Category Archives: Children’s Books

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

Somehow, I never read this book when I was a kid. I’m not quite sure how this happened. It was first released when I was 11 years old, around the time the Harry Potter books were gaining traction, and I was a big reader. I think I had heard of them, but maybe I thought they sounded a bit childish, or maybe they sounded needlessly grim. Either way, I missed the boat. Now, you may remember that some years ago a film adaptation was made starring Jim Carrey. I remember watching it and being quite underwhelmed, and the film was not memorable at all. However, recently a new TV adaptation has been made starring Neil Patrick Harris. It’s available on Netflix, it’s gotten really good reviews, so I figured the time was nigh for me to give this book series a go before I watch the show. Canty’s had plenty of copies in stock, and the hardcover editions have really cool roughly cut page edges that add to the ambiance. Also, if you watch the show before reading the book – be warned: there are spoilers in the first episode that aren’t in the corresponding book.

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“The Bad Beginning” by Lemony Snicket, is the first book of 13 in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series. The story introduces the three Baudelaire children. 14 year old inventing genius Violet, 12 year old bibliophile Klaus and baby Sunny who is good at biting stuff. When the children receive the terrible news that their parents have died from the executor of the will, Mr Poe, they are sent to live with their distant relative Count Olaf. It’s not long before the children cotton on to Count Olaf’s nefarious plans to steal their inheritance.

I think the first thing to say about this book is that it is definitely a book for children. I’m pretty certain that if I had read this book as a child, I probably would have gotten a lot more out of it. Snicket has a that glib style of writing that I remember finding very funny as a kid. He uses lots of “big” words but explains their meaning in a careful way without being condescending. He also gives plenty of examples of the children being independent and being able to capably solve problems, do chores and cook. I think this is a quirky, educational book that would probably be a good gateway book to get reluctant readers reading. However, as an adult (especially an adult that studied law), it’s a bit hard to suspend disbelief enough to really immerse yourself into the story. A big piece of the plot hinges on a “law of our community” that itself is completely implausible in both it’s text and application. I also found the sheer incompetence of the adults (particularly the judge and the banker) to be really annoying. I know this is a bit of a trope in children’s book, but their collective ineptitude was just a bit much.

A solid children’s book that would be perfect to help kids improve their reading, but probably a bit of an eye-roller for parents.

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Five go on a Strategy Away Day

I got this little book as a Christmas present this year, and I chuckled to myself at the title. Clearly a spoof on Enid Blyton’s “The Famous Five” series, it was a tip of the hat to the fact that since I started my grown up job, I now get to go along to corporate training sessions.

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“Five go on a Strategy Away Day” by Bruno Vincent is one of the new “Enid Blyton for Grownups” satire series that rewrites “The Famous Five” books with the characters now adults dealing with modern issues. George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy the dog have been summoned by the multinational corporation they work for to attend a day of team-building activities to a hotel in the countryside. There their team is put to the test while they compete with other teams, including a particular team made up of seven, to win a prestigious award. However things don’t go as planned, and there seems to be something sinister going on.

This book looks a lot like the “Ladybird Books for Grownups” series that came out a while ago, so I was expecting it to be more of a book full of classic style illustrations with hilarious captions. Instead, it actually was just like an Enid Blyton book. I think there is a lot of nostalgia value to this book, and I think that anyone who works in any kind of big organisation can probably relate to the kind of team dynamics that are explored in this book. Vincent captures the tone and spirit of Blyton’s stories, with a twist of modern sophistication. However, although it’s quite clever, it didn’t quite elicit from me the scandalised giggles that the “Ladybird Books for Grownups” series did.

This would make a good office waiting room coffee table book or a fun Kris Kringle present for a colleague.

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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.

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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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