It’s a Little Book by Lane Smith (review)

‘It’s a Little Book’ (‘It’s a Book’ now in nappies!)

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I was drawn to this book because it has the exact kind of illustrations that I love – a little bit drawn, pretty freaking cute. I bought it first as a gift and then one for my own little person.

So I take it home and present it to my partner, who is in charge of the bedtime routine – dinner, bath, books.

He looks through it and looks at me. ‘What are you thinking?? It’s a book that encourages him to say no! We want him to say yes!’
itsalittlebook2._V153418456_It’s a fair question. I start panicking. What have I done? I envisage years of ‘No’ to questions like ‘will you eat your dinner/get dressed/go to bed/stop smearing that mashed up half eaten animal cracker into the carpet?’ I’ve obviously failed at parenting. And I have this book to thank! What cruel monster would write such a thing??

My worst fears are realised when two night later my partner comes out of the bedroom (beaming I should add), to tell me quite proudly that our son has added a word to his repertoire. And in context no less!

‘Watch’ he says.

‘Is it for chewing?’ he asks, looking at Tiny. I see the emotions cross his face. He knows this one. His mouth goes round. He’s thinking.

‘No!’ he responds. It’s beautiful. He can say it to ‘Is it for emailing?’ and ‘Is it for wearing?’ as well!

‘No’. It’s a tiny round, but sure sound, proudly answering each page of the book. Suddenly they’re reading together. He’s no longer just having a book read at him, he’s taking part. He’s watching the pages, waiting for his turn. It’s the most simple word, the negative, the one that makes us shiver with fear that we’ll never be rewarded with yes, but it’s got him enthralled by the story. All I have to do is ask ‘is it for chewing?’ in the car, to be rewarded with his delighted ‘no’ in response.

So you know, kudos, I think begrudgingly to the author of this book, for making a book that is entertaining and simple, with the perfect repetition to engage readers just coming out with their first words. Kudos for your clever plan to get them all saying ‘no’!

Oh, but there’s actually an up side to all of this naysaying. It’s that, while ‘It’s a Little Book’ might indeed be teaching our children the word ‘no’, it’s also teaching them that when we say ‘no, don’t do that’, we mean it’s because everything has a purpose. Some things are for chewing, some things are for emailing, and other things, like this beautifully simple little book, are for reading.

It also has a pretty cute book trailer which you can view here if you like that kind of thing.

 

Audiobooks (or, How I Got My Hands Back)

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As anyone else with a tiny person would know, most of the time your hands aren’t free to do things. Sure, there’s ‘falling-asleep-on-my-lap-time’ where I can gently reach around and try to get some work done on the computer, but there’s not an awful lot of time where all of my limbs are available for things like walking from one room to the next. My days are carefully planned forts where I can reach everything I might need from beneath my sleeping child.

As he gets bigger though, there’s more playing on the mat time than there used to be. Mostly because he can hold his head up now so things aren’t quite as frustrating (although there’s always that just out of reach rattle to really drive him crazy). We work our way through endless hours of dancing (with me holding him), nursery rhymes (me moving his limbs), books (together on our tummys or him on my lap), toys and so on. But recently I’ve discovered the beauty of audiobooks.

These are not lazy because a. I’m right there with him, b. we still read an awful lot of paper (board) books and c. it is actually an important time for him to learn to just chill out on his own, with me not too far away.

I’ve got and have listened to a fair few audiobooks. My old job at The Little Bookroom saw me spending hours each day in the car, and audiobooks were a great alternative to dodgy radio, particularly on the longer trips. And I remember as a kid (when audiobooks were cassette tapes, or in my case even some on record!), loving that time in the afternoon when my nanna and I would sit in front of the fire and I would listen to that entrancing storytellers voice weave tales of far away from our crackly old speakers. The storyteller of my childhood sounded (I’m sure, although I can’t guarantee the trustworthiness of this memory) a lot like Neil Gaiman, and so as a result my own personal favourite from the audiobooks I own is his unabridged reading of ‘The Graveyard Book’. If you haven’t heard it I highly recommend that you have a listen – I wish he would record all children’s audiobooks.

But for my tiny person, a recent addition to our collection has been ‘Olivia’, the audio collection read by Dame Edna Everage. I can’t even tell you how high my heart leapt when I put this on the speakers and he gave a delighted chuckle (this is a new sound for him and I am obsessed with it). I suspect that at for months some of his delight came from the discovery that the red box only inches from his head was capable of producing such a variety of sounds (and light if the ipod screen was lit up). But his joy at listening to these five tales (of a nice, short picture book length, just right for four-month-old attention spans) has only grown as this storytime has become part of our nightly routine.

Dame Edna is actually a perfect choice as narrator. Her tone is ideal for little ears catching on all new sounds and is appealing enough that other distractions fall to the wayside, for a little while at least. Piano punctuates the story where the illustrations would have, adding another level of sound for those little listeners. And if you have the book all the better, it’s a great time to read along together with the music in the background.

I’m loving this new part to our routine. It reminds me of really happy moments from my own childhood and I hope that one day he can say the same thing.

You can also hear an exert from the book here.

Review – My Life as an Alphabet – Barry Jonsberg

my-life-as-an-alphabetThere’s a chapter in this book about the death of a child because of Cot Death. As a new mum, had I known that before I started reading it, I probably wouldn’t have. Which would have been a real shame, because this is an absolutely wonderful book, and the joy I got from reading it by far outweighed that sick/new mum feeling that I get whenever someone mentions SIDS.

Candice Phee is one of the strangest characters I’ve encountered in a while. But she’s strange in a good way (particularly if you’re a reader). She’s got a lot of friends (if you ask her, but not so many if you ask everyone else). She has a fish called Earth-Pig Fish (whose name would have just been Earth-Pig but she didn’t want to be responsible for the resulting identity crisis). She has a friend (who reciprocates the friendship) who is Douglas Benson From Another Dimension (that one’s pretty self explanatory really). She makes people laugh without having any idea how she’s doing it. And this is the story of her life, told through the 26 letters of the alphabet.

My Life as an Alphabet is everything that you want a book to be, and I do mean everything. It’s funny – like, laugh out loud and read-the-funny-bits-to-the-person-next-to-you funny, strange, clever, sad, thoughtful, whimsical, and mature. Friendships are formed. Lives are saved. Letters are written.

This is one of those books in that genre that is squeezing it’s way out between junior fiction and young adult. Think Angel Creek and When You Reach Me. It’s the genre that deals with characters just at the peak of adolescence, but with just enough leftover naivety that they believe that magic can happen. And sometimes by believing it, perhaps it can.

I love this genre, because as an older reader it becomes less of a story about every day events and more of a fable – a reminder of unflinchingly looking to the future and knowing that it would all work out. There’s so much hope in books for this age. Even the sad chapters (such as the one mentioned at the beginning of this review) are taken in the matter-of-factual stride that 10-12-year-olds seem to possess.

I finished My Life as an Alphabet and I wanted to read it all over again. Barry Jonsberg is a gem.

Feeling our way

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Nearly four months has passed since I became a ‘mum’ to someone! There is so much packed into this tiny word – so much weight in the six kilos that I now carry around daily. It has been amazing to see this tiny person – so like all the other babies at first – become so different, so mine.

There’s the tiny expressions and noises that mean nothing to anyone but me, and the excitement that comes with each First. All mum’s will know what I mean.

We’ve been reading since day one (much more religiously I should add than remembering to take our daily dose of Vitamin D – oops!), and while we’re still reading everything from chapter books (storytime), rhymes (and silly songs made out of desperation) to picture story board books, our favourites of all at the moment are by far the touch and feel, and the interactive cloth books. Why? Because two months ago when I started reading Tails (pictured above) to my little boy I would lift his hands and put his fingers on the fluffy or the scratchy bits to show him how they felt. A month later he amazed me by reaching out to touch a scratchy tigers nose. Four short/long weeks after that and he’s trying to turn pages, reaching out for his favourite bits (still the scratchy tigers nose in this, but also some shiny peacock feathers, some crinkly curtains in a That’s Not My Kitten cloth book, and some colourful tags on a flag in a Spot cloth book). It’s extraordinary.

Matthew Van Fleet (author of Tails, Five Fuzzy Ducklings, Sniff, Lick, Dogs and Cats) is by far my favourite of the touch and feel authors out there. For tiny fingers they’re all good provided the touchy bits are different and obvious (colourful, fluffy, big enough patches and so on), but as the reader, it’s nice to have at least something of a story to be able to read along to. Plus as they get older these ones are great for introducing shapes, numbers and names of animals. AND there are some tabs/pully sections, which are made extra thick – so I’m hoping that they’ll make it through the avalanche of dribble that is sure to come their way.

Regardless of which books you pick though, I can’t recommend these interactive pages for those tiny hands and brains. As a parent, it’s so special to really be able to see those minute changes as fingers reach out to scratch favourite pages and as a child it’s a way of engaging with the idea of books nice and early – getting into the habit of turning those pages, of loving them, of wanting to look at them, of knowing that there’s something magical in them. Start early enough and it’s a feeling that will never go away.

Reading Out Loud

200px-TheBFGI’ve been reading to my son. It still feels strange to say it ‘my son’, when I don’t feel anywhere near grown up enough to be someone’s mother. But I am, and so that means that I get to put tiny feet into tiny socks (and wipe a neverending supply of grime from tiny nails and tiny fists), that I get to read and sing lullabys (sometimes for three hours straight, sometimes at 3am after only getting to bed at 2). It’s the most spectacular thing though, I want to gorge on every second with him before he grows up. These two months feel like no time and a lifetime. It’s also my current excuse for gaps between blogging, but I’ll be back on track soon.

During the day we read board books – The Gruffalo, Mutt Dog,Olivia and many others. But at night we read a chapter from a longer book. We’re through the first book in Winnie-the-Pooh (did you know there’s only two??) and we’ve only got one chapter left of The BFG (that’s for tonight). No doubt there’ll be people out there who can’t see the point. But one of my earliest memories (alongside the mural of the jungle that was on my wall in the house we lived in until I was one) is my dad reading to me. Not picture books, but Moby Dick and then The Hobbit. I’ve got no idea what happened in Moby Dick, and The Hobbit became familiar to me later in life. But I’ll never forget storytime, finding magic in pages and being read aloud to by my dad. Hopefully Fox won’t either.

Review – One Small Island

Ok, it’s been a while.

On top of growing a tiny person, I’m trying desperately to meet my end of year deadline for the book, and have been swamped with work, speaking, sickness and a few large articles (this post stems from one).

I promise to be back soon, but a few things to tide us over in the meantime.

1. This new section ‘Books for Tiny People’ will be reviews of the books I read to or with my own Tiny Person in mind. He’s not far off now, so I’m turning more of an eye to picture books. If I like them I’ll put something up, and if you’re interested, feel free to read it.

2. This review (copied from my Goodreads account) comes from an article that I’m writing for VATE on texts to support the Australian curriculum. I read it, and couldn’t stop taking notes. It’s a quick review that I just dashed out, but it’s something. Til next time – enjoy!

Such a beautiful book I have to give it 5 stars.
One Small Island leaves me with contradictory feelings in many ways – I want to one day share it with my son because of the importance of preserving our earth, and then I hope never to have to – hope that things will somehow get better or become more sustainable.
This picture book is quick to point out our flaws as we traipse over the earth, taking our lifestyles, our cultures, our specific habitats into undisturbed areas, guaranteeing that they will never be quite the same. And yet there is something beautiful in the balance that is struck (eventually, or at times) between nature and the intruder.
It is a book that doesn’t leave me without questions, I wonder how I feel about extreme conservation methods (myxomatosis – which I watched several pet rabbits suffer horribly from before dying as a child; poison – with the attitude of the native creatures affected being only a small percentage compared to those harmed by doing nothing); I wonder about radical lifestyle changes, about becoming someone who does more than I do right now; I wonder about the future. But at the same time it’s a book that answers many questions, ones I didn’t even know I had, about the shape of our earth, the evolution of our history.

One Small Island is a book that mirrors its name – a small book, but one with great significance to readers.

You can get teachers notes for the book here.

Review, some news and a promise

First up, while I have been busy with Big Life Business (more on that later) I’m well aware at just how slack I’ve been with the blogging and the reviewing and what not. So rather than promising hundreds of reviews and then not delivering, I’ve written and scheduled a whole week of review-ey goodness! It’s all done, which means no-one needs to rely on me to actually do anything but watch the dates go by. So Monday to Friday next week stay tuned for 5 reviews of some recent YA titles. (that’s the promise part).

Now, a review and some news. I recently found out that I’m expecting my very own little person to read to and play with. It’s all very exciting and also terrifying BUT the relevance that it has to this blog is that it’s made me very aware of the books that I’ll be reading to him. This realisation coincided quite nicely with a publisher sending me a brand spanking new copy of Gus Gordon’s new book, Herman and Rosie to review, so although my focus will still be predominantly YA, you can expect to see a few picture books popping up here and there as I prepare myself for endless hours of reading to my little person. Forgive me though, because I’m not used to reviewing picture books so it may take me a while to find my groove with it!

Herman and Rosie had me at hello, because it reminded me of one of my favourite animated features, Mary and Max. The story is of two people alone amongst the hustle and bustle of a big city. Sometimes they love it, love to breathe the city air and be surrounded by the energy and business, but when things go wrong Herman and Rosie each lose their creative spark and feel more alone and low than ever.

We literally watch their paths cross on the beautiful, intricate maps that dot the pages, and I imagine that readers will delight in pointing out all of the things Herman and Rosie share, following the journey eagerly in the hope that the two, clearly destined to be the best of friends, shall meet.

You can see a teaser of the book below, an image taken from Gus Gordon’s website.

I love both the pictures and the text of this book, there’s a business and a simplicity in both. Everything is easy to understand, words easy to pick out, no big swathes of text for young readers to trip over. But at the same time nothing is so simple that one glance is enough. You have to keep  going back and looking again, getting drawn into the layers of words and pictures and finding something new each time.

I’d like to bet that everyone finds a favourite page in this one, both little people and big ones. It might be the evocative colours you love, or the detailed and personalised maps. Or it might be watching Herman and Rosie in their elements – playing groovy jazz and singing from the rooftops of their (actually quite close by) apartment buildings. Whatever it is, there’s going to be something you’ll love in Gus Gordon’s book and I can’t wait to have a brand new person to share it with.

Also, Leigh Hobbs will be launching the book in Melbourne later this month so you can actually go and meet Gus and grab yourself a signed copy. Check out the details here and get along to the Little Bookroom on the 22nd. I went to the launch of Anna Walker’s Peggy last weekend and not only was it a cracking good time, but we got a delicious biscuit in the shape of a chicken!