Meerkat Christmas – Aura Parker

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Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777229
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

Seriously, I’m always so in awe of creators who can do both the text and the illustrations – for someone who yearns to have even a smidgin of creativity it seems a little unfair -haha!

This is another title I shared with numerous classes over the closing weeks of Term 4 – again from Prep upwards to Year 3 and once again it was received with tumultous applause – even the older children loved the rollicking rhymes and the oh-so-cute illustrations.

We all had lots fun talking who had or had not seen meerkats yet (many in my neighbourhood have gone to Australia Zoo), where meerkats live, why does EVERYONE love them so much and imagining other funny antics they might get up to. They totally loved the reveal of the pups pyramid-ing their way to form a Christmas Tree and there was much laughter all round.

And what do I love? I absolutely adore the endpapers (as everyone knows, they are a passion of mine) and I love that the rhyming text flows naturally with rhythmic grace and ease and never sounds forced or discordant (which frankly, annoys me often in books by ‘award winning’ authors whose scansion leaves much to be desired) – this is just fabulous and the top reason for it being such a joy to read aloud!

This is truly an adorable addition to your Christmas bookshelf and for a little person in your circle particularly would make for a beautiful gift under the tree or in their wee stocking.

Highly recommended for small pups from around 4 years to 8 years old.

Christmas Goodies

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Zola and the Christmas Lights – Melina Marchetta/Deb Hudson

Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777649
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

For the entirety of the delightful What Zola did On… series, Melina Marchetta consistently delivered such beautiful and meaningful messages to young readers around diversity, community, empathy, friendship and family, all without once becoming preachy or tedious. It truly was joyful to read each new instalment. Now Zola has her very first (and let’s hope, not last) picture book and once again Zola’s story embodies all that made the chapter books so special.

Before school finished up I had the pleasure of sharing this gorgeous book with at least five different classes from Prep to Year 3 and all not only loved it, but also keenly participated in predicting and postulating. It was a highlight of my last few weeks of casual teaching.

Best of all for the very diverse population of children with whom I shared this, there was not one who could not identify with some aspect of this Australian celebration, from my sweet girl who so excitedly told me ‘we have a lantern just like that for Ramadan and my mum wears [that]’ i.e.a hijab, to the ones who could talk earnestly about some people finding it hard to buy groceries, to the ones who had already put up Xmas decorations. We really did have such fun and such richness from it.

Of course the narrative is beautifully illustrated by Deb Hudson, whose work enhanced the chapter books so ably but now explodes into a perfect riot of colour and detail.

It’s not too late to pick up a copy and share with your own little people – and enjoy the talk about what our various celebrations mean to us all.

Highly recommended for readers from 4 years upwards.

Peace on Earth, good will toward all

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Emily Gravett: Meerkat Christmas

Whatever, and however you celebrate I wish you all safe and happy holidays, from me and The Kid. Many thanks to all who follow and bother to read my reviews – which are haphazardly posted at best – and I’m thrilled to see that this year the blog has had well over 10 000 views!!!! Wow!! 2023 marks a decade since I decided to start collating the reviews I was doing in one place ,and began Just So Stories, and there have been many, many changes in my life since then. It looks like my full-time teaching days are over but will still need to keep earning somehow for a while to support The Kid so new adventures await.

Not only do I want to thank you all but also the wonderful authors, illustrators, creators and of course the publicists at various publishing houses who let me play in their world. I have a couple of Christmas reviews to write up and post today, and then about twenty more to catch up on (!!) after the festivities are done.

I do hope your own celebrations are filled with joy – The Kid and I will be in our happy place for three days (very like Kev in that illustration!) and ours will be slow and salty.

The Heartstopper Yearbook – Alice Oseman

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Hachette

OCT 13, 2022 | 9781444968392 | RRP $32.99

When I saw the little piece today that Netflix has announced that Heartstopper Season 2 has wrapped up, I just knew it was the day to share this one! The graphic series that started as a slow burn 2 years ago or soon, with many of us recommending i,t has steadily gained a huge following but the Netflix series not only clinched its popularity but saw it skyrocket like nothing I’ve seen since the frenzy of HP years ago.

This is going to make the ultimate stocking stuffer for any tween or teen in your circle, as Alice Oseman takes her readers through the whole journey of Heartstopper, with profiles on characters (and even pets!), the artwork including ‘how to draw’ activities for fans, backstories and more.

While there is some room for an owner-reader to personalise the book, I don’t believe this precludes it from a library shelf as these pages are few. For the most part this a celebration of the phenomenon that is Heartstopper along with some very pertinent commentary on the Pride movement, diversity and acceptance for all. The allure of this series is that it is genuinely sweet and wholesome, and every kiddo I know who has read it is not only instantly hooked but dragging in their friends to get hold of it next.

It is beautifully presented in this hardback edition, and would make a marvellous gift at any time but perhaps especially for a Christmas surprise. If, like me, you’ve needed four copies of each volume in the series in your collection, you won’t want to miss out on getting this one.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 upwards.

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents[ film tie-in edition] – Terry Pratchett

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Penguin Australia

November 2022

ISBN: 9780552578929

Imprint: Corgi Childrens

RRP: $16.99

Twenty years ago the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett won the Carnegie Medal for his 28th book in the Discworld series, the first written for children, so it is utterly fitting that finally this extraordinary, absurd fantasy should be brought to life – and brought to a new generation of readers in a filmed version.

Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with either Sir Terry’s work, Discworld or Maurice ….

…allow me to give you a little insight. This is a book that has everything I most prize in my reading: ridiculous humour and sparkling wit, twisted fairy-tales, quirky characters, talking animals, rats even more intelligent than their usual intellect and a happy ending. Maurice is a wily shyster of a cat, who is cannily manipulating a band of rats and a gormless youth to fleece villagers of ‘rat plagues’. Both cat and rats have intelligence out-ranking that of humans, can speak and even read and write (a little) following their consumption of mysterious magic rubbish from the university of wizardry. Just as they reach a more or less mutual decision to end their rather unscruplous con-game, they come upon a town in which a far nastier deception involving the manipulation of rats and the greed of individuals is taking place. Needless to say, after nail-biting adventures and narrow escapes, the unlikely comrades do indeed, rout the real ‘rats’ from the town and earn their place in its society in a wholly unprecedented rat-human symbiotic partnership.

It had been a long time since I had read it and I fell in love with it all over again. With the newly minted animated film due for release before Xmas, this is going to make a perfect stocking stuffer for youngsters from around 8 years upwards and definitely one to have on your shelves when school starts back in 2023.

Given my love of this series, Sir Terry Pratchett (whom we lost the day after my Jen. I used his quote at her farewell) and rats (I do miss my own ratty girls) this gets my highest recommendation. Hopefully it will spark a passion for Pratchett, that is shared by readers all over the world, in your kiddos.

BOHEMIAN RAT-SODY

Is this the rat life? Is this rat fantasy?

Bought from a feeder bin, escaped from reality

Open your eyes, look up to this guy and see

I’m just a poor floof, I need no sympathy

Because I’m squeezy tum, tiny toes, little ears, little nose

Anywhere the cheerios doesn’t really matter to me, to me

Mama, just bought a rat

Went to buy the cat a bed

To a snake, he would be fed

Mama, life has just begun

Cuz now I’ve gone and saved a floof today

Mama, ooh, didn’t mean to make you cry

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow

Call the vet, call the vet,

For I’ll be there with the ratters

Too late, what have I done?

To the pet store one last time, got 10 more and they’re all mine

Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go

Gotta leave you all behind and face the floof

Mama, ooh, I don’t want them to die

I sometimes wish they’d never been born at all

I see a little silhouetto of a rat

Boople snoot,

Boople snoot,

Will you watch his boggle eyes go

Chocolate chips and icing,

Very much enticing, Meep!

Can I free-roam? (Can I free-roam?)

Can I free-roam? (Can I free-roam?)

Can I free-roam, let me go, oh mumma no-oh-oh-oh!

No, no, NO NO!

I’m just a poor rat, nobody loves me,

He’s eating dinner, with his whole family,

Spare some roast beef for this baby rattie?

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?

Groomer! No, we will not let you go

(Let him go) Groomer! We will not let you go

(Let him go) Groomer! We will not let you go

(Let me go) Will not let you go

(Let me go) Will not let you go

(Let me go) Ah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

(Oh power groomer, power groomer) Power groomer, let me go

Beaa-eaaaar-z-Bear has Calcifer on his side you see, you see, you see

So you think you can stop me cause I’m pink eyed?

So you think you can scritch me and leave me this high?

Oh, hooman,

Can’t do this to me hooman,

Just gotta scritch me,

Just gotta scritch me right ‘round here

Floofing really matters, anyone can see

Floofing really matters,

Floofing really matters to me

Anywhere the cheerios

So long Picture Book Month 2022

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Well it was a bit of a mammoth effort and one I haven’t undertaken for a few years but a new PB review posted each day of the month – whew!! Thanks for anyone who played along with me :-). Hope you discovered some treasures for your collections!! and of course, thanks to the publishers who are kind enough to let me read voraciously for them :-).

Now SO many others to catch up on – about 18 piled up from biographies to MG novels – lucky holidays are imminent!!

Audrey Hepburn: The Illustrated World of a Fashion Icon – Megan Hess

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Hardie Grant Books

October 2022

ISBN: 9781743798362

RRP: $39.99

I guess in the traditional sense, this is not a picture book but given it’s my blog and I can do what I like *grin* – I’m calling it as my last post for Picture Book Month because it IS a picture book and it is just utterly enchanting. I go as far as to say, it is an exquisite jewel of a book and, hands down, the most beautiful book I’ve held this year.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I requested this but simply did so because it’s Audrey – who wouldn’t? But when it arrived I was simply blown away.

Yes, it gives some pertinent details about the life and career of one of the greatest icons of the 20th century – her childhood, the war years, her education, her dancing dreams, her career and, more importantly, her legacy but it is not vast chunks of text enlivened with perhaps photographs or other visual ephemera.

This is a work of art in itself and the subject would, I feel, greatly approve of it. The incredible artwork which is offset by the delightful short bursts of information is one of the loveliest concepts I’ve seen in a book about a person. Most people know I give away the great majority of my review books – particularly to school libraries who might struggle at times with budgeting – but the very rare one I might keep and truly, this is so beautiful, it will likely be one of those treasures. With it’s beautiful artwork, the sumptuous binding, the gilt-edged pages!! – from every angle this is just a pleasure to behold.

For any school library it is a gorgeous edition to your bio collection but can I suggest, that with Xmas approaching at rapid speed, if you have a young person interested in fashion or movie icons, this would make a superlative gift – for anyone from as young as ten or so.

I’m in love with it – and CANNOT wait to see the Grace Kelly one coming out next year!!

Ella and the Useless Day – Meg McKinlay/Karen Blair

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Walker Books

August 2022

ISBN13:9781760653095

Australia RRP:$25.99

New Zealand RRP:$28.99

Imprint:Walker Books Australia

Even though many of us have been banging on about Reduce/Reuse/Recycle and being more sustainable for years, dare I say since the arrival of the dread pandemic a slower, more thoughtful approach to being waste-free has become more evident. Perhaps it was a side-effect of the having to do without many things for sustained periods or maybe because our customary lifestyles seemed so threatened, whatever the reason I feel many people have turned again to slow living, cottage lifestyle – call it what you will.

Children will happily enumerate countless ways to save the environment but it’s not always so many ways to re-purpose they can imagine. This fun book with its very practical meaning will be a super adjunct to any classroom, or home, discussions around this topic.

Ella and her Dad realise they have just too much stuff and lots of it is USELESS so together they have a big clear-out and all the jumble goes into the trailer, destined for the tip. Along the way however, friends and neighbours spot various pieces of the ‘junk’ that is just the thing they have been looking for. By the time the pair get to the tip, they have nothing USELESS left at all.

There is much to love about this book. For a start, I love that it’s Ella and her father doing the clearing out – we don’t see a mother, perhaps there isn’t one but I do like that it suggests that fathers are equally as good at organising and de-cluttering. I love the colour palette used by illustrator, Karen Blair, the soft pastels evoke a real sense of homely-ness and comfort, peace and emotional warmth. Along with that the neighbourhood houses are so cottage-y and the entire setting like a traditional village, that immediately one feels the sense of connectedness and community. Everyone in the neighbourhood puts their piece of junk to creative and imaginative use from giant decorative flowers to a terrarium, and a scarecrow to fairy garden. It’s just a lovely, feel-good way to spread the word about re-purposing, upcycling and reducing landfill.

If your school, like so many, has a program in place to encourage sustainable living this is a must-have and even without that it is definitely a valuable addition to your classroom curriculum program or home school.

Highly recommended for children from Prep upwards.

If you live in Brisbane – check out Reverse Garbage where you can not only source great materials for upcycling but book presenters for workshops. I feel sure that other localities will have similar co-ops.

Dancing with Memories – Sally Yule with Professor Ralph Martins & Maggie Beer. Illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

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Harper Collins

July 2022

Imprint: ABC Books AU

  • ISBN: 9780733342578
  • ISBN 10: 0733342574

RRP: $24.99

The length of time I’ve been sitting on this is certainly no reflection of its quality or value so please don’t think it is. Given my rather tumultuous year, there came a point where I just thought – save all these PBs for November so now you are getting the benefit of them all in one 30 day extravaganza *grin*.

I’d venture to say that there would be very few families who have not been touched by dementia or Alzheimer’s in some way. I know that often when I talk to kiddos, younger or older, there are numerous anecdotes regarding family members who are affected and we talk about how difficult and sad it can be.

My own beautiful Mum slipped further and further away from us for nearly ten years before we lost her altogether and it was heartbreaking. We talked to our little people about what was happening with Nanny but a sensitively written book such as this is a godsend to families faced with the same situation.

Lucy has dementia and knows it. She knows she forgets things and that she remembers things but there is no predicting which. Fortunately she has family and friends looking out for her to help her and when she remembers her granddaughter’s wedding but forgets that her daughter is picking her up, a solo bus trips turns into a worrying and anxious time. With good fortune, all ends well but it is certainly a timely reminder to those of us in this situation to always be mindful of what can happen.

This is Sally Yule’s first foray into writing and is based on her long years of experience working with Alzheimer’s patients and families, as well as her own parents. This first-hand experience was her impetus to share with families and children to help them understand more about living with dementia. The additional material from Professor Ralph Martins [Foundation Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University WA, and Professor of Neurobiology at Macquarie University NSW.] and Maggie Beer, [much-loved cook, author and former Senior Australian of the Year] is a wonderful bonus. I know, I’m going to try out some of Maggie’s recipes for sure.

Highly recommended for your readers from Prep upwards and I would strongly suggest sharing the information on this one with your community via newsletter or socials as well as ensuring your guidance officer/counsellor has a copy to hand. Extensive teaching materials available as attached.

Thank You, Teacher from The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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  • Penguin Australia
  • August 2022
  • ISBN: 9780241585566
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

They tell me Xmas is rapidly drawing closer – but what is even closer than that is the end of the school year. Most of us are now mid-term so that dreaded moment of finding a gift for your child’s teacher is nigh, and while, of course we don’t mind endless scented candles, bath bombs, potted succulents and so on, what would be really appreciated is a generous voucher to the nearest bottle shop -ok ok, so maybe not everyone wants that.

If you do have a small person and want to show your grateful thanks to their teacher, this is just the sweetest gift with Eric Carle’s inimitable artwork and some simple text that will resonate. Not having a small person any longer – The Kid is gearing up for her final year of school, and as her teacher is me, it would be quite redundant really – this is a gift for a special friend who just also happens to be one of the most superlative teachers I’ve ever had the privilege to know.

And really – for the small price of $12.99 – you could afford to bung it in with a bottle of something to enjoy as well.

Don’t miss out on getting this – and though I say it makes a lovely gift, it certainly won’t hurt to add it to your library or classroom collection as well. I think the kiddos will love reading it and telling their own teacher what it is they love about her or him.