Brown by Håkon Øvreås & illustrated by Øyvind Torseter

By Ben Parsons and Maureen Tai, 12 October 2019

“Rusty tiptoed out into the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. There he was: Brown the Superhero. His heart hammered under his brown disguise. He was no longer Rusty. He was Brown.”

IMG_6436Only twice before have I cried while reading to the kids : at the close of Charlotte’s Web (by E. B. White) and when a character meets a tragic end in Wolf Hollow (by Lauren Volk). Brown, a middle grade illustrated novel, brings the count to three. Translated from its original Norwegian, Brown tells the story of how a boy, still grieving from the death of his grandfather, finds a unique way of meting out retributive justice on a gang of bullies. The author’s poetic sensibilities are evident in the gentle yet effective text and the story’s perfect balance of childlike excitement and sombre realism. Here are Ben’s thoughts about this lovely book. Continue reading

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead

by Maureen Tai, 20 August 2019

“… standing on top of the dictionary is a small zombie wearing a chicken suit. He’s rubbing his eyes, a Lego pirate clutched in one green hand. When his eyes adjust to the light, he uses them to look me up and down.” – Livy (Olivia)

IMG_3643I’ve read somewhere about studies that show that children under the age of seven are unable to create lasting memories of actual experienced events. This is heart-breaking for any parent of young children. However, it still doesn’t go all the way to explain why Livy can’t remember anything of her previous visit to her gran’s house when she was five years old.

The cows, the toy elephant, the chess pieces, the dolls, the stairs, none of it is familiar. Not even the strange chicken suit-wearing creature that Livy discovers living in the closet in her mother’s childhood bedroom. Who, and what, is this green being – who goes by the name of Bob – and where does it belong? In this unusual, gentle and clever middle-grade fantasy story, we follow Livy, now a grown-up almost-eleven year old, as she returns to her childhood. She is determined to solve the mystery of Bob and to reclaim her missing memories. Continue reading

Nicholas and the Gang by René Goscinny & Jean-Jacques Sempé, translated by Anthea Bell

 By Ben and Maureen Tai, 7 June 2019

“I like it when it rains really hard, because then I don’t go to school and I can stay at home instead and play with my electric train set.” – Nicholas.

IMG_6350As a child, I adored the Asterix series, created by the French comics writer and editor, René Goscinny (1926-1977) . I would pore over the pages, chuckle at the antics of  the rotund Obelisk and coo with delight whenever the spunky little terrier, Dogmatix, made his appearance. I wasn’t aware of Goscinny’s other children’s books until recently, when conducting a literary reconnaissance at Anna and Ben’s fabulous school library. Nicholas and the Gang (or in the native French, Le petit Nicolas et les copains) is one of a series of early/young reader children’s books about growing up in an idyllic and relatively uneventful 1950’s France. The humorous vignettes in each book, narrated from the point of view of the sensitive and kind-hearted Nicholas, are charming and old-fashioned without being anachronistic. Kudos to the translator, Anthea Bell, for imbuing the English translation with the child-like wonder and clever sarcasm – directed at adults – that Goscinny had intended. Don’t just take it from me. This is what Ben has to say.

Continue reading

BE STILL, life by Ohara Hale

By Maureen Tai, 4 May 2019

Be still, life, be still
Like fruit in a bowl.
And you might hear the hum
Of a crisp summer’s apple,
Or a pear joining in with a
     Pear kind of babble!
– Ohara Hale

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BE STILL, life 
is a jolt of joyful exuberance.  Seemingly random text, sometimes rhyming, sometimes not. Alphabets of different sizes, sometimes block, sometimes cursive. What unifies the playful and carefree words and the bold and whimsical drawings is the celebration of the simple pleasures of life. Isn’t it fun to look around, to really listen, to really feel, and to just be? Why, now that you mention it, it is!
Continue reading

enormous SMALLNESS – A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess & illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

By Maureen Tai, 28 April 2019

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places                             – e.e. cummings

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American poet Edward Estlin (e.e.) Cumming’s (1894 – 1962) life art was in seeing and creating wonderful world-words from the ordinary and small everyday. This inspired and beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book tells his story in an engaging and relatable way while introducing e.e.’s unconventional, distinctive and refreshingly modernist style of poetry to younger readers. A word of warning: you might be compelled to drop your upper case letters after this encounter. Continue reading

My Milk Toof – The Adventures of ickle and Lardee by Inhae Lee

By Maureen Tai, 25 April 2019

“Milk Toof: n. One of two adventurous little baby teeth belonging to the author, named ickle and Lardee.”

IMG_1966My Milk Toof is not a traditional, or even contemporary, children’s picture book. It’s not really a novelty book either, because it isn’t cheesy or offensive or twee, neither does it pop out or unfold in an unusual way.

What it is, is a brilliantly conceived, adorably charming and ingeniously funny, photographic journal of the adventures of two milk teef who return to their owner’s home to stay.   Continue reading

Justin Case – School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail & illustrated by Matthew Cordell

By Ben, 21 April 2019

IMG_4236Ben and I have just finished reading the first book in the Justin Case series, and we think it’s pretty good. Don’t just take my word for it.

B: Ugh, another book review?
M:  But you like this book!
B: OK, yeah, I do.
M: What is the book about?
B: It’s about Justin Case and what problems he has at school. Mostly school, but sometimes there are disasters at home. Continue reading