Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Every new book by Gus Gordon is a treasure. They’re picture books that can be enjoyed by all ages, from new entrants through to Year 8. Gus tugs at your heart-strings and makes you fall in love with his characters. I loved Herman and Rosie (one of Gus’s earlier books) so much that I bought a piece of artwork from the book. Gus’s latest picture book, Finding Francois, is pure perfection and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy.

Alice Bonnet lives with her grandmother. They’re a great team and they love spending time with each other, whether it is baking, going to the park for lunch, or strolling through the city saying hello to all their friends. There are some days, however, when Alice wishes that she had someone her own size to talk to. So, one morning Alice writes a note, puts it in a bottle and throws it into the river. She hopes that someone will reply and, one day, she receives one from Francois. Their friendship grows through their notes, but then tragedy strikes and the notes stop. As Alice discovers though, good friends are always there when you need them.

Finding Francois is a beautiful picture book that is both sad and uplifting. Gus Gordon has an extraordinary gift of making you feel like his characters are your best friends. I became emotionally invested in Alice’s life within a few pages and I wanted her to find a friend. I love how Gus gives you little details about the characters, like the things that Alice and Francois have in common.

‘Like Alice, Francois loved writing lists and reading books. And drawing mermaids too. (Alice wasn’t expecting that!)

But Francois also loved dancing. And wearing funny hats. And origami. And garlic butter. And flower arranging.’

Relationships and connection are a big part of Gus’s books too. Alice has a really strong relationship with her grandma and they build some wonderful memories together. Alice and Francois build a friendship without meeting each other, but this is a strong relationship too.

Gus’s illustrations are superb! Like Lauren Child and Oliver Jeffers, Gus’s illustrations are a mixed media delight. He uses images cut from old French homewares catalogues to stand in for furniture in the illustrations. One illustration even looks like it has been painted over an old French postcard. As well as meeting Alice, Francois and their families, Gus always makes the background characters come alive. You look at these characters and know that they have their own lives (like the bear in the cheese shop). Even the photos on the walls bring Alice’s ancestors alive.

Everyone needs some Gus Gordon in their life. Grab a copy of Finding Francois from your library or bookshop now.

Bad Cat by Nicola O’Byrne

Bad Cat is the most hilarious picture book of 2020! This book is an absolute winner for kids and adults alike. The cover made me crack up and I could not stop laughing the whole way through. My daughter was rolling around on the bed laughing her head off too. We then read it 3 more times. This is one of those picture books that any age can appreciate. I know that preschoolers will love it but I also know that the Year 8 kids at school will love it too. I’d love to read it in a whole school assembly but I don’t think they would hear me through the laughter.

Fluffykins is a bad cat. A REALLY bad cat! He may look cute and use his cuteness to make you forgive him, but then he’s back to his old tricks. Oh, what a lovely vase of flowers! No…now it’s smashed on the floor. That nice jumper you’ve been knitting is now just a bunch of wool on the floor with Fluffykins in the middle. The reader becomes the owner of Fluffykins and tries to get him to change his ways.

I have loved all of Nicola O’Byrne’s picture books but this one is her best yet. In Bad Cat she uses sparse text and hilarious illustrations to entertain readers. Nicola gives Fluffykins so much personality in her illustrations. Most of the time he is cranky and mean but Nicola also shows us his cute, fluffy side too. I can’t even choose a favourite illustrations because they’re all so fantastic!

You need to buy or borrow Bad Cat. I guarantee you won’t regret it. It will be a picture book that you will glad to read again and again.

Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! by Lynley Dodd

Like most kids in New Zealand I grew up with Lynley Dodd’s books.  I got read the Hairy Maclary books and My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes so much when I was younger that as an adult I know them off by heart.  It’s really wonderful being able to share these stories with my daughter now too, especially when she can almost read Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy to me.  It’s great to see that Lynley Dodd is still writing stories starring these familiar loveable characters, and her latest book features that crotchety moggie, Scarface Claw.

9780143770985

Scarface Claw, Hold on Tight! starts off with old sleepyhead, Scarface Claw sunning himself on the roof of the car.  The next moment though he finds himself holding on for dear life as Tom zooms off down the driveway.  As the scar speeds off down the motorway they go past a trailer of dogs, a logging truck, a school bus full of boys and many other people who try everything to get Tom’s attention. When the Policewoman finally manages to get Tom to stop, Scarface tumbles down from the roof, very unhappy indeed.  He yowls and scowls like the Scarface Claw we know, and Tom takes him, double quick, all the way home.

Scarface Claw, Hold on Tight! will be loved by young and old.  As soon as I got the book my daughter asked me to read it three times in a row and it has certainly become one of our current favourites to snuggle up together and read.  Lynley Dodd certainly hasn’t lost her touch in the 30 or so years she has been writing these stories.  Scarface Claw hasn’t mellowed with age either.  He still seems the same old grumpy cat that he was when my grandmother first read me Caterwaul Caper when I was young.  I remember that story so well because she always used to trip over the word ‘cacophony.’ It’s one of my favourite words and it’s all because of Lynley Dodd.

The story is a joy to read aloud, especially with Lynley Dodd’s language.  There is some wonderful alliteration in this story.  I especially like ‘a lumbering logging truck loaded with logs.’  The illustrations are delightful, especially when you see poor Scarface hanging on to the top of the car.  My favourite illustration is the one of Scarface sliding off the roof of the car.  Scarface is seriously unimpressed and Tom looks quite shocked too.

One question that I’d love to ask Lynley Dodd if I ever do meet her is ‘how does Miss Plum manage to always be in the right place at the right time?’ If you look carefully at the illustrations you’ll also see another of Lynley’s characters trotting along the street.

Grab a copy of Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! to add to your Lynley Dodd collection.

There Is No Dragon In This Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright

Like wolves, dragons get a pretty back rap in stories.  They guard castles, hoard gold and are generally just a menace.  Did you ever think that maybe the dragon might like to have their own story where they do something good?  In Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright’s wonderful new picture book, There Is No Dragon In This Story, Dragon sets off to find his own story in which he can be the hero.

9781408864890

This story was supposed to be a story about a dragon who captured a princess and was defeated by a brave knight.  However, Dragon refuses to capture ‘any icky, frilly princess’ and sets off to be the hero of his own story.  Dragon walks in to the stories of several fairy tale characters, including the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs and Jack, but they all tell him ‘No. There is NO DRAGON in this story!’ When the giant sneezes and blows out the sun, there is only one character who can save the day and become the hero.

There Is No Dragon In This Story is a wonderful fairy tale mix-up about a classic villain who just wants to be a hero.  The reader follows Dragon through stories they are familiar with, all the while hoping that Dragon will find his place in a story.  Dragon starts off feeling quite hopeful that he could just slot in to someone else’s story but ends up despondent because nobody wants a dragon in their story.  I love the boost of confidence that he gets when he realises that he is the only one that can help and he knows that he can do it.  It shows kids that when they put their mind to it they can achieve what they set out to do.

Lou Carter’s story is wonderful to read aloud.  There are plenty of different characters so there are lots of opportunities to try different voices.  The story would work well with children acting out the different parts.  Deborah Allwright’s illustrations are full of colour and humour.  She really brings out the joy and confidence of Dragon and portrays the fairy tale characters we love in a new light.  Even when the characters are left in the dark she still manages to make the characters shine.

There are so many ways you could extend the fun of this story.  You could get children to recreate Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs with Dragon in the story.  Get them thinking about how you could make Dragon the hero in each of these fairy tales.  Children could write their own stories where Dragon is the hero and even think about other villains that they could turn in to heroes, like the Wicked Witch or The Big Bad Wolf.

Grab a copy of There Is No Dragon In This Story now and help Dragon become the hero.

 

The Prince and the Pee by Greg Gormley and Chris Mould

Everyone can relate to needing to pee in the middle of an important quest, whether you were out doing some shopping that took longer than expected or you were on a long journey.  Greg Gormley and Chris Mould tell the story of a brave prince, who really should have gone before he set off on his quest, in their new book, The Prince and the Pee.

The Prince and the Pee-72702-1

Prince Freddie is relaxing on his holiday when his horse, Sir Rushington, turns up to take him to save the people in a burning castle from the dragon. Being on holiday, Freddie has been drinking lots of lemonade, but he knows that his quest is urgent and so he jumps on Sir Rushington and gallops off.  It’s not long before he realises he needs to pee.  The waterfall they gallop past and the rain that falls on his armour just makes Freddie need to go even more.  He jumps off his horse and goes to pee behind a rock, only to be startled by an ogre.  Freddie continues to try and find somewhere to pee but keeps getting interrupted, until he finally gets his chance and saves the day at the same time.

Make sure you pee before reading The Prince and the Pee otherwise you might find yourself peeing your pants with laughter.  Everyone can relate to Freddie and his dire situation so you really feel for him.  You understand the look of anguish on his face because you know the need to pee just gets worse and worse the longer you have to hold on.  You can feel his pain when he sees and hears running water and you know it would be horrible to be bouncing up and down, up and down on a horse.  Just when you think poor Freddie might finally get some release he is interrupted by ogres, wolves and even Puss in Boots.

Greg Gormley’s text will have you laughing out loud.  As you read you can hear Freddie getting increasingly desperate and Sir Rushington trying to find suitable places to pee while still keeping Freddie on track to get to the castle.  I’ve always loved Chris Mould’s illustrations and his illustrations for this story are wonderful.  He really shows the desperation on Freddie’s face.  I also love his illustrations of the other fairy tale creatures throughout the story.

The Prince and the Pee is a great story to read aloud (especially for Year 3 and 4 children) and children could even act it out.  It’s another great picture book from one of my favourite publishers, Nosy Crow.

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon

Some picture books you know are going to be brilliant even before you open the covers.  As soon as I saw the front cover of Heidi McKinnon’s new picture book, I Just Ate My Friend, with the startled monster staring out at the reader, I knew it was going to be a winner.  It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it and I can’t wait to share it with kids!

9781760294342.jpg

I Just Ate My Friend is one of those fantastic picture books that invites the reader to be a part of story.  The main character, a yellow monster with bulbous eyes, addresses the reader saying ‘I just ate my friend.  He was a good friend, but now he’s gone.’  The monster then sets off to find a new friend, only to find that he’s too small, too big or too scary to be anyone’s friend.  Just when he thinks he has found a new friend disaster strikes.

I love, love, love this book!  Kids will beg I Just Ate My Friend to be read again and again.  Heidi’s text and illustrations are simple but they combine to tell a very funny story.  Rather than a lot of white space behind the monsters in the story Heidi has made it night time so the background is a night sky covered with stars.  This makes the reader focus on the big, colourful monsters that take up most of the page.  The yellow monster has large, expressive eyes, so you can tell how he feels.  Understandably the yellow monster is rather distraught that he has eaten his friend and he gets increasingly worried that he won’t find a new friend.  You see how happy the monster is when he does find a friend, only for this to be horribly ripped from his grasp.

If you love the dark humour of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat you’ll love I Just Ate My Friend.

I Can’t Sleep! by Stephanie Blake

I’m Simon the rabbit’s biggest fan.  I fell in love with this naughty little rabbit with the story that introduced him to readers in New Zealand, Poo Bum.  I haven’t met a kid yet who doesn’t love Poo Bum and kids ask me about it at least once a week.  Gecko Press have made me incredibly happy by continuing to publish the English language editions of Stephanie Blake’s other Simon the rabbit stories.  The latest in the series, I Can’t Sleep, is another hilarious Simon the rabbit story that shows us the more caring side of Simon.

I-Cant-Sleep-cover-458x600

Simon loves playing with his little brother Casper (even though he once thought of him as a ‘stupid baby’).  One day they decide to build a mega giga-normous hut.  While they play Casper forgets about his blanky.  That night when they go to bed Casper suddenly remembers that his blanky is still outside in the dark garden.  Simon dons his cape, becoming Super Mega Rabbit, and rescues Casper’s blanky for him. As they snuggle back in bed, Simon tells his brother of his adventures.

I Can’t Sleep will be a favourite with children and parents alike.  Children will love the bright, bold illustrations and the adventures that Simon and Casper get up to.  Parents will be able to relate to Casper’s dilemma and they will enjoy the humour.  As a long-time Simon the rabbit fan I love seeing how Simon has changed throughout the different books.  Simon has grown from the naughty little rabbit in Poo Bum and Stupid Baby to a brave and responsible older brother in this story.

One of my favourite aspects of the Simon the rabbit books is the design.  Gecko Press have thought very carefully about the placement of text, giving it plenty of room to spread out on the page.  The size of the text also varies which helps the reader to emphasize certain words or phrases.  I also really love the inside covers of I Can’t Sleep which feature Simon with various expressions and in different poses.  I’d love to have a whole wall in my library covered with these images.

Grab a copy of I Can’t Sleep from your library or bookshop now.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Many brave warriors have had to journey to strange lands to prove themselves and we have read their stories.  Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex bring us an epic origin story of three foes.  These foes searched far and wide to find the warrior fierce enough to beat them in combat.  This talented author and illustrator team have come together to tell  The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.

y648

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors follows Rock, Paper and Scissors in their search for awesomeness.  What they really desire though is to find a warrior who is able to beat them, a warrior that can make them feel worthy.  From the Kingdom of Backgarden, the Empire of Mum’s Study and the Kitchen Realm, Rock, Paper and Scissors battle many warriors but it is only when they meet each other that they truly find a worthy opponent.

This is one of the funniest picture books I’ve read in ages. It’s an epic story worthy of Hollywood and you can’t help but read it in a movie trailer voice.  It’s the sort of book that kids will beg you to read again and again, and you will be only to happy to do so.

Rock, Paper and Scissors each have a distinctive personality that comes alive, both in the text and the illustrations.  Each character in the book has a different font for their voice – Rock’s is blocky, Paper’s is swirly and Scissors’ is pointy. Adam Rex’s illustrations are fantastic!  The colours he uses make the illustrations jump off the page, especially during the battle scenes.  You can see the power and emotion of each showdown.  The rockets firing and volcanoes erupting in the background just add to the awesomeness of the battle.

You will never look at the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors the same again.  Each time you play you will remember the fierce battles that were raged in order for your showdown to happen.  Grab a copy of The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors from your library or bookshop now and witness the rise of legends.

Grandad’s Guitar by Janine McVeagh and Fifi Colston

Sharing stories is an important part of our whakapapa. We share stories so that those who came before us are remembered and celebrated. Some of these stories lend themselves well to being made into a book that can be shared with people all over the world.  Janine McVeagh’s story of her husband and the connection that he made with their grandson through his guitar is one of these stories. In Grandad’s Guitar, Janine brings her family’s story to life with the help of Fifi Colston’s wonderful illustrations.

Grandads-guitar-front-cover-web

Kahu receives a battered, old guitar for his birthday. He would much rather have a shiny new one, but as his grandmother tells him the story of this guitar Kahu learns how to play the instrument and learns of his connection to his grandad. The guitar once belonged to his grandad who took it all over the world, along with his grandma. They traveled to England, France and Greece before coming home through Iran, Afghanistan and India. The guitar may look old and battered but it is quite a treasure that is now Kahu’s.

Grandad’s Guitar is a fantastic story that celebrates music and its power to connect people across countries and generations.  It shows the importance of sharing family stories to keep the memories of those who are no longer with us alive.  Janine’s storytelling makes you feel like you are a member of the family listening to her story.

I love the look and feel of this book. Makaro Press have done a wonderful job with the production of the book.  The paper is thick and the illustrations are glossy so you almost feel like you are holding Fifi’s original illustrations in your hands. Fifi’s illustrations take you back in time to the 60s, showing the fashion of the times and showing the different cultures through the food and clothing.  I especially love the music notes that flow through the illustrations.

This is a great book to share with children young and old. It’s an especially good book to use in a classroom because you could explore many different aspects of the story, from music and its ability to connect people, to family stories and how these are passed down the generations, or even looking at the different cultures that Kahu’s grandparents visit on their travels with the guitar.  With Matariki just around the corner I think this is the perfect book to share, as one of the things we celebrate at Matariki is our whakapapa.

Makaro Press have also created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book too – http://www.makaropress.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Final-Teachers-Notes-Grandads-Guitar.pdf

Ruru’s Hangi by Nikki Slade Robinson

Nikki Slade Robinson’s award-winning picture book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, is my favourite book to read around Matariki.  In this book Nikki Slade Robinson introduced young children to Matariki through Kiwi and his friends in a simple yet fun way, using a mixture of English and te reo in the text.  In Nikki’s latest book, Ruru’s Hangi, she introduces young children to the concept of a hangi as the creatures celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies.

rurus-hangi-01

Ruru has been sitting on her eggs for 30 days and 30 nights and on day 31 the eggs wriggle and hatch.  Kiwi hears Ruru’s elated cries and goes to tell the other creatures in the forest.  Kiwi has an idea to celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies and gets the other creatures to help out.  They dig a hole and gather all of the things that they need to make a hangi.  When the hangi is ready they call Ruru and they share the kai together to celebrate.

Ruru’s Hangi is a perfect introduction to the hangi for young children and is another wonderful bilingual text from Nikki Slade Robinson that is great to share with young children, especially preschoolers.  Nikki introduces children to native birds and creatures, like the Tui, Katipo and Weka who all help to prepare the hangi. Nikki’s illustrations are fun with each of the creatures having a distinct personality.  The Te Reo used is basic and weaves effortlessly in with the English, so this is a great book to share even if you know very little Te Reo.  Nikki uses lots of repetition in the text, like:

‘Ka pai, perfect!’ they said. Shhh! Don’t tell Ruru!’

Nikki ends the book with a simple explanation of how to prepare a hangi, just like the creatures in the book have done.  Ruru’s Hangi is a invaluable resource for early childhood centres and schools.  It is a book that will be used by teachers and librarians around the country but also a book that children will love.  Anyone who is looking for a wonderful bilingual story to share with their children should get a copy of Ruru’s Hangi.