Review: Minnie’s Diner – A Multiplying Menu

Minnie’s Diner – A Multiplying Menu
written by Dayle Ann Dodds, illustrated by John Manders

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About: Minnie’s Diner is conveniently located near to the McFay farm, full of hungry boys. Each one is double the size of the next – and places double the order! Bouncy rhyming text sets up a story based purely on the idea of doubling and exponential increase. And it’s funny. We happened to acquire this book at the time that Kid 6 was beginning to work on the idea of doubling, and it fit in perfectly. It’s also an introduction to powers of 2, should you be needing reinforcement on that concept.

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“I’ll have what Bill has, but make it a double.” “Of course,” said Minnie, “That’s no trouble.”

 

Good things:

  • Maths makes the plot and meshes into the story
  • Doubling, exponential increase and powers of 2
  • Repetitive text for easier reading
  • Variety of visual perspective angles
  • It’s about food! My kids forgive a lot for that.

Review: 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids

150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, by Asia Citro, MEd

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About: This is hands-down one of my favourite books and a regular go-to for “What can we do this afternoon?”, “Mummy, please play with us” and “I don’t know what to DOOOOOOO” moments. I look through the book myself for something I’m willing to face up to, or I hand the book to the kids and get them to pick something out that they like the look of. I’ve also handed this book to Daddy for his nights-doing-stuff-with-kids and told him if he picks something he wants to do, I’ll make sure we have the ingredients. I really like Citro’s approach – she encourages a lot of the fundamentals of very-early-childhood science, which is basically investigating substances and the way they behave when you do stuff to them. It’s all play. Much of it is messy. It’s fun, it’s delightful, it’s imaginative, it can be wondrous. Many recipes and activities are suitable for kids who put things in their mouth, or who have allergies. Some take more prep or cleaning up than others, so I can choose what I’m capable of on a given day and find something fun. There’ll be a few activities I post up on this blog that have come from this book, or from Citro’s blog, FunAtHomeWithKids.com, which is well worth an explore. The age range of activities is probably 0 to 10 years, at least, so it’s a book you’ll get plenty of use out of.

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Each activity has preparation time, suitable age range, and a bunch of other quick things you might be looking for (eg eat safe, gluten free, nut free etc). I also like the “Tips for doing things on a budget” boxes in each section of the book, though they are less relevant if you’re not in the same country as the author.

Good things:

  • Wide age range suitability
  • Lots of ideas with accessible ingredients
  • Well laid out and photographed
  • Kids can look through the book themselves
  • Good science fundamentals (and literacy and numeracy and manual dexterity)
  • Basically, all-round good early childhood resource
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There’s also variations on each activity, to break it down or build it up to different age ranges, or to work with different materials if you don’t have something in the cupboard, or to extend it if you’ve already done this activity ten times and your kids want to do it *again*.

Review: The Unbreakable Code

The Unbreakable Code, written by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner.

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About:In World War II, the Americans needed a code that couldn’t be broken by the Japanese – and they recruited a group of Navaho to develop one. This book tells the story of the Navajo code talkers, put together out of interviews with many of the surviving code talkers, and framed in fiction as a grandfather telling his grandson not to be afraid to move to a new home. It’s an important part of American and WWII history, a discussion of how codes, languages and alphabets intertwine, and a clear portrait of what advantages cultural differences can bring to a multicultural society. It also tells clearly and effectively of the sadnesses of war, the punishments applied to Native Americans who tried to hold onto their culture and some of the barriers they faced to acceptance. The reading level is quite high and the themes quite strong, so I’d put this book at at age level of say 5-10 years old, despite it being a picture book with stunning illustrations.

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“The code had to be simple and fast. We would have only one chance to send each message. After that, the Japanese would be tracing our location to bomb us or trying to record the code.”

Good things:

  • Positive indigenous contribution to society
  • Central characters are Native American
  • War descriptions effective but without undue emphasis on the terrible
  • Places the code talkers in cultural and historical context
  • Talks about language and codes and how the code was developed
  • Promotes the use and value of indigenous language
  • Includes the basic code used by the code talkers
  • Beautiful oil painting illustrations

Review: The Magic Dictionary

The Magic Dictionary, written and illustrated by Bruce Whatley.

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About: A boy gets a magic dictionary for his birthday. Every word he looks up comes to life around him in some way. Bruce Whatley’s son first came up with the idea, and Bruce turned it into a book. We’ve got quite a few books illustrated by Bruce in this house, and this one has less whimsy in the method of art than others – but the picture concepts and story well and truly make up for that. Kid 7 has been asking for a magic dictionary for their birthday ever since they got this book as a Kid 5, and has been willing to read through a couple of picture dictionaries just to check and see if they happen to be magic ones.

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“Then when I looked up L-I-T-T-L-E I had trouble closing the dictionary again. But looking up P-L-A-N-E-T was just out of this world.”

Good things:

  • Word play – including homophones and spelling,
  • Text models looking words up in a dictionary
  • Just a little silly!
  • Plenty of imagination involved
  • Australian author
  • Aussie language/spelling

Review – Alfie’s Big Wish

Alfie’s Big Wish, by David Hardy

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About: This is a sweet little kids’ tale, about loneliness and finding a friend, set within the context of nomadic Aboriginal culture. David Hardy is Aboriginal, and also Disney-animation-trained, so the illustrations have that 2D cartoon cuteness and impishness to them that really works. At first I had misgivings about Disneyfying Aboriginal folk, but then I figured Disney does that to everyone so I’d probably rather have the representation than the lack of it. And it’s grown on me.

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“Why is there no one the same size as me?” My own Kid 4 and 5 say this a lot.

Good things:

  • Lead is POC, Aboriginal, traditional culture
  • Emotionally expressive illustrations
  • Australian landscape and colours
  • Rhyming text, limited number of words on a page for early readers.
  • Author/illustrator is Aboriginal

Review – Mermaid Queen

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Subtitle: “The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to Fame, Fortune and Swimsuit History”

Mermaid Queen. Written by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

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“Annette Kellerman loved to make waves.” Most pages have more text than this.

About: Annette Kellerman lived in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century. She learnt to swim when sports were unseemly for women, invented water ballet, and eventually became an international swimming star of sea, stage, pool and, as time went on, movies. In the process she designed her own swimming suits, challenged US law and became part of fashion history as well. She’s one of those once-household-names that’s been forgotten this many decades on. She’s great to read about. Her story is told simply, it’s easy to follow, and there are solid author’s notes at the back of the book that you can use to look up or go into more detail on some of the events in her story.

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“But swimming had made Annette’s legs strong. And in the water, she didn’t feel plain or clumsy or weak. She felt beautiful and graceful and fancy-free.” There are many obstacles for Annette to overcome. A mysterious non-permanent disability is hand-waved away in the book but discussed more in the author’s notes.

Good things:

  • Female athlete
  • Bravery, courage and persistence
  • Success story
  • Vividly and rhythmically illustrated with hints of Art Nouveau styling
  • Advocate for women’s health and dress reform
  • Shows cultural change
  • Great author’s notes
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The final page, showing changes in women’s swimwear design from Annette’s time onwards.

Review – Winter is Coming

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Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

 

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The story begins on the title page, in silence, unremarked. Were you watching? Did you see it begin?

About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.

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Each double spread is a different day, somewhere in the passing autumn, with magical drawings of season, animals and watching. Most include the watching spot in the big old tree.

Good things:

  • Nature observation skills
  • Seasonal changes
  • Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
  • Patience, persistence, stillness, watching, listening
  • Cycle of the year
  • Girl lead character – but really, it could be anyone, any child will be able to imagine themselves in that role.
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A typical page of text.

Review: The Princess Who Saved Herself

The Princess Who Saved Herself
by Pak, Coulton, Miyazawa, Kholline, Bowland.

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Wow, I took this photo badly. Great book though.

About: Jonathon Coulton wrote a song called The Princess Who Saved Herself, and made it freely available online for people to use to mix, fanvid, play with, rework. My kids loved the Youtube vids. One of the results was this book, somewhere on the dividing line between picture book and graphic novel. The text is a blend of the song lyrics and new words that connect the story into a more solid unit. The Princess – a pan-ethnic everygirl – is powerful in and of herself, saves herself and others too, and makes a few mistakes along the way but rebounds with resilience, learns and makes things better after.

Good things:

  • Strong independent girl protagonist
  • Conflict resolution strategies
  • Acknowledging the consequences of your mistakes and trying to fix them
  • Hilarious and silly bits
  • Great pictures
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OK, the scansion occaaaaaasionally seems a little forced. But I love the modelling of conflict between an adult and a child that happens on this page.

Review: Grandfather Twilight

Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger

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About: A slow, very peaceful story that poetically describes the slow change from end of day to beginning of night, sometimes with words and sometimes just with pictures. The illustrations are magical, with house, forest, stream, ocean and sky blending and shifting. This was often one of our bedtime books, beloved by Kids 2-5. It’s got a few flaws in the science, but if you consider it poetry and metaphor you’re fine.

Good things:

  • Describes the change from day to night
  • Metaphor for the settling and going to sleep process
  • Peaceful and poetic
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Encourages stillness, listening, looking, just being present.
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One of several pages with no text at all, emphasising stillness, listening and looking.

 

Review: Helping Little Star

Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan.

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Helping Little Star. Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrations by Sally Morgan.

About: A simple little child’s tale with a little bit of silly to it. It’s not an Aboriginal fable or Dreamtime myth, or a morality tale of any type, just a story with animals and stars and the Moon in it. There’s not too much text on any one page, or at all, just enough to lay out the story in support of Morgan’s glorious-as-always illustrations. And what text there is is simple enough that a beginner reader can attempt to make their way through it with some help.

Good things:

  • An Aboriginal take on the typical genre of animal and nature characters
  • Authors and illustrator are both Aboriginal
  • It’s not a traditional myth or legend or tale (I fully support the idea that Indigenous people are more than just what they were at the point of colonisation and that they don’t need to stay in that box).
  • Text is suitable for an early reader with assistance.
  • The animals encountered are Australian.
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“I only have one joey,” said Mother Kangaroo. “Who are you?” “I’m Little Star,” he said. “And I’m lost!”