Monday, 12 August 2013

A review of "Hey, Presto" by Nadia Shireen

Hey People in the Ether,

   Firstly, an apology! I'm very sorry for my long silence - the past couple of months have been busy and life-changing. So I'm heartily sorry for being a bad blogger but I'm back in action now.
   Secondly, a review! Shireen's latest offering introduces us to best friends, Presto and Monty. They have nothing but are content to be together - that is until Monty thinks they should make the most of Presto's talent for magic. What's proposed as a double act soon turns into a one-dog-production as Monty hogs the limelight and bosses poor Presto around. Eventually the moggy has enough and leaves - of course, disaster (on television, no-less) ensues. But Presto sweeps in to save the day and his friend, and Monty sets about rebuilding their friendship as well as creating a new stage act that allows each creature to focus on his own strengths.  

   As in "Good Little Wolf", Shireen's story has loveable (if flawed) characters and an entertaining crisis, this tale though has a much cosier conclusion; but it works delightfully. Her dialogue is sharp and fun, and the little background details are charming touches, sure to reward searching eyes. I'm a huge fan of her warm, fuzzy, hairy, scratchy illustrations and the colour palette she employs here is vibrant and inviting, too.   

    This is a pacey story of friendship, ambition, ego and valuing what really matters. I'd recommend it to fans of Shireen's previous fare and to anyone reading to a little diva or divo.  

    Thanks for reading,

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A review of "The Dark" written by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Hi Folks in the Smoke,

   In this dream-team pairing of the renowned story-weaver, Snicket, and a rising illustration star, Klassen, we find a tale that is both retro and timeless.

   Laszlo apparently lives alone is a large rickety house with long stairs and huge windows, save for one cohabitant, the dark. The lack of adult supervision doesn't bother Laszlo or us, but soon the dark bothers us both. It lurks in many nooks and crannies, but it lives in the basement. And at night, it spreads everywhere and can't be escaped. One night Laszlo's nightlight fails so the dark must be confronted and the two occupants begin an intriguing dialogue that ends in acceptance.

   Snicket's text is well paced, starting mournfully, becoming sinister and then resolving nicely to a comforting end. Giving the dark its own voice is really effective, as is referring to it as the dark rather than the darkness. The font alters from black to white as the settings dictate and this offers a pleasing contrast throughout - each passage bristles on the page. The page on which the merit and importance of the dark is described is beautiful though it does feel a little text heavy, especially for a younger reader.

   We're used to Klassen's animals so it's intriguing to see how he depicts a little, lonely boy and the empty house he wanders around. Laszlo has button eyes, 50s hair and a onesie. Light seems umber and warm while  the black belonging to the dark is inky, deep and intense. The gorgeously textured paper enhances this palette greatly.

    This is an interesting, slightly sad story. I'm not sure it would necessarily resolve severe fears of the dark; it's much more sinister than the tender and reassuring "The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark", say. From an adult's reading point it actually feels like a simple, short horror story, all be it one with a tender ending. But it is solemn, subtle and beautiful and could encourage discussions about fears and phobias in general with slightly older readers, perhaps 5+.

    Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A review of "One Little Baby" written by Richard Dungworth and illustrated by Jane Massey

Hey there People in the Ether.
   If you're searching for a new picture book to share with a very tiny tot, this short and sweet tale surely will hit the spot! (Blame Dungworth's infectious rhymes!)

jacket image for One Little Baby by Richard Dungworth - large version

   In the spirit of classics such as "Peepo" and the "Tom and Pippo" stories, this charts a day in the life of a teeny toddler, who remains without a name, gender and race throughout; simply "one liitle baby" undertaking a new important on each spread as we move from waking to sleeping. The topics are familiar, reassuring - breakfast, dressing, playtime, storytime and so on.

   Dungworth's repeating and rhyming text is full of lovely phrases, moments of drama, warm humour and lots of tenderness. The font is beautifully plain but does change size and uses the occasional word in italics for stress.

   Massey's illustrations capture movement and emotion elegantly, using sweeping charcoal lines and a palette of about seven colours on minimal, white spreads. The baby's perpetually rosy cheeks and Teddy's serene face are adorable.    

   This is a really glowing, sweet and comforting story to share with the very smallest book addicts, perfect morning or evening reading. If I had one criticism it's that I'd have liked to see "one little baby's" dad make an appearance, but maybe Dungworth and Massey are saving him for another outing.

    Thanks for reading,

Monday, 27 May 2013

A review of "Monty and Milli: The Totally Amazing Magic Trick", written by Tracey Corderoy and illustrated by Tim Warnes

Hi there, Folks in the Smoke,

   This magical tale from the pen of Corderoy and the paintbox of Warnes is seriously cute and laden with sibling tension and tenderness.

   Monty is that traditional figure - the much-put-upon elder brother. His little mouse sister is forever taking over situations, spoiling his fun and meddling in his playtime. He never has a moment's peace. So, on his birthday when he gets a magic set that is designed for only one he eventually loses his cool and tells Milli to butt out. He goes so far as to wish that she would turn into a warty toad and disappear - and then Milli is nowhere to be found, allowing Monty some blissful quality alone time. 
   But when teatime arrives Monty is grief-stricken at the notion that Milli really is gone. Happily, she springs from her hiding place and the siblings are tenderly reunited. And there's an added, magical bedtime surprise in store, too. 

   Corderoy, as ever, creates lovable and realistic characters, for all their mouse appearances. Monty exasperation is amusing and Milli's attention-seeking enthusiasm is adorable. The text zings with some lovely words and funny asides, and there are great sound effects, too. There are different font sizes and stresses to help drive the tale along. 

  Warnes' illustrations are warm and bright, with lots of blues, yellows and greens. The animals' bodies and expressions are beautifully depicted. And the subtle details of mouse life - a cupcake as a birthday cake, the recycled bedroom furniture - are equally sweet and smart.

  This makes perfect bedtime reading for antagonistic siblings in need of a sweet story to remind them that they have more fun together.

   Thanks for reading, 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A review of "Miss Rosie Red - Let Me See...What Will I Be?" app written and illustrated by Trisha Deery and produced by Dog Ears

Hi People in the Ether,

   Miss Rosie Red is a charming character whose first picture book adventure "Let Me See...What Will I Be?" makes a fun and friendly app.

   It's a simple, warm, sweet story - Rosie's been invited to her friend's birthday party and decides she needs to dress up as something impressive. The scouring of dress-up boxes and wardrobes is doomed as there's an imagined problem with each costume - astronaut, fairy and dinosaur. After many other changes, at last, our cheery heroine realises the best course of action. She'll be herself. And when she arrives at the picnic she discovers her friends are being themselves, too.

   Throughout, Rosie talks to Cooper the cat in a very believable manner. The sense of her wondering, daydreaming, play acting is really innocent and lovely. And there's a great range of words in the narration. The repetition of "Let me see...what will I be?" and "Oh, no, that would never do" ensure this will be an engaging storytime read.  

   Deery's artwork is scrumptious, soft, in a warm colour palette. There are few backgrounds other than colour washes until the climax. Rosie is gorgeous, her russet hair, lovely freckles, stripey tights, infectious smile, and emphatic frown are all adorably drawn. Rosie's little brother, Baby, is chubby and cute. Cooper is forever prowling and jumping. And I especially loved Rosie's Mum's red stilettos, they tell us something of her character though we never see her face. All Rosie's friends, Darcy, Gracie, Penny are distinct individuals.

   The interactivity of the app is really well pitched. There are three reading options; read to me, read myself, autoplay. And the speed of the latter option run is perfect. There's also just the right amount of screens that involve extra touch changes to the scenes and they're really effective. There are lovely sound effects throughout and cheerful uptempo guitar playing occasionally in the background that's far intrusive. And Rosie's song is adorable. 

    I think the voice talents on this app are the cherries on a lovely cake. Rosie is voiced by a three-year old and this lends an authenticity that's full of excitement and wonder. Mum's voice is loving and very engaged with Rosie, while the narrator is always cosy and interested in the events onscreen. I'll admit I'm predisposed to love these particular accents from my neck of the woods, but I also think it's really refreshing to hear more regional, and non-celebrity, voices in apps. Miss Rosie Red is a wonderful character for pre-schoolers - she's set to star in more books and apps, and there's even a television series in the works.

   Thanks for reading,


Friday, 22 March 2013

A review of "Again!" by Emily Gravett

Hi Folks in the Smoke,

   The most recent offering from the very talented Emily Gravett is wry, warm and fun.

   "Again!" features a fierce little dragon with an appetite for his favourite bedtime story. The blurb introduces him as Cedric, and that is also the name of the dragon in the tale his weary mum reads to him. The story book Cedric is huge and red and terrorises his neighbours, whereas our Cedric is tiny, green and looks quite innocent; a neat contrast.

   But our Cedric is also a little stroppy and repeatedly demands that his mum read the story again and again. The bedtime tale changes each time, becoming shorter, as Cedric's mum gets wearier. Eventually, she drifts off mid-reading and Cedric loses the plot. He screams and stomps and turns from innocent green to furious red. First he pouts and snorts out smoke but flames soon follow and he then scorches his story book, and charmingly ours as well.

   Gravett's canny text and its presentation make this book - there is one sentence of scene-setting, then all of the story book reading and Cedric's mum's dialogue is captured on the inset illustrated book, while Cedric's only speech is "again", though he does say it 15 times in various tones and at increasing volumes as reflected by different font sizes.

    As ever, the artwork is textured, simple and captivating. The stark white backgrounds allow us to focus on the beautiful inset story book and on our scaly, green protagonists. I love how Cedric boils from his peaceful green to a raging red. The loveliest touch is a spread that seems to look out from inside the favoured story book, its characters look non-too-impressed with the destruction to their home wrought by our grumpy little dragon. 

   This charming tale of tired storyteller and moody toddler might aid those struggling with their own fierce little creatures at bedtime.

    Thanks for reading,

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Hey People in the Ether,
   This is a quick post to apologise profusely for such a long silence. A family wedding and all it's attendant business had to take priority over blogging for a couple of months. Normal service will be restored soon.