My Meerkat Mum, by Ruth Paul

Up. Down. Dig. Play.
Meerkat Mum leads the way.

From first light till bedtime, Meerkat Mum supervises her children, guiding, scolding, feeding, and guarding. Even when they finally rest safe in their burrow, she will remain alert for danger all night.

My Meerkat Mum is a delightful rhyming text which captures the jerky, slightly humorous movements for which meerkats are known, in its stop/start rhythm. It withstands repeated readings (this reviewer road tested it with a ten month old who sat through four readings).

The illustrations, rendered digitally are equally delightful, with golden desrt hues and semi-realistic portrayals of the meerkats and other animals, though mum and one meerkat pup are adorned with flowers, and another has a favourite cuddly toy aardvark.

Suitable for babies through to early schoolers.

My Meerkat Mum, by Ruth Paul
Scholastic NZ, 207
ISBN 9781775434894

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning

It was an odd engagement present. Heirloom or not, such gifts were not usually covered in grime and dust. Pip sneezed as she started unpacking four boxes of antique French pots: copper boilers, streaked and mottled with watermarks, so when the soft morning light reflected off the pots and hit the white walls of the tiny worker’s cottage, they rippled with rainbows. Some of the pots were so large Pip had to brace herself to lift them out of the boxes. When she pulled off the lids, their blackened insides were etched and lined with age.

When she moves in to a tiny workers cottage with her fiance, Jack, Pip really doesn’t have room for the set of large copper pots her parents send as an engagement gift, but she is determined to have them on display. They bear memories of her childhood and a deeper connection Pip doesn’t completely understand. but the warmth of the copper pots might not be enough to keep Pip’s plans on track. She wants to get her PhD project finished before she and Jack get married and travel, but Jack is impatient, and wants everything to happen now.

In 1427, Artemisia, the cook at the Chateau de Boschaud also has copper pots. she is busy preparing the dishes, the settings, even the special bathing waters for the Lord and his bride. It is tough work, but it is made easier by Artemisia’s secret. this will be her last day at the chateau: soon she will be free and ready to build a new life.

The stories of Pip and Artemisia are separate, yet there are connections across the many centuries between their lives, and Artemisia’s vast knowledge of herbs cooking are not only reflected in Pip’s interests, but are even shared through treasured finds. Readers will want to trace the adventures of each, o find out whether happiness is possible for either, or for both.

The Midsummer Garden is a satisfying blend of contemporary and historical fiction, with each story compelling and well wrought, and the links between the two intriguing. Themes of happiness, of family lore, relationships and self fulfillment are explored and food lovers will enjoy the culinary detail.

The Midsummer Garden, by Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294748

The Toy Maker, by Liam Pieper

‘Let me tell you a story about my grandfather…My grandfather came to this country with nothing, but now, because of his hard work and sacrifice, I have everything. Grandpa was proud of his work, of every little toy that he made. That’s why he was so successful. There’s nothing more important than hard work and sacrifice…’

Adam Kulakov loves his life. He has plenty of money, thanks to inheriting his grandfather’s toy company, a beautiful wife and a son he adores. He has no shortage of mistresses, either. No matter that some of his ideas don’t turn out so well, or that he has trouble finding good staff who will stick around. His grandfather, Arkady, is also happy. After escaping Auschwitz at the end of World War Two, he was able to build a new, successful life for himself in Australia. Now he is retired, but Adam’s wife, Tess, on whom more and more responsibility for running the company falls, includes him in decision making. They have a close relationship.

But when Adam makes one mistake too many, the future of the toy company and of his marriage becomes increasingly rocky. And for Arkady, the horrors of the past are coming back to haunt him, too.

The Toymaker combines twin narratives of 1944 Poland and contemporary Australia so that the reader not only sees Arkady’s story unfold alongside the modern narrative, but also becomes aware of the contracts and similarities between the experiences and personalities of grandfather and grandson. It is a story of privilege, corruption and survival which is both absorbing and uncomfortable.

Compelling reading.

The Toymaker, by Liam Pieper
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079384

Little Bear's First Sleep, by Lesley Gibbes & Lisa Stewart

Maybe it would be soft like his mother’s fur.
He waited with his legs curled high.
Maybe it would be firm like his father’s hug.
he waited with his head tucked low.
Maybe it would be sweet like fresh woodland grass.
Little Bear waited and waited…nothing happened.
Little Bear was awake.

It is time for Little Bear’s first big witer sleep. His moother and father fall asleep quickly, but Little Bear is wide awake. What will the big sleep feel like? And what will happen if he can’t get to sleep? He tries all kinds of positions, but it is only when he snuggles in close to his parents that sleep finally finds him.

Little Bear’s First Sleep is a gentle picture book story about – of course – bears, and sleep, but also about navigating rites of passage towards independence. With his parents asleep, Little Bear must solve his dilemma for himself, but it is with the knowledge that his aprents are close that he finally does so.

The illustrations, using soft colours in watercolour and gouache, are just beautiful, and teamed with the gentle text make this a lovely bedtime story.

Little Bear’s First Sleep, by Lesely Gibbes & Lisa Stewart
Scholastic Australia, 2016
ISBN 9781743624012

Hattie Helps Out, by Jane Godwin & Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Hattie watched as Mama’s breath went9781743435434.jpg
in and out, in and out. She looked just like a little girl.
Poor Mama must be very tires.
I know! thought Hattie. I will help out.

It’s Dad’s birthday and Mum is getting everything ready for the party – with help from Hattie. But when Mum says it’s time for Hattie’s nap, Hattie isn’t keen. She convinces Mum to lie down with her and she doesn’t fall asleep – but Mum does. So Hattie decides that it’s up to her to help out and get everything ready for the party.

Hattie Helps Out is a gently funny story about growing up, being helpful and families. When Hattie tries to help, not everything goes the way it should – she sticks the biscuits together with stickytape (instead of icing), puts flowers in odd places all around the house and hides the mess wherever she can manage. But she does it with love – and that is how it is received by the extended family when they arrive, and Mum when she wakes up.

The water colour and pencil illustrations by Freya Blackwood bring the family to life, with the rough outlines giving a gentle quality.
Hattie Helps Out will make adult and child readers alike smile.

Hattie Helps Out, by Jane Godwin & Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781743435434

Hop up! Wriggle over! by Elizabeth Honey

Hop up, wiggle over, wakey wakey, HUNGRY!
Crunch crunch, gobble gobble, lick lick, MORE!

So begins this beautiful little movement and sound filled offering for early childhood audiences. This unconventional animal family – Mum is a koala, Dad a big red kangaroo, and the nine children include a wombat, an echidna, a bilby and more – move through the day joyfully, from wake up till bedtime.

The text is minimal – just four words or phrases per spread, being the sounds the animals mutter (sploosh! boing…boing) or the occasional word such as yum yum! and a joyful Dad-dee! when Dad arrives at the park where the children are playing. Illustrations, in watercolour with pencil outlines are pastel-toned colours of the Australian bush, with white backgrounds and lots of fun detail for youngsters to discover. Movement is depicted with a few well placed lines, and the joy of the family is evident in their faces.

A joyful celebration of families and of Aussie animals.

Hop Up! Wriggle Over!, by Elizabeth Honey
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743319987

Available from good bookstores and online.

Mum Goes to Work, by Libby Gleeson & Leila Rudge

Mum Goes to WorkIt’s early morning.
Everyone is arriving at the centre.
It’s noisy and busy while Mark and Mai greet everyone.
Mum is going to work.
“Bye, Mum.”
“Nye.”

As the mums head off to work, their children settle in for a day of playing, and resting, and eating. What do mums do when they are wt work? And what do the children do while Mum is away?

Mum Goes to Work is a beautiful picture book about mothers and children, and about child care centres. Each spread shows one mother at work, explaining what she does there, before looking at what the child and a friend do at the childcare centre. The children’s activities mirror what the mother is doing. So, while Laurence’s mother works in a cafe, Laurence and Georgia make sand cake and sand biscuits in the sandpit, and while Max’s mum works as a nurse, Max and Ann put the dolls to bed in the dress up corner.

The illustrations show mums from lots of different backgrounds and, while the text focusses on mums, the illustrations show dads at drop off and pick up, too, a nice touch, as is the fact that one of the childcare workers is male. The illustrations, in watercolour, pencil and collage, are softly coloured and have lots of detail of both the childcare centre and the mothers’ workplaces, with mots spreads having several smaller pictures. This gives plenty to be explored on the repeated readings that the book is likely to have.

Mum Goes to Work is an excellent offering, particularly for families who use childcare, and for centres, too.

Mum Goes to Work, by Libby Gleeson & Leila Rudge
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN 9781921529825

Available from good bookstores and online.

Extra Time, by Morris Gleitzman

As we hurry towards the under-fifteen training pitch, I start to get a feeling in my tummy that something isn’t right.
It’s the right game, soccer.
And there’s skill all over the place. Which is perfect for Matt because he won’t have to get into any arguments about changing sides.
And the pitch looks brilliant. Smooth and green and completely free of wombat activity.
And yet something’s a bit weird.

It’s probably never easy being the manager for a star football player, but when you’re ten years old and the star is your fourteen year old brother there can be all sorts of complications. Ten year old Bridie is so proud of her bother, and is sure that she can help him land a contract to play in England, and follow his dreams.

After a run of bad luck for their family, it seems things are looking up when they get the chance to travel to England and try out for a big-league soccer club. Once they’re there, though, Bridie begins to have her doubts. There’s something strange about the other players they meet: nobody is happy. What if Matt stops being happy, too?

Extra Time has award winning-author Morris Gleitzman’s familiar blend of humour and heart-tug. Bridie’s love of her brother, and the rest of her family, and her sometimes-wise, sometimes-naive world view is endearing. The adult characters are almost pantomime in their wackiness, which adds to the fun, balanced by the tough times faced and hinted at.

Likely to appeal to readers aged nine and over, Extra Time.

 

Book Cover:  Extra Time

Extra Time, by Morris Gleitzman
Penguin Books, 2013
ISBN 9780143307754

Available from good bookstores or online.