Waiting on Mr. Sloth – Katy Hudson

Sasha Patience Pruitt and Mr. Sloth are best friends. In Mindful Mr. Sloth, Sasha learned that if you live your life on fast forward you’ll miss out on the beauty that can be only been appreciated at a slower pace.

Still not one to live up to her middle name, Sasha wants to go swimming and she wants to go NOW! First, Mr. Sloth takes much too long to get ready. Then one thing after another delays their swim. Eventually it all becomes too much for Sasha.

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Sasha finally gets to go swimming but it turns out it isn’t as much fun without her best friend.

I love Mr. Sloth. He’s never in a hurry and he’s a master of mindfulness.

Throughout the story readers see Sasha and Mr. Sloth using different strategies to try to remain calm. These are reinforced at the end of the book, with a list of practical suggestions for when you’re feeling frustrated.

As I’ve come to expect from Katy Hudson’s books, the illustrations are gorgeous. Mr. Sloth is adorable and Sasha is very expressive.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Capstone Editions, an imprint of Capstone, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The sun is out. The temperature is hot. And Sasha has everything packed and ready for a full day of swimming! But Mr. Sloth is taking for-eh-ver! Sasha does NOT like to wait. However, her best friend is never in a hurry. Will Sasha learn to be patient, or will her quick temper ruin a memorable summer outing?

Library Girl – Karen Henry Clark

Illustrations – Sheryl Murray

When she was a child, Nancy was teased about her love of reading. The school library was her favourite place and when she learned about the existence of the public library, entire worlds opened up to her. She devoured everything she could, starting with books about horses.

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With some encouragement from the librarians, Nancy stepped outside of her comfort zone, giving a talk about horses at the library. This is how Nancy found both her confidence and her calling.

Once challenged to write a six-word memoir, Nancy wrote: “Girl discovers books, then discovers life.”

And what a life it’s been. Nancy has won awards and written books. She even has her very own action figure !

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Nancy’s story speaks to the magic that exists in libraries and the superpowers librarians have to change lives.

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More bookish superheroes need action figures.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Library Girl is the inspiring childhood story of how beloved librarian, author, and Seattle icon, Nancy Pearl discovered her strengths and realised her passion. It is a loving tribute to the power books and librarians have to transform children’s lives.

Nancy Pearl loved books and spent so much time in her school library that her grade school classmates teased her, calling her “library girl.” When she discovers her neighbourhood public library is open on Saturday, she begins the adventure of her lifetime. There, an inspiring librarian recognises her abilities, recommends books that ignite her vivid imagination, and provides experiences to bolster her burgeoning self-confidence. As she loses herself in the books she finds herself in their pages and comes to recognise her strengths. Her self-discovery brings a realisation at a young age that she wants to become a librarian so she can help children discover their dreams. 

This young girl, Nancy Pearl, grows up to become “America’s Most Celebrated Librarian,” devoting her life to talking about books up and down library aisles, on radio and television, at conferences and colleges around the world. Ultimately, she authors books about books, believing that reading allows people to find dreams of their own … with the turn of every page.

Beneath the Trees #4: First Spring – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

It’s spring and all Mr Warthog wants to do is pick a bunch of flowers for his son’s mother. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because baby warthog has allergies but Mr Warthog is determined.

In between all of the sneezing, the wonders of spring are also evident. There are surprise butterflies. The kids in the neighbourhood are playing in the sunshine. The flowers are beautiful.

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But then I learned why it was so important for Mr Warthog to pick the flowers and, I’ll be honest, a part of me broke at that point. After having seen other characters in the series frustrated and cranky, I’d expected some emotional component to this story but I didn’t expect to feel so sad reading a book about spring.

Despite the sadness, and maybe even partially because of it, I was able to appreciate the efforts of a father doing his best to comfort and take care of his son.

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Like the rest of the series, the text is minimal in this book. The majority of the story, especially the emotion, is told through the images.

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Being spring, there are plenty of yellows and greens. When the weather and mood change, there’s a darker palette.

Having now made my way through all of the seasons, I’m having trouble picking a favourite. However, I expect this is the story that’s going to stay with me the longest.

Bonus fun fact: Baby warthogs are called piglets.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Winter has thawed and Spring has sprung! The forest is turning green again and no one is more excited to experience it than Mr Warthog and his brand new baby boy who gets to experience the great big outdoors for the very first time!

Where to, Little Wombat? – Charles Fuge

It’s spring cleaning time and Little Wombat has decided he doesn’t want to live in a burrow anymore.

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Determined to find somewhere better to live, Little Wombat sets off on an adventure.

“Can I live with you?”

Little Wombat enthusiastically tries out the homes of his friends, only to discover that there really is no place like home.

As I’ve come to expect from Charles Fuge’s picture books, the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. The colours are beautiful, the characters are expressive and the little details are always worth paying attention to.

I loved the faces of the critters who were being flung from the burrow by Little Wombat’s mother as she cleaned. I chuckled as Little Wombat discovered that the homes of each of his friends were not quite suitable for a wombat.

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Although Charles Fuge is one of my favourite illustrators, this was my first Little Wombat book. I’m more convinced than ever that I need to read every Charles Fuge book.

Thank you so much to Walker Books for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Do Little Wombat’s friends live in more exciting places than him? Little Wombat is determined to find out! But it’s not long before he realises that for little wombats, burrows are simply the best!

A fun-filled tale about being happy with the things you have.

Matariki – Kitty Brown

Illustrations – Kirsten Parkinson

I love learning about different cultures. I’d never heard of Matariki before so I was especially keen to get my hands on this book.

The blurb tells you that it “explores the nine stars of Matariki” but assumes you already know what Matariki is. I didn’t, so I asked Google.

I learned that “Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.”

I found this quote, along with an easy to understand introduction to Matariki.

Armed with this new knowledge, I delved back in. If you already know about Matariki, this book provides readers with specific ways they can honour and celebrate this time. 

The cover image, which represents Pōhutukawa, was my favourite illustration.

I would have appreciated a small section at the back of the book that told me how to pronounce the names of the stars so I didn’t need to rely on Google.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How can we celebrate Matariki? Let’s look to the stars!

Maumaharatia: Remembering our past 
Tiakina te taiao: Caring for our environment 
Te whakawhanaungatanga: Connecting with our people 

Me pēhea tātou e whakanui i a Matariki? Tirohia ngā whetū!

Maumaharatia te onamata 
Tiakina te taiao 
Te whakawhanaungatanga ki ō tātou iwi 

Explore the nine stars of Matariki in rich, detailed imagery and bilingual text. Dive into the meanings of the stars and Matariki itself. Encourage whānau to remember, celebrate and reflect at this important time of year.

Beware, Beware the Drop Bear – Heath McKenzie

Drop bears are the stuff of legends. They’re as Australian as riding a kangaroo to school.

Doing their part to ensure this national treasure never faces extinction, Heath McKenzie takes what Aussies already know about this fearsome creature and runs with it. 

A classic Aussie father, complete with the requisite t-shirt tan line, thongs and propensity to kick back with their feet on an Esky, spins a yarn to a couple of kids. You just know he’s already told this story a hundred times, embellishing it more with every retelling.

The description of the drop bear becomes more outrageous as the story progresses (this drop bear even hands out vouchers for discounts on stuff!). 

Satisfied they’ve done what they can for the day to contribute to their children’s future therapy sessions, the adults have a good laugh. But maybe the joke’s on them…

The illustrations bring the character of the father to life and include some details that I loved, from the Acca Dacca singlet to the Bubble O’ Bill ice cream that’s currently melting all over one of the kids.

As an Australian, I fully endorse this addition to the drop bear legend. It’s fun and it’s silly and I know that I would have wanted to read this over and over as a kid. And maybe as an adult.

Bonus points for being released on April Fool’s Day!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

For many long years, tales have been spread, that fill (mostly tourists) with horror and dread.

Tales about creatures all covered in hair that lurk in the branches – YOU’D BETTER BEWARE!

You’d better look up. You’d better run fast … for maybe the DROP BEARS have found you at last!

Beneath the Trees #3: A Fine Summer – Dav

Translator – Mike Kennedy

You know you’re in desperate need for some childlike fun when you identify with a couple of grumpy old men more than you do some rambunctious younguns.

Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad just want some peace and quiet. Mr. Toad appears to be a bit of a crankypants (crankyoveralls?), upset the neighbourhood kids are making a ruckus this summer. Mr. Owl isn’t having a hoot either.

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At least he has a very relatable reason for needing some quiet time, though. He’s in the middle of a particularly engaging book.

Maybe it’s time for these oldtimers to reclaim some of the joy and innocence of childhood.

This is such a cute series, combining life lessons with humour. There’s minimal text but the illustrations clearly tell the stories. All of the animals are expressive and I love the colour palette.

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Given the first two books in this series were autumn and winter, it would have made more sense to me for the final two books to be released in season order. While the stories are all set in the same world, they can be read in any order. 

I’m looking forward to spring.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Magnetic Press and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s summer, and the laughter of children echoes under the trees. But for some of the older animals, the frivolous abandon of childhood is far behind them. Old Mr. Owl and Mr. Toad get the crazy idea to relive some of their youth if that’s even possible anymore…

The third book in a new series designed to paint a tender and colourful portrait of everyday life, showing that behind every flaw or weakness can lie charm and strength. Readers will recognise their own neighbours, friends, and family members in the endearing animal characters within this forest community. In this third volume, a pair of older animals set out to relive their energetic youth. A heartwarming tale suitable for all ages.

The stories in this four book series take place in the same forest over the course of four seasons. Each can be read independently, exploring the complexity and richness of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. As both writer and illustrator, the author doesn’t rely on text to convey emotions, oscillating between a clever dose of dialogue and wordless passages to makes these stories accessible to young readers starting as young as 5 years old.

Presenting a graphic universe somewhere between Michel Plessix’s adaptations of The Wind in the Willows and the cartoons of Walt Disney (in particular those created by Don Bluth, such as The Rescuers and Robin Hood), Dav gently conveys each season through a changing palette of colours and rounded designs.

Spellbound – Jess Townes

Illustrations – Jennifer Harney

Willow is a magical only child who’s used to having her family’s undivided attention. Then Rowan is born and Willow’s family fall under his spell. 

Willow does everything in her power to avoid succumbing to Rowan’s wizardry. 

But Willow knew her spells wouldn’t last forever.
If she wanted to stop Rowan, she had to take away his magic.
And she knew just how to do it. 

I felt bad for Willow. She’s jealous of her new sibling and the adults around her are so besotted with Rowan that they ignore her. The only attention she gets is negative. When she’s not behaving badly, it’s almost as if Willow has perfected a vanishing act.

Willow ultimately discovers that siblings aren’t so bad after all but it’s probably just as important for parents to read this book so they’re reminded to be sensitive to the feelings of their children when new members are introduced to the family.

Jennifer Harney’s illustrations were really cute. The colour palette is lovely, with plenty of yellows and purples. I loved the way magic was portrayed and could definitely see myself living in Willow’s home amongst the trees.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Union Square Kids, a subsidiary of Sterling Publishing, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A funny, fresh twist on new-sibling relationships and the magic of love.

Willow’s world is perfectly magical, until Rowan is born. When her new baby brother seems to enchant everyone he meets, Willow becomes convinced he is an actual, real-life wizard. Can Willow put a stop to his hocus pocus, or is Rowan’s magic too powerful to resist?

Author Jess Townes brings fresh and expressive writing that’s sure to appeal to young children, while illustrator Jennifer Harney’s unique and colourful art style brings this wonderful, whimsical story to life.

Take a Breath – Sujean Rim

Sometimes something on your do to list starts climbing over all of the other somethings, eager to capture your attention. They think if they’re the loudest and can make you start to panic, you’ll set aside the dozen or so other things that are due first just to silence them. 

Sometimes when this happens, you might forget how important breathing is. But sometimes, just sometimes, life intervenes on your behalf. You pick up a book, look at the title and chuckle to yourself about the irony. This is that book.

Meet Bob, my new favourite feathered friend. Unlike the other birds, Bob can’t fly. Yet.

He doesn’t let being grounded get him down. He fills his time puzzling solutions to age old questions and getting to know the land dwelling locals. Bob also has good taste in music.

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I love Bob’s persistence and the creativity he applies to learning how to fly. Some of Bob’s more humorous attempts at taking flight involve a balloon, slingshot and springs.

Bob might be many things but, like most of us, he’s not immune to self doubt. What are some of the best things about Bob? He recognises when he needs help and is open to trying new things.

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Enter Crow, my other new favourite feathered friend. Crow empathises with Bob and is willing to share what helped them when they were in a similar situation. Crow is patient, kind and encouraging.

Bob and Crow teach (or remind) readers of the importance of mindfulness. By focusing on his breathing (sounds simple until you realise you’ve been either holding your breath or are on your way to hyperventilating), Bob is able to centre himself. 

The lessons in this book are easy to apply and realistic. A couple of really important things happen that make all the difference to Bob. Someone has cared enough to listen to his concerns and validated him, and the breathing technique Crow has taught him has quietened his mind and helped regulate his body. 

Do these things magically solve all of Bob’s problems? No, but he sure is in a better frame of mind to tackle them. 

Sometimes you just have to be grounded before you can fly. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An anxious baby bird who fears he’ll never learn to fly gets a lesson in mindfulness in this funny and sweetly encouraging picture book about believing in yourself.

Every morning, the birds are flapping with excitement for their first flight of the day … except for Bob. Bob doesn’t get the whole flying thing; when the other baby birds go up, up, up, he goes down, down, down. Bob can’t help worrying … what if he never learns how to fly? 

His friend Crow tells him, “All you need to do is breathe, Bob.” Of course, Bob breathes all the time, but there’s breathing and then there’s B-R-E-A-T-H-I-N-G. And it might just be the thing to calm Bob’s ruffled feathers.

A Little Bit of Respect – Claire Alexander

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

The Ploofers are back! And I’m so conflicted.

The Ploofers take their rainbow cloud on an adventure and meet some new beings, whose names I don’t currently know. While they’re visiting, one of their new acquaintances doesn’t respect Little One’s boundaries, doing things like squishing their cheeks and constantly saying how cute they are. 

This makes Little One uncomfortable and angry. I loved how expressive Little One was, their usual rainbow ploof transforming into red squiggly lines.

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I was disappointed that Toasty, who was the first to recognise the beauty of the SHOOF! and was by Little One’s side as they overcame their fear of doing a new thing, was nowhere to be seen when Little One’s boundaries were being violated. I would have gotten over this because even Toasty can’t be everywhere and given what I know of them, they would have been there supporting Little One if they’d known what was happening and the impact it was having on them.

I was so excited when I started this book. I was entirely on board for the Ploofers to tackle consent. I loved that Little One had the confidence to set boundaries for themselves and the courage to speak up when they were crossed. They had every right to expect their boundaries to be respected and it looked as though all would be well.

The one who had made Little One uncomfortable listened when Little One explained how their behaviour made them feel. They validated Little One and apologised to them. 

Then everything that was good about this book and its message was undone in the final three pages and now I have red squiggly lines above my head too. 

I’m sure this is not the message that was intended but one of my takeaways, after all of the good that preceded it, was that even if you’re brave enough to stand up for yourself and set clear boundaries with someone, your voice ultimately means nothing. They’re just as likely to give you lip service and go do it to someone else. This is not okay!

If this book had finished just a little bit sooner, when the air had been cleared and everyone was sitting down for a nice picnic, this review would have been entirely different. I wish it was.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Happy Yak, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this follow-up to the A Little Bit Different and A Little Bit of Courage, the Ploofers are back for a heartwarming exploration of self-awareness and respect.

The Ploofers are visiting a new island and are excited to meet the residents. But when one islander singles out Little One as an adorable cutie pie, Little One isn’t happy and becomes frustrated with the way he is being treated. Will Little One learn to be assertive and stand up for himself? 

With simple, striking illustrations and a cutaway cover design that adds tactile interest, A Little Bit of Respect picks up right where A Little Bit of Courage left off. With a subtle yet powerful message about the importance of self-respect and respecting others, this book will resonate with children and adults alike.