Book Reviews: Four Brand new Picture Books

This month’s batch of picture books has a lot of beauty, and a lot of adventure. Rachel Moore tells us about them.

Oh, So Many Kisses! by Maura Finn and Jenny Cooper

Oh, So Many Kisses! is a hug in book form. Perfect for snuggling up with your favourite preschooler in bed, on the couch, or wherever you like to share stories, this is a book about love in all its variations.

Not so much a story as a charming description of a multitude of kiss-types, the text is in rhyming verse that scans well. It’s a clever idea. I hadn’t thought there were so many different types of kisses, but with the exception of snogging – it is a children’s book, after all! – everything is covered from sticky jam kisses to kisses from grandmothers to kisses for newborns.

Spread from Oh, So Many Kisses!, by Maura Finn and Jenny Cooper (Scholastic NZ)

For me, the illustrations are the stars of the story. They are simply gorgeous, little moments of love between people who are special to each other. They’re also very much of here, New Zealand*, with people of all cultures and ages represented. I particularly loved seeing big, burly, bearded men sharing special moments with their children. I can imagine some right-wing blogger calling it virtue-signalling, but I think it’s refreshing (and more statistically accurate) to see men illustrated in a caring, loving way rather than negative media stereotypes.

There’s also some animal affection happening – we’re not the only species to care and nurture, after all.

I highly recommend Oh, So Many Kisses for children up to five years old, and the people who love them.

*While the Kiwi author lives in Australia, I’m claiming this book for NZ, along with pavlova and Crowded House.

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oh, so many kisses

By Maura Finn and Jenny Cooper

Scholastic NZ

RRP $18.00

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Kiwi One and Kiwi Two, by Stephanie Thatcher

This is a rollicking rhyming tale of two boisterous kiwi and their night time antics with their friends. It will be a hit with the under sixes, and their long-suffering parents, who will be all too familiar with sleep schedules that just don’t match their own!Kiwi One and Kiwi Two are awake and ready for fun, with their mate tuatara. They decide that their friends shouldn’t miss out, and set about making sure that everyone is up and wide awake – whether they like it or not.

The illustrations are cute and engaging, perfectly pitched for the target audience. The expressions in some of the images are priceless, and there’s one of a very unimpressed paradise duck that made me roar with laughter.

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Spread from Kiwi One and Kiwi Two, by Stephanie Thatcher (Scholastic NZ)

The rhymes scan well – getting this right is harder than a lot of people think – and there’s lots of lovely language, with pillows sailing through the air and birds and reptiles zipping through the trees. Kids love this sort of language, even if they don’t use it themselves, and it’s great to see an author extending the vocabulary of their young readers.

I can imagine this being the start of a successful series about the adventures of the two kiwi. If so, I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment.

kiwi one and kiwi two

By Stephanie Thatcher

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $17.99

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The Old Man, by Sarah V. & Claude K. Dubois

Gecko Press has a well-earned reputation for publishing outstanding children’s books. Translating this book from the original Belgian shows again how discerning and how brave they are. Much like Gecko’s previous publication of Wolf Erlbruch’s Death, Duck and the Tulip, The Old Man deals with an uncomfortable-for-adults issue not usually deemed suitable for children.

The titular old man is homeless. He’s cold, lonely, hungry, and tired. He’s invisible – or at least, other people pretend he is. He makes them feel ill at ease. Children don’t usually see the world the way adults do. A little girl sees the man, acknowledges him, shows him kindness, and helps him feel human again.

Spread from The Old Man, by Sarah V. & Claude K. Dubois (Gecko Press)

The story brought me close to tears. The text is sparse, and every word is powerful. Combined with the soft, muted, sketch-style illustrations, it’s incredibly moving, and a brilliant advertisement for kindness and compassion. The Old Man has themes that children should be exposed to. It’s the sort of book that will provoke valuable conversations, and may just help the world be a little kinder and compassionate as a result.

Recommended for children from 5 years and up, to be shared with a caring adult.

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the old man

By Sarah V. & Claude K. Dubois

Published by Gecko Press

RRP: $24.99

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Wildboy, by Brando Yelavich, illustrated by Donella Yelavich

Lots of adults will be familiar with the story of Brando Yelavich, the young man who decided he wanted to be the first recorded person to walk all the way around New Zealand’s coastline. His story will become more widely known among children with the addition of this inspiring children’s picture book.

Wildboy is a cracking good adventure. Brando didn’t have room in his pack for food, so had to hunt and forage and the New Zealand coastline is rugged and he had to take to a kayak at times. The narrative is crisp, chatty and humorous, and will engage children from about 5 – 9 years old.

The themes of the book are powerful. Brando was hanging out with the wrong crowd, and heading off the rails. He decided to take control off his life, and head off on his epic adventure. It was never going to be easy. Brando had to display the qualities of perseverance, resilience, determination, imagination and self-belief to achieve his goal. He’s a pretty great role model.

Spread from Wildboy, by Brando and Donella Yelavich (Penguin NZ)

The illustrations by Brando’s mother Donella match the tone of the book perfectly. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Donella captures Brando’s spirit of adventure in a way that perhaps no other illustrator could, given their relationship. There’s a joie de vivre in the illustrations that is genuinely delightful.

I made a point of sharing this book with my class of 5-7 year olds, and told them it was a real story. Engagement was huge, there were some great questions being asked, and children were talking about their own experiences of not giving up and setting future goals for themselves. Wildboy was in huge demand for reading by individual children after I’d read it. I can’t give a book a higher recommendation than that.

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By Brando Yelavich

Illustrated by Donella Yelavich

Published by Penguin

RRP $19.99

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Rachel Moore
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Rachel Moore is a experienced primary school teacher who lives on the Kapiti Coast. Some of her earliest memories are of bed time stories read with her dad, and she has made it her mission to try to pass on her love of books to every child she meets. Her childhood literary heroes are Jo March, Lucy Pevensie, Matilda Wormwood and Elizabeth Bennet. When she grows up, Rachel hopes she'll be able to live in a house big enough for all her books.