Review: The Queen’s Handbag by Steve Antony

An illustrated tour of the UK.

Publication date: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Hachette Children’s

The Queen’s Handbag is the fantastic sequel to The Queen’s Hat. However, this time, instead of chasing the Queen’s belongings around London, there is a royal tour of Great Britain. The result is a hilarious – and educational – book, with so much to dwell on at each wonderful double spread.

A swan stealing a handbag might not sound like a premise for a book, but when the handbag belongs to the Queen of England it’s a whole other story. The pursuit of the bag allows the reader to follow the Queen throughout the UK, stopping off at famous landmarks as they go. The different modes of transport the Queen uses to go after the swan are ingenious, and as much a source of interest as the places she sees.

Antony’s illustrations are unmissable. They really bring the book to life, and the police chase gaining on the thieving swan is a joy to watch unfold. The landmarks are drawn simply but expertly, and the composition of each spread is a work of art.

I recommend this book mostly to UK readers, but there’s no reason why a curious child living elsewhere wouldn’t enjoy it. It could definitely be a great introduction to the UK if you’re planning a trip there. Overall, it’s a really enjoyable book which can be read again and again.

 

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Review: The Search for the Homestead Treasure by Ann Treacy

Excellent historical fiction about a little-known Minnesota community.

Publication date: 19th May 2016
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

The Search for the Homestead Treasure spans two generations of Swedish immigrants to the US. Combining the carefully researched history of this community with that of the Romani Gypsies in the area – all under the auspices of a mystery story, the novel is ambitious and it pays off.

Treacy is evidently psychologically astute, tuned in to the actions and fears of a young girl from centuries ago. The extensive explanatory epilogue is a perfect conclusion to the book, as the reader is able to delve deeper into the reality of the characters. Treacy admits to autobiographical elements – which arguably give the work its distinct air of authenticity – as well as the extent of her poetic licence.

The Gunnarsson family are also sensitively presented, as they deal with the grief of losing a son and brother. The theme which underpins the reader’s growing relationship with the protagonist, Martin, is subtly expounded and fascinating to follow. It blends beautifully with the discoveries he makes about the family’s past, and its intertwined destiny with the eponymous Homestead.

I recommend this novel as a first foray into historical fiction. Especially interesting as a glimpse into rural life in the early 20th century, as well as as a mystery. The social issues raised by the depiction of family are also worth taking into consideration.

Review: Never Insult a Killer Zucchini by Elana Azose & Brandon Amancio, and David Clark

A brilliant first dip into science fiction (and fact!).

Publication date: 9th February 2016
Publisher: Charlesbridge

Never Insult a Killer Zucchini is a highly enjoyable read, with complex double spreads that invite poring over every detail. It provides a balance between the fantastic and the educational picture book by depicting ‘mad science’ with a firm base in reality. All this, whilst being a terrific reader experience.

The book follows a loose plot line, where a Killer Zucchini is entered into a school science fair. The science teacher is then followed around the fair by said zucchini, which oscillates between love and a desire for revenge – apparently Mr Farnsworth enjoys eating zucchinis more than being their friend!

The true charm of the book lies in the witty one-liners between characters and the fantastic illustrations of the science fair entries. Following abecedarian sequence (apologies, I love that word) it takes the reader through the science fair entries, all of which correspond to real experiments or scientific concepts, which are explained at the  end in more detail. The dialogue is clear and entertaining, presented in the wonderful magical realism of picture books, where the most dangerous things are approached with ironic calm.

The illustrations are on-point and humorous, with excellent attention to detail and  brilliant interplay with the text. Clark has obviously worked closely with the writers in order to create the chaotic scenes and includes a few entertaining references which will appeal to the adult reader as well as the child. The entire book is bursting with the vitality of its engaging illustrations.

I would recommend this picture book to as many people as possible. I cannot imagine a child which will not enjoy it, especially if they are interested in science. It will also appeal easily to children on the higher end of the age bracket for picture books. For adults, I think it is a wonderfully light and amusing read, which also serves an educational purpose – I, for one, never knew about the Eraser Beam! Definitely one to look out for.