The season is definitely changing over here and after weeks of summer and it being somewhat too hot to do anything but find a shady spot and read a book, I find us looking for a sunny spot and then reading away. Basically the weather can change – but the reading just goes on. We have a huge pile of books to read from PanMacmillan South Africa… we received all the books in this post for review purposes.
The Galactic List of Latest and Greatest Reads
Family Reads Right Now
Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, Ottoline goes to School and Ottoline at Sea, all by Chris Riddell: I may have to mention that in our household Chris Riddell can do no wrong, and right now Ottoline is the centre of all our attention. We are wildly in love with her and one child, who shall remain nameless, but it will become quite apparent in posts to come, has taken to wearing odd shoes – just as Ottoline does. Ottoline is young gal who likes collecting things and solving problems, she is an independent little thing, who has a best friend Mr. Munroe, who looks somewhat like a tuft of grass, as a best friend and constant companion. Her parents are world travelers and she is left home alone, with numerous workers that she can call on at anytime, to carry on with life as usual. And she does hold the fort very well and get things done. She naturally finds herself on little adventures, and discoveries a couple of mysteries that need to be resolved. In true Chris Riddell style the illustrations are beyond delightful and play an integral part of each page and the story… the pictures include snippets of writing and wind themselves in and out of every page. These are great for all ages… my older kids read them again and again and again… They are perfect for children heading into the world of first chapter books and my beginner readers are quite prepared to try them. They are also really good for younger children who are ready to listen and engage in stories that are longer than a picture book. They are great for reading aloud to the younger set, because the illustrations are so engaging and the words… well they are quite funny enough to keep even though most tired parent awake at bedtime. I find myself saying: let’s read another chapter at the same time as they do.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Though the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: This is the year of Alice, the story is 150 years old, and there will be wonderful Alice goodies on sale throughout the year. The truth is, even though these are the books that turned Hood #3 from an easy ready into an avid reader of everything, I have never read them myself. Never. But when I received them as review books I decided that it was high time we settled down as a family and read these classics. They are fun… a lot of it makes no sense at all and my little kids listen to it with absolute straight faces – a clear indication that in the world of small children, nothing is too bizarre. One feels for Alice, and you really want to know what happens to her in this strange world that she finds herself in. Anyway, if you spot these pick them up and read them. They are pure fun… and really quite a quick read.
The Astounding Broccoli Boy and Cosmic it’s one Giant Leap for all Boy-Kind by Frank Cottrell Boyce: Well Frank Cottrell Boyce is very popular over here, he also wrote the fabulous follow-ons to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Astounding Broccoli Boy is another hilarious offering from Frank Cottrell Boyce. Rory, the hero, is prepared for any eventuality in life… and really that’s any eventuality. And then he inexplicably turns green. Not just him, but some of his friends as well, including the school bully. Now that, he really wasn’t expecting. Spoiler alert: he isn’t ill and he isn’t contagious, he has super powers that he is dying to unleash, just as soon as he can get out of the hospital ward.
In Cosmic It’s One Giant Leap for All Boy-Kind, Liam is a boy who has never been small, in fact exactly the opposite. The book is the story of a boy, who is really just too big for boyhood and there are several antics, for instance when he nearly gets to test drive a Porsche, because he appears to be a grown up. He ends up being the guy in charge on a trip into space, and it is just a bit more than he bargained for. It isn’t all fun and games, funny as the antics are in this book there is a whole lot of deeper stuff going on… it is not just your typical… funny little antics popped together in a series of chapters kind of a book… there is a lot more to it and it is well worth a read.
The Mother Person is Reading…
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: This was one of those books that you want to fly through, something is always about to happen… but the writing is so good that you have to slow down and savour it, just a chapter at a time. Nella is an eighteen year old country gal, who is married off to a wealthy merchant in seventeenth century Amsterdam. She arrives on the doorstep, never having met him, with nothing, in a city she has never visited before. The family she is married into is filled with secrets… and there is an unsettling air throughout the house, someone is always listening at the door, watching through the keyhole, and inevitable quiet footsteps on the stairs. As the book evolves so the family’s secrets are revealed, one by one and spinning the family into an inevitable tragedy. The mystery of it all lies in the miniaturist… Nella’s husband buys her a doll’s house, for her to decorate, it is a replica of their own home, as was the style of the day. The miniaturist has the uncanny ability to provide items for the house that very much replicate the real world… how could she know in advance about the impending doom? The book dabbles with many adult themes, but doesn’t really pursue any of them. Nella really has been thrown into the deep end of a world that couldn’t be further from her countryfied beginnings. One so wants her to triumph, but the odds are stacked against her. The mystery of the miniaturist never resolves… I got to the last page and turned it expecting more and was disappointed to discover that I was at the end already. There has to be more to this story, there is sure to be a sequel. This book is not one that I would leave lying around for my teens to read, the story is great but some of the themes are not for the fainthearted. That being said I really enjoyed the read and look forward to more from Jessie Burton.
That Sugar Book by Damon Gameau: From historical fiction to “you-just-can’t-believe-it-is-true” non-fiction. The Sugar Book is a book that you might have to read in a sitting because you just can’t believe the craziness of the modern food industry. Then you will read it again more slowly, because you don’t want to miss anything vital. How can our diets have become so shockingly bad for us? This book literally stops you in tracks at every page turn. We all know sugar is bad for us, and most of us make every effort to cut it from our diet completely. The author of this book, Damon Gameau, tests out a high-sugar diet of forty spoons of sugar a day, for two months. The catch is, not so much the forty spoons of sugar, which is actually pretty average for most western diets, but the catch is he gets his forty spoons of sugar a day from food that we consider to be healthy. Yogurt, muesli and health bars, for example… just add a juice box and there you have the average child’s school lunch box for the day. The book is divided into four sections: the experiment, the (somewhat shocking) results, the repair and recipes.
This is a great book, packed with information and then heaps more information in the form of snippets and factoids, which are scattered throughout it as well. It is an excellent read. Finally a huge problem in our food culture is presented in a way that is understandable. This is not a book written to terrify readers, it is a very light an informative read about a serious topic. I have left this book on the coffee table for a couple of weeks and my kids have all dipped in and spouted out amazing facts. Sometimes our children need to hear from someone other than their mother, that while they will grow up and make their own decisions, there are to be some right and other very wrong decisions. This book will help them see what some of those good eating decisions are and how to implement them. This is an excellent read, highly recommend it. If you want to know more about the book then head straight for the website.
The Hoods Are Reading…
Hood #1: Has been reading The Blackheart Legacy a fantasy series by South African author Liz De Jager. The Blackheart family, live in present times and are called to protect our world from the fae. The fae are beings that range between fairies and monsters, and between good and evil. Enter the heroine, Kit, a teen that has been raised as a normal kid by her grandma and only recently discovered her hidden strengths and calling. Her family are off fighting their own battles and she has a lot to learn. She finds herself thrown into the midst of the drama and has to literally land on her feet and survive – not just survive but fight for the sake of the world around her. In the first book, Banished, Kit discovers her new skills. In the second book, Vowed, she is still learning on the job. The books are a fast paced read, the action palpable. Kit is likeable, you want to know that it all turns out well for her and the world around her in the end.
Hood #2: Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone: Turns out this book is a lot more than a snippet of history. As soon as I had read it I handed it over to my computer loving kid. This is a great book for high schoolers who are beginning to think about careers and the world at large to see what the working world is like – really. It is quite illuminating to find someone in the midst of the cyberworld with a resoundingly positive attitude… someone who sees failure as an opportunity and 140 characters not a limitation but an opportunity to be creative. This is a biography with a bit of a difference, firstly he has a sense of humour and he is well aware of his failings… instead of hiding behind an elaborate CV and trying climb the corporate ladder, he pursued what he loved best. There is something refreshing about a person with a entrepreneurial and inventive mind, that doesn’t compromise and settle for the “right job” on paper… but followed his heart. This is a read in an afternoon kind of book and somewhat inspiring, totally recommend it if you need a “you can do it” kind of talking to.
Hood #3: Brilliant by Roddy Doyle: Firstly, this book is called Brilliant, because is that is everyone’s answer to everything: “How are you doing?” “Brilliant.” “How was your day?” “Brilliant.” Gloria and Raymond are a brother and sister with an adventurous spirit. There uncle comes to stay with them and they have to share a bedroom. There favourite game is to sneak downstairs after bedtime and sit under the kitchen table while the adults “mumble” on about their lives. One evening granny mentions that uncle Ben has the Black Dog (of depression) on his back. They set out to rescue him and discover they are not alone, other children in town are out looking for the black dog too. This book appears to be just a bit of a story on the surface… but as it wanders along you find yourself thinking a lot deeper. This is a clever book, by an author that can clearly see into the heart of a child, and is good at creating discussion with kids about topics that they may not want to dive into on their own. I just have to add… where were books that even mentioned depression when I was a child, a grew up in a home weighed down by close relatives who suffered from this illness and I would have loved to have know that other folk lived in the same world. In a world where books are written with all sorts of disabilities, there is still such a silly taboo about mental illness… Galactic hooray for books like these.
Hood #4: Robotics: The Whole Technology Story by Glenn Murphy: This is a great read for the kid who loves questions, and you as the mother person, have no idea what the answers are. This book answers questions about networks, smart phones and robots… and a whole lot of others too. The book is written in plain language, easy enough for a not-to-technical person to understand and ideal for the child that is curious about the world of computers and codes, not to mention technology. There are a couple of “things to do” like build your own telegraph, and also a handful of puzzles like crosswords and word searches. This is a fun book, the sort of book to toss in your backpack and read when you find yourself having to wait around for a couple of minutes.
Hood #5: The Pain and the Great One Go Places and The Pain and the Great One on Wheels by Judy Blume Judy Blume writes great easy chapter books for emerging readers, her stories are full of characters that transport you right into the heart of a young reader. This is a series about a brother and sister: Jake, the Pain and Abigail, the Great One, who is slightly older. There is the typical sibling dynamic of fighting the good fight and standing up for one another to the death. These books are just good reads – no tricks, no stickers, no fold out anythings… just chapter books with a couple of illustrations. The chapters can be read in a sitting, they aren’t too long or too short. The point is we can all see ourselves as either Jake or Abigail in the stories and sometimes both. Great books for mastering empathy. They are very funny and well worth the read.
Hood #6: Violet Mackerel’s Pocket Protest, by Anna Branford: Violet Mackerel is new to us, she is a girl with an opinion and if you have an reader at the “first chapter” book stage, who is a little bit of an activist, then they will love this book. Violet discovers that a tree, that she and her friend especially love, is going to be chopped down for a parking lot. They brainstorm a number of ways to protest the demise of the tree but they feel helpless. They don’t give up, and come up with a truly surprising, and very sweet, way to protest. Turns out they weren’t the only folk who wanted to save the tree. The book has a happy ending, not to mention a good feeling, that anyone can make a difference if they set their mind to it.
Hood #7: Sophie’s Tom by Dick King-Smith: Well Dick King-Smith, the prolific children’s writer, is a firm favourite over here and the Sophie series are just just lovely. Sophie is five and really, really wants to be a farmer and for her birthday her brothers gave her a toy farm. Sophie loves her farm, but it is a real animal that she is after. Enter Tom, a local stray cat… that Sophie sets her heart on. The book takes you on a journey through the life and times of a five year old beginning school, little friends and old aunts… its fun, it’s light and really just delightful. Not to mention Tom produces a little surprise at the end of the book. Dick King Smith has a delightful website – go over and take a peek.
And the se7en + 1th Books:
Hood #8: Little Humans by Brandon Stanton: This is adorable and a real can do book, pages and pages of superb photographs of delightful children. The kids are cute and and the words are enabling: “Little kids do big things…” It is a very sweet picture book and my younger kids were quite intrigued at looking at children that live on the far side of the world. This is the junior version of Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York Book, he has a fascinating instagram feed, @HumansofNY, where he photographs folk from New York city and tells a snippet of their story. It is fascinating, head over there a take a peak.
We would really like to thank PanMacMillan Books South Africa for providing us with the books to review for this post. We would like to declare that this is not a sponsored post, we were not paid to do these reviews, just provided with books. All the opinions are as usual, entirely our own!!!