picture book

Book Review: The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild (Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014)

In my last Children and Young Reader’s round up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I challenged people to read and review more picture books. As we’ve been visiting the library more regularly, I thought it was an excellent chance to take up my own challenge.

treasure box

The Treasure Box
Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood

2013, Library copy

This is, quite simply, a beautiful book. Over the last year I have been falling head over heels in love with Freya Blackwood’s artwork, and this book is another example of how she tells stories through pictures. From the endpapers with their fragments of pages, to the beautiful way the use of colour changes through the book, the first thing that strikes you is how attractive this book is.

Then you read the story. At the heart of it, it’s a simple story of displacement. But, with a closer look you see that it’s much more. The library in Peter’s city is bombed and the only book that survives is held by his father. When they need to leave the city, the book is carefully packed up and Peter’s father tells him that it is a treasure, a record of their people. They undertake a long journey to safety, enduring hardship and loss, until eventually Peter needs to leave the treasure in a safe place until he can retrieve it again. It’s a story that explores loss and hope at the same time.

Interestingly, this book has made me think about how we ‘allocate’ picture books to different ages. When I borrowed it from the library, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as a book Squirm would enjoy. I picked it up because I’d read a wonderful review of it and was interested in it myself. I don’t think you’d see this book on any lists of ‘books for 2 year olds’.

But Squirm loves it. He looks through it on his own, he requests it by name. When we read it he points out familiar things in the illustrations and is just starting to talk about what happens. This afternoon we talked about ‘cupping hands’ and what that looks like (the people in the book cup their hands to catch the fragments of books which fall from the sky). Obviously he doesn’t understand about war or enemies or the history of people being forced to move from their homes. But he understands the part about the book being treasure and about them keeping it safe – he builds his story from that point.

It reminds me of my experiences with reading The Red Tree (by Shaun Tan) with children of different ages. I’d read it with children between the ages of 7 and 12 and noticed that their thoughts and reactions were different depending on their age. They borrowed from what they knew – their schema – to make the book work for them. And no matter what their age, they all enjoyed it and made it meaningful to them.

I think in our need to classify things we can be too quick to move picture books (and other books) into age groups and by doing this we can also be too quick to say ‘no, you shouldn’t read that, it’s too old/young for you’. We forget that comprehension is more fluid than test writers would like to believe, completely built on our own experiences. The reader who is two will have a different experience of a book from the seven year old, the twelve year old, the eighteen year old or the thirty year old. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the chance to experience the book at all.

This thought also applies to older readers who can read novels reading picture books, or competent readers who are reading adult books going back to read Young Adult or children’s novels. Earlier this year I reread some Robin Klein books which I enjoyed as a child. It was amazing how many things I saw in them that I hadn’t seen before, how many themes I now understood better from the benefit of adulthood. I can’t help but think that it’s important to give our children those experiences as well.

I really recommend The Treasure Box to readers of all ages. It’s a beautiful book for talking about language, for talking about books and stories and how stories are important to our history. It’s a beautiful book for talking about war and displacement and keeping promises as much as you are able to. It’s a beautiful book about hope.

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 7 – The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Seven – The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

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Genre – Picture Book

There was, apparently, a whole range of Sesame Street books written – but while I remember this one from my childhood, I don’t remember any others. This is the one which managed to break beyond the fact it ‘belonged’ to a television show, and reached out to children (including my sister and myself) in a very real way.

I think the secret lies with two things – there’s the breaking of the fourth wall (much like ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon‘) which lets Grover talk directly to us – to tell us that there’s a monster at the end of the book and that he’s scared of that. Then there’s the ‘interactive’ aspect (like Tap the Magic Tree), where turning the page ‘destroys’ walls and other means to try and stop the reader from turning the page. Plus there’s a really jovial feeling with this book, although Grover is scared, the reader knows that everything will probably be ok at the end.

We actually have this one as a board book, and Squirm loves looking through it – it’s exactly the right size for his little hands and it’s quite a sturdy book.

Highly recommended for toddlers and preschoolers – it’s also brilliant for parents to read aloud and children to turn the pages!

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Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 6 – The Pigeon books by Mo Willems

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Six: The Pigeon books by Mo Willems

dontletthepigeondrivethebus

Genre – Picture Book

It all started with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. This mischievous pigeon, who would do almost anything in his quest to convince you to let him drive the bus, worked his way into my heart. I felt for him, wanted to make him happy, even while I denied his bus driver dreams. Then I refused to let him stay up late, and um-ed and ah-ed about letting him have a puppy, and -sadly- laughed at his pain when he came across a duckling even more persuasive than he was.

Mo Willem’s Pigeon is a child favourite for a reason. He breaks the fourth wall and pleads directly with the reader. The illustrations are so basic (try drawing the pigeon – it’s quite easy) but so emotive – you know exactly what the Pigeon is thinking all the time. My toddler loves him, Grade 3 students who looked at it in detail loved him, my Grade 5,6 and 7 students loved him, all the adults I know love him.

If you know a child who hasn’t met the Pigeon yet, you really, really need to buy a copy of one of the books for them. Go on, you know you want to. Your mother would do it. Please!

Highly recommended for absolutely everyone

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Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 3 – That’s Not My . . . Series

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Three: That’s Not My . . . Series

thats-not-my-monster

Genre – Baby/Toddler/Preschooler Board Book

These wonderful books (and there’s a lot of them) have a familiar refrain. From the front cover we are introduced to the premise – That’s not my . . . because it’s coat is too furry or feet are too scratchy or it’s wheels are too bumpy. Accompanying the words is a lovely textured section which just invites the reader to reach out and touch. This is repeated page after page until the last page when we meet ‘my’ robot or frog or puppy or penguin.

Squirm absolutely adores these books – he was gifted his first ones and then we managed to add to our collection thanks to the 5 for $20 deal at Big W. They’re wonderful to read together, but Squirm has also really enjoyed reading them on his own – they’re just the right size for him to handle and turn the pages, and because the pages are thick, he hasn’t been able to damage them by chewing them!

If you can get your hands on some of these, I can’t recommend them enough. They also make wonderful presents if you know any babies or toddlers who love sensory experiences!

Highly recommended for babies and toddlers. And people who like sensory experiences!

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 2 – Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Two: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: Caps for Sale

Genre – Junior Picture Book

There once was a peddler who sold caps of different colours. However, he was different from other peddlers because he wore them on his head. One day, when sales were bad, he sat down to rest under a tree. Only that tree contained some very mischievous monkeys who had a fondness for caps.

This classic picture book is a big favourite in our house. The illustrations are relatively simple, with a muted colour palette. Squirm loves reading the part with the monkeys and the way they interact with the hapless peddler. I’d imagine as children got older they would be happy to join in with telling the story and supplying the actions – especially if they’d heard it a few times.

Highly recommended for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early primary – they can all get something out of this lovely book.