A Taste of Australia – Picture Book Reviews

Summer holidays in Australia is a time to explore, discover and engage in the recreation of all the wonderful features, landscapes, flora and fauna that this country has to offer. And with Australia Day just around the corner, it is also a time to reflect on the past and show appreciation and respect for the way our nation has been shaped. The following picture books include an ode to the sacred sites and traditions of the Indigenous people, as well as some humorous and unique nuances.

Beginning with the multi award-winning title that has the nation on its feet, A is for Australia (a factastic tour) by Frané Lessac is literally a national treasure, with this current edition printed in a beautiful paperback format.
Explore this geographical wealth of gems from A to Z as you travel and learn exciting facts about sights, people and animals around Australia. Each page gloriously illustrated in vibrant, scene-appropriate colours and a perfectly naive style that makes this pictorial encyclopaedia so accessible to all its readers. The text is congruously dispersed and proportioned around the spreads for easy readability.
Amazing and studiously researched facts that will entice international newcomers and excite local citizens to race towards a most pleasurable tour and cultural education of our fascinating land, Australia.

Walker Books, January 2018.

I love the ironically oblivious know-it-all in A Walk in the Bush; an interesting yet remarkably witty bushwalk through nature whilst appreciating the ones we love.
Gwyn Perkins writes this tale with an interactive dialogue spoken by Grandad to cat Iggy that so clearly imitates a typical grandparent (or parent) lovingly and knowingly sharing an experience with his little one. Her illustrations also expressively characterise these personalities and add plenty of humour with their facial expressions and body language and funny little surprises to look out for.
Who will spot the wildlife first? Can Grandad distinguish between the songs of magpies and kookaburras? What will he teach Iggy about trees, eucalyptus leaves and scribbly marks made by a caterpillar in the bark?
A Walk in the Bush is a fun, and funny, way to encourage togetherness and appreciate the enchanting facets of the Australian outdoors.

Affirm Press, July 2017.

Colour Me by Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Moira Court, is a beautiful representation of the amazingly colourful world we live in and what makes us diversely human. Forging a love and respect for the differences in people, creatures and scenery around us is an important message emanating from this story.
Told in a playful manner readers can also be encouraged to imagine their own creatively colourful world by brainstorming what they would be if they were a particular colour. For example, “If I was orange I’d be as wild as the flickering fire. And I’d dash through the bush with daring dingos.” These lyrically whimsical phrases continue with each hue in the shape of a rainbow, illustrated with vibrant silkscreen prints from hand cut stencils.
Tolerance and diversity are at the heart of this tale, with a wonderful Aussie flavour including some of our unique fauna and landscapes. A beautiful read for preschool-aged children.

Fremantle Press, July 2017.

Here’s a gorgeous story of a little girl with a brimful of excuses as to why she can’t go to the park, and a Grandpa with a bucket load of creative problem solving solutions. Sally Morgan expresses The Perfect Thing in the most authentic and evocative language, whilst illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina perfectly captures this lively spirit through her bold and dynamic varied layouts.
When the dog ate her sneakers, Grandpa finds the ‘perfect thing’ for Lily girl with his thongs that can act as whale flippers. When the cat shredded her raincoat, Grandpa suggests that Lily pretend to puff up a plastic bag like a balloon and float to the park. Finally at the park, Lily contributes her own innovative resourcefulness for a ‘perfect’ day out together.
Featuring Australian animals and characteristically artistic Indigenous traits, The Perfect Thing is a refreshing and wonderfully imaginative story for early childhood readers to share with their elders.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

This hilarious rhyming romp sets straight any misunderstandings about the official specification of our beloved national icon; the koala. Jackie French, legendary laureate behind the Diary of a Wombat series, together with talented illustrator Matt Shanks, present this clarifying tale of Koala Bare.
There’s no denying, this koala is unapologetically dead set against being called a bear. And he’s not afraid to express his view. He is not a picnic-loving teddy, nor a bamboo-eating panda, a fish-gnawing polar bear or a honey-sucking bear from a fairy tale. He certainly doesn’t wear clothes. He is BARE, and he is an individual, and that’s the way he likes it.
Koala Bare exposes the most energetically adorable watercolour illustrations and such a headstrong attitude. It is so loveable and persuasive that its young readers will be readily spreading the message to all of their friends.

Angus & Robertson, September 2017.

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The Strays by Emily Bitto

The StraysWho are the strays in Emily Bitto’s literary novel, The Strays (Affirm Press)?

The new Melbourne Modern Art Group tries to set up a bohemian utopia paralleling Sunday and John Reed’s Heide group, or Norman Lindsay’s enclave, on affluent Evan and Helena Trentham’s property during the Depression. Patrick is a stalwart and Ugo, Maria and Jerome are artists who seem to relish the opportunity to receive the patronage, protection and stimulation of famous Evan.

It may be the three Trentham daughters who are most affected by these living arrangements, although the temporary residents take some of the burden off the eldest daughter, Bea, in raising the younger girls. Painter, Evan, and miniaturist, Helena, are neglectfully preoccupied.

A fourth girl, Lily, meets middle daughter, Eva, when she moves to the local primary school. Lily is an only child and revels in the verdant exotica of Eva’s family, home and garden and, especially, of the art. Her own family seems dull and conventional beside the excesses of the Trentham lifestyle and Lily becomes a surrogate daughter, perhaps displacing youngest girl, Heloise. Lily’s relationship with Eva is close, in that first chaste trial marriage between girls. They are bound by bonds of imagination and, in Lily’s case, of some envy. As an observer of this sought-after life, Lily possibly becomes benignly manipulative.Shelley

Artist prodigy, Jerome, loves the work of poet Percy Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and is creating a series of art inspired by Shelley’s work. Like Jerome’s artist community, the Shelleys were part of an intimate circle that included Lord Byron, and Bitto casts allusive ties between these two groups. Jerome shares the poems with Lily but it is Eva who agrees to pose topless for him.Frankenstein

Descriptions of the garden and, particularly, the art are provocative. It is not surprising that politician Robert Menzies and the established arts community of the day viewed these avant-garde artists with suspicion. They were the antithesis of the adored late nineteenth century Heidelberg School of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

Lily relates her story as a girl growing into a teenager but the narrative is encircled by an account of her life as an older woman. Her reluctance to accept an ordinary life remains.

The Strays was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and is recommended for fans of Siri Hustvedt’s exceptional The Blazing World (Septre) and Alex Miller’s, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin).Blazing World