Category Archives: family

Activity books for the whole family

There have been a range of activity books that have been published recently.  There is something for everyone in the family, from toddlers right through to the 12-year-old history buff.

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Alison Lester’s Wonderful World brings together Alison’s illustrations from her many delightful books and gives kids the chance to create their own colourful adventures with Noni the Pony, beach holidays, and explorations of the jungle and oceans.  There are more basic illustrations for younger children, right through to very detailed scenes for older children (and their parents).  It’s a wonderful colouring book for old and young alike.

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See Play Do: A Kid’s Handbook for Everyday Fun is the ultimate activity book for Kiwi families.  This fantastic book is packed full of games and activities to get kids thinking, moving, exploring, being creative and having fun.  There are pages to draw on, with activities like planning your dream breakfast and drawing while listening to music.  There are pages to write on, like writing about what happened the last time you were at the park and writing a playlist of the favourite songs you like to listen to.  There are also pages with recipes to try, bird feeders and bath paint to make, and heaps of pages with suggestions of fun things to do and try.  There are so many things in this book that I want to do with my toddler.  Every family in New Zealand needs this book under their Christmas tree because it is certain to be loved by everyone.  It is a real winner!

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Peter Goes’ Timeline was a fascinating book that Gecko Press published last year.  It starts at the beginning of time and follows events right through to the present day.  It is a large book chock-full of information about people, places and events throughout time, and you find something new every time you look at it.  Gecko Press have just released a companion activity book for Timeline.  This is the perfect book for those kids that love history and who have lots of fascinating facts stored away in their head, especially older children.  Kids can be creative while learning about civilisations, historical events and famous people from history.  Kids can decorate a cave with rock drawings, bring Ottoman designs to life, graffiti the Berlin Wall, decorate the uniforms of soldiers in the Russian Revolution and help Michelangelo decorate the Sistine Chapel.  There is so much variety in this book and it will keep anyone entertained for many, many hours.  The pages can also be detached from the book so you can hang your masterpieces on the wall or share them with friends.  This is a must-buy Christmas present for older children.

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I also want to give a special mention to Gecko Press for their new card games based on two of their best-selling books.  Noisy Dominoes was inspired by The Noisy Book, a gorgeous board book featuring lots of different noises to make.  In Noisy Dominoes, players have to imitate the noise of the object or animal on their card or mime the action.  They have also released Poo Bum Memory, inspired by my favourite Gecko Press book Poo Bum, and featuring words and images from the book.  I think these are both a wonderful idea to extend the fun of these two books and they are a lot of fun.

 

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Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

I think books, rather than people, have taught me the most about empathy, particularly as an impressionable teenager.  They make me feel what the characters are feeling and help me to understand different situations. Dianne Touchell makes your heart break for the main character in her new book about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, Forgetting Foster.

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Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Forgetting Foster is one of the most heart-breaking books that I have read since Morris Gleitzman’s Once.  It is Dianne’s lyrical writing and very real portrayal of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease that makes the story so heart-breaking.  She takes us inside the head of 7-year-old Foster and we see his family falling apart through his eyes.  We experience Foster’s confusion and hurt as the father that he loves and looks up to starts forgetting things and changing completely.  We understand his anger at being treated like a child, even though he understands more than his family thinks he does.  The power of stories to bring enjoyment to our lives and help us to remember also plays an important part in the story.

Dianne’s writing is very lyrical.  I found myself stopping reading in many places just to soak up descriptions and savour images that she had conjured.  I especially liked the image that Dianne conjures when Foster and his dad are talking about phantom itches when someone loses a limb,

‘He imagined Dad’s profile, half a face that looked a bit empty lately, and felt a stab of ghost feeling.  A funny ache that told him the stories were still inside Dad somewhere, like an amputated foot that still itches.’

The way that Dianne describes the relationship between Foster and his dad in the start of the book gives you warm fuzzies.  Sunday is always a special day with Dad, when they make pancakes together and go into town, playing games along the way.  You can feel how proud Foster is of his dad and how much his dad loves him.

Stories play an important part in Forgetting Foster.  Before Foster’s dad got sick he would tell stories to Foster all the time and encourage him to join in.  Foster’s dad tells him that ‘there are stories in everything…They are all around you waiting to be discovered.  You just have to look for them.’ He also encourages Foster to tell his own stories to whoever will listen.  Foster’s mum had an accident when she was younger and his dad tells Foster a fantastic story about why she now looks different to other people.  Stories also play an important part in helping Foster and his family deal with his dad’s illness.

Although Foster is seven in the story, Forgetting Foster is not a story for 7-year-olds.  There are a couple of swear words which, although they are in the context of the story, may alarm parents.  I think good Year 7 and 8 readers would enjoy the story and it would make a great novel study for this age group.  Forgetting Foster is a book that I think all teachers, librarians and anyone who loves a beautifully-written, heart-breaking story should read.  I’m now going to hunt down all of Dianne Touchell’s previous books and will look forward to more books from her.

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My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

There are some books that leave you feeling drained.  Those books that grab your heart and throw it all about and mess with your mind.  You get so emotionally invested in the characters’ lives that you feel their heartache, their turmoil and get completely blown away by the actions of the other characters.  Justine Larbalestier’s new YA book, My Sister Rosa is one of these books.  I can’t stop thinking about this incredible book.

MySisterRosa_RCcvr.indd‘I promise,’ said Rosa. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito.

As far as I know.

Che Taylor has four items on his list: 1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym. 2. He wants a girlfriend. 3. He wants to go home. 4. He wants to keep Rosa under control.

Che’s little sister Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and so good at deception that Che’s convinced she must be a psychopath. She hasn’t hurt anyone yet, but he’s certain it’s just a matter of time. And when their parents move them to New York City, Che longs to return to Sydney and his three best friends. But his first duty is to his sister Rosa, who is playing increasingly complex and disturbing games. Can he protect Rosa from the world – and the world from Rosa?

This is one word for this book – WOW!  It is the most tense YA book I’ve ever read with possibly the creepiest 10 year old girl you’ll ever find in a book.  I didn’t want to put this book down because I was afraid that something huge would happen when I wasn’t looking.

There are times when I’ve finished a book that I wish I could wipe my memory of reading it, just so I could read it again and feel exactly what I felt that first time.  My Sister Rosa made me feel exactly like this.  It is such a full-on read, with so many twists, and I don’t think it would feel the same reading it a second time.  The suspense I felt and the way that my heart broke for Che is something that I rarely find in a book.  It just shows what an amazing job Justine has done of making her characters real and relatable.

The story is told from Che’s point of view.  He has known what his sister is like for years and he has tried to keep her in check.  She seems cute and sweet on the outside but inside she’s nasty and poisonous.  She works out how she should behave from watching and listening to other people.  She promises Che that she will be good but she knows how to stretch the boundaries.  While Che is keeping all eyes on his sister, he is also trying to adjust to life in another new city, working on his boxing, making new friends and trying to get a girlfriend.  All of these things collide to make one hell of a book!

Reading this book is like watching a train wreck.  You know that something really horrible is going to happen but you can’t look away.  You’re glued to the pages and flicking them so fast because you need to know what is going to happen.

Rosa is both a horrifying yet fascinating character.  You know she is psychopathic but you want to know more about her and the things that she does.  As a parent she certainly makes you thankful that your own children aren’t like her, and it makes you wonder what life would be like if she was your child.  I kept thinking that the way her parents reacted to her actions were unbelievable, but it also makes you think how you would react too.

I’ve read so many great books so far this year but My Sister Rosa is by far my favourite.  Put My Sister Rosa on the top of your to-be-read pile.  You won’t regret it.

 

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

‘In any case, Crenshaw had excellent timing.  He came into my life just when I needed him to.  It was a good time to have a friend, even if he was imaginary.’

There have been a few books published recently about imaginary friends.  I have lapped them all up.  I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a kid but reading these books make me wish I had.  The book that most makes me wish for an imaginary friend Katherine Applegate’s latest book, Crenshaw.  I’m sure you’ll wish you had a friend like Crenshaw once you’ve read this wonderful book too.

Crenshaw_UK.inddJackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

 

Crenshaw, like Katherine Applegate’s previous book The One and Only Ivan, is one of those books that I just want to carry around everywhere and give to everyone.  It is heart-warming story about family and friendships, that will make you want to keep hugging the main character and wanting to hang out with Crenshaw.  Katherine Applegate tugs at your heart-strings and brings a little wonder into your world.

Jackson is not an imaginary friend kind of guy.  He prefers facts and figures.  He doesn’t like stories because they ‘are lies, when you get right down to it.  And I don’t like being lied to.’  His parents have fallen on hard times and they keep telling Jackson and his sister, Robin, that everything is going to be alright.  Deep down Jackson knows that they aren’t going to be alright.  His family had to live in their mini-van for weeks on end when he was younger and he doesn’t want to do that again.  Just when he needs a friend the most, Crenshaw, Jackson’s large, outspoken, imaginary friend shows up to help him to face the truth.

There is so much wisdom in Katherine Applegate’s books.  They’re like guides to how to live your life.  She teaches you about kindness and honesty, and that it’s OK to be yourself.  I always find myself stopping reading to write down little bits of wisdom from her stories.

I love Crenshaw’s voice. He is very opinionated, especially about Jackson’s dog, Aretha, but he has some great lines.  This is one of my favourites,

‘Imaginary friends are like books.  We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.’

Crenshaw is one of those few books that I’ve read multiple times.  It is a special book and I know that I’ll come back to it again to visit Jackson and Crenshaw.  Adopt Crenshaw yourself and make a new best imaginary friend.

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