kids book reviews
- The Official Lego Annual 2013 (Ladybird Books)
- The Guinness World Records 2013
- My Friend Is Sad, and other books by Mo Willems
- Book Review: My Copan Adventure by Eugene Ruble
- Book Review: Guinevere On the Eve of a Legend by Cheryl Carpinello
- Reviews of great kids books for 2-5yr olds
- Jock of the Bushveld soon in 3D and as theatre
- Reviews of kids recipe and activity books
- Dandylion and Here comes Frankie: children’s books reviewed
Review by Tiffany Markman, mom to a one-year-old, tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.
Our daughter is almost 20 months old, and a major milestone in our family was when she developed an interest in Lego. Some parents get excited about their child being able to ride a scooter or draw a picture or eat with a fork – for us, it was Lego.
Granted, she’s still busy with the big Lego, called Duplo, but we’re all having a ball. She’s constantly asking to ‘build a tower, mommy’. Her daddy is in heaven. And so I was super-chuffed to see that Lego publishes nice big books as well.
The Official Lego Annual 2013 starts out very cool, featuring on its cover a plastic window that has ‘2013’ spelled out in Lego pieces. Inside are stories, activities and sections with different themes, like policemen, firemen, ambulance drivers, pilots, ninjas, warriors, etc. There are puzzles, word searches, spot-the-difference challenges and true or false questions, and every now and then there’s a comic strip.
It’s all bright and busy, with lots to do and loads of little details to come back to.
However, I have two problems with the Annual.
One is that, in parts, it appears to highlight violent behaviour: there are lots of weapons, a prison break, nasty baddies, dangerous missions, etc. (but I could be completely out of touch with what’s involved in entertaining a five-year-old, given that 5+ is the recommended age for this book).
The other is that little girls like Lego too, but there is little in this book that my daughter would love – barring some fun references to emoticons, doctors and Red Riding Hood. Again, I may expect too much.
Bottom line? If you have or know a little boy who is Lego-obsessed and knows all about Ninjago, the Masters of Spinjitzu and the Hero Factory, the Annual is a must.
Click here to order this book online from Red Pepper Books
Review by Tiffany Markman, mom to a one-year-old, tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.
I’ve been told more than once by friends who work at bookstores that the most commonly stolen book is the bible. Who’d have thought? Well, this book is allegedly number two on that list of dubious distinction: The Guinness World Records.
It’s an annual reference book that contains a collection of world records: both human achievements and extremes of the natural world. In the 2013 edition we find out:
This edition has all of the stuff I loved as a kid: the disgusting metre-long fingernails, the full-body tattoos and the mammoth spiders, but there’s a free Augmented Reality app (for both iOS and Android) that supposedly brings records to life in 3D.
The layout is bright, if a little busy, and the ‘Actual Size’ button is fabulous. The range of topics is also broader than I remember, extending into tiny niches of pop culture, space travel, sports and engineering. Star Wars even has a dedicated section.
Kids from age 7 or so up will pore over the new Guinness World Records, exclaiming at the coolness, the grossness and the amazingness. Adults just won’t be able to help themselves. And it’s an interesting tome to have lying around the house.
(Quick-‘n’-quiet confession: We keep our Guinness World Records in the loo.)
Reviewer: Tiffany Markman, mom to a one-year-old, tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.
Elephant and Piggie is a book series by Mo Willems. It has a fantastic comic book style, and features two friends: an elephant, Gerald, and a pig, Piggie.
My Friend Is Sad begins with Gerald, the ellie, who has a very sad face. Piggie tries all sorts of things to cheer him up: dressing up as a cowboy, a clown and a robot. But Gerald remains sad. Eventually we discover that Gerald is sad because Piggie isn’t there, and because he can’t share the cool cowboy, clown and robot with Piggie – whom he is unable to recognise beyond the disguise. Happily, it all works out in theend, with a clever twist (that I subsequently spotted in all of the Elephant and Piggie books).
Mo Willems’s books are not only gorgeous to look at and easy to read, with very clean, well-designed pages and simple text – they’re also widely recognised: Two books in the series have been listed on Time magazine’s ‘Top 10 Children’s Books of the Year’: Today I Will Fly in 2007 and Elephants Cannot Dance! in 2009.
In terms of target reader, I’d say parents could read these books to toddlers from age 1, but – as the pages are paper rather than board – solo reading would probably be best from ages 2 to 4. And the range of books would be good to keep, to come back to in primary school, when it comes to navigating friendships and conflicts.
Reviewer: Fiona Ingram, a South African writer who loves books, travel, animals, antiques, and adventures of all kinds! Read Fiona’s author siteand find out about her recently published children’s adventure novel
Reading Level: 7-12
Paperback: 20 pages
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing
Rating: 4 four stars
Available from Kalahari
Twelve-year-old James Questor accompanies his father, a Harvard professor, to the Copan Valley, Central America where the professor is investigating the ancient ruins of the city of Copan. Not only is this an adventure for the curious boy, brimful of questions, but it’s also a way of stepping back in time and learning about the ancient Mayan culture that disappeared inexplicably. Experts have proposed a variety of theories: was it war, famine, overbuilding, the lack of water? No one knows, but for James, this is an opportunity to study history up close by exploring the ruins and examining the remains of frescoes, artifacts, and hieroglyphics. Filling in as his father’s assistant is a great way of digging into the past. James is fascinated by what they find on their expedition: not only ruins, but also the remains of huge pyramids, and tall stone slabs called stelae, covered in ancient Mayan writing. Through his questions, James learns about the magnificent Mayan culture that stretched from southern Mexico to northern Honduras.
This is a wonderful book for curious and adventurous kids, eager to learn through having fun. James uses maps to trace their journey, and the beautifully detailed illustrations and maps are a visual feast. The author is a gifted artist and his images are simply wonderful. Just studying the illustrations will teach a keen young reader so much. This is the kind of book that makes learning fun and which young readers will want to treasure.
Reviewer: Fiona Ingram, a South African writer who loves books, travel, animals, antiques, and adventures of all kinds! Read Fiona’s author site and find out about her recently published children’s adventure novel
Length: 122 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Genre: Children’s Fiction/YA
Rating: 5 stars
Suitable For: Ages 10+
Available from Kalahari
The Arthurian legends have timeless appeal and Cheryl Carpinello’s book Guinevere: On the Eve of a Legend is no exception. As an educator dedicated to encouraging reluctant readers, and having taught the legends of Arthur to high school classes for nearly 20 years, the author knows her stuff and her love of the legend shines from every page. Although much has been written about Arthur both as boy and king, and books have been devoted to the adult Guinevere and her ill-fated marriage to Arthur, this book comes as a surprise by introducing Guinevere as a young girl. In fact, our heroine is truly on the eve of a legend as the book centers around Guinevere’s 13th Birth Day, the turning point for her, when she crosses over from being a child to a young woman. We find Guinevere in the opening pages having the time of her life. With her friend, seven-year-old Cedwyn, she spends most of her time playing, roaming the castle grounds and occasionally the forest, hunting for rabbits or mythical creatures.
But life has plans for her, as Guinevere finds out, and life’s plans, a combination of what her father and the wizard Merlyn have decided for her, do not sit well with this fiery-tempered and independent young girl. Upon hearing she will be betrothed to the young brave King Arthur and then married to him on her fifteenth Birth Day, Guinevere decides to run away from home. She is not interested in being married and is even less interested in becoming a queen. Her attempt at fleeing is short-lived, partly because Cedwyn’s legs are too short to do much running, partly because foraging for food in the wilds loses its appeal very quickly, and partly because Guinevere realizes that she must eventually grow up and grasp her destiny with both hands. In this coming-of-age story, her friend and advisor Merlyn is there to guide and instruct her. With magicality, tenderness, and spinning a sense of enchantment, Merlyn uses the teachings of legends and the forest to illustrate the lessons one must face in life. In this way Guinevere realizes that if she enjoyed being a princess so much, it is just a small step to enjoying being a queen. She also understands how much her father loves her and that her happiness is all he desires. Besides, she still has two whole years to enjoy before having to really grow up.
Cheryl Carpinello’s take on the Arthurian theme is unique and enchanting. Her descriptions of everyday life, food, behavior, weapons, and attitudes of the early Middle Ages display a wealth of research. Information is subtly introduced to enhance the story and does not overpower the reader. Her descriptions are rich, palpable, and appropriate to whatever scene one reads. The moment when the children see the unicorns is one of poignant magicality. The scene with the brachet, the rabbit, King Pellinore, and the hapless Painted Dragon is roaringly funny! Cheryl Carpinello has created a book along the lines of The Once and Future King, with the same kind of appealing humor and dry wit in her Merlyn. She has included an interesting glossary for young readers to fully enjoy their understanding of an historical environment; as well as Q&A for educators, and a recommended reading list. I look forward to reading Cheryl’s next book Young Knights of the Round Table: The King’s Ransom.
Reviewer: by Tiffany Markman, who is mom to a delicious one-year-old, a book reviewer and a freelance copywriter, editor and writing trainer who tries to balance her workaholic tendencies with addictions to smooching her toddler, salacious non-fiction, caffeine, her iPhone and more. Follow Tiffany’s tongue-in-cheekery on twitter.
AFRICAN ANIMALS ABC
By Philippa-Alys Browne
I’m not fussy when it comes to choosing books for my one-year-old. But I am discerning. (Which, my husband says, is a euphemism for fussy.)
You see, so many of the kiddie books we’re given have pretty pictures, but rhymes that don’t quite scan. Or missing apostrophes (Its fun at the sea-side.) Or a warped sense of gender roles (He likes to work. She likes to cook.) And this is why I’m extremely careful when buying books for our daughter. I check them for spelling, grammar, rhymes that flow properly and messages that – while they needn’t be hugely meaningful – aren’t socially worrisome.
Its pictures are authentic and beautiful African-style illustrations (or perhaps lino-cuts) of African animals – some common, some less so – with an appropriate verb:
Yellow-billed kite soars in the sky
The words chosen are lovely – some are easy, like ‘Crocodile snaps’; others are a bit more challenging, like ‘Porcupine quivers’. And, at the back, there’s a useful blurb on each of the pictured animals for when she’s a bit older or starts asking questions:
The umhutu or mosquito is an insect. The common household mosquito can be found throughout Africa.Nyala are antelopes that can be found in Southern African. They live and graze in forests and when they are scared, they make a barking sound. Also, it’s a sturdy board book, which means my little monster can’t rip it to pieces.
In the 13 months of her life, our daughter has been to the bush twice, with a third trip coming up in a few months. So, to have a book with which she can grow accustomed to some of the interesting animals (her word: ‘amals’) we see there, is a great gift.
AFRICAN ANIMALS ABC is also a wonderful gift for foreigners with small children.
WE ALL WENT ON SAFARI
Subtitled ‘A Counting Journey through Tanzania’, this lovely book introduces little readers (I’d say older toddlers – aged 2 to 5 – who are still being read to, and 6- and 7-year olds who are just starting to read for themselves) to three things:
The story starts with a large extended family going on ‘safari’ at the start of a sunny day and spying a lonely leopard. They count ‘one’ (in Swahili, ‘moja’). Then, two (‘mbili’) ostriches running. Then, three (‘tatu’) giraffes grazing. And so on, through beautifully illustrated and laid out pages, to ten (‘kumi’) enormous elephants.
The use of descriptive verbs (‘Up bobbed some hefty hippos’), colourful adjectives (‘Grasslands damp with dew’, ‘Zigzag zebras’) and tidy rhyme is careful and clever. And right at the end, as an extra, are pages on the animals of Tanzania, the Maasai people, Swahili names and their meanings, facts about Tanzania, a map and the full list of numbers, one to ten – all with stunning illustrations and useful pronunciation.
I can’t wait for my littlie to be just old enough to graduate from board books and have this read to her. In the interim, you should buy it. It’s something really different.
BEAR TAKES A TRIP
By Stella Blackstone & Debbie Harter
‘Bear has a very long journey to make. There are lots of things for him to take.’
So he wakes up early, at 7.00am. By 8.30am he’s made his bed, washed his face, eaten his breakfast and packed his case. Filled with vibrantillustrations – some of the prettiest and most colourful I’ve seen in a children’s book – this wonderful story introduces little readers to telling the time, but it also has supplementary messages about making preparations, about taking trips and about spending time with friends.
(In terms of age range, I’d say older toddlers – aged 2 to 5 – who are still being read to, and 6- and 7-year olds who are just starting to read for themselves.)
If you’re a family that travels regularly, or that is planning a trip, this is a great way to introduce your kids to getting ready, getting going, being patient and enjoying their surroundings. But beyond that, the story’s core focus is time-telling.
There are clocks and watches on every page, explanations of ‘noon’, ‘midnight’, ‘quarter to’ and so on, and pictures of different clock faces, with the big and little hands in different positions. I love it. It’s a nice buy, too, for a long car journey.
We have a seven-year-old littlie living with us, and she’s starting Clocks at school, so I’m planning on testing this book out with her to see how she likes it…
by Fiona Ingram, a South African writer who loves books, travel, animals, antiques, and adventures of all kinds! Read Fiona’s author site and find out about her recently published children’s adventure novel
The theatre production of Jock of the Bushveld will open at Joburg Theatre this week. There’s also an animated full-length 3D feature movie in the making. For those of you who haven’t read this well loved book, let me tell you something about this wonderful children’s book.
Jock of the Bushveld is a true story by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, recounting his adventures in the Lowveld in the late 19th century, with his dog, Jock. The book tells of Fitzpatrick’s travels with his dog, Jock, during the 1880s, when he worked as a storeman, prospector’s assistant, journalist and ox-wagon transport-rider in the Bushveld region of the Transvaal (then the South African Republic). Fitzpatrick later recounted these adventures as bedtime stories to his four children. Rudyard Kipling, a good friend of Fitzpatrick, also took part in these storytelling evenings and eventually persuaded him to collect these tales in book form. Illustrations for the book were done by Edmund Caldwell, a brother of Mary Tourtel, creator of Rupert Bear.
The book was first published in 1907 and had an extremely warm reception, being reprinted four times in that year alone. Since then it has achieved the status of a classic South African book and has been also widely read abroad—more than one hundred editions have been printed and it has been translated into Afrikaans, Dutch, French, Xhosa and Zulu, amongst others. Jock was saved by Fitzpatrick from being drowned in a bucket for being the runt of the litter (he would ruin the litter if left with them). Jock was very loyal towards Percy, and brave.
Sir Percy’s History
Eventually after five years of transport riding, tsetse fly infected all Sir Percy’s oxen and he was ruined. He walked penniless into Barberton, all the way from Louw’s Creek, found a job and also a wife, Lilian Cubitt, whom he married. After that Sir Percy relocated to Johannesburg and was then employed by the Johannesburg mining group, the Corner House. He gave Jock to a friend of his, who in time gave the dog to a trader who had a store in Mozambique at a place known as Old Pessene. There Jock was killed one night when he rushed out to attack a stray dog that was raiding the fowl run. Jock killed the thief but was then shot when his master mistook him in the darkness for the other dog. Jock permanently lost his hearing when a kudu cow kicked him. Loss of hearing is attributed as one of the main reasons he died, as he could not hear Tom Barnett when he called him, and was mistakenly shot, because he was thought to be the dog killing chickens on the farm.
Jock at the Movies
The 3D animated feature film of Jock of the Bushveld is in the initial stages of production, with 26 artists, animators and technicians busy in their Johannesburg studios. Some 59 scenes have already been completed using the latest computer-assisted animation, and soon the project will be marketed abroad. Another big scoop is the involvement of some big names in the entertainment industry such as musical writing superstar Tim Rice, and local singers Johnny Clegg and Nianell. A major coup for the filmmakers is Archbishop Tutu’s involvement. He’ll be lending his sonorous voice to a small but key part involving spirituality.
An important part of the movie marketing plan is to focus on education in the Mpumalanga Lowveld, which is the setting for Jock’s story. Corporate sponsorship will contribute to community upliftment and awareness.
Books vs Movies or Theatre
Kids love movies of books, and sometimes see the movie first. Although parents may worry that the movie is a substitute for the book, this is generally not the case. It’s a golden opportunity for parents to suggest that they add to the enjoyment by getting the book/s. Similiarly with the theatre production. Parents can encourage their children to get onto the computer and look up everything they can possibly find about the movie, the plot, the characters, the actors—it’s all reading, whether in book or electronic format. Once hooked on a great book, any child will return to that beloved adventure time and time again. I will be seeing the show next eweek and doing my review. So watch this space for more
by Corinne Lamoral , a freelance writer and media consultant, practicing part time corporate communications. She lives with her husband and three children on a koppie in Johannesburg where she pretends the distant hum of traffic is the ocean.
With just over a week until the end of the holidays, I am loving books that keep my children busy and happy. A few of my favourite include:
The Silver Spoon for Children – Favourite Italian Recipes (Phaidon)
We have a small collection of kid’s recipe books but what I love about this beautifully illustrated children’s Italian cookbook is that the recipes are for real food. No pink marshmallows squashed onto Marie biscuits (which have their time and place!). This is food you would like your children to eat and which they feel really proud of being able to make.
The editors have selected forty recipes from the famous recipe book The Silver Spoon, which is apparently found in almost every Italian family’s kitchen, and adapted them to suit children. We’ve tried the tomato bruschetta (easy and delicious – you can vary the toppings) and baked macaroni with parmesan (major comfort food) and are about to attempt the pizza dough – which has the kids very excited and me a bit nervous – I usually just buy the frozen pizza bases, so we’re stepping up here.
The background on Italian food and how to use everything from a grater to a blender are ideal for slightly older children age 8 up and will give them an appreciation for what they are making. The step-by-step illustrations are well designed and perfect for all ages, making the recipes very accessible and fun. Considering that most children love pasta and pizza, an Italian cookbook is the perfect place to start cultivating a love of good food!
Humphrey’s Book of Fun – Fun – Fun
By Betty G Birney (faber and faber)
Humphrey’s book arrived with perfect timing – just as the cold spell returned to Joburg my nine year old has been sitting curled up on the couch with this book of puzzles, jokes, word searches, crosswords and games. If you aren’t already a fan of the Humphrey series – all about the lovable hamster Humphrey and his life lessons – consider buying the first book The World According to Humphrey as well. It will be a hit with all animal or hamster-loving kids and I’m grateful that it’s helped revive my daughter’s interest in her hamster, just when poor old Hammy was getting used to watching all the action pass by his cage.
African Seashores To Read, Colour and Keep
By Sally MacLarty (Random House Struik)
This range of colouring books focusing on the African seashore, birds and insects is lovely to pack on holiday or keep at home. The books feature clear, well-drawn plants and creatures. Full colour guides help when choosing the correct colours and the basic info about each animal or plant helps children learn while they play. With a recommended retail price of R45 they also make well-priced gifts.
Corinne Lamoral is a freelance writer and media consultant and mother of three children 3-9yrs. She reviews books and movies for a living which has sharpened her eye to spot out the must see’s and must reads out there.
This is a gem of a book – beautifully written and illustrated and sharing a message that will make your soul sing. It’s OK to be different! Dandylion is the new kid in class and right from the start he stands out. With his fun attitude to life and zany way of doing things, he spills paint in his eagerness, brings sweet sandwiches to school and finally gets the whole class in trouble by going wild with a Koki pen… Dandylion learns a big lesson but so do his classmates when they ask him to stop being so wild and he decides to stay at home. This is great for provoking discussion about how everyone does things differently and how we can all learn from each other.
Age: Good for children aged 3 up to around 8. Older children will find it too simplistic.
With a burst of sound and colour Frankie finds his true calling in this gorgeous book by the award-winning author of books like Our Big Blue Sofa and A Dog Called Rod. The cover illustration of a little boy playing the trumpet grabbed my attention as I fished it out from behind the other books on the Exclusives shelf. What a find. My nearly four-year old son Joseph loves trumpets and the delight on his face as he watched Frankie making colours with his sounds was wonderful. The story follows Frankie and his very quiet librarian parents who read books and do the crossword everyday until Frankie announces LOUDLY that he wants to learn to play the trumpet. The story introduces the concept of Synaesthesia –the mixing of the senses that allows some people, like jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, to perceive colours, shapes and smells in music.
Age: 3 to 10yrs. Older children will get the concept more, but Hopgood’s illustrations will talk to everyone.2