The 'Poo Book' Blog Does Book Reviews
The Book: Lola and Grandpa
Category: Picture Book
Published: Little Pink Dog Books, May 2020
About the Creators: Burgeoning Author Ashling Kwok's debut picture book Lola and Grandpa, has been closely followed by the release of The Battle, from EK Books. The children's book industry is abuzz with reviews of these 2020 publications, from North Shore-based freelance writer, Kwok, whose professional background lies in journalism and magazine editing.
Artist, Writer, Illustrator and award-winning Fine Artist, Yvonne Low, welcomes Lola and Grandpa into the world as her latest children's book publication. She has also illustrated covers and internals for The Fastest Ship in Space (by Pamela Freeman), Jack of Spades, and the anthology, A Christmas Menagerie, from Christmas Press.
Why This Book: I've been a fan of Illustrator Yvonne Low's work, since I was drawn to the cover of junior mystery fiction novel, Jack of Spades. I loved this book by Sophie Masson, but would I have picked it up without Low's intriguing cover? I credit her with reeling me in, and luckily I was able to judge that book accurately by its cover.
I was therefore excited to hear of the publication of Lola and Grandpa, illustrated throughout by Low. It was a chance to enjoy her artistic range, and I was not disappointed. It was also a chance to get to know a new emerging talent, Ashling Kwok, an Australian Author on the rise...
About the Book: Lola is the story of a young girl whose weeks are charted by how many days until she will see her Grandpa again. Sunday is their special day, and on that day, she experiences all the wonderful experiences of an inter-generational friendship; Grandpa is devoted to his grand-daughter and Lola basks in the warmth of his love and devotion. But when next Sunday comes, something is different and Lola enters a period of grieving when her grandfather passes away. Will the memories of their bond be enough to help her through a new and challenging life experience?
In an Interview with Kids' Book Review, Ashling Kwok explains that early in her picture book writing career, she received advice to steer clear of sensitive issues in her stories. The common wisdom is that it may deter publishers from backing them. I have also personally received such advice, but fortunately, like the authors of the books When I See Grandma and Finding Granny, Kwok pursued her idea to address old age and the loss of elderly relatives, through a reassuring narrative that is ultimately about love and the value of memories.
Children need to know that the world is not always okay, but they also need to know that no matter how bad it gets, there is always a way through.
- Ashling Kwok, Kids Book Review
Lola and Grandpa is beautifully written. Kwok does indeed live up to her intention of presenting loss in an uplifting way. The story is crafted perfectly, and there is a clear arc from the happy days with Grandpa, to the turning point of his sudden absence, through to the ending, in which Lola can finally see the sun shining through the clouds. Though an old cardigan of Grandpa's is her physical link to his existence, it's the memories and love that will ultimately provide his legacy in her life.
But with potentially daunting subject matter in a text about a child's grief, there is a weight of responsibility on the illustrator, and I believe Yvonne Low has deftly handled the challenge. The cover illustration is light and bright, in both pallette and feel, as is the overall scheme throughout the book. Low's choice of soft but Spring-like hues, to illustrate Lola and Grandpas' adventures, more muted and Autumnal tones for the period of grieving, then a return to Spring freshness, carry the story impeccably. We are taken along by its moods and given the spectre of recovery and hope that we all need when we turn to books, especially when we are children, and just learning to comprehend life's hardships.
Recommended For: As always, my son is my litmus test for my reviews. He is 7 years old and possibly just beyond the target audience for this book (4 to 6 year olds), but as an independent reader, the length and depth of Kwok's text was a good fit for him. As the tone of the text changed, my son knew that something was about to happen to Grandpa. He guessed that Grandpa was going to die. Could he identify with Lola's experience? Not entirely, no, other than to understand the ending of the book was sad.
So, for my child this was an engaging read but not one he would ask to read again... at this stage. It's just not his life experience... as yet. However, I would recommend that if your pre-schooler or early primary child, has experienced the personal loss of a loved one, this book would offer a relatable and empathetic example, to help them through the grieving process.
The motif of Grandpa's cardigan providing a physical comfort to Lola, is touching. The fact that a physical object of comfort gives way to a metaphyisical awakening of memories, is even more beautiful. Possibly, it's only when a child has experienced this, they can truly appreciate the sentiment. It is our responsibility as book creators to make sure everyone's reality is represented, and all stories are told. It is then our job as parents, grandparents and carers, to read widely to our children, and take on the discussion of themes raised in the stories we tell.
Wednesday 7 November: Ahead of Remembrance Day, the 'Poo Book' Blog is proud to review Allison Paterson's Australia Remembers, as a part of her Books On Tour promotion.
The Book: Australia Remembers Anzac Day, Remembrance Day & War Memorials
Category: Junior Non-Fiction (6 - 12 yrs)
Author: Allison Paterson
Available at: Big Sky Publishing Online
RRP: $24.99 (Hardback) / $14.99 (Paperback)
The Intro: When I was in primary school, I remember learning more about the Gallipoli campaign and the ANZACs, than any other military effort in Australia’s history. It’s certainly a moment in time etched in my psyche, but I’m not sure I ever really appreciated the sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand forces, until much later in life. You could say it’s because I never lost a relative in the Great War, or you might turn to the resources used by my history teachers, on the importance of Remembrance Day. Probably both played a part, but it’s a contemporary reference book like Allison Paterson’s Australia Remembers, that really hits home. It’s a best practice example of a non-fiction resource for children, that leaves its mark . Itonveys the truth of Remembrance Day, and the importance of War Memorials for all modern Australian war efforts.
About the Author: Like many savvy children’s authors, Allison Paterson has the profession of teacher-librarian on her extensive CV. This specialised type of educator is fortunate to have exposure to a wide range of literature, both factual and fictional, leading to a strong vantage point from which to pen their own books for children. With 20-years teaching under her belt, and many years reviewing for Magpies Magazine, Allison turned her skills to writing history and has become a specialist in junior reference materials for Australian military history. With industry recognition for children’s title Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front, Paterson has also had Granny’s Place and Shearing Time published, as well as receiving the coveted May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Creative Time Fellowship. Her newly released Australia Remembers, is first in a series of books with the history of war remembrance and the traditions of the Australian defence force at its heart.
About the Book: I read Australia Remembers in one sitting. I was drawn to the content, and the way the stories of the ANZACs, Remembrance Day and War Memorials were presented. I usually dread reading reference books for any other purpose than research, but I can honestly say that Paterson found a way to educate me, while genuinely holding my interest. As alluded to previously, this is the type of non-fiction book that can inspire children. It can engender a true empathy for the people of the past, and those that survive them in the present day.
Divided into manageable themed chapters, each covering a different aspect of the Australian war efforts and memorial traditions, the text is large and broken up into digestible chunks for the young researcher. Usually break-out boxes drive me to distraction as I feel my attention pulled in too many directions, but Paterson and the layout designer have found a way of making them work. The break-out graphics flow with the main text, rather than fighting against it. The sum of all Australia Remembers factual parts, is both readable and meaningful.
I also loved the balance of original source materials (war photos, propaganda posters, and poetry), with quotes and anecdotes from the survivors of war and their relatives. That is the power of this book and its value in keeping a respect for ANZAC alive. Even if you do not have personal experience of war, nor relatives who fought for the cause, you can still walk away from this book more understanding of the true human experience of sacrifice and why so many Australians still commemorate Australian war efforts.
Recommended For: With her background in school libraries, Paterson understands the needs of her audience and pitches perfectly to self-readers from the age of 6 to 12. While older primary students will have a greater depth of understanding of the resource materials contained within the book, and be able to work independently with the materials, there are clever engagement techniques for educating younger students. Examples include Did You Know-style snippets of information, as well as craft and cooking-related activities, to encourage a tangible interest in the red poppy of Remembrance Day, and the biscuits of the ANZACs. While a keen student might choose to read the text in its entirety, it is certainly designed equally, as a well-segmented and indexed reference book for project work. This is, after all, often the first step to a love of history in a curious child. I for one, wish that I had had such a book when I was at school.
Australia Remembers Tour Dates: Monday 5 - Sunday 11 November
Wednesday 7 November
Just Write For Kids & Books On Tour
The Book: Finding Granny (picture book)
Author: Kate Simpson
Illustrator: Gwynneth Jones
Published: July 2018 by EK Books
Available at: All good bookstores and ekbooks.org
Hardback RRP: AU$24.99
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
The Intro: Welcome to the penultimate stop on the Finding Granny #BlogDash for Books on Tour. The ‘Poo Book Blog' is delighted to review this heart-warming picture book, the debut publication for Author and Podcaster, Kate Simpson.
About The Author: Securing your first contract in the world of picture books is no mean feat, and Kate Simpson’s path to publication, proves the pay offs of pitching to publishers at industry events. Since securing her big break at the Kids & YA Festival in 2016, Simpson has immersed herself in the world of children’s books, launching the successful One More Page podcast with writing buddies Nat Amoore and Liz Ledden.
About The Book: Finding Granny had me at love as fierce as a lion Granny. This is the kind of metaphor that stays with you, and immediately makes you think of that nurturing person in your life, who loved you like a lion, when you were just a cub. Next on my list of things I admire about this book is the building sequence of metaphors, painting a picture of a devoted, hands on grandmother, full of life.
Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny,
a bedtime, story-time pantomime Granny,
an I’m not afraid of some slime Granny.
Avoiding an over-use of hyphenated punctuation, the text caters perfectly to the read-aloud age group, in the uncomplicated stages of early literacy.
Replicating the chorus-like refrain of a song, is a tried and true technique of classic kid lit. Finding Granny is one of those lyrical stories you can read over and over, delighting children who soon learn them off by heart. This is the success of the book for me.
Despite the narrative’s essentially sad premise of an alert, energetic granny falling victim to a debilitating stroke, the narrative avoids falling into over-sentimentality. This is in part due to Simpson’s affirmative use of art therapy to re-bond grandmother and grandchild, but also a testament to the vibrant illustrations and generous use of colour by evocative illustrator, Gwyenneth Jones. The child-friendly depiction of a brain with a band aid is a stand out for me.
Rather than despair, this picture book leaves the reader full of hope and appreciative of the author and illustrator’s faithful adherence to the principles of good picture book making. It is also rewarding to see that Kate Simpson’s impressive pitch at a writer’s festival, lived up to its promise and the spark seen by the panel of publishers.
Recommended For: Here’s my litmus test for Finding Granny. My 5-year-old started interrupting my reading of the book, asking, ‘is this like my grandma?’ Though he has no personal experience of a granny with long, silver hair, nor a granny disabled by a stroke, the characterisation of a love as fierce as a lion granny and a not afraid of some slime granny, resonated with him. Big tick for universal themes, Kate Simpson! Even if a child is unable to relate to the experience of debilitating illness, we would certainly wish that every child could relate to the feeling of being loved by that special person in their lives.
I would highly recommend this layered work of storytelling and illustration, for its intended audience for 4 to 8-year-olds. It is both a flowing and relatable read-a-loud book for children of pre-school years, while meeting the more sophisticated needs of primary students, who can process the deeper issues of the human experience.
Finding GrannyTour Dates: Mon 1st - Sat 7th of July
Tuesday 29 May, the 'Poo Book' Blog is delighted to introduce Kellie Byrnes and Cloud Conductor as a part of her Books On Tour promotion.
The Book: Cloud Conductor (picture book)
Author: Kellie Byrnes
Illustrator: Ann-Marie Finn
Published: May 2018 by Wombat Books
Available to purchase at: All good bookstores and online at www.wombatbooks.com
Hardback RRP: AU$24.99
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
The Intro: Welcome to the second stop on the Cloud Conductor #BlogDash for Books on Tour. The ‘Poo Book Blog' is delighted to review this very special picture book, the debut publication for Author and Freelance Writer, Kellie Byrnes.
About the Author: Kellie Byrnes is an exciting new talent in the Australian children’s book landscape. Cloud Conductor is her debut picture book, with another title on the way (Yes! No) in 2019. Byrnes can often be found daydreaming about books, whether penning her next manuscript, or reviewing for the JustKidLit blog. She immerses herself in creativity, whether it be via movies, plays and musicals, or travelling as widely as possible. One to watch!
About the Book: Cloud Conductor took me right back to that magical time in my childhood, when I used to lay on my trampoline, seemingly for hours, gazing at the clouds. I imagined all kinds of shapes and figures in the ever-moving, white, billowy masses. I think the author’s mission was accomplished right then and there. This poignant picture book aims to encourage its readers to be cloud conductors, or purveyors of the imagination, and it achieves this in spades. It relies for its resonance, on the universal premise that we can all make out images in the clouds, whether or not we choose to indulge in this pastime.
Cloud Conductor tells the story of Frankie, a little girl whose active life is affected by an illness, from which she spends most of the book convalescing. The narrative takes us through the seasons of Frankie’s recovery, and her determination not to succumb to melancholy. Like many children searching for escapism, she turns to the world of her imagination. The clouds are the conduit by which she soars and roars through the brightest and darkest of her days. Her interminable spirit provides a gift to her fellow patients - other sick children who can escape their reality, even if just for a little while, by gazing at the clouds.
The sombre palette of the cover bodes a sensitive, or even sad story within, but the reader is soon taken through the full colour spectrum by versatile illustrator Ann-Marie Finn (of Lulu and Eric Finds A Way-fame). Finn conveys the beauty and power of cloudy skies, throughout the seasons. Byrnes’ simple, yet beautifully-crafted text, combines perfectly with Finn’s mixed-media artistic techniques, to contrast the often-confined world of Frankie’s reality, with the boundless world of her adventures in the clouds. Favourite illustrations for me, included the etching of the powerful lion ROARING in the clouds, and the photo realism within the hand-drawing of ‘cloud children’ playing at the beach.
Recommended For: As we read together, my five-year-old (with his own ‘wandering mind’), was both captivated by Frankie’s big imaginings, yet also drawn into the sadness of her real-world experience. My comprehension test for him was, What’s happening with the girl in the story? He replied, She’s sick. This, combined with the fact he kept still and didn’t wriggle once during the reading, indicates to me that the book passes the test for its intended audience. It also aces the impress-the-adult-reader test, with its sensitive themes and clever demonstration of creativity.
Cloud Conductor is recommended for ages 5 to 8, and though we try to avoid talking about gender, I felt this was a book that would appeal equally to boys and girl. It taps into that part of EVERYONE’s psyche, that is fascinated with the clouds. Who doesn't love the idea that we can escape our troubles, if we only just yield to the world of our imagination? This is a perfect book for reading to early primary age, yet also pitched wonderfully to children who enjoy the pleasure of reading picture books to themselves. I can only imagine the comfort a book like this would provide, to a child experiencing illness, or perhaps bullying. If we refuse to stop dreaming, we can find the inner strength to overcome almost anything.
Cloud Conductor Tour Dates: Mon 28th - Fri 1st of June
Sunday 8 April, the 'Poo Book' Blog is delighted to introduce Carolyn Denman and The Sentinels of Eden series as a part of her Books On Tour promotion.
The Book: Songlines, The Sentinels of Eden Book One
Author: Carolyn Denman
Published: Aug 2016 by Odyssey Books
Available to purchase Angus & Robertson
Paperback RRP AU$23.95
For more information on blog tours at Books On Tour please visit www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour.
The Intro: Welcome to the first stop on the Sentinels of Eden #BlogDash for Books on Tour. The ‘Poo Book Blog' is delighted to review Songlines, Book One of Carolyn Denman's young adult fantasy series, in advance of her latest release - Sympath (Book Three).
About the Author: Like many authors, Carolyn Denman comes to writing from a diverse background. Her major at University was science and she now works as a mortgage-broker. She indulges her creativity by writing fantasy fiction for young adults and also manages to run a hobby farm, raise a family and feed 63 baby axolotls! They say if you want a job done right, give it to a busy person. Carolyn Denman proves this adage with The Sentinels of Eden, a skilfully written, speculative fiction series.
About the Book: In the debut novel of this original series, we are introduced to a world of mixed mythology and supernatural powers, juxtaposed with the everyday realities of teenage coming of age. Songlines seems at first, like any other teen angst drama, magnified by the pressures of graduating high school in a small country town. The story soon takes an interesting turn though, with a tense run-in between heroine Lainie's Aunt Lily, and mining company Kolsom. The corporate power begins exploratory sampling a little too close to Lainie's family's sheep farm, in the Victorian Wimmera region. This opens a pandora's box of family secrets including the revelation that Lainie is in fact a Sentinel of biblical Eden, and she is sworn to protect the hidden entrance to this mythological world, located in the heart of country Victoria.
Like any work of speculative fiction, the key to enjoyment is suspending your disbelief. Fantasy fans will take this as a given, but I must admit the question for me was why Eden? It's a Christian construct. Why not The Dreaming - an Indigenous Australian mythology? After all, Lainie and her best-friend Noah, have indigenous blood in their veins, and one of the senior Sentinels is a local Aboriginal elder. Still, I couldn't deny that with the legend of Eden, Denman has drawn on a familiar Western paradigm to which readers will relate. She has then infused it with the concept of songlines - the indigenous spirit of care-taking for sacred land.
Songlines is readable and relatable. It grounds a fantastical course of events in the realities of an Australian farming community, where livelihoods are hard come by and communities are small, providing a strong sense of belonging, yet also the tensions of feeling trapped. Add to this volatile mix, four teenagers with raging hormones, family skeletons and identity crises, and you've got all the ingredients of great YA drama.
Every teenager (and even some adult readers) will identify with those early turning points where we must make big decisions in life, love and career, knowing that we aren't really ready for it. Will we make the right decision? Will Lainie make the right decision? Learning she is of superhuman origin and that the fate of Eden's safety rests on her shoulders, is an intimidating realisation. This, coupled with the fact that her soulmate is her worst enemy and her long-dead mother might actually be a nymph living in Eden, you just have to feel for this girl and become invested in her story... and her fate.
Book One sets up the series beautifully and leaves the story on a suitable cliff-hanger. Will Lainie give into the temptations of Eden, or will she choose real-life and love over a fantasy world? I am definitely left intrigued to read Book Two - Sanguine - and excited to hear that Odyssey Books have backed this Australian novelist's work with the release of a third in the series - Sympath.
Recommended For: Songlines is promoted as YA Fantasy for readers 12 and over and from a reviewer's perspective, I wouldn't disagree, but I would elaborate with a comparison of a peer-title from the same publisher. Elizabeth Foster's 2017 novel Esme's Wish, is also speculative fiction. It's dosed with realism but whereas I would recommend it for late primary and early YA readers with it's friendship-focus, I would suggest The Sentinels of Eden series is for a high-school teen audience, with mature themes of emerging identity, coming of age, violence and sexual attraction.