Truman by Jean Reidy

Published: 9th July 2019Goodreads badge
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Illustrator: Lucy Ruth Cummins
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Truman the tortoise lives with his Sarah, high above the taxis and the trash trucks and the number eleven bus, which travels south. He never worries about the world below…until one day, when Sarah straps on a big backpack and does something Truman has never seen before. She boards the bus!

Truman waits for her to return.
He waits.
And waits.
And waits.
And when he can wait no longer, he knows what he must do.

Even if it seems…impossible!

I picked up this book because the front cover was absolutely too cute to ignore and I was not disappointed by the story inside. This is the story of a little turtle named Truman who decided to go on an adventure to find his owner.

The perspective focuses on Truman and his life with Sarah and when that changes suddenly Truman isn’t sure what to do. I loved seeing Truman’s deliberations about what it all means when Sarah left that day. The extra beans, her bow, the backpack. I loved so much of this but one of my favourite lines was “She strapped on a backpack so big thirty-two small tortoises could ride alone in it – but zero tortoises did.”

The illustrations are adorable, Cummins has done a brilliant job depicting Truman to bring his little turtle self to life. I instantly became invested with him and his relationship with Sarah. There is a great synchronicity between the words and what is shown on the page. The illustrations are realistic but rough, with a sparseness to them but still with detail that reflects the words of the story. The world is seen through Truman’s eyes and Cummins brings to life Truman’s worldly view as things loom around him and seem vast and expansive. The use of perspective is fantastic and I loved how the world looked to Truman versus the reality.

The story is incredibly sweet and I loved seeing a bond between owner and pet that was unconventional and loving. It was a genuine love and devotion between Sarah and Truman and getting to have a little adventure and mystery thrown in the mix was fabulous. I loved this story from start to finish and it is an absolute delight to read. You will love Truman and his bravery and devotion.

You can purchase Truman via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Princess Kevin by Michaël Escoffier

Published: 7th April 2020Goodreads badge
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Illustrator: Roland Garrigue
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

This year, Kevin is going to the school costume show as a princess. His costume is perfect but he knows that the best costumes are authentic. So he is outraged that none of the knights will partner with him and complete the look. Things don’t go quite a smoothly as he planned. Next year, there is only one thing for it. He will just have to be something even more fabulous.

This is a heart-warming and funny story about imagination, diversity and persevering at expressing your fabulous self.

I liked this book because it allowed an exploration of self and breaking gender norms without it having to be purely for trans or other identity reasons. Through the narrative, Escoffier notes that girls can be knights and cowboys so why can’t Kevin be a princess?

It showcases that kids want to play dress up and be the different characters they read in their books and whether that is a knight, a butterfly, or a princess then what does it matter? Kevin can be a princess because he is becoming someone different for the day.

There is some minor bullying towards other costumes and the lack of great design, but it doesn’t go any further than that. Ideally it would be better without this inclusion, no matter how trivial and small because in a book where Kevin is trying to have fun and be his best self on the day, having him join in mocking another student is not the best thing.  There is an apology that’s offered right after which is a slight redemption so I’ll grant Escoffier that.

There isn’t a moral to the story, Escoffier isn’t offering a grand statement in Kevin’s expression because as children do he finds the costume constrictive after a while and hard to play in. I liked that this story is such a non-event. It’s about a dress up event at school and nothing more. Escoffier normalising this behaviour is a great positive because letting boys chose to be princesses simply because they want to be is something I wholeheartedly support.

You can purchase Princess Kevin via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina

Published: 1st February 2019Goodreads badge
Kar-Ben Publishing
Illustrator: Merrilee Liddiard
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

It’s 1942. Sam’s class is knitting socks for soldiers and Sam is a terrible knitter. Keiko is a good knitter, but some kids at school don’t want anything to do with her because the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and her family is Japanese American. When Keiko’s family is forced to move to a camp for Japanese Americans, can Sam find a way to demonstrate his friendship? 

This is a good book with an important message but it’s also one that is incredibly text heavy which may be a deterrent for younger readers. Each page has around a paragraph of story on it, accompanied by a large illustration. The text included dialogue and narrative but with this set up across all 30+ pages it is a long read.

While it may be long, the story isn’t overly complicated and the message and history Malaspina is trying to convey is important. The focus is through Sam and we see his perspective and understanding of the world around him. As the story goes on you can see Sam’s opinions being shaped by what he hears around him but you also see him learn and realise that those opinions might not be right.

The bigger message of the camps is addressed but the focus is on how a child may view the world during this time so we only see Sam’s experiences during this time and his interactions with others. Malaspina isn’t giving a complete breakdown of the war, instead she is looking at it from an individual perspective and humanising what happened. This works better in my opinion because as Sam is the focus of the story we see events play out around him and seeing Sam’s growing understanding of what is happening demonstrates how opinions can be changed and how the loudest voice isn’t always the right one.

The full page illustrations help visual what is happening on the page, something that helps given it is such a text heavy book. The colours help reflect the era the story is set, a lot of browns and tans as was seen during the war. The few colours we see stand out on the sepia type illustrations varying between full page pictures and framed images that reflect old photographs which I thought was a clever choice by Liddiard.

The ending is left open but there is also a lot of historical information at the end of the book to learn about the real camp and the real ways Americans treated their fellow citizens. It was an interesting book and maybe having such a detailed story works in its favour because you get to see a lot more than if it had been condensed down. There is definitely a sense of injustice throughout and having a child like Sam have to realise his own mistakes is a great lesson for kids to see.

You can purchase A Scarf for Keiko via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Published: 27th August 2019Goodreads badge
Chronicle Books
Illustrator: Brendan Wenzel
Pages: 50
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A Stone Sat Still tells the story of a seemingly ordinary rock—but to the animals that use it, it is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven…even an entire world.

I loved this book. It is a simple story that has few words but manages to have a great impact on you as you read. Wenzel looks at how a seemingly simple and unimportant thing such as a stone can have so many uses to so many different creatures. Through stunning illustrations we’re shown that the same ordinary stone can be a home, a refuge, or an entire world to those small enough. 

Every creature has a different purpose for the stone and Wenzel explores with simple words and stunning pictures; and while the stone never changes, how it is perceived is always changing. It was a fascinating look at perspective and how the smallest spaces can be the largest places depending who you are. It is a great book to realise perspective and Wenzel tells the story so brilliantly it is astounding to grasp as you see the different understandings of the same space and the same small rock. 

I didn’t realise at the time that this was by the same author who did They All Saw A Cat. This explains so much because that is another fascinating book about perspective and how different creatures see the same thing completely differently from one another, and how they view it can have an entirely different meaning based on their lives and experiences. 

The illustrations are gorgeous, the simple colours and the lovely feeling of nature comes through and it is stunning to look at. The best description I can give is that this is a quiet book. Nothing happens, it is all about observance, very much like you were sitting outside watching nature play out before you. It is very meditative and calming which was something I wasn’t expecting but was pleasantly surprised to experience.

You can purchase A Stone Sat Still via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Stormy: A Story About Finding A Forever Home by Guojing

Published: 17th September 2019Goodreads badge
Schwartz & Wade
Illustrator: Guojing
Pages: 34
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In this wordless picture book a woman visits a park and discovers a pup hiding under a bench–scruffy, scared, and alone. With gentle coaxing, the woman tries to befriend the animal, but the dog is too scared to let her near. Day after day, the woman tries–and day after day, the dog runs away. With perseverance and patience–and help from an enticing tennis ball–a tentative friendship begins. 

Why do I keep reading bittersweet books about abandoned dogs?! Honestly it is a real problem. Finding forever homes for little sad and lonely dogs breaks my heart but apparently I don’t mind always crying at the end of these books and getting emotional in the middle of these books and sad before I have even begun these books. And it turns out now I don’t even need text to do it.

This story is part of my new favourite type of picture book: one filled with stunning illustrations and no text whatsoever. The entire story is told in pictures and you do not need words to know what is happening. Whether this is to show the events from Stormy’s silent perspective or because Guojing’s illustrations have enough emotion and intent in them to make words redundant I’m not sure but it 100% works.

I cannot stress how divine these illustrations are. Guojing has done a brilliant job in showing emotion and scale, as well as the environment and how it reflects mood. Some pages are broken up into panels like a comic book which acts like stills from a movie so you can see the events, but others are stunning full pages . I was captivated as I “read” because as you study the images you know the story and can understand what is happening. Filled with the colours of nature and beautiful drawings I wanted to hang these pictures on my wall as well as become melancholic about them.

Of course there is a happily ever after because Guojing isn’t allowed to make us feel those emotions with no reward. But it is just another example of how beautiful storytelling not only can be wordless, but can be about real stories and full of heart.

You can purchase Stormy via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust


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