“I started writing for children because someone asked me to. I thought it was a different skill set, even though it’s really not. I asked the editor to send me a bunch of children’s books that the publishing house had published. And they were all terrible. Every single one of them. Which inspired me.”
– Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Looking for gifts for bookish loved ones? The Hoopla Literary Society brings you season’s joy and gift ideas. This week we look at children’s books.
Playbook Farm (Preschoolers)
Playbook Farm takes pop up books to a whole new level. The graphics are bright and charming and it’s interactive. Share it as a storybook and then fold it out into a play mat farm with all the pop ups popped.
There is an enveloped with farm animals, a tractor, a truck and a farmer so your preschooler can oink, moo and bark and create their own farmyard fun.
The Dreadful Fluff by Aaron Babley (Children 3 to 7)
Serenity Strainer is perfect in every way until the day she discovers she has belly button fluff. But this isn’t ordinary belly button fluff, this belly button fluff is evil.
Kids love icky stuff so a ball of belly button fluff that farts and eats the cat will have them in fits of giggles.
Beautifully written and illustrated.
The Princess and the Peas by Cheryl Hart and Sarah Warburton (children 3 to 7)
Lily-Rose May is a sweet little girl who lives with her dad in a cottage in the woods and lives a wonderful life until the day her father tries to feed her peas. Poor Lily Rose cannot swallow one and the doctor’s diagnoses a pea allergy meaning Lily-May must be a princess. She is immediately sent to live at the Royal palace, a pea-free zone, but life as a princess turns out to be not as fun as it sounds.
A delightful twist on an old fairy tale. A totally PC Princess and Peas!
A Room at Guardian Angel Inn by Countess de Ségur (ages 7 to 12)
Originally written in the mid 1800s, this French children’s classic chronicles the adventures of the soldier Moutier, the completely mad General Dourakine and two lost boys.
This book is lots of fun, full of mischief making, thieves and lashings of yummy things to eat.
A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks (ages 9 to 12)
In 1870s London, children are disappearing everywhere- up chimneys, down sewer pipes. There are bogles about and everybody knows that bogles love eating children. The only solution is to call the bogle-catching expert, Alfred Bunce. His apprentice, ten-year-old Birdie, is the bait and singing with the voice of an angel lures the bogles into Alfred’s trap. Their friend Miss Eames feels sure there must be a safer way than to continuously risk Birdie’s life but there are enemies too and one particularly terrifying and deadly bogle to catch.
This is the first in a new trilogy of historical fantastical adventure with great characters and lots of laughs.
Say a big hello to the hugely popular Brisbane based author of the Billionaire Series and father of three, Richard Newsome.
I asked Richard what books are on his wishlist for Christmas.
These are his picks…
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I so enjoyed the time travel take on adolescence in Rebecca’s When You Reach Me (winner of the Newberry Medal), and I have been waiting impatiently for her next novel to land. Rebecca has such a deft skill with dialogue and the subtleties of relationships, and a clear love of her native New York, all of which combine for immersive reading. In Liar & Spy, Georges finds a note in the basement of his new apartment building, ‘Spy Club Meeting — Today’.
He meets Safer and becomes his first spy recruit. His first assignments are to watch the antics of a nest of wild green parrots and track the mysterious comings and goings of Mr X. But soon Georges is faced with the question of just how far is too far to go for your next best friend.
This book is being praised all over the place as a brilliant novel for middle grade readers, ages 9-13.
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
This is the follow-up to the wildly successful The Passage. I actually crossed paths with Justin Cronin at a writers festival in Vancouver a few years back. I had just started The Passage but it was way too hefty to lug with me on my travels. I didn’t feel I had absorbed enough of the story to go up and introduce myself. Which is a pity, because I would love to know how he maps out these monumental tomes.
The books chronicle the apocalyptic aftermath of a government experiment gone wrong that unleashes a swarm of ravenous vampire-zombies on the US, controlled by the original twelve subjects of the experiments.
Drawing heavily on Stephen King’s The Stand, Cronin has the ability to quickly establish recognizable characters, have readers invest in their plight and then just as quickly knock them off. Cronin has successfully avoided the pitfall of creating another viscera-soaked zombie gross-out, instead exploring relationships in a world where the future may only be counted in hours, rather than years.
Not one for the youngsters, but adventure loving 15+ will love the series.
Burning Blue by Paul Griffin
Santa better come up with the goods on this one. Paul Griffin has such a knack of nailing ‘voice’ in his writing. The experience is not of reading his books yourself, but rather of having an invisible friend read them to you. His book Stay With Me is astounding in its lyrical quality, and of giving voice to a character who has difficulty speaking for himself.
Paul treads similar turf in Burning Blue, though this time he moves from the working poor neighbourhoods of New York to a wealthy New Jersey high school. Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in school, is splashed with acid on the left side of her perfect face, shocking the community. Quiet loner Jay Nazarro decides to find out who did it.
In what sounds like a classic whodunit, everyone becomes a suspect, including Nicole, and the teenage gumshoe naturally falls for the girl. But beyond the standard workings of the genre, explorations of youth and the meaning and dangers of beauty should take this well beyond the usual YA fare. Good for boys and girls 14+.
If fiction leaves your young ones cold, here are three fab non fiction picks.
Big Questions from Little People Answered by Some Very Big People is exactly what it says it is. Who better to ask, are there any undiscovered animals, than Sir David Attenborough? Or ask explorer Bear Gryllis, is it OK to eat a worm? Why not ask neurologist Baroness Susan Grenfield, how does my brain control me?
Jam-packed with great questions and wonderful answers, this will keep the impossibly curious occupied for hours! Ages 8 to 14.
For a local offering, it’s hard to go past Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations. Unlock the secrets of The Powerhouse Museum from icons such as the Hills Hoist and Vegemite to lesser known Australian inventions such as Wi-Fi and dual flush toilets.
The book is beautifully illustrated and user friendly guaranteeing that your budding engineer or scientist will be immersed in this fascinating books for hours. Ages 8 to 14.
The RSPCA Bumper Book of Pets is full of fun animal facts about every kind of pet you can imagine. From caring for your cats and dogs to exercising your blue tongue lizards and budgies.
There are games and quizzes and lots of interesting stuff. For instance, did you know that goldfish like company? Ages 7 to 12.
Something a bit special
If: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility is a must have for every child’s bookshelf. Children have a special relationship with poetry, perhaps because of the way poetry plays with words, sounds and rhythms.
Including modern and past classics, this anthology covers humour and nonsense, friendship and love, magic and more.
This is a book to keep forever. Ages 0 to 100.
When many publishers are re-releasing classic literature, Penguin’s Australian Children’s Classic is a little bit special. For starters, the covers are retro with textured and debossed covers, thick pages and beautiful illustrations.
The four initial titles out for Christmas will be supplemented with further titles in 2013, so perhaps you can start a collection for your child. The first four titles are Seven Little Australians, I Can Jump Puddles, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Playing Beattie Bow.
Feeling inspired? Next week, we look at the memoir, travel, history, food and humour in the Season’s Best of Non-Fiction.
Until then! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.