When the Library Lights Go Out by Megan McDonald

Published: 1st October 2005Goodreads badge
Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Illustrator: Katherine Tillotson
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
★   ★  – 2 Stars

CLOSED may mean “closed” to you. But for three story-hour puppets, CLOSED means “open for adventure.”

At first there are only Rabbit and Lion. Hermit Crab is missing. Where can she be in the library darkness? 

Find out for yourself when – magically – only puppets are up and about.

From the cover it had the promise of a cute little adventure in the library after hours and while there is a semblance of adventure, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. First of all, it’s a long book. Not overly wordy on each page but it is a long story. This is perpetuated by the fact that it’s a while before anything happens.

I found I couldn’t engage with the story of Rabbit and Lion looking for their friend. It was either meant to be adventurous or have the emotional pull of finding a lost friend which I could see on the surface but nothing deeper. The ending obviously is meant to be heartfelt and maybe even magical in its own way but I didn’t care that much.

What the story lacks is made up for in the illustrations. They are well done and I got the feeling of the library and the toys’ place within it, and I liked the depiction of the toys, their scruffy style makes them look like the much loved scruffy toys they are meant to be. Tillotson has made a great visual representation of the story with lots of strong colours, dark shadows and wonderful techniques to capture the night environment.

It was sweet at the end but overall uneventful. I think this could have been a better story if it was a bit different but the current story failed to capture my attention.

You can purchase When the Library Lights Go Out via the following

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The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black

Published: 29th October 29th 2018Goodreads badge
Puffin Books
Illustrator: Sara Acton
Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Introducing Mr Walker – a hotel dog with a nose for adventure!

On a brilliant autumn’s day, Mr Walker arrives at the grandest hotel in town. While things get off to a wobbly start, this charming labrador is determined to put his best paw forward. And it’s just as well because the most unexpected adventures await…

There are four tales included in this omnibus and it explores the adventures of Mr Walker and his life at the Park Hyatt. Black makes Mr Walker act and behave like a dog, but he also has his own thoughts and understanding about what is happening around him. The story is entirely through his perspective and it was heart-warming to see how he loves and adores the people he works with and lives with.

Having these tales be based on the real Mr Walker who has been living and working at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne since 2017 is even better. As a failed guide dog he is a wonderful ambassador and Black includes a bio at the back of the book so you can get to know the real Mr Walker.

The four tales included are filled with mystery and drama, Mr Walker gets to investigate and solve problems, help out and help people by being himself. There is real heart in the stories and having Mr Walker be at the centre of it you get to see all these stories and see people interact with a dog they may not with another human.

There are wonderful dog moments like seeing Mr Walker manoeuvre on marble floors, seeing him play in the park with his dog friends, as well as a great representation of how he uses his nose and tracking to understand the world around him and using that to find things.

Acton’s illustrations are adorable. The simple water colour drawings are scattered throughout and depict Mr Walker in many delightful and humorous ways. They are mini inclusions amongst the text and it gives off a great storybook feel.

There are many more tales of Mr Walker but having four in this first book gets you invested in his story and I’m certainly looking forward to reading about more of his adventures.

You can purchase The Tales of Mr Walker via the following

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Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman

Published: 11th March 2015Goodreads badge
 Candlewick Press
Illustrator: Laura Cornell
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Heather’s favorite number is two. She has two arms, two legs, and two pets. And she also has two mommies. When Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy, but Heather doesn’t have a daddy. Then something interesting happens. When Heather and her classmates all draw pictures of their families, not one drawing is the same. It doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the teacher says, because “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

This is the book. The book that everyone talks about, mainly because in 1989 when it was published it was one of the only books of its kind and no doubt was a smidge controversial. Thankfully there are a lot more out now and we have a little variety. My copy calls it a modern classic which it probably is, but I’m glad there are a lot more variations out there now.

The story isn’t actually focused on Heather’s two mummies, instead Heather is the main theme as we learn all about her. Newman tells us about how Heather’s favourite number is two and all the two things she has and does. It just so happens one of those twos is two mummies. As a whole it is also a great book about the different families there are: single parent, grandparents, step parents, same-sex parents.

The story doesn’t focus on how Heather copes with her two mummies, or the “controversy” of having two mummies. It is a perfectly sweet story that only happens to have two mummies in it. It is a wonderful book about being loved, new adventures, and the wonderful diversity of all family.

The illustrations are painted pictures with lots of colour by Cornell. There are full and double page pictures with lots of detail to keep little eyes busy. Cornell’s style is clear but also a lovely style of painted figures and backgrounds with no solid edges. The variety of colours is admirable and it highlights her great skillset. The text is simple and there is a rhythm but no rhyme, and Cornell illustrates Newman’s words with realism but with her own interpretation as well.

I was surprised because I had only heard mention of this book, but having found a copy I am glad to say I have read it. As I say, I am glad there are so many more out there now to read, but this one hasn’t aged and certainly isn’t dated. At its core it is about Heather and it is about family, something that never changes.

You can purchase Heather Has Two Mommies via the following

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Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Julie Larbalestier

Published: 21st September 2010 (print)/21st September 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Margaret K. McElderry Books /Brilliance Audio
Pages: 415/11 hrs and 45 mins
Narrator: Ellen Grafton, Nick Podehl, and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Anthology
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

It’s a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths–for good and evil–of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

What started as a discussion on a blog between Black and Larbalestier turned into an anthology where the merits or zombies and unicorns are discussed and explored. Both sides are given weight as the authors explain the good of their own choice and the bad of the other.

I listened to this as an audio and it was an amazing experience. The introduction alone was a delight as a serious, dramatic voice over explains how this anthology came into existence. Before the stories begin each author of the anthology is introduced with their side of the debate and I have no doubt wrote their own introductions because they sound exactly on point for each person. I loved the serious tone the introduction took because while the content was less serious the discussion was Very Important. The author introductions also add why each author likes their chosen subject: Scott Westfield invented the Zombie proof cravat, Kathleen Dewey brought up on a unicorn farm and learnt you can’t trust them, while whose unprecedented career as a land pirate could not have been achieved without her unicorn drawn pirate ship. The sound effects are fantastic and the fact that between each story Black and Larbalestier offer their opinions on the upcoming stories and the previous information provided add some great banter. There was even a sound effect to warn listeners that a story was coming so no unwary zombie fan will start listening to a unicorn story, or vice versa.

Even though Zombies vs Unicorns doesn’t seem like a theme, these authors have interpreted these subjects in incredibly creative ways. What is actually a zombie? What is a unicorn, really? Are they both as innocent or a menacing as we’ve led to believe? There’s stories that take a scientific approach to what constitutes a zombie, as well as the effects of having a unicorn in the modern day. I loved the modern zombie tales and I loved how there were dystopian stories that weren’t horror, but were still wonderfully creepy and zombie suited. The same can be said for the unicorn stories; they are often in the magical realm, though a few are in the real world and seeing the two collide was intriguing.

My favourites had to be Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot, Purity Test by Naomi Novik, and Children of Revolution is such a Maureen Johnson story it’s hard not to delight in reading it. From the start I assumed I would be Team Unicorn because I have never quite enjoyed zombie stories but after seeing the unique ways that these authors have interpreted the concept, I am coming around. Looking from a stats perspective based on the stories I enjoyed and ones I didn’t, I am in a stalemate. I enjoyed four unicorn stories, four zombie stories, didn’t enjoy three and one I was undecided about. Where does that leave me? The ones I didn’t like were two zombie stories and one unicorn story. Does that make anything more solid? I really don’t know.

You can purchase Zombies vs. Unicorns via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

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One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies

Published: 14th June 2005Goodreads badge
 Candlewick Press
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Far, far out at sea lives one of the world’s most mysterious creatures, the loggerhead turtle. For thirty years she swims the oceans, wandering thousands of miles as she searches for food. Then, one summer night, she lands on a beach to lay her eggs—the very same beach where she herself was born. Nicola Davies’s lyrical text offers fascinating information about the journey of the tiny, endangered loggerhead, while charming paintings by Jane Chapman vividly illustrate one turtle’s odyssey.

Davies has written a beautiful book about the majestic nature of sea turtles and while she doesn’t mention the human impact on their environment or habits, there is no doubt when you finish reading it makes you think about what that impact has been.

The focus is on one small female turtle as she survives in the sea and we follow her as she grows and explores the ocean. Davies’ words are lyrical and poetic and tell the fascinating and amazing journey from a baby turtle to a full grown Loggerhead.

There is a simple narrative but it covers a lot and in addition there are footnote type facts as well, smaller in print and separated from the main text. These are educational and add real life information based on whatever is currently happening in the narrative.

While the story itself is beautiful, there’s no doubt it’s enhanced by Chapman’s stunning illustrations. Truly the illustrations are beautiful; realistic and beautifully coloured images of the growing turtle and her underwater world. The cool colours and the layout on the page give you a sense of being underwater and you rise to the surface as the turtle does, Chapman placing you on the beach alongside the turtle and back into the sea. It is incredibly clever.

I found myself getting swept up in this wonderful tale even though it only describes the life of a turtle, nothing fanciful or fictional added on. Davies’s words are simple yet remind you how beautiful turtles really are.

You can purchase One Tiny Turtle via the following

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