The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

Adelaide's Secret World, by Elise Hurst

9781743313350.jpgBy day she would look out for the still ones, the quiet ones, those who danced and sighed and dreamed alone.
And at home, her head full of their stories, Adelaide would work into the night, taking a little bit of the world and making it her own.
But there was always something missing.

Adelaide lives alone in a shop that was once bustling and lively. She observes the world around her, and in particular the lonely people who inhabit it. She makes art from what she sees, but her quiet life is missing something. An unexpected encounter with Fox, who she has observed, but who has also been observing her, leads her to put herself outside her comfort zone, transforming not just her own world, but the lives of the other lonely people around her.

Adelaide’s Secret World is a magical, richly wrought picture book. Rabbit Adelaide lives in a world inhabited both by humans and by a wonderful array of animal characters. Readers of all ages will enjoy discovering the fantastical elements – flying fish, a boat sailing through the sky, a bear and a goose sheltering together under a tree, a lion dancing with a human, and much more.

The story is gentle and minimal, so that readers can interpret and ponder during – and long after – reading. The art is simply divine, again with much to ponder.

Suitable for all ages.

Adelaide’s Secret World, by Elise Hurst
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743313350

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin & Ben Wood

We’re under a cow,
We’re under a cow,
We’re under her here
We’re under her now!

When a sudden storm hits, the animals of the farm are taken by surprise. Far from shelter, they are not sure what to do – but Madge the Cow is very calm, and very brave and she offers shelter – first to Lally the rabbit, then to Robinson the dog, Cackalina the chicken and her excited chicks and, finally, to Spike the echidna. As lightning flashes and thunder booms, Madge not only provides a hiding place for the smaller animals, she also encourages them to sing, to dsitract them from the storm.

Underneath a Cow is a quietly humorous story about friendship, safety and bravery. Madge is a gorgeous yellow cow who smiles her way through the terrible storm, seemingly happy to be a point of refuge for her diverse range of guests (though she does request that Spike be careful of her ‘dangly bits’). The other animals appreciate her care, and are grateful and even form unlikely friendships through their experience.

Young readers will love the silliness of the story and its warm demonstration of friendship, and the humour of the illustrations, rendered in mixed media inluding watercolour, pencil and digital collage.

Lots of fun.

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin and Ben wood
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990880&

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl & The Precious Ring, by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts

The Precious Ring (Lily the Elf)an owl is hooting.
Lily shivers with each hoot.
“Who’s awake? Who? Whoooo?” asks the midnight owl.
Lily covers her ears with her pillow.

Lile the Elf can’t sleep. SOmehwere nearby an owl is hooting. It sounds scary. In the mroning, though, Granny tells her that the owl sounds friendly. She wants to take Lily to meet him. But Lily doesn’t think she can be as brave as granny, until, with Granny’s help, she finds her own strength and makes a new friend.

The Midnight Owl is one of the new Lily the Elf series from author Anna Branford and illustrator Lisa Coutts, and is warm tale of bravery, friendship and the bond between a grandchild and grandparent.

In the second book, The Precious Ring , Lily finds a human ring in the garden near her home. Filled with water, it is just right for a paddling pool for Lily to play with. But when she realises that the ring is a much-loved possession which a human child has lost, she has to decide whetehr to keep her pool, or work to get it back to its rightful owner.

Both stories use simplle, but interesting text, with lots of illustrative support, perfect for young readers transitioning from first readers to the chapter book format. Lily is a loveable, honest and quirky character, and the relationship between her and Granny, with Dad playing a supporting role, is lovely.

The Midnight Owl ISBN: 9781925081053
The Precious Ring ISBN: 9781925081046
both by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts
Walker Books 2015

Teddy Took the Train, by Nicki Greenberg

Teddy Took the TrainDot loves Teddy, and Teddy loves Dot.
So when Teddy goes missing, she misses him a lot…

When Mum and Dot go on an outing, Dot brings teddy along for the ride. But, in the rush to get off the train, Dot loses Teddy. The kindly stationmaster assures her that the train didn’t take teddy – rather Teddy took the train, and has gone for a big adventure. Although she isn’t sure, Dot gets involved in imagining Teddy’s adventures. Finally, at bedtime, Teddy comes home, delivered by the stationmaster.

Teddy Took the Train is a delightful picture book about imagination, adventures and courage. The rhyming text is fun to read and the illustrations, using a range of media including collage, ink and acrylic are warm and both sensitive and gently humorous. The depiction of Mum in a wheelchair is a wonderful touch, with the disability not forming a part of the written narrative, and thus part of the family’s life rather than the central issue of the book.

A gorgeous offering.

Teddy Took the Train, by Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN Teddy Took the Train

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Simple Things, by Bill Condon

The door opens and Dad and Mum sneak out.
Somewhere in the darkness a clock ticks off the seconds. I silently count each one – five…fifteen…twenty five.
Maybe Aunty Lola will go to sleep. Then I can sneak out, too. Thirty five…forty fi-
‘So you’re Stephen.’
Busted.

Stephen is shy, but never so shy as when he meets his great aunt Lola for the first time. She’s really really old and she’s very grumpy too. Stephen is scared, but Mum and Dad say they have to stay with Aunt Lola because she’s lonely and they’re the only family she has. It’s only three weeks, after all.  Stephen gets to meet the neighbours, learn how to fish, play cricket and climbs – simple things. He also starts to learn about his family, and especially about Aunt Lola. And when there’s an emergency Stephen realises maybe Lola isn’t so scary – maybe she’s his friend.

The Simple Things is a beautiful tale of family, friendship and generations. Stephen is a quirky, loving boy and Lola is an intriguing character who readers will be keen to get to know. Their developing relationship is a pleasure to witness.

Condon has a gently humorous touch as an author, and the focus on a child who is gentle-natured but brave in his own way, makes for a heart warming read.

 

The Simple Things

The Simple Things, by Bill Condon
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743317242

Available from good bookstores and online.