Beowulf The Brave retold by Oakley Graham, ill Emi Ordás

A long time ago, before you were born,
Lived a king with a golden drinking horn.
He ruled a cold land, that was peaceful and quiet,
Until a monster called Grendel started a riot!

Grendel hated laughter and one day, at a feast,
The king and his men were attacked by the beast!
The people were terrified, the hall stood silent,
What hero could stop the monstrous tyrant?

Beowulf The Brave’ begins with a father reading a bedtime story to his son. While Dad reads, the son visualises himself as the brave Beowulf, vanquishes Grendel, then his mother, then finally a dragon, before slipping into sleep. Illustrations begin with the bedtime ritual, continue with the action ‘centre stage’ until finally returning to the bedroom as the story ends. Illustrations are digital and fantastical, as any telling of Beowulf must be.

Beowulf, a story poem known for its complexity and drama, was over 3000 lines long. It is an oral tale, not written down for many years after its creation. This version introduces Beowulf and his adventures, in a much briefer form, for a young audience that may baulk at the full story. As the story is told, the boy casts himself as Beowulf. In his imagining, he is the brave hero. ‘Beowulf The Brave’ introduces not just this epic tale, but also the tradition of storytelling that predated written language and books. Recommended for early- to mid-schoolers.

Beowulf The Brave, retold Oakley Graham ill Emi Ordás
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925275933

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli

The apartment block loomed cold and quiet.
The same people had lived there a long time.
They did not know each other and they
never spoke – not even to say hello.

No one speaks to anyone in the apartment block. They go about their business separately and in as quietly as possible. Then a baby arrives in the apartment block. The baby is not quiet, not a bit, no matter how his mother tries. He cries. And cries. Until one day he finds the pots and pans. The crying stops and the music begins. One by one, the other occupants of the floor join in. Together they create music. And a community. Illustrations are loose outline filled with colour, often set in white. End papers offer music in the park – two versions.

The apartment block is a collection of separate people who seldom interact – until the baby arrives. The solution to the baby’s crying is music and accidentally at first, then intentionally, it brings the individuals of the block together as a community. Young readers will love the notion that music can be made with whatever is at hand – or foot. Kinder and early years teachers can use this story to introduce music to their classrooms. Young readers will also enjoy looking at the difference between the front end-papers and the rear end-papers, and finding all the apartment-dwellers. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Baby Band, Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059779

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles by Alice Rex ill Angela Perrini

Ava sat at her desk, gazing at the board.
‘Ava,’ said Mrs Cook. ‘Where are your glasses today?’
Ava looked down at her schoolbag.
She hated her glasses.

Ava hates her glasses, and sometimes chooses not to wear them, even when wearing them would help her to read. Ava’s teacher sympathises and rather than tell her to put them on, she opens a book of fairy tales. One by one, Mrs Cook suggests that all of the main characters in her favourite stories, could have avoided their troubles by wearing their glasses. By the end, Ava is adding to the stories, and seeing her own life more clearly. Glasses have become the hero of every story. Illustrations are black pencil and block colour set in pastel backgrounds.

Ava would rather not see than use her glasses, when they mark her out as different. Her teacher uses fairy tales to suggest that wearing her glasses will make her the hero of her own story. In a classroom, Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles offers the opportunity to have students reframe fairy tales for different outcomes. At home, it could form the basis of conversations about the strengths in difference. And young spectacle-wearers may enjoy seeing themselves reflected in story.

Recommended for early-schoolers.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex ill Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059984

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter ill James Henderson

I love our dog Benji.
Sometimes I think I’d like to be more like him.
He eats almost anything
and everything.
I’m not that adventurous.

A small, unnamed boy shares the adventures of his loved dog, Benji. Benji eats everything, makes friends with everyone, explores. Through his dog’s antics, the boy explores his own world and his place in it. Illustrations depict both real and imagined Benji-ness. Our Dog Benji is a smaller format hardback picture book with full colour pages and end papers detailing some of Benji’s favourite things.

Children learn a lot from observing what happens around them, and for the small child, that can often be a pet. Their adoption of what they see may not always be discriminating, but it can help them navigate their lives. Benji is a lovable, loving and loved dog. He is friend, companion, teacher and challenger to the viewpoint character. There is plenty here – particularly for a quiet observer-child – to support learning and living well. Recommended for early school years.

Our Dog Benji, Pete Carter ill James Henderson
EK Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925335330

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley

ONE keen koala
ready for school.

One keen koala is ready for his first day of school. hH is joined by two perky penguins, three excited wallabies and so on, as they discover the fun of starting school. From posing for photographs, to meeting the teacher, to playing with paint and glue, having stories and, at the end of the day hurrying home to mum, the animals romp through the day.

With rhyming text by Margaret Wild and joy-filled watercolour and pencil illustrations by Bruce Whatley, this is an offering sure to be embraced by youngsters starting school, and their parents. It will withstand repeated rereadings, and the simplicity of the text will encourage children to join in on rereadings.

Lovely.

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743629291

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting

This is a mopoke.

So begins this delightful, understated picture book featuring (as the title suggests) a mopoke – or  bookbook owl. Each spread features just one line of text – or even a single word, as the mopoke becomes a poorpoke, a poshpoke, and a range of rhyming ‘pokes’ – slowpoke, yopoke, crowpoke and so on. By the end of the book, the mopoke begins to look bothered, before squawking (hooting?) in frustration and flying away. Apparently, what the mopoke wants – peace and quite – is not going to be found on this branch.

The illustrations, on black backgrounds representing the night sky, are simple, with the mopoke seated on a single branch, a few stars in the background, and occasional appearances from other animals, including other mopokes and – surprisingly – a wombat, the surprise of which will make youngsters laugh.

Adult readers should find the repetition and simplicity  of the text an opportunity to use expression and encourage child participation. Creator Philip Bunting has written about this on his website.

Lots of fun.

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742991658

Available from good bookstores or online.

How Many Dinosaurs Deep? By Ben Kitchin ill Vicky Fieldhouse

Jim was learning how to swim. He had just gone up from the baby pool to the middle-sized pool.
‘Don’t worry,’ said his mum. ‘It’s not that deep. I don’t think the middle-sized pool would even come up to a Stegosaurus’s knee!’
‘Really?’ said Jim as he edged away from the water.
‘A Stegosaurus must be big! How deep can water get?’

Jim is a bit apprehensive about the deeper water in the middle-sized pool and his swimming lessons. He’s also obviously keen on dinosaurs. Mum relates the depth of this and other water to a scale he can visualise – that of dinosaurs. As he questions his mum and she answers in ‘dinosaur scale’, he gradually overcomes his fear of this new pool. A final spread at the completion of the story offers dinosaur information and images. Illustrations are in watercolour and black pencil.

Dinosaurs are fascinating for so many children, and many master the complex pronunciations and collect myriad facts long before they can write those names or the information. Here, a realistic fear is overcome by connecting it to Jim’s fascination for these extinct animals. Mum relates this experience to Jim’s interest and diverts his fear into curiosity about other waters and their depth relative to different dinosaurs. On one level this is a story about fear of water, but it also offers the opportunity to talk about science and measurement. And dinosaurs. Recommended for pre- and junior-primary readers.

How Many Dinosaurs Deep? Ken Kitchin ill Vicky Fieldhouse
New Frontier Publishing 2017 ISBN: 978925059731

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast ill Helen Magisson

There was once a rich merchant who had six children: three sons and three daughters. His youngest daughter Bell was called ‘Beauty’.
Everyone admired her.
The two eldest daughters went out to parties every night. They laughed at Beauty when she stayed at home to read books.

A retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for younger readers, with full page whimsical illustrations on every opening. Text is large and language accessible.

Young readers will enjoy this gentle telling of the classic fairy tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Brief enough to be read in a single bedtime session, the text is also accessible to independent readers. Part of a new series from New Frontier, this version of an old favourite is sure to find favour with lovers of fairy tales.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, ill Helen Magisson
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059809

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

What Do they Do With all the Poo from all the Animals at the Zoo? by Anh Do & Laura Wood (ill)

What do they do with all the poo
from all the animals at the zoo?
the hippos, the tigers, the kangaroos –
What do they do with all that poo?

Comedian Anh Do has been making Australians laugh for years, and since turning to chidlren’s books he’s gained a whole new generation of readers. What Do they Do With all the Poo from all the Animals at the Zoo? will entertain even younger readers than his junior novels.

This rhyming story, which comes with accompanying music on a CD (sung by Simon Mellor) is catchy, funny and, of course, slightly gross, which is exactly why youngsters will love it. The illustrations, by Laura Wood, are also filled with humour, with the looks on the faces of humans and animals particularly engaging.

Great for reading with or without the accompanying music, this will be a favourite both at home and in classrooms.

What Do they Do With all the Poo from all the Animals at the Zoo?, by Anh Do & Laura Wood
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760276324

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen

Jim loved station life at Four Wells.
He loved hunting rabbits, exploring with his dog Bluey and chasing goannas. But sometimes he was lonely. If only his friend Frank didn’t live so far away.

Jim and his parents all love station life, but sometimes they feel lonely, cut off from the rest of the world. So when a pedal radio comes, and they can send messages by morse code, and even hear voices from the main base. Jim longs to have a turn on the radio, but Dad says he needs to wait until he’s older. However, when Dad has an accident and Mum is away from the house, it is Jim who uses the radio to call for help. He is a hero.

Radio Rescue! tells the tale of the introduction of pedal radios to outback communities, showing its importance by using a fictional family and the difference it makes to their life, coupled with back of book notes which explain how and why the pedal radio was developed, as well as the use of the radio to summon the Flying Doctors, one its life-saving services.

Illustrations, by master craftsman Robert Ingpen, are divine. Each spread includes text on one page, with the opposite including a grey scale, highly detailed picture of one of the characters on the outside of a fold out spread, opening to reveal a coloured illustratios including rich landscape and actios scenes. Ingpen’s style is perfect for a historical book such as this and adults and children alike will admire his work, and the detail included.

Perfect for both classroom use and private reading, Radio Rescue! is a collector’s delight too.

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen
National Library of Australia Press, 2016
ISBN 9780642278784