Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Far Beyond Our Imagination – Picture Book Reviews

Reading is a pleasure that allows for a range of benefits – reinforcing critical literacy skills, fuelling the imagination, inspiring empathy, and for the sheer joy. I chose these picture books with the commonality of the out-of-this-world theme, and I love that each one surprises its readers with elements of humour, compassion, relationships and the unexpected! Books can certainly take you to great heights where you can explore much more than initially meets the eye.

imageSpace Alien at Planet Dad, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

A powerful story intertwining the fun of space adventure play with the reality of adapting to family changes. Jake always gets a thrill when he visits his Dad’s place (Planet Dad) every Saturday. The bond between them is extraordinary as they act out a series of intergalactic missions, build space stations and enjoy spaghetti and meteorite sauce on movie nights. Jake is no doubt like many kids who receive special quality time with their fun, single dad. But in truth, life doesn’t stay the same forever. When a one-eyed, green Space Alien is suddenly a permanent fixture at Planet Dad, Jake is, as to be expected, furious. The place now has a ‘woman’s touch’ about it, and no amount of invader-blasting, alien-repelling or meteorite-showering action can force her out. Eventually Jake finds things in common with the Space Alien after a trip to the museum and slowly he comes to accept this new presence in their home.

Space Alien at Planet Dad is a super, highly interactive and energetic book that also deals sensitively and cleverly with changes to family dynamics. It allows its young readers, particularly those in blended families, the opportunities to perceive new situations and household members in a different light.

imageOlive the Alien, Katie Saunders (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Olive the Alien is another story based on the theme of accustomising to new, and strange, beings in the home. Understanding and accepting differences can often be challenging, particularly with no prior knowledge of the subject or their odd behaviour. In this sweet story of a little boy and his ‘alien’ baby sister, Archie eventually realises that her differences are not only endearing, but also that we all have (or had) the same inherent human nature. It’s difficult for Archie to comprehend the antics of his baby sister, Olive. She speaks another language, she cries VERY loudly, she makes a big mess, and she eats the most peculiar things. But worst of all, she makes really disgusting smells. She simply must be an alien!

Olive the Alien, with its beautifully soft, pastel shades and cute illustrations, is a humorous peek into the life of baby behaviour. Preschoolers with younger siblings will most certainly relate, but whether or not they admit to their own once-upon-a-stinky-nappy phase is another story!

imageMilo, a moving story, Tohby Riddle (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016.

Set in the early 1900s in New York, the story of Milo is certainly one of character, survival and good old-fashioned charm. For an ordinary life, Milo’s world is quite extraordinary, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He enjoys singing classics and playing quaint games with his canine pals, and every other day he delivers parcels within the quirks of the busy city streets. Then one day a blow up with his friend leads to a ghastly storm. Whilst the tumult rages inside his head, Milo and his kennel are also physically swept away to a most remarkable place above the clouds. Upon meeting Carlos, a plain-looking migratory bird, Milo’s mind clears and he comes to realise some important things:
1. The world is big and wide and there are many experiences to be had.
2. The power of friendship is strong and is to be valued.
3. Sometimes it takes an unusual, out-of-this-world adventure to understand and appreciate the little things in life.

Deep and profound on so many levels, Milo, a moving story is undeniably moving. From the intimacy of life in a kennel to the wide landscapes and perspectives, collages and real photographs of various locations. From the simplicity of old fashioned games and songs to the high-rising journey to the sky. The old-style sepia-toned hues contrasting with the mixed media cleverly and interestingly add a humble yet juxtaposed perspective. This book offers great scope for primary school discussions about development over time, on both literal and personal levels.

imageMoon Dance, Jess Black (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s another book to move you… Moon Dance is an unbelievably charismatic story to get you physically jiving at all times of the day or night. Rather than reaching out to space, in this lyrical fun-fest the moon comes to you. A group of Australian native animals gather together in Eucalypt Gully for a dance under the dazzling, full moon. Gorgeously hysterical terms and rhyming phrases add to the frivolity of the action.
“Wombat starts a conga, He wiggles his caboose!” We’ve got drunken blue-tongue lizards, clapping paws, cicadas on the timbals, a slow-dancing possum with a goanna, and a spry, moonwalking bilby.

Moon Dance celebrates the joys of togetherness and the wonderful benefits of music and dance. The illustrations are whimsical and lively, bursting with exquisite texture, detail and a glorious Australiana feel. This book will light up the night for children from age three.

imageThe Cloudspotter, Tom McLaughlin (author, illus.), Bloomsbury, 2015.

Sometimes we need someone to point us in the right direction… even if it is in plain view. The view Franklin likes to observe is the one in the sky… the clouds. He, alone, has amazing imaginary adventures with the clouds he spots, including swimming with giant jellyfish, driving racing cars and topping tall castle towers. That is why he is known as The Cloudspotter. But one day when a random Scruffy Dog tries to take his clouds, and ‘invade’ his cloud adventures, The Cloudspotter has a plan to rid the bothersome dog… and sends him off into the outer atmosphere. Soon he realises that what he was looking for wasn’t just the clouds, after all.

There is a refreshing illustrative mix of airy skies and bold foregrounds, with lots of visual clues to add depth and meaning. The Cloudspotter is perfect for preschoolers with wide imaginations, and the openness to the possibility of unexpected friendships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Attributed as ‘a class act’ by The Australian.

Praised by leading industry professionals.

Acclaimed with prestigious awards.

imageHer previous title in the series, Rivertime (review), is the winner of several book prizes, including the Readings Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award, and shortlisted in the CBCA Awards, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and Speech Pathology Australia Awards. Author illustrator Trace Balla has moved us once more with her new graphic, enchanting mountain adventure novel in Rockhopping.

With its sheer gravitational pull, Rockhopping takes its readers to gripping heights (and depths as it turns out!). You’ll discover moments of both unexpected intensity and serendipitous tranquility. Any primary school kid, or adult, excited by the possibilities of a hike through nature (particularly of the more challenging kind), and also those open to fortuitous opportunities won’t be disappointed by this symbolic quest.

imageClancy and his happy-go-lucky Uncle Egg spontaneously plan another camping trip following the success of their last one canoeing on the Glenelg River. Their aim is to find the source of the river. But Uncle Egg knows it won’t be easy so he ensures Clancy is trained and prepared weeks ahead of their journey. Backpacks full of supplies in tow, the pair begin their climb at the side of the Gariwerd (the Grampians) mountain range. Their time trekking around the rocks comes with not only physical, but emotional, strains. Using all their resources they find strength, willpower, companionship and loyalty to face and overcome the setbacks (including a rigorous endurance test by Uncle Egg to rescue Clancy, and his backpack, from a fall into a ravine). But at the same time they lap up the chances to appreciate each other and the wonder and beauty of the creatures and sights around them.

imageTrace Balla‘s text and illustrations are so child-friendly with their progressive narrative, enthralling dialogue and lively sequenced images that it makes us want to have a nature adventure of our own just to be able to document it in the same way! Her research and insights into the Victorian Range region, the Indigenous people and their history, ecologists and her own up close and personal encounters with leeches, swamps and cliffs are brilliantly intertwined into this book. Just like Clancy and Uncle Egg, Balla’s inspiration stemmed out of unforeseen travels and discoveries. Her message is so affecting:

image“When you stop trying to get anywhere and just be, a whole world of wonder can open up to you… The more you look the more you find out. It’s also about realising we are part of the natural world, rather than separate to it… It is a book that reminds us about being in touch with the earth.”

Rockhopping is an enriching, magical delight with endless scope for environmental, social and historical study as well as inciting self-discovery and philosophical reflections. Certainly an adventure you won’t want to miss!

Purchase Rockhopping by Trace Balla, published by Allen&Unwin, 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.

Christmas is Still Coming – Picture Books this Season

Need more Christmas-themed books to keep your little ones entertained this season? Between my previous list, those featured on the Kids’ Reading Guide, and the Boomerang Bloggers fantastic suggestions, you won’t be short for choice of top quality reads to cover all your festive needs.  

imageSanta’s Busy Reindeer, Ed Allen (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2014.

In a similar style to some of his other titles including 10 Cheeky Possums and 10 Funny Sheep, Ed Allen teams up with illustrator Nathaniel Eckstrom to sing us a reindeer tune just like the 10 Green Bottles one. Readers journey with ten fun-loving, and at times obstinate reindeers, with each page turn subtracting one poor deer from the equation. Carrying out all their favourite Christmas pastimes, like ice skating, hanging fairy lights, organising gifts, carolling, baking and decorating the tree, unfortunate (but oh-so-humorous) mishaps lead us down to one, until they all regroup with Santa’s call and they’re off on their merry way.

Bursting with energy, cheekiness and Eckstrom’s witty illustrations, it’s so much fun to see the reindeers’ attempts at productivity the night before Christmas! Santa’s Busy Reindeer will have your preschoolers in fits of giggles and lots of sing-along action.  

imageThe Naughtiest Reindeer, Nicki Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Poor Rudolf is bed-ridden on the night before Christmas. How will the other reindeer manage to pull the sleigh without him? Never fear! Ruby is here! But Ruby isn’t exactly the most obedient of reindeers. Her over-enthusiasm and impetuous nature lead her to all sorts of mischief. Too much for Santa to bear, he heads back to his Mrs, mistakingly dismissing one visited home, and Ruby! How will those children react when they discover their absent presents? Who will make up for the night-time disasters? You will see, a little compassion goes a long way!

You’ll be lolloping along with Ruby’s antics in this gorgeously comical and engaging rhyming story. Young readers will fall in love with this delightful and zealous character, and no doubt will relish the sequel out this Christmas, The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo.  

imageThere is a Monster Under My Christmas Tree Who Farts, Tim Miller (author), Matt Stanton (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.

From naughty reindeer to naughty monster. This one’s exploding with naughtiness and cheek! With foul language and foul smells, a young boy’s Christmas is ruined by the gaseous fumes that pervade his every move. As told in first person in an explanatory style, we learn how the wrapping of presents ritual is infused with bauble bombs, a photo with Santa captures nothing but cloudiness, and Mum and Dad can’t get past his cracking noises and putrid whiffs. But will Santa believe the young boy’s innocence, or will the monster’s true identity be revealed at just the right moment?

If you’re into toilet humour, you’ll love it! There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree who Farts, with its animated, digital cartoons, is certainly not a ‘pleasant’ read, but early primary children will certainly be tooting for more.

Elise Hurst’s Incredible Narrative World

imageIt’s no secret that Elise Hurst is a champion in the world of children’s literature, with over 55 published books to her name, ‘The Night Garden’ being shortlisted in the 2008 CBCA Awards, and her unequivocal skill in fine art, portraiture and landscape artistry. Her works, such as ‘My Boots in Season’ and ‘Imagine a City’, are full of energy, imagination and surrealism, and at the same time touch their audience with their intense, nostalgic and indelible, classic qualities. It is a great honour to have had the opportunity to discover more about Elise’s creative world, and her secrets behind ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ (read my review here)  

imageCongratulations on the launch of your latest picture book release, ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’! Your recent exhibition displayed a stunning collection of your oil paintings from the story. Please tell us about the response you’ve received and the most rewarding part of the whole process.

It was really special to have the book wrap around me in the gallery, and for people to be able to read it as they moved around the walls. By far though, the best responses have been from people being immersed in the text and telling me about their genuine connections to the character. That has been from adults and children alike.  

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is a touching tale full of imagination, reflection, serendipitous and courageous moments that empower change and finding one’s voice. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did it develop?

I understand Adelaide, and I think there is a little bit of her in many of us. She is that person who has a beautiful rich world within her but no one notices. She is wrapped up in loneliness and has turned it into a safe place. She is observant and thoughtful, creative and active but she simply doesn’t know how to reach out to those around her. She grew from the coming together of many things – a painting of a solitary rabbit in a cafe that I created some years ago, a character of a woman striding through a street in New York with a strange huge bird, the memory of being at university before I had made new friends and how lonely that was even though I was surrounded by people. And the movie Amelie was one that struck a chord too, in dealing with a similar character. The more I thought about the character and the source of her isolation, the more she developed into a real person for me.  

How long did the process take from inception to completion? What were the most challenging aspects of creating ‘Adelaide’s Secret World’?

imageSome of the earliest emails I was trading with my editors Erica Wagner and Elise Jones at A&U are from 2011 – so the story has been on the boil for some time. The character was still changing then and the story was quite different. Over the next 4 years we met and talked a lot about what we wanted the story to be and how to make it flow naturally. One of the challenges is to make the story reinforce itself at every turn. Picture books are short so nothing should be wasted. All of the tiny details should support the narrative and should be symbolic in some way – from the colour choices to incidental details. In an early version I had intended that Adelaide would have a red coat hanging on her wall which she wasn’t brave enough to wear until the end of the narrative. However, I changed that to have her wear a red coat throughout the story. This way she was a visual focus, but also it showed that she was the warm beating heart of the story. It was important to me that she was not seen as broken or empty, but that she had so much to give if she could just find a way to speak out. In the red coat she carried all of that imagination and warmth around with her. It was also a nice visual link to the red curtain, itself a powerful metaphor. The curtain changed from being a comfortable buffer between her outer and inner world, to being torn apart and reused as an agent of change and connection when it is pulled into a long strand. This is used to physically connect others in the community, as well as Adelaide, so that when they leave their houses in the morning they follow the red strings and meet each other for the first time.  

I loved creating the paintings, but it was the story that was the biggest and most important challenge. I wanted a story with real heart, not just a lot of nice pictures.  

Your paintings are contemporary yet reflect classic detail in their artistry. Which illustrators have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful artist you are today? How did your path lead you to illustrate children’s books?

I think I looked at people who had certain skills – and it didn’t matter what field they were in. I loved John Singer Sargent for his incredible portraits and use of colour. John William Waterhouse for his accurate but dreamy narrative works. The Lindsays and Albrecht Durer and other etchers for their line and drama. E.H. Sheppard and Beatrix Potter for expressive lines and capturing animal characters…

To some extent I studied them when I was a child, but after that I think I just carried around aspects of their work in my head, just the same as you keep certain music and scenes from films and books, characters you meet and things you witness. They all swirl around together and find their own way out. I was a traditional artist first, before moving into illustration. This was great for assembling the skills I will draw on for the rest of my life as an artist. What that area lacked, though, was story. And once I began illustrating I found the other artwork I was doing to be curiously hollow. I could like it for what it had achieved but I didn’t have the same feeling and excitement for it as I do with narrative works.  

imageYour range of books showcase a variety of illustrating styles, from ink and watercolours to oil paintings, whimsical to soul-stirring. Do you have a preference over which medium you like to use? What is your process in determining which style best suits the story?

I used to change all of the time because I had all of these styles and media at my disposal (because of the traditional art beginnings). Now I have my two favourite styles that I think are the best conduit for my imagination. One is highly detailed and precise drawings in black and white. The other is expressive oil painting. They are opposites, really. Oils are fast and expressive, emotional and dramatic. The drawings are slow and considered, evolving and detail-filled. They are great for expressing completely different stories and aspects of the world I love.  

What does your art studio look like? Meticulously organised or creative clutter?

It has evolved from creative clutter to meticulously organised. I used to love being surrounded by inspirational things, but it got to a point when the functional space in my room was about a third of its actual size. It had to stop. Having kids too, there needs to be one space where I can go that is organised.  

What are your favourite figures / scenes to draw / paint? Why?

I like to draw without an agenda and see what happens. Unplanned drawings where a character finds themself in the middle of an adventure – that’s great fun. All I need is the beginning detail and it just goes from there. My inner child often gets to star there somewhere.  

imageYour writing style is equally as emotive and enchanting as your pictures. How do you get this harmony so aligned? Do you prefer one aspect of the book creation over the other?

I think the writing and pictures are really two hands working on the same task. They may have different things at their disposal but they are always supporting each other. I pay particular attention to the strengths of each medium at evoking the senses and helping us to make connections. So colour has an emotional language for me where cools shades might be sad or reflective, and warm ones are happy or excited or angry. Likewise I’ll describe sound or smell with the words. The more connections we make, the more immersive the experience of reading can be and the more real the story becomes.  

What do you love most about writing and illustrating for children?

I would have to say that I write and illustrate for me. And I sincerely hope that the adults enjoy the books as much as the children.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and illustrators wanting to succeed in the children’s literature industry?

I guess – become good at what you love. Keep learning, keep practising. Go to life drawing classes and get to know the human body. But above all else keep experimenting to find what it is that comes naturally to you and how you can use that strength and individuality to create things that are distinctly yours.  

What are you currently working on? What can all of your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I am completing a few commissions, while I think about the next story. I know it and the main character but I have yet to get anything onto paper. If you have read Adelaide then you have already met him. Next, the Fox gets his story.  

Thank you so much, Elise! Looking forward to Fox’s adventures!

Connect with Elise Hurst at her website and facebook page.

Teaching notes for Adelaide’s Secret World can be found here.

Review – Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst

imageHighly talented artist, Elise Hurst‘s illustrations seem to metamorphose with every title, from fluid watercolours to fine ink lines and bold, sweeping strokes of oil colours. In this latter artistic style, differing to that of some of her other titles, including My Boots in Season and Imagine a City, Elise Hurst has produced an intriguing, heart-stopping new book, its words and pictures working together to take your breath away; it’s Adelaide’s Secret World.

imageShe lives a solitary existence. A life once full of delight and wonders, now, a world confined in glass jars, hidden within a cloak and a red curtain. The town in which Adelaide lives is bustling with movement, but it seems the townsfolk are simply, and privately, just passing through each day. Longing for a connection, a serendipitous moment finds Adelaide at the door that opens her heart and soul to a whole new world full of possibilities. As she finds her inner calm, it is that very red curtain that once blocked her vision that she courageously uses as the missing link. By connecting the torn thread amongst the townsfolk, those who were once lonely and silent, including Adelaide, have now found a voice, and each other.

With her stunning collection of dreamy oil paintings and evocative words, Elise Hurst takes her readers on a soul-searching journey that touches a little piece of all of us. Feeling lost and isolated is not uncommon, particularly in a world of chaos. But Adelaide reminds us that friendship, humanity and self expression can always be found, and celebrated with a little bit of courage and an open heart.

imageThe exquisite mixture of colour, movement, emotion, and poetic softness in both text and illustrations work flawlessly together to evoke feelings of angst, peace, turmoil and calm. Pale yellows and greens in the beginning and end shed light on a world that is safe and comfortable, and becomes brighter even more so as Adelaide’s world is suddenly flooded with energy and an inner peace. The mid-section carries deep greens, blues and greys, signifying this spinning, chaotic whirlwind inside her mind. And throughout the book, pops of red burst with visual warmth, power and imagination.

‘Adelaide’s Secret World’ is undeniably uplifting and visually rousing, a perfect choice for early primary children to revisit over and over again. This book has potential to win awards and would make a gorgeous film. Highly recommended.

Allen&Unwin, 2015.

Click here for more information on Elise Hurst.

***Read my exclusive interview with the talented author illustrator herself! Click here!***

Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love of reading, rhyming, numbers and of course, the celebration of the festive season.

count-my-christmas-kissesCute Book #1: Count my Christmas Kisses by Ruthie May and Tamsin Ainslie.
Another adorable book from the creators of ‘Count My Kisses, Little One’.

”One kiss for baby, under mistletoe. Two kisses for baby, catching falling snow.”  

Baby is lucky to be kissed one time more each page, celebrating a joyous Christmas event or tradition, all the way from one up to ten. With pretty singing voices, toasty fires, busily making paper chains and rides on a reindeer. The children enjoy jingling bells and acting in a nativity play, lighting candles and snuggling tight in bed.  

Ruthie May has beautifully written a gentle rhyming lullaby to warm the heart and settle little ones to rest after a busy day. Including absolutely gorgeous illustrations to match the words, Tamsin Ainslie’s soft watercolour tones and pencil sketches create movement and fluidity, with lovely detailed textures and patterns for extra warmth.  

A counting book full of happiness, love and Christmas cheer, ‘Count my Christmas Kisses’ is perfect for sharing with babies and young children throughout the festive holidays.  

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia October 2014.  

w548932Cute Book  #2: This Little Piggy went Singing by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland.
With a play on the traditional nursery rhyme about the little piggy who went to market, comes the fun Christmas tale, ‘This Little Piggy Went Singing’. It’s the perfect follow on from This Little Piggy Went Dancing’.

”This little piggy went singing
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had noodles
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.”  

The remainder of the book follows this cute rhyme about the five beloved piggies , incorporating funny, action-packed and tender Christmas moments each time.
Some piggies went shopping, delivering gifts, dining with friends, partying, riding and dancing.
Some piggies stayed home to create festive crafts, knit, play with toys, decorate the tree, read, bake and wrap presents.
Some piggies had delicious food, like meatballs, berries, candy canes, plum pudding, fruit and gingerbread cookies.
Some piggies had none.
And some piggies played on their instruments with a ratta-tat-tat, jingle, click, tra-la-la and ho-ho-ho all the way home.  

Margaret Wild so delightfully provides many variations of the song with all the fun, frivolity and excitement of the yuletide, including a universal connection with families celebrating Christmas anywhere in the world. With bold, colourful and oh-so-cute illustrations by Deborah Niland, ‘This Little Piggy went Singing’ is a classic that sure to appeal to the young, and young at heart, for many playful sing-a-long counting games.  

Allen & Unwin 2014  

the-twelve-days-of-christmasCute Book #3: The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
If you’re after a traditional festive song in a book with gorgeous, modern Australian illustrations, here you have it!

”On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partidge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree.”
 

Two children explore a nature park in the bright, sunny surrounds, discovering our beautiful wildlife and other kids playing as they progress from day one to twelve. What a ripper finding the four calling birds being laughing kookaburras, the five golden rings being cheese ring snacks and six geese laying in a native wetland scene. It’s bonzer watching eight little girls as maids milking the baby animals and ten school boys playing leap frog. With the final two days full of musical festivities, the crowd have an ace time celebrating a warm, Aussie summer Christmas together.  

Karen Erasmus’ soft watercolours, pencil lines and pastel tones perfectly suit the movement and activity of the park scenery, as well as the peace that this traditional song allows us to feel. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a lovely book to share with family members during the holiday season.  

Hachette Children’s Books 2013  

More great picture book recommendations still to come, perfect for gifts or just because we love children’s books!

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