Where is Heaven Anyway? by Dunnett Albert

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Where is Heaven Anyway? A Hattie the Hummingbird Story by Dunnett Albert and illustrated by Catherine Wilder, picture e-book, 16 pages, published by Henley Publishing in 2016.

Little Hattie the Hummingbird is sad because her friend Auggie the Frog has gone away. Hattie’s mum helps her to understand that Auggie has gone to heaven, but that he will still be with Hattie, in the world around her, in her heart and in her dreams.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is a lovely rhyming story that explains the concept of heaven using language and ideas appropriate for a younger audience. It is heartwarming and tender, reminding us that our loved ones will always be in our hearts and memories, even when they can no longer be with us physically. This book is a great way to start a conversation about death and what happens afterwards, so I recommend reading it with the child/children to help them understand (and to answer their questions!).

Where is Heaven Anyway? contains truly beautiful watercolour illustrations. They are full of colour and life, yet retain a softness that suits the gentle nature of the story.

Where is Heaven Anyway? is suitable for primary school children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison, e-book, 574 pages, published in 2018.

Twins, Sarah and Jon have travelled to Wales to spend the summer with their maternal grandparents, whom they have only met once before. They’ve barely landed in Wales when they begin to encounter some odd things; was that a werewolf they hit on the road? Things only get stranger at their grandparents’ farm, where there’s a creepy handy-man with a wooden leg, a magical book, and Sarah is sure those garden gnomes waved to her. They are giving a swift introduction to the magical world, learning much about themselves, and how they fit into that world, along the way. Sarah and Jon are excited to enter the ancient castle, TwoSpells, which is actually an humungous magical library, where one can enter the books and view the story from within. It also acts as a refuge for magical folk, where the “regulars” cannot go. Unfortunately the library is experiencing some rather frightening disturbances, and an illness is also affecting the magical populace. Sarah and Jon must help to save the library and all those who are sick.

This book is Awesome! TwoSpells had me hooked from the first chapter; that’s where the action started, and it just kept coming. It was a rollercoaster ride of magical creatures, book characters and a villain intent on controlling not just the world, but all worlds and realities. I could hardly put it down, I just had to read the next chapter, and then the next!

The battle at the library was wonderfully told. It was detailed and energetic; the highlight of the story. The diversity of creatures, magical, historical and mythical that emerged during the battle was incredible. Many of them were terrifying, but all came to life, rampaging about, creating a swirling mess of the library. I love the idea of being able to enter books, but the possibility of unleashing something big and dangerous was somewhat alarming!

All of the characters were strongly developed and described. I really felt like I got to know Sarah and Jon, and their grandparents. Grandpa was such a funny old man, but completely loveable. His relationship with Grandma was lovely, and I enjoyed their interactions. Their banter, and Grandpa’s propensity for “nicking” stuff, made me laugh. I loved when he fooled the security system at the exit of TwoSpells. Grandma standing up to the Golems was also quite funny.

I liked Sarah better than Jon; he was a bit too happy about slaying dragons and swinging swords. I preferred Sarah’s more cautious approach to their new-found magical identities. She was more likely to think before acting, and was very compassionate towards others, even those that were very different to her. I liked the relationship she began to form with Liam, one of the Junior Guardians at TwoSpells. While Liam, and his brother, Seth, were more minor characters, they were both very likeable.

The handy-man at the farm, Clyde, was an interesting character; he seemed pretty shifty, but also had kindness behind his exterior grumpiness. He had a strange back-story, and I’m still wondering what happened to his dog. I liked his gruffness, in the same way that I liked the abruptness of the Golems. Though the Golems were all made the same, the ones in charge of security about Sarah and Jon, were developing their own personalities nicely.

TwoSpells ended with many of my questions unanswered, and the fate of several characters unknown. I really hope that means there will be a follow-up book! I want to know about so many things! There are still lots of connections to be fulfilled, and I feel that there must be another great adventure coming.

TwoSpells is suitable for upper primary and high school students. I recommend it for fans of fantasy and action. Read it, it’s fantastic!

 

*I received this book as a digital book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? by Kate McLelland

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Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? by Kate McLelland, hardback picture book, published by Hodder’s Children’s Books in 2016.

Pip is a little blackbird who sets out to discover what it is that blackbirds do. He visits with different birds, trying out the things they are good at until he finds something he is good at.

I rather liked this picture book about finding oneself. Pip met a lot of other birds on his journey, learning a little about each one. All of the birds were interesting and good at various things. I liked that Pip attempted each thing enthusiastically, such as digging a nest, waddling and pecking at seeds, even if he wasn’t very good at it. And he kept trying, despite disappointments. Perseverance and the willingness to try new things are great qualities to encourage in our children, and Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? demonstrates this nicely for younger children.

The illustrations are very appealing. All of the birds were beautiful and so expressive; I especially liked the owl. And Pip was pretty cute!

My pre-schoolers enjoyed reading this book with me. I was happy that the text was decently sized, making it easier for my boys to try reading it themselves too (beginner readers).

Blackbird, Blackbird, What Do You Do? is suitable for early childhood, pre-school and lower primary school children. It is a nice book to read aloud.

 

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, hardback novel, 218 pages, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2010.

When Michael’s mother dies, his future is placed into the hands of a distant and unknown guardian, Sir Stephen. Along with his sister, Sir Stephen lives in a large house, Hawton Mere, stood by itself in the middle of some marshes, far from everything and everyone. Michael is invited to stay with them over the Christmas period, which he is very reluctant to do. Upon his arrival it is immediately apparent that there is something not quite right in the house, and that Sir Stephen is also rather odd and foreboding.

The Dead of Winter is a ghost story in the tradition of gothic fiction from Victorian times. It contained similar elements to a few other ghostly mysteries I have read. In particular, the bleak, wintry landscape of the boggy marshes surrounding Hawton Mere reminded me of the novel The Woman in Black, though The Dead of Winter is aimed at a younger audience.

I found this to be an average read, with solid writing and strong characters. The plot was easy to follow, but wasn’t as scary as I expected, and I had a fair idea of what was happening at the house well before it was revealed. Maybe I’m just getting older and harder to scare! Still, it was entertainment for a couple of nights, and I did genuinely feel for Michael. He was an appealing character, as was Jerwood, Hodges and Mrs Guston. The description of Sir Stephen was well done, easily conjuring the image of a nerve-wracked man, old before his time.

The Dead of Winter is suitable for upper primary and high school students.

Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray and Jim Field

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Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray and illustrated by Jim Field, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Press in 2015.

The cat insists that the frog sits on a log. Why? Because frogs must sit on logs. The cat goes on to explain that cats sit on mats, hares on chairs, mules on stools…. and on and on.

This wonderfully silly rhyming story is accompanied by cute and funny illustrations. Some of the animals get to sit on some rather uncomfortable items, including irons, forks and poles! My favourite picture is the wizard with his lizard playing the flute with the newt, and the magnifying glass that allows us to see the fleas sitting on peas. The frog can be found in each picture too.

Frog on a Log? is a great read-aloud book which my pre-schoolers love. It is funny, entertaining and can be read again and again. My boys like all the rhyming and it has encouraged them to think of other words that rhyme. We loved the ending!

I highly recommend Frog on a Log? for pre-school and lower primary school students.

 

*Frog on a Log? has also been published under the title Oi Frog!

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini

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The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini, hard-back picture book, published by Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd in 2013.

Norman Qwerty’s imagination is highly active. Amazing and wonderful ideas fill his head and are just waiting to burst forth. However, he feels that he is different to others, and that no-one else has thoughts like his, making him feel alone.

A simple story with clear text, The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty told the tale of an ordinary man capable of extraordinary ideas.

The story itself was pretty basic, and I didn’t think that much of it, however, the illustrations were delightful. Done mostly in grayscale, with a hint of colour here and there, they were detailed and interesting. Each page held something new to investigate. I loved that the people were wearing hats that were locked to keep all their new and outrageous ideas in, but that sometimes the ideas still escaped. Most extraordinary of all, was that everyone had different ideas, some ordinary, some strange and some incredible, but all interesting.

I read this book with my two preschoolers, who were both intrigued by the pictures. They pored over the pages spotting new things and pointing out anything that interested them. They were both very taken with the robot bird in Mr Qwerty’s hat. My favourite invention was the hovering light with eyes. We spent quite a lot of time just looking at the pictures.

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty is suitable for preschoolers and lower primary school children. I think it worked best as a read-aloud book, where we could discuss the illustrations thoroughly together.

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Funny Farm by Mark Teague

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Funny Farm by Mark Teague, hard-back picture book, published by Orchard Books in 2009.

Edward visits Hawthorne Farm for the first time. His uncle, aunt and cousin show him how to help about the farm, by collecting eggs, feeding the pigs, painting the barn, and herding the sheep. The fact that Edward and his family are dogs running a farm is only the first of many odd things at Hawthorne Farm!

Funny Farm is a simple story of a day on the farm, just that the farm is a little different to most. The text was clear and easy to read, with just one sentence per scene; great for younger children. Each page was full of colourful and detailed illustrations full of interesting and unusual things.

My preschoolers thought Funny Farm was pretty good. They liked all the strange things, such as the pigs playing on the swings, the bugs ploughing their own small field, and the sheep brushing their teeth at the water trough. They laughed quite a lot when Edward got chased by the rooster and when he fell into the pig’s food trough! They are keen to read this book again.

Funny Farm is suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

 

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The Land of the Sourpie by J. S. Skye

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The Land of the Sourpie by J. S. Skye, paperback novel, 198 pages, first published in 2013, this edition published in 2015.

Flurry the adorable little teddy bear is back. He has spent about three months living in MiddleAsia with his new human parents, when he is invited to return to his home town for a visit. Upon arrival Flurry is surprised to discover he has a new little sister, and he is not happy about it at all.

The Land of the Sourpie is the first real adventure for Flurry, where he finds himself far away from home. Along for the ride are Flurry’s new sister, Fall, and his friend, Caboose. They face the perils of the large forest at night, making friends and enemies along the way.

I quite liked this adventure, though Flurry got on my nerves; he was so incredibly mean to his sister. Flurry really didn’t take it well when the news of a sister was broken to him, and I suppose his parents could have warned him about their new child, instead of springing it on him during a visit with his friends, but still, his reaction was over the top jealous. It was a ridiculous notion to think that Mr and Mrs Snow would love Fall more than him. But then I have to remember that Flurry is a very young bear cub, and his actions are like that of a human toddler discovering they have to share their parents with a new sibling.

Another thing I disliked about Flurry was that when he thought he might get in trouble, he let his friends take the blame. And he was too proud to admit when he was wrong, especially when it came to his sister. This behaviour made him more difficult to like in this story.

I liked Fall better. She was the polar opposite to Flurry; sensible, responsible, rule-abiding and humble. She really wanted to do the right thing, but Flurry just wouldn’t listen to her. And Caboose made me laugh, he can’t help but be likeable!

The best bits of this story happened once the bear cubs met the sourpie felines and their estranged brethren. I loved the name of King Jag’War. I hope we will meet these great cats in future Flurry stories, they were such great characters. The pack of wolves the cubs run into are very well described, but far less likeable than the cats. The leader of the pack was really quite scary and evil; I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of him!

I felt that the chapters were a little long for the target audience. My 8 year old likes to “conquer” a chapter in each reading session, but these chapters were too long for her to do that at the moment. Still, it was a good read which left me eager to read the next Flurry adventure.

The Land of the Sourpie is suitable for middle and upper primary school students.

 

*I received this book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

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Amazon Reviews

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I logged in to Amazon yesterday to post a review only to discover that their review guidelines have changed. I can no longer post reviews unless I have spent a minimum of US$50 using a credit/debit card on the site within the previous 12 months. I live in Australia, and find that many things I might like from Amazon do not ship to Australia or the postage makes the cost too much, and I tend not to buy enough e-books to cover the minimum amount (I prefer physical books). So I am sad to say that I will no longer be posting reviews to Amazon.

I am dismayed by this policy change. I believe it unfairly impacts indie authors by restricting who can review their books. It also impacts the customers by restricting their access to honest and unbiased reviews. Reviews are helpful in creating sales, and are especially important for those books which have not been through a big publishing firm with dedicated marketing. This is a disappointing move that just smacks of greed (sigh…). I used to post reviews on Book Depository too, but now they only pull reviews from Amazon…

However, I will continue to post my reviews to my blog, Facebook and Twitter pages, Goodreads and Riffle. And I will continue to look for more places to post reviews. I’m open to recommendations too, so if you know a good place with free access to reviews, please let me know!

The Granted Wish by J.S. Skye

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The Granted Wish by J.S. Skye, paperback novel, first published in 2012, this edition published in 2017.

Flurry the Bear is a cute, little, teddy bear cub who just seems to find trouble around every corner. His concerned parents seek help from Christopher Kringle, the very man that brought life to the teddy bears of the Mezarim. The solution can only work for so long before Flurry finds himself in trouble once more.

The Granted Wish is the first book in the Flurry the Bear Series, which follows Flurry on his adventures. This first book provides details of Flurry’s background; it is his origin story. We learn about Flurry’s parents, and his first years, including his first adventure away from home. Flurry’s story is told as a tale in a book read to a group of young teddy bear cubs, who have all heard the awe inspiring tales of Flurry; his adventures, his bravery, his conquests, (some spread enthusiastically by Flurry himself, no doubt!). I liked this approach to telling the story.

For me, The Granted Wish was a reasonably quick read, with a solid and magical plot, that I enjoyed. It was fun getting to know Flurry, his family and his friends. There was laughter, friendship and discovery, of new things, and of himself, as Flurry began his adventurous lifestyle.

The idea of a whole township of teddy bears living and working at the north pole is wonderful! They were all meticulously described, with varying personalities, just as we have in our own society. I especially related to Mrs Snow’s exasperation over Flurry’s antics! And the amazing Christopher Kringle, who has been re-invented from jolly old Santa with his jelly belly, to a young, vital and strong character who uses his magic to bring life, nuture and guide those around him. He is kind, yet firm when required. As for Flurry, he is a bit mischievous and a bit of a daydreamer, but he is also a loving son, and he does try to do the right thing. However, he has a vain streak (he is an exceptionally adorable little teddy, after all), which can lead to some smugness. I hope Flurry can overcome this tendency in the books ahead.

An interesting start to a what promises to be an exciting series, The Granted Wish, is suitable for middle and upper primary students.

 

*I received this book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.