Celeste The Giraffe Loves to Laugh by Celeste Barber

Published: 25th October 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Matt Cosgrove
Pages: 24
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Celeste was a friendly, happy little giraffe. She had a kind heart and she made others laugh. But Celeste sometimes worried that she wasn’t enough. It seemed like other animals did much cooler stuff. Join Celeste the Giraffe on her hilarious journey as she finds out what it is that makes her unique.

Barber’s story is about Celeste the giraffe who is happy and friendly but worries she isn’t enough. Thus starts her journey trying new things to become cooler. It reminded me a lot of Macca’s Makeover, which I am going with it’s ok since Matt Cosgrove actually illustrates this book so he must not mind.

Celeste tries all the things her friends do in order to try and become cooler including roaring like a lion, running fast like a cheetah, or making a splash like a hippo. Barber’s story flows with a steady rhythm and the rhymes are creative, but the story is completely enhanced by Cosgrove’s accompanying illustrations.

The illustrations are typical Cosgrove – adorable, brightly coloured, and whimsical, but there is still a unique feel that doesn’t look like his typical Macca design. This gives Barber a look of her own and a style unique to her book while still being utterly adorable.

I love Cosgrove’s work so the illustrations are the real winner here. I enjoyed the story too, it’s fun and clever, not to mention great to read aloud. The formatting helps with tone and emphasis as well; the varying font styles and different sized words help get the right tone and humour across to gain the full effect.

This is a great story about using your own unique skills and talents to help other people and not to want what others have because you think they’re better. A good message for kids and told in a fun and colourful way.

You can purchase Celeste the Giraffe Love to Laugh via the following

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That Christmas Feeling by Lili Wilkinson

Published: January 1st 2018 by Allen UnwinGoodreads badge
Publisher:
January 1st 2018 by Allen Unwin
Illustrator: Amanda Francey
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Dottie is waiting for the Christmas feeling to arrive—that fizzy, excited feeling, where everything is a bit magical. But this year, Dottie, her brother, Jem, and their dog, Shortbread, are staying with Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa are trying hard, but Christmas just isn’t the same . . . A gorgeous, heart-warming story about misplacing the Christmas spirit, and finding it again.

Wilkinson has created a sweet story about the hunt for the “Christmas feeling”. When Dottie and her brother stay with grandma and grandpa on Christmas Eve she can’t help but compare it to the Christmas last year which feels a lot of magical.

It’s initially unclear why the pair are at their grandparents, but by the end it’s evident and seeing Dottie go through her Christmas worries and how Jem tries to help is incredibly touching. The sibling relationship between Jem and Dottie is so adorable. The affection between them and the older/younger sibling relationship is beautiful. Jem comforts Dottie and tries to ease her worries as they make the best out of being at their grandparent’s house.

Francey’s illustrations add a lot to this story too, they are realistic pencil drawings with wonderful detail. The style she has used brings out emotion and heart which is perfect for the story Wilkinson is telling. There’s lots of colours but suitably subdued and not overbearing. The bright scenes and the beautiful scenery add a wonderful feeling of a special night and anticipation.

This is a beautiful story about how different Christmases can be just as wonderful as past Christmases and that the Christmas feeling can be found in the most unlikely of places.

You can purchase That Christmas Feeling via the following

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The Accusation by Wendy James

Published: 20th May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Genre: Crime
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, clad only in ill-fitting pyjamas. Her story of kidnap and escape quickly enthrals the nation: a middle-aged woman with a crazy old mother has held Ellie in a basement, chained her to a bed and given her drinks from an old baby’s sippy cup. But who was this woman and what did she want with Ellie? And what other secrets might she hide?

When the accusation is levelled at local teacher Suzannah Wells, no one seems more bewildered than Suzannah herself … to start with. The preposterous charge becomes manifestly more real as she loses her job and her friends. And the evidence is strong: a dementia-affected mother, a house with a basement, a sippy cup that belonged to her long-dead daughter. And Ellie Canning’s DNA everywhere. As stories about Susannah’s past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt she’s innocent.

And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

I love James’ writing because she creates these intriguing stories where you think you know where it is going but you’re also not 100% sure. In this case, there is a small part of your brain that wonders how good people are at covering their tracks and putting on a public face, or whether they are truly innocent. This is a great story because there’s arguments for both side and knowing which side is right changes how you look at the evidence presented.

All sorts of scenarios play through your mind: Ellie’s making it up, Suzannah is making it up, they’re both right and a third party is in play, Ellie is framing Suzannah. It’s a fascinating, mind boggling read where you want to know the right answer and find the truth.

James is skilled in making sure any exposition and history of people and places is slowly revealed through dialogue and conversations so readers aren’t inundated with a large amount of exposition. You learn about the characters and their intentions this way as well making the narrative flow naturally and with secrets and intentions remaining well hidden.

Mystery aside, I felt that the relationship between Chip and Suzannah was rushed. They both dive into their relationship quickly and is gets serious almost right away. It felt strange seeing them get close so fast but it isn’t completely unbelievable either.

Most of the story is told through Suzannah, but there are chapters where Honor has a voice as well. Scattered throughout are pieces of the Documentary that was released after the fact that includes transcripts and interviews which offers additional details and perspectives and demonstrates how wide spread this story goes on to become and how many lives become affected as a result.

With complicated, flawed characters there is a lot to unpack and make sense of. Another reason why this is such a compelling story. There is such a strong case for both sides to be right and you don’t quite know who is telling the truth which is where James’ storytelling brilliance stands out.

You can purchase The Accusation via the following

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Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Published: 4th December 1984 (print)/15th September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 208/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Kate Hood
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

1478198Distraught over her parents’ separation, Abigail follows a strange child called Beatie Bow and time slips back a hundred years where she becomes involved with an Australian shopkeeper’s family.

I was unsure what to expect from this, I’d heard great things about this Aussie classic and since it was reasonably short I was intrigued. I enjoyed the story from the start, I liked how Abigail is defiant and independent, and I loved the relationship she had with her mother.

I was quite drawn into the story by the end, it feels like a longer story than it is and time stretches on but does not drag. Park has done a great job mixing the time periods and blending the historical with the contemporary. Despite being published in 1980, there is a wonderful 70s vibe through this story because it is the time of the women’s liberation movement and this comes across in the dialogue between Abigail and her mother. Limiting minor spoilers I loved how fiercely Abigail is trying to reason with her mother over her relationship with her father. It gave a wonderfully modern feel to the story and I think Park does a great job satisfying both parties with how she handles the situation.

I was surprised by the ending but Park makes this work in how she loops it back to the earlier story. It subjects your expectations and keeps a little of the magic alive, certainly giving a satisfactory feel as a reader as we too have become attached to these figures of history as we spend time with them as well.

Kate Hood does a great job as narrator. Her use of accents makes each character stand out, though Park’s writing does that well enough as it is, with each time period represented through dialogue, language and descriptions.

The historical aspect brings to light a side of Sydney I hadn’t thought about before. The reign of Queen Victoria and the fact Australia is still reasonably new are charming factors, and Park shows us a little of how life was during that time. I understood how Park makes it sound rather peaceful and fulfilling, while also showing the hardships. The balance between the current times and the olden days is surely the perfect way to live and seeing Abigail come to that realisation was great.

For a time before young adult books were really a thing, this is a good coming of age story that fills in the gaps between kids and teens, for those early years before becoming a fully-fledged teenager and are still trying to navigate growing up and moving on from childhood.

You can purchase Playing Beatie Bow via the following

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The Return of Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey

Published: 1st October 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Scholastic Australia
Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Pages: 28
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The world misses its favourite unicorn, but Thelma is reluctant to don her horn and sparkles again. However, with the support of her best friend Otis, she realises the importance of spreading love and joy — no matter what people think.

This is a great sequel because not only does it address Thelma’s ongoing desire to still be a unicorn and the apprehension she has given her experience last time, but it also solves the question about what the rest of the world did when their favourite unicorn suddenly vanished off the face of the earth.

Otis is back being Thelma’s number one fan and he is a great sounding board for what Thelma should do. He has a bigger role in this one and he is adorable in his love and affection for Thelma.

The argument Blabey makes is an interesting one. What did it matter that she wasn’t a real unicorn? She made people happy and isn’t making people happy a good thing? He balances it out though and Thelma has learnt from her past experiences because while she is scared, Otis grounds her and she remembers to also be herself, they can love her for being her.

Blabley great rhymes are back and I love how he uses the pages and the illustrations to work together in telling the story. There’s anticipation and suspense as you turn the pages, and the rhyming makes sense and with the right rhythm can be read with a nice flow.

The illustrations are big and bold with a lot of full pages and colour that stand out. There’s a few small, fun details too which are nice in the background. One thing Blabey can’t seem to decide on is whether Otis and Thelma wear clothes because seeing it switch from page to page is hilarious.

There is a pop culture reference in there which I get, but it was weird, but I can see people loving it. I think it was the accompanying illustration that weirded me out more than the eye rolling reference but I can’t complain because it’s a kids book after all.

There is a nicer message in this story because Thelma gets to keep being who she loves and she has found a balance in her life with a great support system around her. Otis and Thelma are an adorable pair and Blabey beautiful skirts around whether they are just friends or have gone further. I like he left it vague and I love that he has made a story where he shows Thelma’s dreams are indeed possible with the right kind of attitude and support.

You can purchase The Return of Thelma the Unicorn via the following

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