Keep Calm and Embrace Challenges – Picture Book Reviews

For young children, and their parents, keeping calm is an important skill, particularly in noisy, excitable and sometimes stressful situations. Learning new exercises, growing independence and changes in family dynamics are some examples of times where patience and acceptance are absolutely essential. Here are a few picture books that demonstrate the skill in embracing challenges and remaining positive. And this goes for bubs and their mums! These books also highlight the important roles of our engaged, busy, guiding, and patient (!) mums and other special persons. Lovely books to share on Mother’s Day, and everyday to master those routines!

It doesn’t get more relaxing than a yoga session for little bodies and little friends! Yoga Babies by UK’s TV and radio presenter, Fearne Cotton, is a delectably pacifying experience that encourages strong and healthy minds and bodies for all ages. Sheena Dempsey perfectly demonstrates the art of movement, position and vitality when it comes to the illustrations. And the combination of words and pictures beautifully promotes audience participation with their variety of active role modelling guides.

We meet many yoga babies and their diverse families throughout this romping, rhythmic, straightforward text that connect to one another with a series of poses. Each spread is different with a culmination of family-friendly settings and pets, which help to demonstrate the given skill. For example, a dog accompanies Rex as he makes the ‘downward dog’, two mice appear with Tom and Sam’s dormouse pose, and Emily stands tall and straight like a tree in her garden. By having adults feature alongside the babies, the book encourages their initiation for a fun, calming family activity, as written in the forward message.

Colourful, cheeky and soothing, Yoga Babies is a refreshing and engaging delight of a book that children from age two will be pro-’posing’ become an habitual routine.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

“In a little pink house on the edge of the town lived a baby who made some unusual sounds.” This is the opening line of Alison Lester’s rollicking, bumptious story, The Very Noisy Baby. A cacophony of sound effects proceed in this lively narrative with a tiny bub and her enormous voice box!

Coco the zoo keeper is looking for her escaped tiger, and when she hears a GROWL! coming from the little pink house she assumes it’s there. “No”, says the mother. “We just have a very noisy baby.” A hilarious string of animal onomatopoeia follows as more people search for their missing pets, only to discover it is in fact the very noisy baby. The layout of illustrations is perfect with vignettes of the house and the scouting people (Alison, as Frances the farmer, and her dog Bigsy, appear in there, too!) on one side, and a dedicated page to the small baby on the next. Lester then showcases her much-adored watercolour and line artwork as full spreads when all the people come together to find the lost creatures. And there they appear, just as our little noisy baby calls them out one by one.

Brimming with lyrical repetition, animal sounds, active encouragement and plenty of jovial humour, little ones from age two will be giggling throughout and getting carried away with the surprises jumping out at them. The Very Noisy Baby is the perfect read aloud that also reinforces the themes of working together, animals and families in the most eye-pleasing, positive and captivating way.

Affirm Press, November 2017.

Wittingly taken from the popular song / game, ‘Skip to My Lou’, this title is just as naughty and delightfully fun. Skip to the Loo! A Potty Book is a whimsical play on words that rhyme and a learning skill that all toddlers achieve, all in a lively game to the potty. With bouncy text by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and the iconic style of illustrations by Guess How Much I Love You’s Anita Jeram, this little board book couldn’t get much cuter.

A group of forest friends are attending a party, with Bunny in the lead to find his potty. A subsequent line-up of animal attendees join in, each one with a personable character of its own. We’ve got a lonely dodo, a smiling frog on tiptoe, a ballerina elephant, Lord and Lady Huff-Puff, a naughty big fat monster, plus more. Each line ends in a rhyme to ‘loo’, with some gorgeously inventive terms like ‘Wibbly Woo’ and ‘stinkaroo’ to add to the leisure. Their destination expels a highly amusing tone with everyone on their assortment of different shaped and sized potties (’POO! POO! POO!’), and there’s even another little encouraging surprise on the last page.

Skip to the Loo! is the ideal book for toddlers to hold, sit with and read whilst gracing the little throne in comfort and calmness, reassurance and joy. A life-saver for weary mums!

Walker Books UK, Feb 2018.

Monster Baby by Sarah Dyer captures a little piece of a young child’s thoughts and feelings when a new baby enters his or her world. All the trepidation, jealousy and sometimes disappointments that can exist when focused attention and family dynamics change. This young, orange, horned monster has plenty of questions running through his mind as he narrates the story in first person. Dyer cleverly weaves in a child’s perspective as her character attempts to grasp the concepts of Mum’s growing belly, why she rests so much, eats too healthy but doesn’t get any thinner, and can’t pick him up anymore. But there are positive aspects, too, like seeing the baby on the ultrasound and the excited anticipation of its arrival. The confusion continues when monster baby is born, like why the boy needs to be quiet when the newborn can make a lot of noise. Eventually, he adapts and grows to love his baby brother, as most older siblings do.

Dyer’s characters, whilst monsters, are nothing but gentle and friendly creatures, illustrated with uncomplicated line drawings and added textural and collage media for warmth and familiarity.

Highly relatable and witty, Monster Baby is perfect for preschoolers as an encouraging book on being open with their questions and feelings yet seeing the positive side to adapting to change. Perfect also for mums expecting bub number two!

Otter-Barry Books, April 2017.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Mother. The person who mothers you, nurtures you, Band-Aids your grazed knees and kisses you to sleep at night; the person who is always there to listen to you, has cuddles to spare, and tugs you back in line when things go askew deserves every ounce of recognition and celebration we can muster. These next few picture books do just that and more. Sit down with your mother, child, or grandchild this Mother’s Day with one of these touching picture books.

Marvellous Mummy by Katie Poli and Giuseppe Poli

Discovering the creative picture book chemistry of a new picture book team is akin to embarking on an exciting new adventure for me. When the team is a husband and wife collaboration, the intrigue doubles. Marvellous Mummy is the first creation of Katie and Giuseppe Poli and manages to tick many of my ideal picture book boxes. It’s bright and breezy in appearance, possesses narrative that is succinct and able to endure the rigors of repeated reading and evokes warmth and identifiable situations that even very small children can recognise and love.

The narrator’s mummy, represented as a capable, caring and sometimes feisty she-elephant, is many things, just like real-life mummies. She is silly and fun and goofy at times. She is not beyond being rambunctious and playful, sneaky and knowing and sometimes grumpy and grouchy, either. However, she is always kind and loving and of course, the best mummy of all because she is yours. Katie’s repeating phraseology and use of strong verbs to emphasise this mummy’s characteristics and engagement with her offspring provide the opportunity for little readers to interact and anticipate her qualities. This prompts them to recognise the same qualities in their own mothers, perhaps encouraging them to search for more.

Giuseppe’s illustrations are playfully exuberant. Each page is awash in pretty pastels creating a soft, gentle mood that is both childlike in appearance yet focuses powerfully on mama elephant and her child. Mummies are not perfect every minute of the day nor are they invincible but they are strong and beautiful and capable in every conceivable way in the eyes of their young children. Marvellous Mummy portrays this simple concept well. A delight to share with pre-schoolers and to remind all those mummies out there how special they are.

New Frontier Publishing May 2018

Continue reading Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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