A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Under the Christmas Tree Part 4

It’s time for some fun fiction for kids. This little cluster of Christmas inspired picture books is sure to generate a smile or two and plenty of sage head nodding, perfect for slipping under the Christmas tree.

christmas-at-homeChristmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson

I adore the homegrown simplicity juxtaposed with the bustling busy detail Dawson’s illustrations project in this seasonal picture book. Saxby’s narrative is snugly woven to fit the meter of O Tannenbaum however instead of endless verses about pine branches, it’s the lines applauding classic Aussie Christmas lunching and community Christmas light displays that demand your cheery attention. From decorating the tree and touring the neighbourhood streets in search of the most  razzle dazzle to squeezing around the table and forcing down a feast, Christmas at Home is a jazzed up observation of a typical Aussie silly season enjoyed with those you love… at home.

The Five Mile Press November 2016

pig-the-elfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Oh dear, he’s back and behaving badly as per usual. Resounding full marks for this festive episode of the world’s most self-centred pooch. Pig the Elf is a hilarious cautionary tale of greed and arrogance vs compassion and gratefulness. Blabey’s lilting and often times, cutting verse is almost of sing song quality, the carolling type no less (I had to hold myself back) and puts readers nicely in a ‘night before Christmas’ mood. Pig wants stuff for Christmas, lots of stuff and is not shy about slugging old Santa up for it. He does get his just desserts in the end although I’m not sure if he requested them as part of his kilometre long Wish List and I’m not altogether convinced he will mend his gluttonous ways; which I guess bodes well for future puggish adventures. Unbridled fun for pre-schoolers, pug lovers, and kids with Christmas lists that may warrant a hefty bout of structural editing.

Scholastic November 2016

the-naughtiest-reindeer-goes-southThe Naughtiest Reindeer Goes South by Nicki Greenberg

How can you not love a picture book with real snow and ice on the cover? Well at least that’s what the cover of the latest joyful instalment from Greenberg feels like. This type of tactile teasing instantly puts readers in the mood for some frisky frolicking about with Ruby, the naughtiest reindeer on Santa’s team. She and brother, Rudolf are bickering over sleigh-lead-pulling rights until Mrs S steps in and awards both of them poll position in the sleigh line up. Ruby however is having none of it. She swoops and swerves rebelliously, eventually causing sever upset and capsizes the sleigh. Stranded in Antarctica, Ruby has to overcome chilling reality and hostile penguins to make amends and deliver Santa’s presents on time. Greenberg’s rippling verse and super jolly illustrations transport young pre and primary school readers on a glorious special-delivery ride.

Allen & Unwin September 2016

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-rainAll I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward

Two front teeth. A hippopotamus. A visit from Old St Nick. Not a lot to ask for, so why not some relief from the crucifying clutches of drought? Jane’s Christmas wish is about to take on a dramatic realisation. She lives with her farmer parents in Australia’s drought stricken Outback.  One day she makes the long trek into town to see Santa to place an extra special order with him. It’s not toys and presents that she yearns for as she counts the sun shot days down to Christmas morning. When it dawns, magic rains forth.

Brooke’s soulful text expresses the exact type of childlike innocence that allows such magic to spill into our lives. Believe, hope, and wish hard enough for something and it will eventually come to pass. If only that were true for our farmers.  Still, this picture book sings hope. Forward’s stunning watercolour illustrations drag us from bone dry dusty paddocks into mud-splattered pastures. Her end pages depict the stark before and after contrasts that epitomises our harsh Australian climate with such eloquent beauty, it will make your heart dance for joy, too.

At a time of year where in many parts of Australia, holiday cheer withers under the savage heat of summer, All I Want for Christmas is Rain is a timely reminder of the spirit of Christmas with a stout-hearted nod to those amazing Australians who feed us, the farmers. Evocative and poignant.

New Frontier Publishing November 2016

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017For more cool gifts for kids this Christmas check out Romi Sharp’s recommendations and Cait Drew’s list for older readers, or visit the Kids Reading Guide, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Indie Book Awards 2016

Charlotte woodThe 2016 Indie Awards presentation, hosted by Allen & Unwin in North Sydney, was filled with warm goodwill, packed with authors, booksellers, publishers and industry professionals.

Independent booksellers do an incredible job in reading and hand-selling Australian literature. They ensure that excellent books that could otherwise be overlooked, reach readers – and these books often go on to become best sellers and recipients of literary awards. Indie bookstores are regarded with great affection by authors and publishers, as are the staff of Leading Edge Books, led by Galina Marinov, who organise the awards.

Some former Book of the Year winners are The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Bush by Don Watson and Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.

The Indies are the annual vanguard awards and give a strong indication of which books are valued by both the experts and readers. The awards began in 2008 and are growing in stature. In a mark of esteem by the industry, booksellers announce the winners in each category.

The 2016 Fiction winner is Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things (A&U), which I reviewed here. This portrayal of women who have been involved in sexual scandals and are mysteriously incarcerated in the Australian desert is generating vigorous discussion with readers. It is a unique and important novel and it also won overall Book of the Year. Elegant Charlotte Wood was clearly moved in her acceptance speech, recognising the encouragement of booksellers during her career and regarding the award as a high honour.

Magda Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning (Text Publishing) won the Non-Fiction category. There is much to ponder in this well-written book, including the impact of what happens in childhood on the years that follow: particularly in Magda’s case, the secret of her sexuality. Having a father as an assassin is also a fascinating angle.

Salt creekDebut Fiction was won by a very appreciative Lucy Treloar with Salt Creek (Pan Macmillan) from a strong field which included Rush Oh! and Relativity and the Children’s award was won by the prolific Aaron Blabey with The Bad Guys Episode 1  (Scholastic), a change from his extremely popular picture books such as Pig the Pug (which was shortlisted last year).

A new category this year is the Young Adult award. It is certainly worth separating this category from Children’s. The inaugural winner is the very deserving Fiona Wood for Cloudwish  (Pan Macmillan). See my review about Cloudwish in the Weekend Australian: Cloudwish

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/ya-fiction-fiona-wood-rosanne-hawke-julie-murphy-rebecca-stead/news-story/adcead8f4a48206533f04d6789984d1f 

Both the Australian and the SMH reported on this year’s Indies Award.

And more can be found about the Indies Awards here.

Thanks to all the organisers and those involved.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Winning Pets – Picture Books of Animals

From egotistical and obnoxious, to intelligent and in desperate need of affection (and food), our furry pals have differing needs and talents but we just love them no matter what! The following picture books are bound to surprise and delight your little ones with their humorous, sweet and heart-warming antics that only our beloved animals can offer.

imageRemarkably Rexy, Craig Smith (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2015.

Rex is the proudest, most majestic and self-absorbed cat in town. For years he’s owned the streets – well, Serengeti Street. His incessantly groomed appearance, captivating dance steps and poses have been the biggest attraction amongst the kids passing by. That is, until Pretty Pamela steals his thunder with her elegant prancing. What follows for Rex is just like a series of unfortunate events that leaves him looking a bit less than perfect. Has he come to the realisation that maybe the fuss isn’t worth all the effort?

Craig Smith‘s watercolour and pen illustrations are characteristically warm and hilariously energetic. And in his debut as an author, he also successfully brings us a charming and skittish story. There’s something very visceral and real about this vain yet likeable cat, and the other irritable animals, that makes this book so relatable.

‘Remarkably Rexy’ is a fun, delightfully comical and engaging story that preschoolers will be giving prominence to over and over again.

imageOur Dog Knows Words, Peter Gouldthorpe (author), Lucy Gouldthorpe (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Some pets are brilliant and shine in their own way. From cats to dogs, in ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ this clever family pet can definitely impress. From simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘shake hands’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’, to more complex tricks like ‘roll over’ and ‘scratch’, this playpul pup always obeys. Well, maybe not always! I love how this dog is such a loved and integral part of this household. From bed jumping to car rides, cat chasing and beach time frolics, this pup is having a ball.

This is a beautifully simple, and ‘waggish’ story of a word- and fun-loving canine companion. The equally endearing and uncomplicated line drawings and coloured patterns make ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ a clear, light-hearted book. It’s also terrific for encouraging young children to value and appreciate our faithful furry friends.

imageWombat Wins, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.

Speaking of champions, two in the children’s literature field are the superlative Jackie French and the prolific illustrator, Bruce Whatley. They have teamed up again for the next winning wombat book in the series; it’s ‘Wombat Wins’.

While Mothball is up to her usual cheeky capers of wanting (and demanding) carrots, she also happens to be competing with a group of small, athletic humans to be the first to reach her prize. This determined, robust character takes us through an energetic, fast-paced and amusing romp. I love how she speeds across the uncluttered landscape pages in her characteristically melodramatic style. The simple, punchy language is the perfect match for this fiesty but adorable creature.

Preschool aged children will no doubt be racing to savour ‘Wombat Wins’ as much as humanely (or wombately) possible. It really is a winner!

imageI Need a Hug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

From winning wombats to winning hearts, Aaron Blabey once again seduces us with his charming story and its theatrical satire. Although not your common type of pet, this sweet little hedgehog starving for a cuddle is certainly irresistible. Unfortunately, this is not true for Lou the rabbit, Ken the moose and Moe the bear who don’t fair kindly to this poor, prickly creature. But when hedgehog feels all hope is lost, the story closes in a satisfying way…with a bit of a twist!

Blabey presents this story with his typically expressive rhyming couplets, farcical scenes, tongue-in-cheek humour and intense-looking characters. Always a winning combination throughout his books.

‘I Need a Hug’ oozes tenderness and kindness. It shows us literally (check the endpapers) that negative feelings can be turned into positive ones by perhaps taking a risk and offering a gesture of peace. Even towards the most unlikely of friends. It’s an adorable book of learning compassion and receptiveness in a cute and funny way, as well as being the perfect bedtime story when you can steal a few extra hugs and kisses!

And for more reviews on amazing animals check out Dimity‘s recent line up of picture books here.

It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

Review – The BAD GUYS Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey

the-bad-guys-episode-1Admittedly, I’m a picture book fanatic, but I’m also an Aaron Blabey fan so I wasn’t going to let a 137-page chapter book with colourless illustrations stop me from exploring it. In fact, it made no difference to my level of reading pleasure; ‘The BAD GUYS’ is highly interactive and witty and kind of like a long picture book anyway.  

Characteristic to his style, Aaron Blabey has written a story with his slightly sick sense of humour, subtle message, clever use of language and with a twist on the expected. In eight hilarious, yet intense chapters, we join this mob of dangerous, dubious characters on their quest to take over the world. No, seriously, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Piranha are not as menacing as you might think. Actually, they are simply MISUNDERSTOOD. Actually, they want to be HEROES.

carThrough informal language, Mr. Wolf introduces the reader to each member of his gang; the accused ‘villains’, trying to prove their innocence. Funnily enough, there’s the occassional hiccup. His efforts are constantly challenged by his starving pals wanting something more wholesome than a little cupcake. Plus, it doesn’t help his case having Suspect Rap Sheets typed by the Police Department showcasing their criminal activities on display for all us readers to view.
So, Mr. Wolf proceeds to indoctrinate the crew into his Good Guys Club. Still not convinced, the gang set off in their ‘fully sick’, flaming cool car to rescue a kitty in a tree…with some ‘cat-astrophic’ results (don’t worry, the cat was not harmed).
Next on their mission, Mr. Wolf plans a 200 puppy rescue from a maximum security dog pound. What happens next is like a twisted fairy tale meets a twisted ‘Jaws’ movie. As if the illustrations weren’t comical enough, this whole scene is absolutely hilarious! And as if there weren’t enough surprises, is it a coincidence that our not-so lovable little Pig the Pug is found imprisoned in one of the cells!

4C44DAE3CC68D0F21D9C2E3183C7FD64613ACASo, do they turn out to be the type of heroes they had hoped? How do the gang feel about being ‘good guys’? Stay tuned for their next jaw-dropping adventure in The Bad Guys: Episode 2!

With its obvious references to traditional fairy tales and well-known ‘notorious’ personas, the plot is mostly straightforward, the language uncomplicated, and the humour dry, but also leaves room for readers to make inferences on the consequences of their actions and predictions for future episodes. The black and white illustrations actually suit this shady crowd perfectly. Being such a lively story as it is, a literally dull tone brings the levels to a perfect balance. Needless to say, Aaron Blabey‘s animations are completely satirical with their comic-style sequences and regular in-your-face boldness of big-eyed expressions and large, bouncy font.

‘The Bad Guys’ is a laugh-out-loud, unputdownable read with totally convincing edgy and quirky characters, sure to be a hit amongst 6-9 year old early readers.

Scholastic Australia, 2015.

View the book trailer here.
Visit Aaron Blabey’s website.

Review – Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-fibberPig the Fibber, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, May 2015.  

Okay, Pig fans! He’s back! And he’s up to a whole lot of mischief…again!  

aaron blabeyAward-winning author / illustrator, Aaron Blabey, is renowned for his ability to create books with clear morals, but particularly his distinguishable style of outlandish characters in farcical situations…mostly self-inflicted! You may notice this theme in such books as ‘The Brothers Quibble’, ‘The Dreadful Fluff’ (reviews here), ‘Thelma the Unicorn’ (Dimity’s review), and our beloved (or maybe not-so) ‘Pig the Pug’.  

We first got to meet Pig as a most greedy and selfish little Pug, refusing to share with his sausage dog flatmate Trevor, and even going as far as spitting and name calling. Once again, in ‘Pig the Fibber’, Pig is just as maniacal with his protruding eyeballs and lunatic behaviour! This time, he has learned something, and it’s not a valuable lesson. It’s how to lie… big, fat lies!  

pig the fibber spreadLiterally marking his territory; that is, this book, the naughty little canine has set the tone from the outset. Pig loves to get his own way, and he’s perfectly comfortable hand-balling the blame onto his trusty victim – Trevor. He attacks pillows and smears dog food on the living room mat in a wild stupor. He breaks delicate household items in a crazed hula romp. He even tears up a wedding dress…just for fun. But Pig confesses – it was all Trevor. With absolute disregard for his flatmate’s feelings, Pig ‘lets off’ the biggest lie to be able to sneak into the cupboard to steal more food. Luckily, one dog is rewarded with the treats he deserves…and it ain’t Pig. Who knew a hard knock would see Pig wrapped up in his own head of truths?  

Again, just like in the first book, brilliantly hysterical and energetic illustrations that are so characteristically Blabey are expressed in ‘Pig the Fibber’. Be aware of facial expressions to sympathise with Trevor, as the text is so focused on Pig’s actions. The animated rhyming text seems to roll off the tongue. Perhaps it’s slightly easier to read than ‘Pig the Pug’, and it’s equally enjoyable but a hint more crude.  

We thought that Pig had changed his insolent ways last time, and he has since proved us wrong. Will he taunt us for a third time with more disturbing antics? Let’s hope so!

With another clear moral in being truthful and honest (or lack thereof), ‘Pig the Fibber’ is an inexorably amusing and crowd-pleasing book for children of all ages.  

Scholastic, May 2015.

Review – Thelma the Unicorn

We’re all familiar with the theme of acceptance and being content with whom and what we are. It’s been relayed a thousand ways, right. But have you ever discovered self-worth with the aid of a carrot? Thelma has.

Thelma the Unicorn Aaron Blabey’s dazzling new picture book, Thelma the Unicorn not only deals with this theme in a fresh, clean, pink unicorny way but it has a sparkly front cover to boot; guaranteeing extra eye-appeal.

Thelma is a little ordinary pony who yearns for loftier heights. She dreams of being a prancing, pampered unicorn, the sort that never goes unnoticed. She believes this will elevate her into special-dom.

Her best mate, Otis tries to convince her otherwise. ‘You’re perfect as you are,’ he insists. But Thelma isn’t having a bar of it. When she spots a carrot on the ground, ideas of grandeur and transformation take serious hold and after a truck incident involving pink paint and glitter, she reinvents herself as, Thelma the Unicorn.

A shimmering star is born Thelm illo spreadas she sashays before a world that quickly becomes obsessed with her glamour. Intoxicated with her newfound fame, Thelma laps up the attention.

However, with great recognition often comes diminished privacy as Thelma soon discovers. Adoration rapidly turns into possession and Thelma’s life just as wildly slides out of her control. Until that is when one night she can no longer stand the isolation of fame and makes yet another life-altering decision.

Aaron BlabeyI truly love Blabey’s rendition of this tried and tested theme. The lilting rhyming text lopes along at a much more satisfying pace than Pig the Pug did for me (apologies to any Pug fanatics). It is a real pleasure to read.

I have always been a fan of Blabey’s bulbous-eyed human depictions as well, but really enjoyed the simple, long-lashed beauty of Thelma and Otis, who sit harmoniously alongside his quirky human character illustrations.

Tongue in cheek humour pops up regularly in the text and illustrations throughout Thelma’s foray into fame-dom, which helps to point out to young readers that all things that glitter are not necessarily that attractive in the long run and it’s okay being who you are even without a horn stuck on your head. Thelma the Unicorn is the perfect kind of ‘special’ to share with three-year-olds and above.

Feel good and funny.

Out this month and available, here.

Scholastic Press February 2015

 

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

Aaron Blabey’s Lessons With a Twist

Aaron Blabey Aaron Blabey is an actor-turned children’s author and illustrator, having great success with award-winning books including Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, and Pig the Pug, which is becoming one of Australia’s best selling picture books.

Fortunate to have Sunday Chutney as the chosen book to be read in schools for Read for Australia during National Literacy and Numeracy Week this year, Blabey’s fortune continues with an estimated 500,000 children simultaneously reading The Brothers Quibble for National Simultaneous Storytime in May 2015!

His books are frequently becoming more welcomed into our household, with their strong sense of morality, sick sense of humour, a touch of darkness and bold, energetic illustrations that leave us wanting more! Here are a few titles to consider adding to your reading list.

the-brothers-quibble The Brothers Quibble
When baby Bunny is introduced is when Spalding’s world falls apart. With a hint of delirium and eyes as big as saucers, the oldest boy feels something called ‘utter and complete jealousy’ creep up from somewhere deep inside. And a WAR has erupted in the Quibble household!

Spalding goes on to cause absolute havoc, only to be sentenced to Time Out in his room. And as baby Bunny starts to grow up, he learns valuable lessons in self defense. But behind every taunt, quabble, whack and scuffle, Bunny still has nothing but love to give.
Eventually, Spalding’s frozen heart is melted and the brothers begin to actually like each other. Even if it’s not always sunny!

Delightfully dramatic illustrations are cleverly depicted through accentuated, crazed facial expressions and moody dark backgrounds. But at the same time there is a nice softness in the colour palette during those ‘loving’ moments.

The Brothers Quibble, a story of relationships, acceptance and jealousy, contains just the perfect amount of humour, touching moments and wickedness through its flowing, rhyming text that will capture all readers from age four, and particularly for those who understand the complexity that is sibling rivalry.

22735715 Pig the Pug
You can’t go past this eye-bulging, squashed nose little pug that graces the front cover of Aaron’s Blabey’s Pig the Pug.

From the onset, we learn just how greedy and selfish this dog is, as he has already claimed the book as his own on the ‘This book belongs to…’ label. True to classic tantrum behaviour, Pig blatantly refuses to share anything with friendly sausage dog, Trevor. A kind gesture by Trevor sees Pig the Pug completely ”flip his wig”.

Just like in The Brothers Quibble, Pig goes delirious and maniacal, showing that same crazed expression and shameful, immature temper as Spalding Quibble.
Pig doesn’t learn his lesson gently. Should we laugh at his misfortune? Ashamedly, yes. With a distinguishable reference to the phrase, ‘When pigs can fly’, Pig the Pug cannot and receives his just deserts, which only turns out to be sweet for one… Trevor!

Pig the Pug is delightfully told in fun, exuberant rhyme, with vivid, amusing illustrations.  A wildly funny read and a clear lesson in learning to share, suitable for all ages.

9780670075997 The Dreadful Fluff
This book is absolutely terrifying! But once again, Aaron Blabey has been able to leave us deeply affected by the experience, yet still wanting to relive it over and over.

Belly button fluff… absolutely dreadful! Serenity Strainer, who is little miss perfect, has found some… in her own belly button!

” ‘That can’t possibly be mine!’ she said.”

Sounds pretty harmless so far? Wrong!
The tiny fluffball turns into a horrific, teeth-gnashing monster, taunting Serenity, creating havoc and threatening her family. As each member of the family encounter the ball of lint, they are instantly engulfed and the evil thing grows larger and fluffier and even more dreadful. Finally, with some smart thinking by Serenity, the fluff monster is sucked into oblivion and everyone is saved.

Characteristically Blabey, his illustration style is amusing, quirky and bold, whilst delightfully and cleverly incorporating a clear moral. Lots of devastingly frightening fun for all ages.  

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August – celebrating children’s books

Pig the PugAugust is an important month for Australian children’s books because the CBCA Book of the Year is announced on 15th and National Literacy and Numeracy Week is held from 25-31 August.

The aim of NLNW website, as stated on their website is:

National Literacy and Numeracy Week represents a collaborative approach by the Australian Government and school communities to highlight the importance of literacy and numeracy skills for all children and young people, with a specific focus on school-aged children.

The Week gives schools the opportunity to be involved in a range of literacy and numeracy activities. The Week aims to recognise locally the achievements of students and the work of teachers, parents and members of the community who support young people to develop stronger literacy and numeracy skills.

One of the literacy activities is Read for Australia. This is a simultaneous read where groups from around Australia read the same book on Friday 29th August at 2pm EST. A video of the book with Auslan for the hearing impaired, captions and a transcript will be released a week before the read.

The book selected for 2014 is Sunday Chutney, a picture book by Aaron Blabey. This book looks at friendship and what it’s like to be different. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards as well as the CBCA Picture Book of the Year. I was Queensland CBCA judge at that time – and thrilled that it was shortlisted.

Sunday Chutney

Teacher Notes for a range of ages is available on the NLNW website.

I’ve written notes for Years 5-6, which include a focus on the ‘panelling’ (a feature of graphic novels and some picture books) in the illustrations.

The author of Sunday Chutney, Aaron Blabey is a talented man. Some may remember him as the award-winning TV star of the political satire The Damnation of Harvey McHugh. He is a visual artist (much of his work is strictly for adults not children, though!) as well as a respected and popular writer and illustrator of a plethora of children’s picture books.

His most recent release (July 2014)  Pig the Pug is published by Scholastic Press. This is a very funny rhyming story about a selfish pug called Pig who won’t share his toys with his flatmate Trevor the sausage dog. This leads to a dire but hilarious comeuppance. Blabey’s illustrations have a distinctive style. His characters frequently have wide, puppet-like faces with popping eyes. He often uses a predominately brown palette, which sets his books apart from the pack – and works! He is a fitting ambassador for NLNW.

Review – The Dreadful Fluff

Oh my. Watch out. Belly button fluff is not reserved for the hygienically-challenged, no no. Even pink and perfect peeps like Serenity Strainer find the odd thatch of fluff in said navel – and sometimes, just sometimes, that little thatch can be . . . queue dramatic music . . .

Evil!

That’s right. Meet Serenity’s evil belly button fluff. He’s bad and he’s hungry. And every time he ingests something, he grows exponentially. First, it’s the cat. Mm-mmm. Delish. Then it’s Mum. The only thing left are a pair of pink fluffy slippers.

Next it’s Serenity’s pimply older brother, Tug, headphones and all. Then, the Fluff sets his sights on the baby.

Nooo! Can Serenity stop that nasty ball of crud in its tracks?

Aaron Blabey’s characteristic dark, dry humour shines in this fabulous, action-packed and monsterly new picture book. His writer’s voice is yet again original and utterly child-friendly – with plenty of kid-guffaws guaranteed.

Kooky, vibrant illustrations round out a brilliant new addition to your picture book collection. Be prepped for repeat bedtime reads.

The Dreadful Fluff is published by Puffin.