Review: The Magic Dictionary

The Magic Dictionary, written and illustrated by Bruce Whatley.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“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
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The final page, showing changes in women’s swimwear design from Annette’s time onwards.

Review: Helping Little Star

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
“I only have one joey,” said Mother Kangaroo. “Who are you?” “I’m Little Star,” he said. “And I’m lost!”

Review – The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
written/told by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Maggie Prewett

About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Long after the prize money had been spent on sweets, people would still talk about the time Faithy-girl won the fancy dress parade at Flying Fish Point.

Good things:

  • True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
  • Aboriginal author and illustrator
  • A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
  • Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
  • Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
  • Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
  • Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly