We finished our school year for the summer yesterday, after a few days of cleaning up and cleaning out, and packing away this school year you will find us doing summer to the max… reading, walks on the beach, swimming… hiking, dying to get into the great outdoors. Before we vanish off the grid so to speak, I thought I would post more than a few book reviews… because really, reading is our thing and if we can show you what we have been reading it might spur your reading on too.
In this post we are looking at some of the latest and greatest reads for kids from Penguin Random House South Africa. We were gifted these books for review purposes.
Hidden Planet by Ben Rothery
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called, Se7en’s Great Big List of the 100 Best Non-fiction Books for Kids…, well Hidden Planet goes right on to that list… it is right up there with the best of the rest. Hidden Planet is a non-fiction book filled with incredible animal facts and connections between animals.
There is not a lot of writing… the animal’s name and Latin name, and then a paragraph or two of intriguing facts… you can learn as much from the detailed illustrations as from the words. Fascinating as the facts are it is the illustrations that are absolutely breathtaking and we have been paging through this beautiful book again and again and again… It is one of those wondrous books, that every time you look at it you find yourself learning something new.
The author Ben Rothery grew up between southern Africa and the UK, he has a passion for both illustrating and wildlife, and those passions are put together in this larger than life size book… and the page that we loved the best, was the top down photograph of his desk… because who wouldn’t want to see where and artist created his masterpieces.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson and illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
If you haven’t read The House with Chicken Legs by the same author, yet… then put it on the top of your wish list… buy it for your kids and read it for yourself. I loved the House with Chicken Legs and the Girl who Speaks Bear, for the same reason… the intertwining of Russian folktales with the story… I loved it, a whole new genre of fairy tale, very different from the Brothers Grim that I grew up on. You can read my review of the House With Chicken Legs over here, and it was indeed one of our top reads of 2018. The reason I say, read the books in order, is not so much because they follow on from each other, they don’t in fact and you can read them independently, but because you need to understand not just the definition, but the depth of the character of a House with Chicken Legs to really love The Girl Who Speaks Bear.
The Girl Who Speaks Bear is about a village girl called Yanka, who lives with Mamochka on the outskirts of the village and the snow forest. She tries desperately to fit into the village, while always feeling drawn to the forest. She never quite fits in, she is just way bigger than all the other children… her best and only friend Sasha stands by her throughout the story… she longs to fit and loves it when the great Anatoly comes out of the forest from time to time and tells her fairytales from the past. The illustrations throughout the book are just beautiful, and I love that the fairytales that weave through the story have these magical borders.
On the night of the village festival, Yanka is asked to play an important role, she flounders and falls and when she comes round, safely at home, she discovers that her legs have become bear legs… She heads for the forest to discover her truth. She finds herself on a rollocking adventure and those fairytales that she has grown up on may contain more than a smidgen of truth. Through her adventure over icy lands, through wild forest, sailing a flying ship and conquering a volcano and three headed dragon… the story behind the story is about true friendship, our home is indeed where our heart is. A magical read, with short chapters, alternating with snippets of fairytales. I loved this book… a moving kids read, a bear with a big heart and all her wild animal friends. Just lovely. To be honest, I hope Sophie Anderson is writing her next book right now!!!
Frostheart written and illustrated by Jamie Littler
The incredible illustrations drew me to this book, but ten year old Hood 8 got to it first… and immediately named it “Book of the Year.” Now that I have read it… I can see why. It is absolutely fantastic. FANTASTIC. It is an incredible adventure story about a ten year old boy, called Ash. He lives in the outer reaches of known world in a frozen land. His parents had to leave his stronghold when he was tiny and he is being raised by his guardian, a rather strict and somewhat grumpy yeti, called Tobu. Poor Ash has a hidden talent, he is a Song Weaver, and where he is staying, no-one is allowed to sing, let alone be a song weaver… He is banished and finds himself flung onto a huge sled/sailing vessel, called the Frostheart, which takes brave and adventurers Pathfinders, from one isolated civilisation to another, all the while being chased by wild and dangerous beasts.
Ash finds himself in all sorts of scrapes, it is almost as if trouble finds him. Needless to say, Tobu managed to travel on the Frostheart as well and continues to be there for Ash, protecting him from the chaos that Ash seems to leave in his wake. The two of them find themselves on an incredible voyage, chasing a quest, surrounded by a crew of adventurers, and they all have their failings. This book is delightful, the artwork is absolutely magical and the reader is drawn into a whole new and icy world. Our hero turns out to be truly heroic, the baddies are bad, the wild things are wild… a totally made up world and totally believable. Absolutely loved it and cannot wait for Frostheart II, which is promised on the very last page. You can follow the author on instagram, here.
Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It by Susie Day
This is a real live adventure story, that doesn’t get too scary, but the hero of the book does manage to get himself into quite a pickle. It is a great story about an ingenious boy called Max, whose dad gets involved in a shady deal and finds he has to lie low for a couple of days… when a couple of days looks like it is going to be a little bit longer than expected, Max takes things into his own hands. He very cleverly figures out how to take up occupancy of his best friends holiday house in the Welsh countryside and manages to get his younger siblings safely there. While he is in the countryside, he hears a myth about a local dragon and he starts mountaineering in fascination… Max takes his younger sisters on a fantastic adventure. This story is great and very believable, because Max is far from a saint… he is extremely fallible and makes loads of young laddish mistakes. I really enjoyed this book, Max is very, very likeable and the author very cleverly gets the adults out of the way… and lets the kids get on with life… spoiler alert: Max is discovered, and he is indeed the hero of the day. I would like to read more about Max, and see where he goes with his new found knowledge.
I Go Quiet by David Ouimet
This is one of those outstanding and beautiful books that looks like a children’s book, but is actually a book that so many adults will relate to, even better than their kids. This book is about a young girl, who battles to be heard, she doesn’t quite fit the mould and one feels her dark anxiety oppressing her into silence.
The illustrations are dark, and it feels somewhat industrial,… rows and rows of grey children, each their unique self, squashed into the same grey uniform, in the same grey desks, in the same grey classrooms… it is grey. And yet, this little one has a shimmer of hope and knows that one day, her words will spill forth with meaning. One gets a sense that she is biding her time.
For those kids that just don’t ever fit, this book will give them hope… and those colourful adults that felt they were always forced to be grey… will emerge form this book like rainbows. Beautiful read, if you can do the work of going through the hard times with this you girl.
The Truth Pixie goes to School, by Matt Haig and illustrated by Chris Mould
My younger kids adore the Truth Pixie, in fact they inhale anything written by Matt Haig, and look forward to what has become an annual Christmastime read from him. In this one a girl called Aada, goes to school, and in fact everywhere, accompanied by her best friend the Truth Pixie.
Their friendship is of the very best variety, until Aada attends a new school and school bullies are mean to the Truth Pixie and split their friendship… its really very sad… and spoiler alert, in true Matt Haig style, alls well that ends well. The illustrations are fabulous and completely make the book, the story is written in rhyme and that makes for really easy reading. Richly illustrated, and whimsical writing… there is everything to love about this book, including a life lesson (without being too preachy), that bullies don’t always win and friendships are really worth fighting for.
Let’s Go on Safari! By Kate Gilman Williams & Michelle Campbell
Michelle is a ranger, working as a ranger in the Kruger National Park and Kate is a young visitor from the United States. This book is perfect for young animal lovers, who dream of exploring in the great outdoors.
It is packed with photographs and facts, it reads as Kate’s travel diary, interspersed with loads of facts about wildlife, ecology and the environment… presented in a very readable format for young people. I love that they have information about how youngsters can get involved in conservation from wherever they are in the world.
Another brilliantly giftable book, my only reservation is that Kate is a child from the United States, and true as the story might be about her trip to Africa it tends to “highlight’ the fact that most visitors to the Kruger National Park are not in fact locals, who can’t afford to visit there, but foreigners. That being said, if local children cannot visit the Game Reserve, then it is up to books like these to take the Game Park to the children.
Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
And here is a truly magical book, beautiful in everyday. If you are looking for a beautiful picture book that will be treasured for a lifetime, then you have found it here. This is the story of Sulwe, who has skin the colour of midnight, she is darker than all her family members and all the children at school.
She is teased mercilessly at school and tries all sorts of ways to make her skin lighter… she wants to be the same as everyone else, she wants to fit in. Nothing she tries seems to work, and she gets sadder and sadder. Her mama, tells her that her name means star, and that her beauty is inside of her. This doesn’t make her feel better, but when a shooting star comes and tells her about two sisters, called Night and Day, and everyone preferred Day until they realised that they couldn’t live without Night.
Sulwe goes on a little adventure to see just how much Day needs Night, and she realises that Night and Day can’t live without each other. This gives her the inner strength and confidence that she needs. Sulwe, the little star, is indeed beautiful inside and out. The illustrations are absolutely fantastic, the story is rich, and just all round wholesomeness can be found between the sparkling pages of this story. This definitely gets a book if the year vote from us.
Amazon Affiliate Links to The Books in this Post
All these books were given to us for review purposes by Penguin Random House South Africa and Struik Nature. This is not a sponsored post and opinions expressed are entirely our own.