Tag Archives: Children’s Books

Made By Raffi

Another school holiday review, this book was also courtesy of the author. With an eye-catching front cover of a little boy knitting a rainbow scarf, I knew I had to check it out.

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“Made by Raffi” by Craig Pomranz is a picture book for primary school aged kids. This story is about an introverted and creative young boy called Raffi who develops a passion for knitting and making clothes. After some teasing at school and some concerns about his identity, Raffi perseveres with his interests and ultimately is accepted and acknowledged for his talents.

This is a really important book for a number of reasons. I think as a society we have come a really long way in terms of accepting and even praising girls who are “tomboys” and show interest in traditionally masculine activities, but there is still a long way to go in equally accepting boys who show interest in traditionally feminine activities. Gender in a lot of ways is still a hierarchy, and masculine is often considered “better” than feminine. I’ve heard lots of stories of men who gave up activities that they had enjoyed as kids such as ballet because it was too “girly” and they were teased by peers or told not to by parents. In addition to celebrating diversity (this book has a really great diverse cast of characters), this book is really critical in showing that your interests don’t define you. Enjoying knitting isn’t necessarily indicative of your sexuality or gender identity. People – and in particular children – simply are who they are, they like what they like, and that’s OK.

With bright illustrations and a great message, I think this would make a great summer craft story for primary school children, or a bedtime story when kids are back in school.

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Daddy’s Bedtime Adventures

It’s school holidays, and over the next couple of days I’ll be posting up some reviews of children’s books to help you keep the kids entertained. I received this book courtesy of the author, and as a big supporter of dads being involved in caring for their kids, the title hooked me from the outset.

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“Daddy’s Bedtime Adventures” by Kida Lopes Brino is a children’s book about a little boy’s bedtime routine with his dad. This book has a unique structure where the first half of the book is told from the boy’s perspective, and the second half is the same routine but told from the perspective of the father.

I think this is a great little book for kids for several reasons. First of all, I really like the dynamic between the father and the son. It’s playful but firm, and takes into account that the son is still very young and that the father is sometimes worn out from the day but maintains enthusiasm for their routine anyway. I also really like the way the story is told twice from both the father’s and son’s perspectives. I think this is a great way to teach kids empathy and to be able to understand that different people experience the same situations differently. Finally, I really like that this is an example of a diverse children’s book. I know that 20 years ago, when I was a kid, the overwhelming majority of children’s books were about white children.

This would be a great little book for dads to read to their preschool aged kids at bedtime to help them learn about empathy and routines.

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The Day My Fart Followed Santa Up the Chimney

This is the second Christmas book I recently received, and this one is for kids.

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“The Day My Fart Followed Santa Up the Chimney” is an independent children’s book by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence and the third in a series about a young boy called Timmy and his friend the Little Fart, a cute, green, fluffy personification of a fart. This book is a fun overview of the classic Santa Clause tradition complete with reindeer, chimneys, cookies and milk.

I’m not really a big fan of toilet humour, but then again – this book wasn’t written for me! I haven’t read the other books in the series, but my understanding is that they are meant to be cheeky yet educational books to teach kids when it is and isn’t appropriate to flatulate. Instead of containing any particular social lessons, this book uses the Little Fart as a lens through which children can learn about some Christmas traditions. The lighthearted tone is matched by colourful digital illustrations. I think probably the main issue with this book is that the premise doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve read the first one. However, the Little Fart is a funny character and this non-denominational take on Christmas is wholesome without being ham-fisted.

A jovial Christmas children’s book that would probably go best as part of a set.

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Fantastic Mr Fox

This is the 7th and last Roald Dahl book I read for the Roald Dahl Read-a-Thon in celebration of 100 years since the author was born. “Fantastic Mr Fox” was a bit of a childhood favourite of mine, and I knew it was going to be a high note to end on.

“Fantastic Mr Fox” by Roald Dahl is about a fox and his family who live near three farmers: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. After many successful expeditions to steal their chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to feed his family, Mr Fox is taken by surprise when he’s ambushed by the farmers outside his hole one night. Although he escapes with his life, the farmers are onto him and will stop at nothing to dig him out.

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This book is an excellent example of a modern fable. With all the elements of a classic animal story (especially the sly fox trope) and some pieces of fairy tale (three challenges),”Fantastic Mr Fox” is a fun, memorable story about animals banding together against some rotten villains. It’s got Dahl’s sense of humour, enthusiasm and wordplay throughout and it isn’t dull for a moment. The only thing that was a bit different for me is that I realised that I had a different edition when I was growing up. The edition I just read was illustrated by Quentin Blake, who has pretty much become synonymous with Roald Dahl’s children’s books. However, the one I had growing up was illustrated by Tony Ross. I have to say, I think I prefer Tony Ross’ softer style. The animals look much more cuddly and likeable, and his villains are far more revolting. I remember Bean in particular being depicted picking muck out of his ear, and being so thin he could cross his legs around three times.

This is an absolutely wonderful children’s story, and one that I will absolutely have on my shelf if ever I have children of my own.

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Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Still in celebration of 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl, here is the 6th review in my Roald Dahl Read-A-Thon is its sequel: “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”.

“Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” by Roald Dahl is the sequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and picks up immediately where the previous book left off. Willy Wonka, Charlie and Grandpa Joe have just collected Charlie’s parents and other three grandparents and are zooming into the sky in the Great Glass Elevator. Wonka’s plan is to get enough altitude so they can speed back down to earth with enough velocity to break through the roof of the chocolate factory. However, distracted by Charlie’s grandparents, Wonka misses his chance to hit the button at the right time. The occupants of the elevator find themselves adrift in space, just in time to see a shuttle that is about to connect with the world’s first space hotel.

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Although this is the sequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” it lacks a lot of the, dare I say it, sweetness of the first book. Where “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a wild journey into a wonderful place, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” seems to have gotten stuck on the wild part. It has all the hallmarks of Dahl’s other children’s books, bubbling enthusiasm, small but clever child, idiotic adults and reams and reams of nonsense language. However, this book is missing some of his usual charm and humour. It definitely doesn’t seem to have undergone the same editorial treatment that the first book did, and there are pages of jokes at the expense of people from other countries.

I don’t remember caring much for this book as a kid, and I didn’t care for it now. Apparently Dahl was working on a third book in this series that was never finished, and I have to say thank goodness. Stick to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, this one is just disappointing.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Continuing with the celebration of 100 years since Roald Dahl was born, and my Roald Dahl read-a-thon, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is book number 5.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl is about a young boy called Charlie Bucket who lives with his mother, father and four bedridden grandparents. The Bucket family is very poor, and after Mr Bucket loses his job at the toothpaste factory, the Buckets start to struggle to afford food as winter closes in. Meanwhile, Willy Wonka, the reclusive owner of the town’s chocolate factory, has announced a contest. Five lucky finders of a golden ticket hidden inside a chocolate bar wrapper will win a tour of the chocolate factory which has been closed to the public and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Little Charlie only gets one bar a chocolate a year when it’s his birthday, so what are the chances he will win?

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“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a classic underdog story about quiet perseverance. Willy Wonka is a cultural icon who will forever be remembered as portrayed by the wonderful Gene Wilder who sadly died this year. This book is fantastically creative and Wonka’s (read: Dahl’s) inventions are wonderfully impossible. Dahl really goes all out on his love of wordplay in this book, and it’s full of songs and poems and funny names for funnier types of candy. One thing that caught my eye, however, was the Oompa Loompas. In the book they’re depicted with rosy white skin and golden hair. This was quite different from my memory of the orange-faced, green-haired dwarves in the 1970s film adaptation, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, the Oompa Loompas were originally pygmies from Africa and were recruited by Wonka as free labour in exchange for chocolate.

Black Pygmy Oompa-Loompas

Ten years and some significant controversy later, this depiction was considered by the publishers to no longer be suitable, so the Oompa Loompas were changed. Although most of his stories have stood the test in time, it’s always good to remember that writers are real people, products of their time, and don’t always get it right.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a timeless story about social inequality with a clear moral that being wealthy doesn’t make you a good person, and being successful doesn’t guarantee you’ll raise your kids well. It’s also a wonderful story about how sometimes you have to suspend logic to enjoy magic.

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The BFG

Today marks 100 years since the famous children’s author Roald Dahl was born. I’ve been on a bit of a Roald Dahl Read-a-thon and I’ve been aiming to read 7 of his books before the anniversary of his birthday. I managed to get through all 7 in the nick of time, and number 4 was “The BFG”. Interestingly, Danny’s father in “Danny the Champion of the World” tells him stories about the BFG, and it’s kind of nice seeing how Dahl’s stories cross over. This book has also recently been adapted into a live action film.

“The BFG” by Roald Dahl is about a little girl called Sophie who lives in an orphanage in London. Unable to sleep one night, she spies a strange giant sneaking around the streets doing something mysterious. Startled about being seen, the Big Friendly Giant snatches Sophie from her bed and takes her back to Giant Land where she makes some terrible discoveries about the other giants. Even though she’s very small, Sophie hatches a big plan and she and the BFG work together to save the children of the world.

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This book is a good companion book to “The Witches“. Instead of grotestque women who hate children, you have giant grotesque men who eat children. Instead of an orphan boy and his grandma who save the day with ingenuity, you have an orphan girl and her giant friend who save the day with ingenuity. Also like “The Witches”, this book (despite being a children’s book) talks about children dying which I found quite confronting. Dahl doesn’t baby his readers. Decisions have real consequences, and this book deals with choices between effective action and ineffective action.

Although perhaps not my favourite of his children’s stories, “The BFG” is a robust, funny and at times serious book about how you don’t have to be big to be a hero.

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