Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: The SockKids Say NO to Bullying

The SockKids Say NO to Bullying by Michael John Sullivan, Alexandra Gold, and Shelley Larkin introduces young readers to SockKids Sudsy and Wooly, their mom Rainbow and baby sister, Sunni. Sudsy and Wooly accompany their human, Ethan, to school, where he meets a new girl, Olivia. Olivia seems like the nicest of friends anyone could want, plus she likes reading, also something Ethan enjoys doing. His attempts to get Olivia’s attention are disrupted by a bunch of bullies, kids who take delight in tearing up other kids’ books, kicking their school bags around, stealing their lunch money, and generally being obnoxious. Can Sudsy and Wooly join together to help Ethan out? Maybe, but first they’ll have to get him to take his socks off…

What a charming story for young readers, and also one that parents could read aloud to young kids before bed time to help alleviate the perennial issue of bullying. I loved the colourful illustrations liberally included throughout to help young readers pay attention to the chain of events, as well as to relate to the characters, both human and … er… woollen. The characterisation is great, with the adorable SockKids coming up with inventive ideas to solve a problem that Ethan and Olivia encounter (rescuing a cat stuck in a tree!).

Something I think parents and teachers will appreciate are the various themes cleverly woven into the story: a sense of community, helping the less fortunate, working together for the good of others, friendship, love, loyalty, and standing up against what is wrong, or actions that hurt others. It takes courage to speak out and say “No” to bullying, but Ethan has the SockKids to help him. A very useful section at the end of the book is something I’d encourage parents, counsellors, and teachers to read as it discusses how to recognise and deal with bullying, giving guidelines for both adults and children. This is valuable information as bullying can happen on a number of levels and in different environments, not just at school.

I enjoyed the positive vibe the whole book exudes, with a joyful and enthusiastic approach to problems that children might feel they can’t solve on their own. And if you’ve ever wondered where the other half of your (perhaps several?) pairs of socks have disappeared to during the spin cycle, there is an answer here. I’d like to think that my socks that have gone missing over the years are off somewhere, fighting against bullying and helping youngsters to stand up for what is right!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: Max's Midnight Adventure

Max’s Midnight Adventure by Wendy Leighton-Porter is a short, delightful story starring Max himself. Anyone who has been following the Shadows From the Past series will, by now, know a lot about Max. A lilac-coloured Tonkinese cat, big boned (definitely not fat), with aquamarine eyes, Max belongs to Jemima and Joe, the twins who’ve been staying with their Uncle Richard after their parents stepped into a magic book and disappeared. They’re not dead, and the twins know this because during their adventures back in time, using the magic book that belonged to their dad, they’ve either caught glimpses of their parents or heard news that they’re alive but have moved on in time. Uncle Richard, a professor of Archaeology and a bachelor, is at a loss as to how to entertain his niece and nephew, but he does his best. Uncle Richard suggests a holiday away down at the coast, in Devon, for a few days and the kids are very excited about the idea, as long as Max can come with.

A holiday means suitcases and they’re in the attic, along with a whole bunch of old boxes, filled with the stuff one usually finds in attics – old toys, Christmas decorations, favourite stuffed animals that no one has the heart to throw out. Max, although short on courage, is long on curiosity and several close shaves during their time travel adventures have done little to diminish his nosiness. He follows Uncle Richard into the attic and does his own poking around. He’s astounded to see the twin’s uncle clutching a shabby old teddy bear and weeping over the loss of his brother, and realises that just because adults don’t say much doesn’t mean they don’t feel sadness. It’s all a bit much for Max who thinks a quick snoozette, while Uncle Richard is pottering about, is in order. As you can imagine, Uncle Richard finishes up in the attic and goes back downstairs, leaving Max curled up inside a box, but there’s someone else in the box as well… How is Max going to get out of the attic? Will he be left there while the kids and their uncle go on holiday?

I love author Wendy Leighton-Porter’s style. In just a few lines of dialogue we meet and get to know a variety of characters, from Colonel Nutcracker (a pompous regimental sort) to Tinkerbell (aka Stinkerbell) who is particularly nasty and sarcastic to poor old Max just because he broke her wand by accident (which could have happened to anyone!), to Action Man who can’t stop flexing his muscles and showing off, to the entire cast of The Twelve Days of Christmas … with the French hens going on strike, the nine ladies getting into a huddle with the football team, to absolute chaos and mayhem. This is a wonderful peep into Max’s life that affords lots of laughs, largely due to the inventiveness of the author, the hilarious interactions between the various characters, and the ultimate charm of Max, the big-hearted (albeit slightly cowardly) hero of the series.