Category Archives: Picture Book Nook

2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: Melu by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly

Melu by Kyle Mewburn, Ali Teo and John O’Reilly is a finalist in the Picture Book category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I’m a huge fan of Kyle Mewburn’s and I love Ali and John’s illustrations.  It’s a wonderful picture book and I’m glad to see it as a finalist.  I reviewed it in April last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.

Have you ever felt like you don’t quite belong?  Have you ever wanted to just stop doing the same old boring thing, day in, day out and go off in search of something better?  If you answered yes to these questions then Melu by Kyle Mewburn, and illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly is the perfect book for you.

Melu is a mule who lives with the rest of his herd, high up in the sun-baked hills, on a rocky island floating in a glittering green sea.  They’ve always clip-clop around the hills in the same direction, but Melu is different.  He doesn’t clip-clop, he clop-clips, and he imagines himself galloping across fields and splashing in the sea.  One day Melu decides to go off in search of the fields and the sea.  Along the way he meets Goat and Bull who are different just like him and they join him in his search.

Melu is an absolute winner!  The story is full of Kyle Mewburn’s witty humour and it’s a real joy to read.  Kids will identify with Melu because he’s different and full of dreams.  Kyle uses lots of descriptive language, like splashing and glittering, which make the story fun to read, and I love the way each of the animals talk (they each have their own voices in my head).  Ali Teo and John O’Reilly’s illustrations are bold and really make Kyle’s character’s shine.  They’re quite simple illustrations but the character’s faces and body language are so expressive.  My favourite illustration is near the end when they’re in the sea because they’re just so happy.  Not only is Melu a fun story with wonderful illustrations, it also shows children (and adults) that it’s OK to be different and stand out from the crowd.

5 out of 5 stars



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Picture Book Nook: Bad Dog Flash by Ruth Paul

I’m a sucker for a good dog story, especially when it features a very cute dog who you can’t help but love.  Bad Dog Flash is New Zealand author and illustrator Ruth Paul’s dog story.  Like her previous books, including the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards finalist book, Stomp, Ruth has proven that she can tell a fun and entertaining story using very few words and her delightful illustrations.

Bad Dog Flash is the story of a playful puppy whose games keep getting him in to trouble.  Whether it’s chasing the cat, digging a hole in the garden to hide his bone or chasing the washing on the line, he always gets told off.  However, as all dog lovers know, you can only be angry with your dog for so long, and then it’s back to giving them lots of love and affection.

Bad Dog Flash is a wonderful picture book, full of mischief and humour.  It certainly has the cute factor because I just want to pick the wee guy up and give him a cuddle.  Ruth Paul’s illustrations are soft, making Flash look fluffy and adorable, but she’s also given him loads of character.  Ruth has made Flash bouncy and full of energy (as all puppies are) and you can tell by the expression on his face and the curl of his tail that he’s happy.  Flash also has a really good guilty face.  You can tell by the way that Ruth has illustrated Flash and his actions that she is a dog person.  The way that Flash plays with his stick and the shoes is absolutely spot on.

The thing that I love the most about Ruth’s books is the way that she can tell such a wonderful story with so few words.  The text on the pages with Flash and his stick is ‘Push stick, poke stick…chew stick, chuck stick…’  Ruth could have used more words, but these eight words work so well just by themselves.  All you need are these action words and you can fill in the rest yourself.

The rhythm and rhyme of the text make the story a lot of fun to read aloud and I’m sure you’ll find the children joining in with you as repeat ‘Bad dog, Flash!’ Grab a copy of Bad Dog Flash from your library or bookshop and meet this loveable little troublemaker.


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Picture Book Nook: Cheese Belongs To You! by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz

I love picture books that start with a simple idea, then build up and build up into a ridiculous situation.  One of my favourite examples of this is Oliver Jeffers’ fantastic picture book, Stuck.  Floyd’s kite gets stuck in the tree and more and more things get thrown up to try and knock the kite down.  Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz’ new book Cheese Belongs To Me! is another book like this, that builds on one simple rat law: cheese belongs to you.

Rat law is simple: if you take a piece of cheese, it belongs to you. So if a bigger rat takes it … then cheese belongs to them. Unless … a quicker rat swipes it! Every rat knows rat law; if you are big or quick, strong or scary, hairy or dirty, or, indeed, all of the above. But just who gets to EAT the cheese?

Cheese Belongs To You is a hilarious picture book about one piece of cheese and the rules that decide which rat it belongs to.  The more complicated the situation becomes, the faster you want to read.  The only problem is that you start to trip over your tongue so you have to slow down (try saying ‘big, quick, strong, scary, hairy, dirty rats’ quickly 3 times).  I love the inventive ways that Alexis has come up with to describe the different rats, so that each one is better than the last.  You find yourself anticipating what might be next and I’m sure kids will too.  There could be lots of discussion about what sort of rat could come next.  Viviane’s illustrations are superb as always and I think her style of illustration is perfect for this story.  Her rats all have different personalities, and even on a page filled with them all the rats look different.  I especially love the ‘big, quick, strong, scary, hairy, dirty rat,’ with his hook-hand, peg-leg and pet cockroach.  I think a great way to introduce the story would be to cover up the text and see if the children can guess why each rat is better than the last.  I also love the way that Viviane has incorporated the cheese into every page, including the cheesy end papers.

After the situation turns into utter chaos the story reaches a satisfying conclusion that keeps everyone happy.  Grab a copy of Cheese Belongs To You! and share it with the children in your life.  I’ll certainly be reading this to every class, from Year 1 to Year 8 on my next library visits.

5 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Two DINO-tastic new picture books

Scholastic have just released two great new dinosaur picture books for the young dinosaur fan in your life, Dino Bites! by Algy Craig Hall and Dinosaurs in the Supermarket by Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton.

Dino BitesDino Bites! by Algy Craig Hall is like a dinosaur version of There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.  It starts with ‘This is the dinosaur looking for lunch.  This is the lunch looking for a snack…’ and continues on with smaller dinosaurs each time, all looking for something to eat.  However, their food is still buzzing and wriggling inside their tummies and with one big BURP everything is back in order.  The story is simple enough for even the smallest dinosaur fan to enjoy and the illustrations are appealing because they’re bright and bold.  The front cover is sure to jump out at children, with the big T-Rex with its mouth open wide.

Dinosaurs in the Supermarket by Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton will appeal to dinosaur fans young and old.  I’m sure it’s almost every kid’s fantasy to meet an actual dinosaur, but what would happen if you went shopping with your mum and dinosaurs were everywhere? The boy in the story sees a ‘T-Rex gobbling sausages…Stegosaurus spilling beans…and Apatosaurs chucking frozen peas,’ but when he tries to show his mum, the dinosaurs hide.  It’s not long before the dinosaurs have created a huge mess, but the boy gets the dinosaurs to play a game of Supermarket Clean-up.  Dinosaur fans will recognise their favourite types of dinosaurs in the story and will have fun trying to find the dinosaurs in their hiding places.  The rhyming text is fun to read and the illustrations will have kids in stitches.  Sarah Warburton has obviously had a lot of fun creating havoc with her dinosaurs on the page and making a huge mess of the supermarket.

It’s always exciting to discover new dinosaur books because they’re always so popular with young readers.  I highly recommend both of these picture books and I know they will have children laughing (and roaring) along with the story.


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Picture Book Nook: The Silly Goat Gruff by Scott Tulloch

The Silly Goat Gruff by Scott Tulloch is the second fairytale retelling that Scholastic New Zealand have published this month and it’s absolutely brilliant.  Scott Tulloch presents a version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff that you’ve never heard before.

In The Silly Goat Gruff there are three goats called Willy, Billy and Silly Goat Gruff who want to get to the other side of the bridge, where there is lush, green grass.  They get sick of nibbling on pine cones and chewing on pebbles and so they each try to cross the bridge.  But we all know that there is a mean, smelly troll living under this bridge and he’s also hungry.  Just when you think you know how the story goes, Scott turns it on its head.

The Silly Goat Gruff is a hilarious retelling of the classic story, with a twist in the tale that you won’t see coming.  The rhyming text flows perfectly, making it a fun story to read aloud.  Scott uses some wonderful language throughout the story, words like leer, sneered and smithereens, that many children may not have heard before.  I love some of the phrases that Scott uses too, like ‘What the dickens are you doing?’ and ‘I’m scarcely a snack with salad and fries.’  The distinct characters in the story make it ideal for acting out in class, or for a librarian like me to do some great funny voices.  The twist in the story made me laugh out loud because it’s so funny and totally silly.  Needless to say, Silly Goat Gruff has some hidden talents that come in very handy when facing a hungry troll.

Scott’s illustrations add extra silliness and humour to the story.  Silly Goat Gruff doesn’t look the brightest or most handsome goat on the mountain, but I love the way Scott has drawn him, with his tongue hanging out, crooked teeth, and wonky eyes.  I’m sure if you were a troll you wouldn’t feel threatened by him in the slightest.  The moral of the story though is that looks can be deceiving and you shouldn’t judge anyone by how they look.  I also really like Scott’s troll, who looks both scary and cuddly.

4 out of 5 stars

The Silly Goat Gruff is another wonderful New Zealand book that you could borrow from your library or buy from a bookshop (using your NZ Book Month $5 voucher) to share during NZ Book Month. 

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Picture Book Nook: The Three Bears (Sort of) by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley

If you think you know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears then you better think again.  I’m sure you’ve never had a child pointing out the loop holes in the story as you read it before.  This is exactly what happens in Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley’s new take on the story, The Three Bears (Sort of).

A mother starts to read the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to her son before bed, but he doesn’t just sit there quietly and listen to the story.  This boy is both switched-on and rather annoying.  His mother can only read a sentence or two before he points out an issue with the story.  First, he wants to know what sort of bears they were (Grizzly bears? Polar bears?). He also points out that daddy bears don’t live with mummy bears (mummy bears raise their cubs alone), that bears don’t have thumbs so they couldn’t pick up a pot for the porridge, and that bears would probably just eat fish instead of porridge.  Every time he questions a detail of the story you wonder why you hadn’t thought of that yourself.

The Three Bears (Sort of) is an entertaining and unique retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that adults will enjoy as much as children.  Yvonne Morrison’s text will have you in stitches! It’s full of sarcasm that adults especially will love and she’s captured the voice of an inquisitive toddler and the mother (who’s making it up as she goes along) perfectly. Donovan Bixley’s illustrations are absolutely wonderful and really match the humour of the story and the way it’s being told.  The hands of the mother and son can be seen on some of the pages, as they draw or add pictures into the story.  Donovan’s Goldilocks looks both cute and bratty, and I love the facial expressions of the bears.  I think Donovan is New Zealand’s own Anthony Browne, because of the way he adds extra details into his illustrations that add another layer to the story.  On the very first page, above the publication details, there are some interesting objects on the mantelpiece, including soft toy bears, a card for a locksmith, and a postcard from Svalbard.  You’ll also notice the tree patterns on the wallpaper.  I also really love the way that Donovan has designed the book, with the son’s interruptions inside a box on the page and in a different, childish font.  This makes it clear to see when the son is talking and when the mother is talking.

It’s perfect for reading aloud one-on-one or with a large group, and it’s ideal for acting out, as one person could be the mother and one person could be the son.  This is how we’ll be performing it at our Three Bears Breakfast at Shirley Library in Christchurch next Saturday (16 March).

5 out of 5 stars


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Picture Book Nook: That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the little frog finds an egg.

“That’s mine!” he says.

But the snake wants his egg, and so does the eagle, and so does the lizard…But what does the angry elephant want?




That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren is a gem of a picture book that’s simple, yet surprising.  You start off thinking you know where the story is going, but it veers off in a completely different direction (these are the best sorts of stories).  The illustrations are bold and I love the expressions on the animals faces, especially right at the end.


The thing I like most about this book though is the text and the design.  As each of the animals appears the sound they make turns into a word, like the eagle who flies in saying “Ack…ack…ack..actually it’s mine.”  Children can follow the direction that each animal appears from by following the direction of the words (the hsss of the snake drops down from the top to the bottom of the page).  I love the way that the text changes size depending on how loud the animal is talking and in relation to their size.  On a page featuring all the animals, the text is largest for the elephant and smallest for the frog, so it’s clear that each of the animals has a different voice.

That’s Mine! is the perfect picture book for reading aloud.  You can do different voices for all the animals and make it really silly.  It could even be acted out in the classroom, with each child being a different animal.

4 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Anton and the Battle by Ole Konnecke

Anton and the Battle is one of those picture books that you know is going to make kids laugh just by looking at the front cover.  How can you not laugh when the two boys are swinging a cow and a cello at each other?  The cover hooks you in and you want to find out what the battle is about.

The story starts with Anton and Luke arguing about which one of them is the strongest.  Anton can lift a big stone, but Luke can lift an even bigger stone.  They keep trying to out-do each other by proving that they’re stronger or louder or braver – until they meet a ferocious puppy.

Anton and the Battle is a wonderful story about the power of the imagination and the joy of play.  Both the text and the illustrations are so simple, but really funny.   Ole has coloured his two characters but left the rest of the page white so that they and their imaginations stand out.  The white space allows the giant horn or the bombs to take center stage and draw the reader’s attention.  The illustrations will have children laughing out loud, as Anton and Luke chase after each other with giant hammers, swing lions and tigers over their heads and get stuck up trees.  The page where they are swinging lions and tigers over their heads is hilarious (just look at their faces)!  I love the twist on the story when Ole throws a puppy into the mix and even when they’re stuck up a tree, they’re still trying to out-do each other.

It’s a story with lots of anticipation that keeps children guessing.  Before you turn the page you could ask them what they think might happen next.  Even after the story is finished you could ask children to suggest other things that Anton and Luke could battle with or ways they could show they’re stronger, louder or faster than each other.  They could even draw their own Anton and Luke battle scene.

Anton and the Battle is one of Gecko Press’ first releases of 2013 and is available in libraries and bookshops now.


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Picture Book Nook: Open Very Carefully by Nicola O’Byrne and Nick Bromley

I love picture books that are interactive.  I’m not talking about book apps, but physical books that ask the reader or the audience to do something.  Not only are they fun for the audience, they’re also incredibly fun for the reader.  Some of my favourite interactive picture books are the cat books by Viviane Schwarz (There Are Cats in This Book, There Are No Cats in This Book), that involve you blowing on the page to dry them off and throw balls of wool at them.  I’ve just discovered a new favourite interactive picture book, called Open Very Carefully by Nicola O’Byrne and Nick Bromley.  

The book starts off with the story of The Ugly Duckling, but something shows up in the story that shouldn’t be there – a really big, scary CROCODILE!  It seems that this crocodile likes to eat letters, words and even whole sentences, but you’ve got to stop him before he eats the whole book.  You try rocking the book backwards and forwards to make him go to sleep, and you try shaking the book to make him fall out.  Will it work or will he eat the whole book?

Open Very Carefully will have adults and children in hysterics!  Part of the humour of the book is in the way that you read it, putting the emphasis in the right place, and part of it is in the hilarious illustrations.  At the beginning of the book the crocodile is looking very happy with himself, but that changes quite quickly when he discovers that he is wearing a very unflattering outfit.  From the very first page children are engaged in the story and they’ll want to help you get rid of the crocodile.  The interactive parts of the book are especially great for sharing one-on-one as these parts make children feel like they are important to the outcome of the story.  The design of the book is wonderful too, especially the final pages and the back cover, which offers one final surprise for readers.

I will be reading Open Very Carefully again and again to preschoolers and school groups in my library.  I’ll have to try and read it without laughing myself though.




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Picture Book Nook: A Patch of Black by Rachel Rooney and Deborah Allwright

I came across this delightful picture book last week when I was putting new books out for display.  A Patch of Black is one of the best picture books I’ve seen that’s aimed at children who are scared of the dark and it’s a wonderful bedtime story.  It starts with a mother and her child in the girl’s bedroom getting ready for bed.  The mother says to her child,

“Don’t be afraid of the darkness, dear.
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
What can you do with a patch of black,
a moon and a silver star?

The mother then tells the child about all the different places and things she could dream about when she’s sleeping.  There are pirates and mermaids, princesses and dragons, ice cream lakes and milkshake streams, and much more.  The mother’s refrain is repeated throughout the book and is followed by a different dream land.

It’s a very reassuring story that will have children imagining their own dream lands.  The illustrations are also reassuring and comforting, as they’re light, bright and full of excitement.  If you want a bedtime story that you’ll be happy to read again and again, grab a copy of A Patch of Black by Rachel Rooney and Deborah Allwright.

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