Truman by Jean Reidy

Published: 9th July 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
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

Long Lost Review: The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 4th July 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hot Key Books
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The funny thing about stop signs is that they’re also start signs.

Mayzie is the brainy middle sister, Brooks is the beautiful but conflicted oldest, and Palmer’s the quirky baby of the family. In spite of their differences, the Gold sisters have always been close.

When their father dies, everything begins to fall apart. Level-headed May is left to fend for herself (and somehow learn to drive), while her two sisters struggle with their own demons. But the girls learn that while there are a lot of rules for the road, there are no rules when it comes to the heart. Together, they discover the key to moving on — and it’s the key to their father’s Pontiac Firebird.

This is one of Maureen Johnson’s earliest books and it’s fascinating to see how far she has come over the last fifteen or so years. This was also one of the first books I read of hers and I’ve been on the Maureen Johnson train ever since. 

The story is about family and loss, about trying to recover afterwards but there isn’t a deep sadness about it. We see how each of the girls cope with their grief and the lives they’re choosing to live. The point of view changes but Mayzie is the main focus of the story for the majority of the time. Palmer got my sympathy because she was sad and often ignored, and Brooks goes off the rails a bit but there is a sisterly relationship explored throughout as they try and cope and come together. Johnson shows how May is the one who is trying to keep everyone together and functional and her stress and flustered moments come across really well. It was interesting to see it come from the middle sister and not the eldest as you’d expect. 

One thing I disliked was the May/Pete thing that Johnson had going, mainly because Pete did a 180 from being a horrible person to May for most of the novel that I couldn’t look past. It comes so out of the blue that it felt forced and throws you, especially coming from characters we have gotten to know for most of the story. The “romance” is probably the part I liked the least, at no point are we rooting for Pete at all since he has been so horrible, and the secret adoration isn’t something I’m keen to believe. 

I hate to say this, especially about a Johnson novel, but I wanted a little extra something to make it stronger. The story needed a bump, just a little one to give it that extra something and make it stand out more. There isn’t any real structure which lets you focus on the characters themselves and not a lot happens for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story, it was good, but I’d probably best describe it as a warm story – no huge moments or events but it was well told and nice. The good news is the ending brought everything together wonderfully which was quite satisfying and of course it was filled with Johnson humour which was an enjoyment level all its own. 

Blinky Bill and Nutsy (#3) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1937 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 156/2 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

The third and final Blinky Bill book brings the adventures of the rambunctious koala to an end and introduces a whole new set of characters to get to know. Gone are the days of the same few characters, now there’s a heap of new names and creatures to get to know. If you’re like me and grew up in Australia in the 90s, you will recognise many of these characters from the television series, the difference is the story is not the same at all.

Wall has turned this simple bush story into a strange tale about animals behaving more and more like humans in ways that don’t even make sense. It’s gone from animals with a society but still behaving like animals to a complete anthropomorphising of these characters with chequebooks and boarding houses, hair getting put in rollers and the need for potato bins. They are now living their lives like humans but in animal form.

From waxing lyrical about the wonders of zoos at the end of book two, Wall opens book three showing us the animal abuse suffered and the desperate need to escape. The inconsistencies are annoying to read about, especially when there are so many contradictions not only in previous books but in the same story. The established society had changed so much and with new characters it was like a new story starting from scratch.

This time Nutsy joins Blinky on his adventures around the bush as she is the new addition to his family. Found lost and alone Mrs Koala invites her to stay and soon she is out adventuring with Blinky. With new friends like Splodge, Nutsy and Mr Wombat there is a consistency in the tales as these faces pop up again and again. Blinky has adventures around his home with the same mischief causing approach, angering various animals, helping others, and there’s the standard chapter where he and his friends make their way onto human land and cause chaos.

I know coming at this almost 100 years later will skew any interpretations but I can see how this would have been received by kids and parents when it was first published. They would related to Blinky being a naughty boy and getting into trouble as well as Mrs Koala’s frustrations. The fascination with Australian animals they may have seen near their homes or not see at all would be delightful, a long tradition seen with English literature coming to an Australian setting. It would also be a way to gain sympathy for these creatures, I can see Wall’s attempts at trying to sneak in references to helping them after fires and treating them like wild animals but it is quite subtle.

For all its faults from a modern perspective it was interesting to see the original story and the adventures of Blinky and the mischief he gets up to. Even though the audiobooks are three separate stories, the physical copies are always a collection of all three together. Listening to the audiobooks back to back was like reading the collection but it also made me realise the changes between each book. McGregor does a good job as narrator and the voices and tone she uses suited the style of writing. I missed out on the illustrations Wall had done scattered through the pages but looking at my paperback copy they are simple and are more decorative than anything else. As a classic it reads as such and it’s a good source material to gain inspiration from which is why Blinky Bill is still as captivating today.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Princess Kevin by Michaël Escoffier

Published: 7th April 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
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

Blinky Bill Grows Up (#2) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1934 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 150/2 hrs and 31 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

After coming home to his mother after the last batch of mischief, Blinky has gone out adventuring again and he meets a whole host of new creatures. Wall has changed her approach with this story completely. While the first book kept the animal more natural, this one tends to stray into the anthropomorphising area. There are lucky dips and bazaars, and while the animals are still animals, they start participating in more human type activities. 

The koala culls are still underway, it is mentioned that 200 000 of them have been shot which explains why there are none left in the area. Again, no idea why, if there was a mention of the need for it other than fun it would still be terrible, but Wall makes it sound like they are culling them just because they can. Especially given the description of the killing of Blinky’s father in book one. Strangely enough Blinky himself is now not immune to killing. He easily advocates for killing other animals and even has animals killed himself for trivial reasons but is horrified when humans do it and sees it as unjustified. 

There is not real sense of how long Blinky has been gone on this round of adventuring, whether it is a few days or weeks, Mrs Koala seems happy to have him back each time though regardless. The Australian animals are on show once more, though Wall includes a hedgehog (though the illustration is of a porcupine) instead of an echidna which was curious. But possums, bull ants, goannas and lyrebirds all get to be on show. There’s also introduced species like foxes and rabbits who get their own part of the story too.

Where Wall starts to lose my understanding is when she informs the readers that koalas are happy in the zoo. This is part of the story where she breaks the fourth wall and address readers directly. The narrative style has always been one where Wall is telling Blinky’s story to a reader and even with this shift the tone remains the mystical lyrical style that brings you into Blinky’s world, but it also tells readers that instead of being happy in their natural habitat koalas love being at the zoo. She then contradicts herself by telling readers not to kidnap the koalas from the zoo and keep them as pets because they need to be surrounded by their bush, and yet my understanding is, being in the zoo, a 1930s zoo on top of that, is hardly any better.

There’s a lot more confusion with this second collection of stories than the first. Blinky still goes on adventures but they feel less connected. It jumps all over the place and it’s jarring to go from animals running a fundraising bazaar to Blinky orchestrating vengeance on predators to Blinky causing mischief at a farm to back in the bush meeting friendly animals like birds and hedgehogs. Granted this story has been strange from the start, but by the end it turned into a strange propaganda about zoos and animals and I was glad to be finished.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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