Saturday, May 27, 2017

Four Picture Books…

Muddle and Mo’s Worm Surprise by Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

This appealing minimalist picture book is a sequel to Muddle & Mo which was published in 2015. Muddle is an opinionated duckling and Mo is a white goat, both portrayed in a very idiosyncratic style. Muddle decides they will have a picnic and the special dish will be worm surprise. Mo is not at all sure about this. Mo’s long face is a funny representation of complete dejection. But of course when the picnic basket is unpacked things aren’t as bad as he thinks…I really like minimal text in a picture book – a few wannabe picture book authors, including myself, should take note of how well it works in this book. The style of the illustrations is also sparse but very striking, with no background and only the essential items of the story shown. Very suitable for sharing with young pre-schoolers of around two to four.

ISBN 978 1 927305 18 8 RRP $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback)

The Harmonica by Dawn McMillan, illus. Andrew Burdan, Scholastic NZ
Dawn’s dedication says, “For the loved ones gone before us. We remember them.” It’s a delicate, lyrical story that touches briefly on warfare, and will be much more meaningful to older primary-aged children rather than to pre-schoolers. Carlos finds an old harmonica in a box in the attic. It belonged to his Uncle Jack, who was a soldier in Afghanistan. Carlos secretly teaches himself to play the harmonica, and the music he makes helps him understand more about the world – and about his family. The illustrations (digitally created in Photoshop and Painter) are stunning, especially the cover. The expansive double-spreads with their warm, soft colours and mood of contemplation match the story extremely well. I can see this book being very useful in the primary classroom as a way of bridging the gap between yesterday’s soldiers and today’s youngsters.

ISBN 978 1 77543 344 6 RRP $19 Pb

The Mystery Box and Finnigan Flynn by Lucy Davey, illus. Cat Chapman, Scholastic NZ

The author and illustrator don’t need much introduction, but here are a couple of reminders: Lucy Davey is the author of The Fidgety Itch and the Fifi la Belle picture books, while Cat Chapman has previously illustrated three picture books written by Juliette McIver. This is their first combined effort with Scholastic NZ. In excellent rhyming text we read about the magical mystery box that turns up on Finnigan’s doorstep.”Don’t open!” it says. So of course he opens it – and two crocodiles jump out. How can Finnigan stop them from nibbling his toes? All sorts of weird and wonderful things pop out of the box, and it’s Finnigan’s job to get them back in again. The illustrations are suitably zany, using colour and movement to make every page a treat. It would be great to read aloud to groups of pre-schoolers and young primary ages of about 3 to 6.

ISBN 978 1 77543 299 9 RRP $19 Pb

My Grandpa is a Dinosaur by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones, colouring by Tara Black, Penguin Random House

The people behind this quirky picture book are better known as the producers of comic books, including the Blastosaurus series (you can visit them at www.squareplanetcomics.com). They took some steps a while ago towards traditional picture books with their series about a boy called Morgan. Now they have found a traditional publisher and have adopted some standard picture book conventions. The humorous heart of the story is revealed in the title phrase: old people are often called dinosaurs, and in this book the phrase is taken literally as well as figuratively. Wanda can’t understand why nobody will accept that her grandpa is an actual dinosaur. The fact that her big sister shreds chippies in an electric fan, while her parents fish for their dinner in a glass of water is irrelevant (but keen-eyed youngsters will find these pictures hilarious). The trope is continued till Wanda goes to her grandfather’s retirement village and finds many more dinosaurs.

The sophisticated humour and the very modern, edgy style of the illustrations prompt me to say that the book is probably more suitable for children of primary-school age rather than pre-schoolers.

ISBN 978 0 14 350719 2 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviews by Lorraine Orman



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