Worrisome wombats, bouncing bilbies and even talking gumnuts may not be your de rigueur when it comes to picture book characters. Yet their antics make up a substantial percentage of picture book storylines and provide vital introductions and links between Aussie kids and our rich, endemic Australian flora and fauna.
Look around and you’ll find dozens of titles touching on everything from spoonbills to fruit bats, puggles to possums and jacanas to joeys. Many are by authors you know and trust offering true works of art worthy of coveting and collecting. Here is a tiny selection of some of the more recent releases.
Perennial author illustrator, Kerry Argent, has a tatty new First Reader series out now tailored for pre-schoolers. Small colour-popping paperbacks perfect for little hands and new readers feature old mate, Woolly Wombat, his bestie, Bandicoot and a swag of other Aussie birds and beasts in easy-to-read adventures. Beautiful introductions to counting, colour, rhythm and language conventions. Scholastic Australia March 2014
Book club nuts along with reluctant readers will adore Margaret Wild’s and Ben Wood’s The Bush Book Club. It has a little bit of brilliance on each page; rhyme, comedy, cuteness, colour and galahs! Bilby sorely needs to slow down and smell the ink but he is too busy and bouncy to read let alone actually enjoy a book until one fateful night he discovers what it’s like for his head to be ‘full of words and stories’. A marvellous look at what it takes to appreciate the wonderment of stories and a must in the classroom and home. Modestly adorable. Omnibus Books March 2014
Rhyming picture books are not always easy to digest (when produced badly), but done well they glide across our palates as smoothly as birthday cake frosting. So it comes as little surprise that Possum’s Big Surprise by celebrated duo, Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft, is a feast for 4 + year-olds and above. Fun, frisky, teasing verse coupled with super-rich, eye-pleasing water-colour illustrations, an Aussie bush backdrop and a perky possum named Flossy, give kids plenty of reasons to keep page turning. Scholastic Australia May 2014
Slightly more serious but quietly impressionable is Karana: the Story of the Father Emu, by Brisbane and Wakka Wakka leader, Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold. In spite of the unwieldy title, this cyclical story is written in simple rhyming verse which unfolds easily leaving the reader fulfilled, enlightened and emphatic towards father Emu as he assumes the role of parent, nurturer, and chief educator for his chicks; just as father figures in many indigenous cultures do. An enjoyable tale to share with children because of its simplicity and heart but it was the emus’ eyes that clenched it for me; cute and clever! Scholastic Australia May 2014
Wombat is your typical underground slumber-champion with a strong predilection for his burrow. He rarely surfaces. When he does he encounters the goodtime antics of his friends, Goanna, Magpie and Dingo but is slow to join them in play until their persistence and kind-hearted surprise re-instates how much they value Wombat’s friendship.
Sounds a little trite and ordinary I know, however Morgan attempts to balance Wombat’s self-depreciating, woe-be-gone attitude with a questioning optimism that he displays by complimenting his friends’ various talents and by trying to replicate them albeit with little success.
I was pleased Wombat’s self-doubt is finally conquered and replaced with a greater sense of self-worth however felt a little muddled by the oscillating attitudes of Wombat’s friends towards him; sometimes generous and grateful, sometimes hurtfully frank. Four year-olds are unlikely to dwell on this (it is after all how true friends can be) gaining immense pleasure instead from Erzinger’s spirited acrylic based artwork. Keep an eye out for the hapless little spinifex mouse on each page too. Gorgeous! Omnibus Books April 2014
Whether these titles stand up alongside such favourites as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Narelle Oliver’s Don’t Let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen! and Fox and Fine Feathers, Yvonne Morrison’s The Emu that Laid the Golden Egg or Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat to name a few, time will tell. But like the tiniest creature in the Aussie bush, there is bound to be a spot for them in your heart and on your book shelves.