Illustrated fantasy book about a society with sentient dinosaurs
I absolutely love graphic novels and illustrated stories, but somehow I missed this book which came out when I was a young kid. I picked up a copy from the Lifeline Bookfair quite some time ago, and everyone I have mentioned it to has been full of happy nostalgia. When I was picking out books for last year’s Short Stack Reading Challenge, I added this one to the list and was thrilled to finally get a chance to read it.
“Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time” by James Gurney is an illustrated fantasy story about an explorer and biologist called Arthur Denison and his son William. Told as though Gurney has discovered a forgotten sketchbook, the story follows Arthur and William after they are washed ashore on a strange land when their ship sank at sea. They soon discover that the land is inhabited by both people and dinosaurs who coexist peacefully. Over time, Arthur and Will explore the new land and its inhabitants and adjust to their new life in Dinotopia.
This is a beautifully illustrated, whimsical book that was a delight from beginning to end. Arthur’s perspective as a naturalist was an inspired way to tell the story as the reader uncovers new facets of Dinotopia at the same time Arthur does. The story is told in the style of a journal with the text accompanied by exquisite paintings of Gurney’s imagined society. The detail is sublime with all kinds of imagined elements for how such a cooperative society might operate such as botany, technology, culture, sports, transport, architecture, written language, clothing and more. The human inhabitants of the world are descendants of castaways or recent castaways themselves, resulting in a very pluralistic and tolerant community.
Some may critique the lack of conflict in this book, which flows in an even pace along what I have previously described as a “where we went and what we did there” trajectory but honestly the writing was so lovely, the illustrations so quaint and the worldbuilding so novel that I was willing to forgive just about anything and enjoy the peaceful ride.
An absolutely lovely book full of wonder and beauty and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.
Perhatian: ulasan buku ini akan ditulis dalam Bahasa Indonesia dulu, dan Bahasa Inggris berikut.
Note: this book review will be written first in Bahasa Indonesia, then English afterwards.
Buku anak tentang empat anak Indonesia dan petualangannya
Lebih dari 13 tahun yang lalu, saya pindah ke Indonesia untuk berkuliah untuk enam bulan di Universitas Gadjah Mada di Yogyakarata, Jawa. Pada waktu itu saya bertemu banyak teman baik Indonesia maupun Australia, termasuk penulis ini. Pada tahun 2012, kami bertemu lagi di peristiwa waktu bukunya diterbit dan saya memintanya untuk menandatangani buku saya. Walaupun saya bisa berbicara Bahasa Indonesia, saya sedikit takut membaca buku Indonesia karena kosa kata saya masih rendah. Tahun lalu, saya membaca dan mengulas “Cantik Itu Luka“. Susah sekali membacanya tetapi saya sudah sedikit lebih berani dan siap mencoba buku Bahasa Indonesia lain.
Foto ini menunjukkan “Petualangan Anak Indonesia” ditulis oleh Nicholas Mark dan ilustrasi oleh Bambang Shakuntala. Bukunya di atas kain batik di samping kotak batik. Di dalam kotak ada obyek emas bentuknya gunungan wayang. Sampul buku ada gambar empat anak, tiga monyet, tiga peri dan satu garuda.
“Petualangan Anak Indonesia” ditulis oleh Nicholas Mark dan ilustrasi oleh Bambang Shakuntala adalah buku anak yang berisi tiga kisah. Kisah pertama berjudul Wayan dan Kutukan Hutan Monyet Ubud terletak di pulau Bali. Wayan harus membantu monyet-monyet hutan mengalahkan makhluk-makhluk jahat. Kisah kedua berjudul Mutia dan Keajaiban Pulau Emas terletak di Sumatera Barat. Mutia coba membantu wanita tua, akan tetapi wanita tua ada rencana jahat dan Mutia yang berani harus membantu mahkluk lain. Kisah ketiga berjudul Nanda & Dani Membongkar Rahasia Yogyakarta terletak di Jawa. Kakak beradik Nanda dan Dani harus berjalan di bawah tanah dari Gunung Merapi ke kota Yogyakarta lewat gang rahasia untuk melindungi kotanya.
Buku ini sangat menyenangkan. Mark menulis tentang empat anak Indonesia dari budaya and daerah beda tetapi mereka semua anak berani. Buku ini termasuk makhluk mitos Indonesia dan lingkungan, budaya, gedung dan makanan khas Bali, Sumatera Barat dan Jawa. Ilustrasinya hebat dengan banyak detail cerdas.
Buku ini cocok untuk baik anak Indonesia maupun orang asing yang mau berlatih Bahasa Indonesia.
Children’s book about four Indonesian children and their adventures
Over 13 years ago, I moved to Indonesia to study for six months at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Java. During that time I made lots of Indonesian and Australian friends, including this author. In 2012, we met again at an event when his book was published and I asked him to sign my book. Although I can speak Indonesian, I am a bit afraid of reading Indonesian books because my vocabulary is still low. Last year, I read and reviewed “Beauty is a Wound“. It was really difficult to read it but I’m not a bit braver and ready to try other books in Indonesian.
Image is of “Indonesian Children’s Adventure” by Nicholas Mark with illustrations by Bambang Shakuntala. The book is on top of batik fabric next to a batik box. Inside the box is a gold object in the shape of a mountain puppet. The book cover has a picture of four children, three monkeys, three fairies and a garuda.
“Indonesian Children’s Adventure” by Nicholas Mark with illustrations by Bambang Shakuntala is a children’s book which contains three stories. The first story titled Wayan and the Curse of the Ubud Monkey Forest is set in the island of Bali. Wayan has to help the monkeys of the forest defeat evil creatures. The second story titled Mutia and the Miracle of Gold Island is set in West Sumatra. Mutia tries to help an old woman, but the old woman has an evil plan and brave Mutia has to help other creatures. The third story titled Nanda & Dani Uncover the Secret of Yogyakarta is set in Java. Brother and sister Nanda and Dani have to travel underground from Mount Merapi to the city of Yogyakarta through secret tunnels to protect the city.
This book was very enjoyable. Mark writes about four Indonesian children from different cultures and regions however they are all brave kids. This book includes Indonesian mythological creatures and environments, cultures, buildings and food representative of Bali, West Sumatra and Java. The illustrations are great with lots of clever details.
This book is suitable for both Indonesian children and foreigners who want to practise their Indonesian language.
Classic children’s book about a lonely child and a hidden garden
I think I was recently down a Wikipedia rabbit hole looking up the filmography of Colin Firth when I found that he had been in a 2020 film adaptation of this book. I recall watching the 1993 version several times and I think I may have read this book as well as a kid, but I wasn’t completely sure. I remember the story was very wholesome, which I was definitely in the mood for, and I have a very pretty edition with lemon-coloured tinted edges that was just the thing.
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Bernett is a classic children’s novel about a young British girl called Mary who is left orphaned following an epidemic in British India. She is shipped back to England to live at the manor of an uncle she has never met. Spoiled and sullen from being neglected by her parents, Mary is largely left to her own devices in her new home. However, after a bit of kindness from one of the maids, Martha, and her brother Dickon, the encouragement of a little robin redbreast and some exploring, Mary uncovers two secrets of the manor.
This is an uplifting story about a young girl who, despite her privileged upbringing, doesn’t have any emotional connection with anyone. Bernett proposes that friendship, time outdoors and the beauty of nature can improve the happiness and wellbeing of any one. The book is a celebration of life the North York Moors and gardening; not just as a means of food production, but as a healthy and enjoyable hobby. Dickon brings a pagan earthiness to the story, encouraging and bringing the best out of prickly Mary in the same way he does the English wildlife.
However, unlike the inimitable “Black Beauty” (which I have in the same set of children’s classics), there are some a few elements to this book that don’t hold up today. Mary starts her life in India, and unfortunately the book has a lot of racist, colonial views about Indian people. There is a moment in the book where Bernett is a family violence apologist, suggesting that perhaps if a woman spoke more nicely to her husband, he wouldn’t get drunk and beat her. Then, there is a bit of an argument that book espouses toxic positivity.
Nevertheless, it is a cheerful book with some beautiful nature writing, and I’m keen to watch Colin Firth as Lord Craven.
Middle grade fantasy book about four gifted children
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author. I’m currently very deep into my Short Stack Reading Challenge and this looked like a nice quick read.
“The Lost Amulet” by Mary Farrugia is the first bok in the “Stone Bearer Series” and is a middle grade fantasy book about three children called Alexandra, Jake and Kian who are raised together in an orphanage with the ferocious Ms Severington. When Jake and Kian are suddenly adopted, Alexandra is left alone. However, when she is adopted shortly before her 12th birthday by the mysterious John, the truth about her identity is finally revealed and her destiny as a Stone Bearer of the Land of Four Stones begins. When she begins her training and education with John and Gum Gully High, Alexandra is reunited with her friends. However, the race is on to find a lost Amulet before the chaotic figure Colt does, and the key may lie in the secret fourth Stone Bearer.
This is an easy read that follows plenty of the tried and true hallmarks of the children’s fantasy genre from orphans, hidden identities to being sorted into school houses. It is a quick and action-packed read with a strong focus on friendship.
Like many self-published books, this one felt a little heavy on the adverbs and the author did occasionally misuse some words. The story initially felt a little confusing moving from the orphanage to a day school for both magical and non-magical children, but perhaps some of these issues are resolved in later books in the series.
A fast-paced book that could appeal to fans of the middle grade fantasy genre.
Young adult novel about a young boy’s affinity for foxes
I am currently doing my Short Stack Reading Challenge, and I raided all my shelves for some very short books to see out the end of the year. I picked up this book at the Lifeline Book Fair some time ago. I can’t remember if I chose it because someone recommended it to me, or because this author was one I read as a kid because my (admittedly very annoying) year 5 teacher was obsessed with her. Either way, this was the next book in my short stack. It is actually a signed copy, addressed to someone called Katie in the year of publication – 1994. Edit: I was just reminded that I have read this author more recently, I had just forgotten her pseudonym.
“Foxspell” by Gillian Rubinstein is about a young boy called Tod who, after his father returns overseas, has moved with his mother and two sisters to live with his grandmother on a property in South Australia. Despite being a talented artist, Tod struggles with school and feels the strain of the arguments at home. When he comes across a dead fox and is moved to bury it, he unknowingly creates a connection between himself and a fox spirit. Spending more and more time in the area nearby called the quarries, Tod attracts the attention of Shaun, an older teenager whose gang vandalise property and who is interested in Tod’s sister Charm. As things at home become more and more difficult, and Tod falls further behind in school, the temptation to run with a fox and run with a gang becomes greater and greater.
This was quite a surprising book. Even though it was written nearly 30 years ago, it still felt fresh and relevant. Although not ever said explicitly, it is suggested that Tod has a learning disability like dyslexia and instead of blaming him for his difficulties, the book explores how the people around him are failing him. I also thought that Rubinstein did a good job of weaving earthy magic into the story while acknowledging that white people, like foxes, invaded this country and that Traditional Owners’ beliefs and connection to country persists. There were also lots of other interesting parts to this story. Tod’s mother is an aspiring comedian and uses anecdotes about her family in her sets, and I thought that the dichotomy between her lack of involvement in her kids’ day to day lives, and her disrespect for their boundaries by using their lives as material for her shows was a fascinating subplot. I also really liked the character of Tod’s sister Charm, and the complicated relationship between her, Shaun, Tod and Shaun’s younger brother.
An unexpectedly complex story that I liked a lot more than I remember liking Rubinstein’s other books.
I cannot remember where I bought this book from, but there is no mistaking why. It is a beautiful hardcover book with copper metallic detail on the lettering both on the slipcase and beneath. Then, of course, is the premise. As I have mentioned many times on here I am a big fan of animal fantasy, and the little anthropomorphic fox and suggestions of steampunk had me hooked.
“The Wonderling” by Mira Bartok is a children’s animal fantasy steampunk novel about an orphan fox boy known only as 13. A “groundling”, a mix of both fox and boy, he lives at the Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures run by the cruel Miss Carbunkle. Bullied and downtrodden, when he makes a new friend called Trinket who gives him a new name, Arthur agrees to escape the Home and try to find the truth about his past and his destiny.
There were a lot of positive things about this book, and I think Bartok’s writing is probably the strongest selling point. It is lyrical and playful and her descriptions are lovely to read. I really enjoyed the art sprinkled throughout the book and the all the different types of groundlings. Trinket was one of the best characters who, despite being tiny and almost entirely birdlike, had lots of gumption and pizzazz. I enjoyed the interludes with the young boy Pinecone and his family in their treehouse, and they were some of the most enjoyable parts of the book.
However, this book was heavily inspired by “Oliver Twist” with the hapless Arthur just as much a victim of circumstance as the orphan Oliver, and even Quintus is just like a hybrid of the Artful Dodger and Fagin. Despite these broad plot and character similarities, the story was rather confusing and there were a lot of elements that didn’t make sense or simply went nowhere. For example, someone out of kindness put something in Arthur’s pocket, but didn’t help any of the other groundlings? But Arthur inexplicably never checked his pocket? And then the thing was lost anyway? I also felt that while individually the elements of Arthur’s world were very whimsical, collectively the worldbuilding was a bit lacking. Some of the choices (e.g. men wearing top hats walking cats in Lumentown) seemed to be based more on aesthetics rather than logic.
An easy if somewhat meandering read that draws a lot of inspiration from Dickens.
Graphic novel adaptation of middle grade sci-fi series Animorphs
As I have mentioned on this blog previously, I was a HUGE fan of this series when I was a kid. I’m still trying to complete my collection after cancelling my monthly Scholastic subscription, but when I saw that a graphic novel adaptation had recently been released I had to go out and buy it. I’ve been on a bit of a sci-fi graphic novel kick and I’m not even sorry.
“Animorphs The Graphic Novel: The Invasion” adapted by Chris Grine is based on the science fiction middle grade novel of the same name: the first book in the “Animorphs” series by K. A. Applegate and Michael Grant. In this book, five kids who loosely know each other are forever bound together when they take a shortcut through a construction site coming home from the mall. While crossing through, they witness the landing of an spaceship and meet Elfangor, a dying alien from the Andalite species. Elfangor warns Jake, Cassie, Marco, Rachel and Tobias about an invasion that is already taking place on planet earth by a parasitic alien species called Yeerks and grants them the only weapon available: the ability to morph. Calling themselves the Animorphs, they must acquire the DNA of different animals and try to infiltrate a secret organisation recruiting humans as hosts and try to stop the Yeerks from enslaving the entire human race.
This is a great adaptation of the original book and Grine has done a great job staying true to the original story and dialogue while still bringing his own spin. Grine has kept the story set in the same time, the late 1990s, with that real mallrat flavour of walkmans, jumpers tied around waists and phones with cords. My initial response to the art style was that it felt a bit childish with thick, bold linework but then I remembered I’m not actually the target audience. With that in mind, I think it’s actually perfect for kids with a great balance between clarity and detail. I really liked the use of different shaped speech bubbles to distinguish between speech and thought-speak, and I also really liked that Grine allocated each character a different colour to help readers keep track of who was speaking in thought-speak. I also felt like some of the things that I had struggled to imagine like the Sharing and the Yeerk pool were illustrated really well, and I liked the take on the alien species, especially the Andalites.
I think probably the one part that I was a little disappointed with was the depiction of morphing. I completely see what Grine is doing, making it look a bit gross and unsettling which is certainly how it is described in the books. I also understand that with a graphic novel, you are just getting a snapshot, and each panel is highlighting a single moment in the uncomfortable, awkward morphing process. However, I think when I imagined morphing, it was a little less goofy and a little more awesome. A little more flipbook animation and a little less flailing.
This graphic novel had plenty of nostalgia but an original enough take that the story felt fresh and appealing to younger audiences. I can’t wait until more of the series is released.
Children’s book series about three hapless orphans
I am still enjoying reading this series and watching the corresponding TV adaptation, and I was looking for a snappy read to curl up in front of the heater with now the evenings are getting colder. If you haven’t read this series before, I would recommend starting at the beginning.
“The Austere Academy” by Lemony Snicket is the fifth book of 13 in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” collection. After the Baudelaire children Violet, Klaus and Sunny barely escape the events of the previous book unscathed, they are sent to a boarding school called Prufrock Preparatory School. Any hope that finally their luck may change is dashed when Vice Principal Nero advises that because they don’t have a guardian, they will be living in a small, crab and fungus-infested shack. The only upside is that they have finally made some friends: the two Quagmire triplets Isadora and Duncan. However, when a new sports teacher called Coach Genghis starts at the school, things begin to look very dire.
I think that this is my favourite book in the series so far. There is some subtle but noticeable character development. The Baudelaires have started to lose faith in the adults around them and for the first time, do not sound the alarm when they realise a new scheme is afoot to steal their inheritance. Instead, they cut to the chase and start making their own plans. I also really enjoyed that Sunny has started occasionally saying actual words that Snicket doesn’t need to interpret.
Interestingly, I actually liked the plot of this book better than I did the corresponding TV series episodes. The TV adaptation attempted to soften the situation by introducing some additional benevolent characters, and I felt that the Baudelaires’ lack of hope in the book made the ending much more tragic.
Illustrated children’s book about echidnas and showing affection
On the second night of my Tasmania hike, my friend and hiking buddy insisted that I read this book she had found in the library because it was so cute. I didn’t quite get around to it on the second night, but on the third night we were staying in one of the trimanya huts, which means echidna in Palawa language, and I luckily found a copy in the library there. I also saw three different echidnas on my Tasmania trip, and they are so fluffy down there!
“Echidnas Can’t Cuddle” by Nieta Manser and illustrated by Lauren Merrick is a children’s book about an echidna called Erik who longs to be able to experience cuddles like other animals do. The problem is, every time Erik tries to cuddle someone, he inadvertently hurts them with his spikes. Despondent, Erik runs away. However, when predators try to attack him, Erik learns what his spikes are really for.
This was a very sweet book with a lovely message about accepting the bodies we have and celebrating their functions. The text rhymes and is very accessible for children. I also thought that it was a nice comment on intimacy and that when hugs might not be appropriate, there are other ways to show affection. Additionally, it is important to respect what other people are comfortable with. I really enjoyed the illustrations, and Merrick used some interesting techniques to produce an almost three dimensional effect by collaging watercolour illustrations.
A lovely little book that would be great for young children.
Illustrated children’s book about Macquarie Island
I mentioned in my previous book review that I recently went on a hike in Tasmania. There were lots of fantastic things about this hike, but there were two things in particular I really enjoyed: the collection of books at each hut and the lovely and enthusiastic ranger on our first night who told us about this book.
“One Small Island” by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch is an illustrated children’s book about the history and biodiversity of Macquarie Island. In particular, the book explores the impact of humans on the island’s delicate ecosystem and the battle to undo the damage done by invading species.
This is a beautifully and intricately illustrated book that captures the dramatic landscape and fragile wildlife with its vivid language. Not only is this a story about a critical environmental issue, the destruction of native flora and fauna due to introduced species, it is also a story with a beginning, a disaster, a challenge and a resolution.
An excellent book for children and adults alike with a keen interest in natural history.