Showing posts with label Nikki M Heath. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nikki M Heath. Show all posts

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Rainforest Feasts

Rainforest Feasts by Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti, illustrated by Heather Charlton (Wild Eyed Press) PB RRP $15.50 ISBN 9780648161127

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What do the critters of the rainforest get up to when they wake up at night? Feed their hungry bellies, of course! This colourful book of rhyming verse explores the eating habits of a variety of rainforest creatures.

The book comprises a series of vignettes rather than a narrative plot. The unusual selection of animals and insects Eldridge-Alfonzetti has featured, including crayfish, native rats and glow worms, distinguishes the book from comparable titles.

The watercolour illustrations are bright and colourful while still conveying a sense of the night-time forest setting. Each spread shows the featured rainforest creature and its prey, often in the act of capturing or eating the meal. Some critters are rendered with a greater sense of character and likeness than others, and not all are perfectly consistent throughout. Nevertheless, young children will enjoy the double-page spreads.

The final spreads will particularly enthrall young audiences, with a challenge to find all the featured creatures in both a daytime and night time setting. This book would form an engaging yet relaxing part of any young child’s bedtime routine and is particularly suited to 3 to 8 year olds. With its large, bold illustrations and many springboards for discussion, it would also fit well into a junior primary classroom.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lucy Newton, Little Witch

Lucy Newton, Little Witch by Phoebe McArthur (Christmas Press) PB RRP $13.99 ISBN: 9780648194507

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What’s a young witch to do, with her mother out of the house (again) and her favourite doll in danger of losing an arm? Despite a ban on using magic (established due to Lucy’s apparent penchant for dangerous escapades), Lucy Newton can’t stop herself. She breaks into her mother’s study to find her spell book, looking for a simple spell to reattach her beloved doll’s appendage.

Predictably, things go south quickly and in increasingly outrageous ways, as Lucy soon finds herself facing a rapidly-growing slime-drooling slug – with no idea what to do next. Enter two wonderfully crafted secondary characters, the sentient spell book – which suddenly starts offering advice – and the neighbour’s sassy black cat. While the protagonist Lucy does little more than bounce from bungling to helpless to panic-stricken and back again, the book and cat give humour, spark and attitude to the story.

McArthur builds suspense effectively. The story kept my 4-year-old assistant book-reviewer on the edge of her bed, terrified for poor Lucy facing the revolting slug. The plot is fast-moving and fun, and will entertain the target audience of 6 to 9 year olds. While elements of the story orient towards girls, with a female protagonist and a dismembered doll creating the initial crisis, boys should get right into the chaos, slime and destruction as well.

Newly independent readers will enjoy the numerous black-and-white illustrations, line drawn by McArthur. The pictures pick up the significant elements in the story in charming vignettes. While there is a detailed and expressive illustration of the cranky old witch-next-door, some of the illustrations of Lucy lack a strong sense of character.

This is a fast-paced fantasy from first-time author McArthur, which will appeal to young readers who enjoy a little magic or a lot of mess.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Mary Cummings, illustrated by Cheri Hughes (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 781925 675382

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Grief is a challenging topic for children’s books, especially for the very young. This gentle, warm picture book features a family learning to move on after the loss of the eldest child to illness. The story follows the narrator – a young boy – his two sisters, parents and family dog as they celebrate the birthday of Johnny, their “forever kid”, the brother who is no longer with them. They remember what they shared with him, individually and together, and look at their cherished mementos. They allow themselves both sadness and joy as they grieve and celebrate.

Cummings, who has qualifications in psychology and education, weaves comforting imagery and sensory language with a poignant tone, gradually building towards a realisation of what has happened to Johnny and the family. The fact that his death is never explicitly referenced allows for adults to guide the discussion with younger readers in whatever way they feel is appropriate.

There is also an insightful moment of tension introduced when the narrator confesses his feelings of jealousy about the attention and latitude Johnny received while he was alive, and his guilt in hindsight. I imagine that the book’s acknowledgment of these feelings will give much-needed reassurance to children who have found themselves in a similar position.

The illustrations, by experienced artist Hughes, are perfect for this story. The images of the family are bright and lively, full of expression and colour. The background is rendered in a soft, pastel tie-dye effect, with suggestions of the “cloud stories” the family shared with Johnny, even once he was too ill to do anything else.

This book will be treasured by children who have lost siblings and valued by parents and educators looking for resources dealing with death, whether of a sibling or other loved one. While the publisher nominates an age range of 4 to 8 years, the sensitive yet layered approach should give it broader appeal.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Song Bird: Rainforest Rescue (Book 3)

Song Bird: Rainforest Rescue (Book 3) by Karen Tyrrell, illustrated by Trevor Salter (Digital Future Press) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN: 9780648161721

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

In this third Song Bird series installment, Rosie’s year 6 rainforest camp starts with a near-disaster before the class even arrives at its destination, and the situation only worsens from there. The rainforest park is facing ecological disaster from an unidentified threat, students are going missing, and Rosie’s mysterious nemesis Destructo is lurking. Rosie is charged with using her singing superhero powers, and the help of her smart sidekick Amy, to save the rainforest, her friends and her family.

The story is fast-paced and focused on themes of friendship, cooperative problem solving, and environmental and cultural consciousness. While promoted as a STEM curriculum tie-in, it is much stronger in exploring traditional indigenous stories and other Australian folklore, with bunyips, yowies and other mythological creatures integrated as fantastical elements into the narrative. Tyrrell acknowledges consulting with Aboriginal elder Uncle Barry Watson as a cultural advisor in writing the book, and this is evident in the text. `

There are regular engaging twists (such as time travel and talking trees), and while at times these events distract from the narrative arc, there is no shortage of action. Tyrrell has developed strong yet flawed characters to whom readers will be able to relate, and there are several passages of evocative description which build a powerful setting. The book includes a single line-drawing, which supports a complex image at a crucial point in the story. It’s a shame that typological errors were missed in proof-reading.

Rainforest Rescue is a page-turner that will appeal to 7-10-year olds, particularly superhero fans. There are occasional slips from Rosie’s point of view, and I query the sensitivity of one subplot which involves the magical but temporary cure of Amy’s disability. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining story which encourages readers to contemplate both the environment and indigenous culture. Teacher notes and reader activities are to be made available on the author’s website (