We have done it!!! Finished thirty-six weeks of school in a row… and we have headed straight for the couch to power our way through our pile of fabulous books to review from Pan Macmillan South Africa and a couple from the library pile. The books are an eclectic collection of contemporary and recently launched books: teen reads and picture books, timeless classics and futuristic tales.
We can not get enough of these three-dimensional city guides… We are virtually traveling the world with them… and going to new places that we have never thought of visiting before. We love how they fold out and reveal interesting snippets of the city, not just the top spots. The artwork is just brilliant and really gives you a magical feel of a miniature world to go touring around in!!!
I am reading dozens of books, a monstrous pile I have been saving up for our school break. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: Is a lovely fat epic, the ins and out a families life that looks so perfect from the outside and is so not perfect as soon as you scratch the surface. It begins in the English countryside during the 1960’s… and a teenage girl, Laurel, is day dreaming about her life and love and future… and amidst the day dream she witnesses a crime. The crime is brushed under the carpet and family life carries on as usual… Now fifty years later, a passing incident with a photo album and she can’t help wondering how her mother was really involved. And we are whisked back in time to the 1930s, pre-war England and series of mysterious events in the life of Laurel’s mum. Of course we can’t just hear what happened from her mother because she is very elderly and unconscious in a hospital bed. This is family drama at it’s best – folk appear to have their role in the family, but if you slightly rock the boat all sorts of hidden secrets are being revealed along the way. I am about half way through… and the story is unwinding a trail of family history… I am dying to know what happens and see how events twist and turn… and I think I can safely add a new author to my list of authors to look out for!!!
The Hoods Are Reading…
- The Lord of the Rings: He is reading this book again… for the ninety millionth time. It is one of those books that needs no introduction, just to say we own it because it isn’t a book that ever gets read “just once.”
- Steven Caney’s Ultimate Building Book by Steven Caney: We got this book from the library and we have just renewed it and renewed it and renewed it… It is incredible. Everything you have ever wanted to know and learn about buildings and architecture with dozens of projects to go with it!!! This book is literally packed with ideas and projects about everything – creating structures and towers from all sorts of materials, tools, ideas, plans… this book is an incredible work and if you are interested in any kind of construction, whatever scale – from miniature to massive… then this book is a fabulous resource.
- Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage by David Gibbins: I honestly can not believe that he powered his way through this book!!! It is a difficult read, a book where not a word is wasted and everything contributes to the plot… absolutely no place for scanning because you will instantly be lost. It is a very good historical read, bringing to life an era of history that is usually reserved for “text books.” This is really the life story of the Roman legionary and centurion, Scipio Aemilianus Africanus and his bodyguard/companion, Fabius Petronius Secundus. He was instrumental in the fall of Alexander the Great’s successors and the Siege of Carthage. You wander through his life and his battles, political intrigue, military tactics and a social viciousness, the true meaning of back stabbing… all the while quite grateful that you live in the modern era!!! A hard read, but ultimately worth it.
- The Outdoor Book for Adventurous Chaps by Adrian Besley: Another library book that we keep on renewing!!! This book is just brilliant… absolutely packed with things to do in the great outdoors, from creating your camp to survival and even extreme survival. How to build a tree-house, endless games and important skills like how to tickle a trout. Not to mention an entire section on cunning inventions. This book is fabulous and has kept all my kids busy on secret quests in the great outdoors for days. Really I am quite thrilled that they have enjoyed this book so much, if ever I am lost in the wilds with my children I know that will be able to take care of me. Very reassuring indeed!!!
- Stargirl Academy: This is a school story for girls… all about a very special school for future fairy godmothers. In each book the students have to earn a new star on their journey to fully fledged fairy godmothers. There is a lot of shimmering and glittering in this school and they are perfect quick reads for a rainy afternoon. You can take a peak at the StarGirl Academy Website at this link.
- Ivy Takes Care by Rosemary Wells: Annie and Ivy are best friends from the opposite side of town. Annie spends the summer at a summer camp with her wealthy friends on the far side of the country and Ivy is left home somewhat miserable. But Ivy is the sweetest most resourceful kid and advertises and organises a summer job for herself… her skills as an animal lover are tested as she cares for the animals in her care and some that weren’t in her care at all!!! By the end of the summer she has made new friends and decided that when she grows up she would like to be a vet. This book is full of life lessons, that are learnt along the way, about true friends and working hard towards a goal… without any of the sickly sweet “you are learning a life-lesson now” that arrises in some books – this is just pages of down to earth loveliness and we highly recommend and even more so if you have a horse loving girl!!!
- Picture This! Human Body a Kingfisher Book: This book is awesome and we have all spent time wandering through it. A new reader will be able to cope with the required reading in the little snippets in this book. Pages and pages of the most amazing info-graphics, packed with fascinating facts to keep everyone dipping into it. Don’t be misled by the “simple” appearance of the information… very uncomplicated images and short snippets to read, because this book is packed with easy to access information. If you have a child who battles with reading, then this book, because of the fabulous visual presentation of the facts, is a winner!!! Facts about mind control, sleep, digestion, waste, extremes… heaps of stuff… This book is an excellent resource and hopefully part of a series!!!
- Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever is the Ping-pong Wizard by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver: Oh if you haven’t read Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest UnderAchiever Series… you have to give him a try – especially if you have readers that really think that they can not conquer a “real” chapter book. The World’s Greatest UnderAchiever is funny and and the choice of words makes for a fast read. Hank is your typical under-dog and in this book begins in a new school year, with a new event… the “Parade of Athletes.” Hank has to choose a sport, a process of elimination of unachievable sports… and of course he chooses ping-pong!!! This book has my middle boys chortling in bed when the lights should be out – that is recommendation enough for me!!!
- Oliver Fibbs & the Giant Boy Munching By Steve Hartley It is another typically “boy humour and quick read” book… And my middle guys love him and he is good for a laugh and another chapter book that is totally achievable!!! Hood #4 really enjoyed the first book in this series a couple of months back and this one didn’t disappoint!!! The book is interwoven with cartoons and snippets, it is a very distinct style and and makes for easy reading all the way through. Oliver Fibbs is a rather ordinary chap surrounded by a family of brilliant over-achievers. His dad is bitten by a Ubangi Devil Bug and has radio-active orange spots all over him. No-one believes Oliver when he reports it at school the next day, so he decides that it would be great for him to be bitten by the same bug to impress his classmates… and so the story goes… a desperate search for a deadly bug. It is boyhood humour all the way… funny and lots of interesting details on the page to keep your reader reading and turning the pages.
- Stink, the series, by Megan MacDonald and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds: All my kids will tell you that if you haven’t met Stink Moody then you haven’t lived. He is the younger brother of the famous and delightful Judy Moody. These books are easy chapter readers… really easy and just the most brilliant confidence boost for a new reader!!! Between each chapter is a page cartoon to read as well. The series opens with Stink asking his sister to measure him in the morning… he is 1 meter, 12 centimetres tall. Well, he insists that she measures him at the end of the day, only to discover that he has shrunk by one centimetre… he is devastated!!! Not to mention convinced that he is shrinking… The writing is easy to read and the story totally believable. I live with a couple of lads that would totally panic if they discovered that they had shrunk slightly… however to Stink’s relief, scientific evidence reveals that we all shrink slightly over the period of a day – shew… Anyway we read the first four in the series and loved them all totally!!! These books get the “Grab them if you see them” award.
- Walking the Bear by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Annabel Wright: I knew we would like books in this series when they came out… and we do!!! Dancing bears in India has become illegal and returning the bears to the wild requires a full time ranger to return to the wild with the bears and teach them all that their mother would have taught them, the term used for this process is “Walking the Bear.” This book is about Zaki, a young boy in Northern India. He has a hard life as his family travel about trying tofind opportunities to perform. Added to that, Zaki is given to bear cubs to train as dancing bears, he is a descendant of a long line of bear trainers. Zaki decides to return the bears to the wild, and it is not as easy a task as he thought it would be!!! This is not just a wild-life story there is a human story that plays out in this book as well… it is sad and dramatic and has a good ending. There are fact pages at the end of the book, describing the the bear dancing culture and the rehabilitation programme for bears in the area.
- Little Prince: An Epic Tale from Ancient Iraq by Kathy Henderson, illustrated by Jane Ray: This is an Ancient Story of a little prince, Lugalbanda, living in ancient Sumer… For thousands of years the story was lost, but one hundred and fifty years ago travellers found clay tablets with ancient writing on them. Scholars worked for many years to bring us the story… of a eek and little prince… with se7en older brothers. The ruler of the land went over the mountains to fight a war, he fell ill on the journey and was left in a cave to recover… The gods help him to get well and in his cleverness, the little prince is able to receive magical strength and endurance from the Anzu bird. He is able to reach his brothers and help the ruler to end the relentless war. When he grew up he became the next ruler of the land… and his story has been told and re-told down through the generations. This is not an easy read, but it is an epic story. The writing style brings ancient myths and legends to life for us, the illustrations are perfectly fitting. This is a good book if you enjoy myths and legends.
- The Dunderheads Behind Bars by Paul Fleischman illustrated by David Roberts: Of all the books in the basket, this is my kids’ favourite at the moment… they have read and re-read and read it again… and then read it some more!!! I have to say I was a little surprised – the book appeared a bit dark to me, there are places where it almost rhymes but it never does… and sections I thought were a little creepy… but in the spirit of honest reviewing… my kids really loved this book. A classic case of kids are not easily hoodwinked… they see straight through the cleverly over-exaggerated characters and the humour in them. The illustrations are full of quirky details, the characters are tenacious and inventive. The story is about a class of misfits, who are working on a film set over the vacation… a film set plagued by a robbery. One of the class team is mistaken for a thief and ends up in jail… and the rest of the class is determined to rescue him and uncover the true thief. The baddies are bad and the goodies are full of character… a picture book with a real story!!! What can I say, my kids love it!!!
- The Toucan Brothers by Tor Freeman: We have introduced Tor Freeman before, and we just love her work. As much to look at on a page as a Richard Scarry… heaps of detail in all the drawings. To make it more fun the words form a rhythm tale of rhyming couplets, throughout the book the vibe is fun and bouncy. The Toucan Brothers are the town plumbers, who fix every problem in town. And then Flash Rover arrives, he takes all their business and the Toucan brothers are left jobless, very quickly those Flashy repairs appear to be just that… more Flash than finished. The Toucan brothers are called in to fix all the damage and the town returns to its happy equilibrium at last.
- Wake Up Do, Lydia Lou by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Karen George: This is a typical Julia Donaldson romp. As all the animals join in the song, one-by-one, each with their noisy sound effect… and as the noise and chaos escalates around a sleeping Lydia Lou, just nothing will wake her… nothing at all. Except perhaps a feather that escapes from her pillow… and tickles everyone’s noses!!! And even Lydia Lou is woken by the resulting sneeze!!!
And the se7en + 1th Books:
- I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau and illustrated by Serge Bloch: Is simply delightful!!! A little lad explains the problem of the yawn… in the middle of something a little yawn can suddenly lead to you being in bed… and yawns are everywhere and contagious. He warns you to stay away from sleepy songs, cuddly toys… all his efforts are to no avail. He yawns and is, not surprisingly, sent to bed!!! This is a great bedtime story and has the “read again and again” status in our home.
- The Crocodile Who didn’t Like Water by Gemma Merino: Love, love, love this book!!! The typical “ugly duckling story” of a little crocodile, who can not swim, who just can not like the whole idea of water. But he is lonely, so he tries and tries again. He really wants to be a part of the family, he wants to join in the sibling romp… and he just can not swim… but a surprising sneeze and a startling discovery… he breathes fire and can fly!!! He isn’t a crocodile at all, but a dragon, and suddenly he is very popular with all his siblings!!!
And lastly… so many folk asked us about the bed time story we were reading last night:
I know when we grew up Enid Blyton was the staple diet of children’s books… and most of my English friends are familiar with this prolific author. But dozens of American friends have never heard of Enid Blyton and really her books are such a part of my own cultural literacy it is hard to fathom!!! If you haven’t read any Enid Blyton then you are in for a delightful surprise. As children we began with the Folk of the Faraway Tree and moved onto the Wishing Chair; followed by Secret Se7en and Famous Five, and the Adventure Series; not to mention dozens of school stories and our favourites are: Mallory Towers. Anyway these books are a series and they should be read together:
The story is about three children that move to the country and they live next to the woods. They go on endless little picnics and it is all very lovely… and in the heart of the woods is a magical tree with all sorts of magical folk living inside it. Of course the children become firm friends and go visiting and eat the most amazing and astonishing treats on their journey. Another surprise… is at the top of the tree… well I shouldn’t reveal the story… but it is packed with lots of magical treasures!!!
We would like to thank PanMacMillan South Africa for giving us this wonderful pile of books to review. We would like to declare that we were not paid to do these reviews, just provided with books. All the opinions are as usual, entirely our own!!!