Violin and Cello by Catherine Greer, Joanna Bartel and Alexander Lau

Violin and Cello

Catherine Greer (author) and Joanna Bartel (illustrator) and Alexander Lau (music)

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539274

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Teacher notes and resources for this book are available on the EK Books website

In a tall apartment tower two young musicians are learning to play their instruments—a violin and a cello. They form a ‘mystery friendship’ by sending paper planes to each other with music written on them, but will they become ‘real’ friends?

Reading this unique picture book with young kids starting to learn an instrument is a lovely way to inspire and encourage. Without any didactic moments, it portrays the dedication and practice that is necessary to learn an instrument, moreover, the scores the young musicians send to each other are reproduced in the book, providing an exciting and practical component to the story for children learning either the violin or cello. For kids learning a different instrument, the story provides an enticing prompt to compose music for themselves and with friends. Violin and Cello is also a delightful story for any child with its themes of friendship. Indeed, it can help parents encourage kids to find friends with common interests and to be patient as friendships develop gradually over time.

The artwork for Violin and Cello is full of the kind of detail kids love to investigate; over the apartment building the reader sees the intriguing roofs of different kinds of buildings, then there is all the clutter in rooms and gardens as well. The brown and grey scenes of city and apartment life seem cheery dotted with all the bright, warm colours used to portray people, clothes, belongings and plants. The busyness and colour of the artworks convey all the happiness and joy that a home filled with music brings to a family.

Violin and Cello is a unique story about friendship and music that can encourage young musicians or inspires those yet to start playing.  

Too Many Bubbles by Christine Peck and Mags Deroma (authors) and Mags Deroma (illustrator)

Too Many Bubbles: A Story of Mindfulness

Christine Peck and Mags Deroma (authors) and Mags Deroma (illustrator)

Sourcebooks: 2021

ISBN: 9781728235905

Ages: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Izzy’s thought bubbles keep ‘pop, pop, popping up’ until there is no room left for Izzy, but she knows some useful ways to make room for herself and her thoughts.

Too Many Bubbles follows Izzy, a small grey mouse, on her quest for a quieter mind. Izzy’s journey begins with a single ‘sort of grumpy’ thought that multiplies and becomes oppressive. The idea of busy and cumulative thoughts is otherwise kept quite general, making this story a good one for lots of different children and their various thoughts and emotions. There is also an overall practical focus in this mindfulness book. For instance, the reader is asked to help Izzy by gently blowing on her thoughts, thus beginning one of the approaches to mindfulness—breathing—that is discussed at the back of the book. Several other practical tips to help kids practise mindfulness are also discussed here.

The artwork for Too Many Bubbles uses bright, block colours and white space to great effect. The white space, for example, helps to focus the reader’s attention both on the first grumpy thought bubble and then the oppressive cumulation of thoughts as they fill the white page and obscure Izzy herself. The choice of colours is thought-provoking—they are bright colours, primarily in warm shades of red, orange and yellow but there are also some cool tones. For this reader they were a useful reminder that busy thoughts may range around the full gamut of emotions. Overall, the bright colours feel fun and cheerful; they may attract some boisterous young children who are otherwise repelled by books on calm topics.

Too Many Bubbles is a gentle, practical introduction to mindfulness with bright, lively illustrations likely to interest young children.

Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys

Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day

Davina Bell (author) and Allison Colpoys (illustrator)

Scribble: 2021

ISBN: 9781925849462

Reviewed by Viv Young

With lyrical, rhyming text the story of two girls and their day of questionable choices unfolds but don’t worry, they’ll be fine; tomorrow is a brand-new day.

The illustrations for this fabulous book about mistakes and moving on from them follows two female friends as they navigate a tricky day. The text works with the images but simultaneously addresses the audience, thereby encouraging all kids to identify with the challenges and emotions explored in the story. The central characters variously act impulsively, push, pull faces, chuck tantrums and fail to share as the difficulties they encounter and their feelings about them snowball throughout the course of the day. Most kids should, therefore, be able to recognise aspects of their own challenging days in the pages somewhere, if not the overall tendency for bad days to get worse. The fact that the friends fall out and make up again is also useful for parents looking for books about friendship, both its up and downs.

While bad days aren’t usually all that fun to talk about, Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys bring out the humour in ‘bad’ behaviour, moreover they empathise with the emotions at the heart of it all (‘You were tired! Worried. Scared’). With guidance, this empathy can help kids make important connections between feelings and poor decision making. This approach can also help kids feel understood too. The resolution of the story is uplifting as the two characters find ways to make up with those who they have hurt. There is also the overall feeling of acceptance and focus on the future that helpfully puts mistakes in their place as things everyone experiences and that we can all move on from.

The artwork for Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is bursting with colour and this matches both the positive treatment of mistake-making and the chaos that sometimes leads to mistakes. The exaggerated expressions of the two central characters are fantastic for exploring a range of emotions with young kids. Moreover, various spreads interpret the open-ended text and lead to lots of humour and opportunities for kids to follow the pictures and work out what happened to encourage certain feelings. The end pages are worth pondering with young ones. They are a mass of great swirling rainbows, intertwined and confusing. For this reader they encapsulated the messiness of mistakes and self-acceptance that this book celebrates so sweetly.

One of several recent books that speaks to a growth mindset, Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is an intelligent and fun story that normalises making mistakes and moving on from them.

Grub by Sandra Severgnini

Grub

Sandra Severgnini
EK Books: 2022
ISBN: 9781922539267
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Grub knows he will soon transform but what will he become? A ladybird, a butterfly, a cicada? He asks his forest friends, but no-one seems to have the answer.

Grub is a fascinating introduction to animals that have a lifecycle involving metamorphosis. The story is gentle and thought-provoking, following Grub on his journey for answers as he approaches the next stage of his lifecycle. It may well resonate with kids thinking about what they will be when they grow up! There are also some super interesting facts about the beetle Grub transforms into at the back of the book that provide extra interest for budding entomologists. 

The artwork for Grub is stunning. A bird’s eye view of the forest begins the story and beckons readers into a new and tiny world, often forgotten. In subsequent spreads the luscious forest provides a rich backdrop for Grub and his friends with variegated greens and browns. Other spreads are often full of white space so kids can pour over the detail of the insects themselves. The expressions on some of the insects are a delight— full of individuality—especially Grub after his transformation!

Grub is an uplifting story through which kids can explore a world which, though often ignored or forgotten, is full of interest and potential.

On Kids Keeping Books Badly …

Viv Young

Photo of Treehouse books laid out as engine parts for a spaceship.

Recently I responded to a Facebook query about encouraging children to care for their books. The parent posting for advice described how their own child would leave books lying around, bend spines, and dog-ear pages. I smiled, certain of my reply as I set my teacup down on a stack of half read paperbacks. Then, as I looked around at the dishevelled shelves and floor-books among the general mess I faltered.

I have long been aware that I am a bad keeper of books. I not only rest teacups on book covers, I too dog-ear pages and even crack spines. My husband is, in contrast, a model keeper of books. He gently peers through barely open pages. He keeps books away from all liquids. He remembers page numbers so that he never needs a bookmark.  We combined our library long ago and you can tell whose books are whose and whose books have been read by whom.

That is why I know that I am 100% to blame for our son’s current approach to looking after his library. He loves books, don’t get me wrong, but they are as much played with as read. As objects of play books are stepped on, stacked and toppled dramatically. Like stuffed toys they are discarded (on the floor) when the play takes an unexpected turn. For all this rough usage, my son’s books are remarkably intact which is a testament both to his deep-rooted love of their contents but also the manufacturing standards of modern printing and binding.

 A playful approach to books should be lauded, right? The legendary Margaret Wild imagines her central character in The Bush Book Club using books for all kinds of playful construction. But then that character is a reluctant reader who cannot sit still long enough to listen to a story. A lesson seems to lurk in the pages: inspire the reader within and books will stop being used for purposes other than reading.

Cover of The Bush Book Club by Margaret Wild and Been Wood

The story arc of The Bush Book Club swirled through my mind along with the floor-books and dishevelled shelves as I wrote my reply. In the end I took the middle ground. I dutifully commended the Mum for being so vigilant, divulged my own terrible record and recommended putting any prize hardbacks up high. The middle ground usually feels safe but the question of how children should treat books and my own example continued to worry me. Would my son grow up to read books or use them to prop up wonky table legs?

My gnawing parental insecurity lingered until I watched my son play with his collection of Andy Griffiths’s and Terry Denton’s Treehouse books over the course of a whole day while recovering from a winter cold.  Our collection of Treehouse books has been used repeatedly for purposes of play, and read thoroughly too. On this particular day several titles were deployed as engine parts for a spaceship, fed to an imaginary donkey and lovingly arranged as ‘how to guides’ for a supervillain cat. The latter repurposing seemed particularly apt.

 If it hadn’t been for that parent’s post, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to my son’s interaction with his books over the course of a whole day. But I’m glad I paid attention because it gave me pause to really look at what was happening and to feel confident that for us at least a relaxed approach to books is best. You see if I were to insist on keeping books on the shelves and in good order all of the time, I am not at all certain that my son would feel comfortable playing with them. That play is essential. The contents of the Treehouse books (and all the other titles my son repurposes) cannot be separated from his games; they are the props but also the inspiration. This is the reason why, I’m sure, my son continues to love listening to stories even though he can take or leave a home-reader and recoils from a list of sight words.

So, should I see another worried parent ask about their child keeping books badly, I will not hesitate to respond, nor will I feel the need to occupy the middle ground. I will be recommending with far greater confidence that books need to be accessible, everyday objects, even if that does mean a few spines get cracked along the way.