Birthday Cake Mystery by Thè Tjong Khing

This competition is now closed.  Thanks to everyone who entered. The winner is Jenny.

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