Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.

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Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

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Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

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Curious Concepts – Concept picture book reviews

Concept picture books play a huge part in shaping a young person’s perceptions. They are capable of unlocking an inquisitiveness that hopefully sticks around for life and are crucial for developing critical thinking, reasoning, and logic. However, important educational concepts need not be strictly didactic and dull as these entertaining picture books clearly display.

Garden FriendsGarden Friends by Natalie Marshall is a Touch and Feel board book, sturdy and bright in appearance in the same vein as the That’s not my… series. This one directs 0 – 3-year-olds to experience their tactile investigations within a garden setting using short verb orientated phrases – ‘Duck is quacking!’ It’s joyous and sensual and a nice shift from the usual ‘touch and feel’ concept.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Counting Through the DayCounting Through the Day by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro escorts pre-schoolers through a typical day from sunrise, to breakfast, to visits with Nanna and finally back off to bed. Along the way, our young protagonist gently encounters many fascinating objects and situations from two sturdy feet to five broody hens and even ‘thousands of raindrops falling from the sky’. And as children are wont to do, they count each and every one of them.

Hamilton’s gently rhyming verse and affecting choice of counting objects harness a child’s every day pleasures, highlighting the world around them: their toys, meals, the weather and so on. Numbers 1 – 11 are shown numerically and in words while Pignataro’s combination of drawn, painted, and collage illustrations are simply marvellous. The end pages alone will provide hours of delight and interest.

Counting Through the Day is as much about story as it is about learning to count. I love that readers are taken past the obligatory ‘10’, and are introduced to 11, 20, hundreds and even millions, exposing young minds to a universe of infinite possibilities. Easy to grasp and absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE 2016

For someone whose spatial awareness is not as sharp as it could be, the next two picture books are a real boon. They encourage an understanding of the relationship of objects to oneself and in ones world in a clever and entertaining way that ensures high levels of reader investment and interest.

The Shape of My HeartThe Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring Illustrated by Alys Paterson is a board book sized banquet of colour, shapes, and rhymes; images guaranteed to captivate 0 – 5-year-olds. This is no ordinary ‘this shape is a…’ book. It expands the notion of appearance and form by depicting the most obvious shape to start with – you and me. From there, readers are shown the various shape of parts of our anatomy (eyes, mouth, feet) the environment in which they live (sun, houses) and those shapes that inhabit the world with them (birds, vehicles, creatures in the zoo) and so on. I love how the shape you can hear with (ears for instance) leads to a myriad of other shapes that make up our existence. Sounds confusing to describe but not to behold and read thanks to Paterson’s cheerful and shapely illustrations. Reminiscent of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? in parts, The Shape of My Heart combines visual literacy, introduction of sounds, and rousing vocabulary whilst neatly implying that everything that shapes our lives fits within our hearts and you can’t get any more spatial than that. Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury for Children February 2016

What Could it BeWhat Could it Be? by Sally Fawcett is a fascinating picture book initiative combining the best bits of storytelling, creative stimulation, and subliminal learning. Displayed in complementing double page spreads, Fawcett gently introduces young readers to some well-known geometric shapes and colours. Pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers may already be loosely familiar with shapes such as circles, ovals, and even octagons. They are probably discovering the mysteries of an artist’s palette, as well but in What Could it Be?, they are challenged to delve deeper, look more closely and investigate the world of possibilities surrounding them.

With the help of, a young boy named Max, readers are prompted to answer the ‘what if’ inspired notion to think outside of the box and tap into their creative souls. Each page of story is gloriously illustrated by Fawcett who cleverly secretes dozens upon dozens of obviously hidden aspects in each scene to be discovered by roving little eyes. I say obvious because this picture book adventure serves to show that every conceivable form, colour and object in our worlds are there for us to find if we just look hard enough and perhaps use a little imagination.

Children will delight in the seek and find quality of What Could it Be?. In addition, this book has far-reaching usefulness in homes, schools, and early learning centres. I see a future for it in home schooling, too as it fosters a genuine exploration and appreciation of the world around us. At the book’s conclusion, children are invited to go one-step further and are encouraged to think, experiment, create, and share for themselves.

Unleash your child’s creativity with this one!

EK Books June 2016

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Children with Anxiety – Picture Book Reviews

Often it is our differences, fears and anxieties that contribute to our feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. It is common within our society to feel out of place or lack self-confidence. But you know what? That’s OK! Maybe it just takes a little time to warm up, to find your feet and be ready to tackle the world. Understanding and accepting oneself can often be a process that takes maturing, and a gentle and sympathetic support system can be a vital part of that growth. The following two books deal with these tender matters in beautifully delicate and encouraging ways.

imageThe Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribe Publications, 2015.

A sensitive young boy named Alfie feels the weight of the world on his shoulders as he struggles with social anxiety. Naturally, he’d rather hide than face performing as Captain Starfish in the upcoming fancy-dress parade. Those all-too-familiar feelings of nervousness that he has experienced before return. Admitting his fear of failure to the cowboys on his wallpaper is scary enough, but how will his Mum react when he tells her he can’t go?

Well, Mum (and Dad) are gratefully understanding. In fact, Mum takes Alfie to the aquarium instead. The underwater world is beautiful and wondrous, but upon spotting a starfish, just like his costume, he feels that heaviness weighing upon him once more. Fortuously it is a little shy clownfish that he connects with who shows him that it’s alright to wait in the wings (or coral, so to speak) until the time to emerge from the depths feels right.

imageDavina Bell’s genuinely heartfelt and beautifully written text so effectively relates Alfie’s fears and nightmares in an empathetic, delicate manner. Equally, Colpoys‘s exquisite illustrations with their soothing blues and greys and pops of neon orange, and the fantastic use of space and perspective add that perfect depth of soul and vulnerability.

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ speaks into the lives of many children facing anxiety. A poignant and enchanting tale set to add a little sparkle and illumination to the more sensitive souls of this often daunting world.

imageBeing Agatha, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Here we have another reserved child fearing the judgement of others. But just like it did for the boy in Davina Bell’s book, it takes time and encouragement for this character to truly realise what makes her an individual and thus overcome her internal struggles.

We are immediately drawn in with a pertinent discussion topic. First we see that Agatha’s parents are of an inter-racial (or inter-specie) communion, and that Agatha is centred at this somewhat of a divide at family get-togethers. Then there’s the fact that her likes and abilities seem less impressive than others’ – another reason to feel a sense of lack of worth. So Agatha decides that hiding from her classmates is the solution, until she realises that she’s more important than she thinks. With a little reinforcement from her teacher, Agatha’s friends are able to rattle off a number of traits that make her special. But they all agree, “no one else is a better Agatha than you!”

imageWhilst Anna Pignataro‘s simple narrative relays Agatha’s worries about her lack of belonging, it is her pictures that form the basis for its interpretation. Anna’s language is sensitive and gentle, and her illustrations support these qualities unequivocally. The grey tones of the charcoal render the story’s restrain and softness yet carry a sense of similarity amongst the characters. And it is the pops of watercolours and collage elements that give life, spirit and individuality to each of them, too. A wonderfully eclectic mix that this book highlights of difference as well as belonging.

‘Being Agatha’ is a modest, sweet and intriguing story lightly addressing feelings of anxiety with a reassuring touch that a range of young children (and species) between 2 and 6 will be able to relate to.

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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

 

 

Baby Love Picture Books

When our little ones begin to show a curiosity for the world around them, this may include exploring nature; its particular features, elements of growth and change, as well as discovering their own individual attributes and the differences in one another. Understanding and appreciating these fascinating aspects can be facilitated through gentle and nurturing guidance, and what better resources to do that than loving parents and delightful picture books?! Here are three beautiful stories that look at unique qualities and special bonds, just right for toddlers and preschoolers.  

imageHush, Little Possum, P.Crumble (author), Wendy Binks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

To the classic tune of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ comes a beautiful Australian version of the lullaby, ‘Hush, Little Possum’. Equipped with a CD recording sung by well-known Indigenous actress/singer, Deborah Mailman, this book/music combo doesn’t get more engaging.

Mama possum is gentle, reassuring and loving, but she is also little possum’s beacon of safety with her unrelenting courage and astuteness. Keeping her precious bundle sheltered from rumbling, wet skies, and gushing floods, to noisy and dangerous structures, Mama’s instincts are unsurpassed.

Absolutely gorgeous multi-textured, earth-toned illustrations of these sweet sugar gliders reflect both the sense of security and nurturing qualities emanating from the song, but also our unique Australian features and landscapes of rusty tin sheds, expansive crop fields and eucalypt trees sustaining the forces of an outback storm. Aimed at reinforcing affectionate bonds between mums and bubs, it’s pure and authentic; ‘Hush, Little Possum’ is perfect for toddlers as a bedtime treat.  

imageOur Baby, Margaret Wild (author), Karen Blair (illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.

‘Our Baby’ maintains a unique stance, spoken by the older sister who portrays a range of babies and their families in varying shapes and forms. From typical nuclear families (like hers), to single and same-sex parents, babies with distinctive qualities (like tiny shrimp toes and dandelion hair), babies on adventures to shops and playgroup, and those performing different talents and cheeky behaviours. Each time, the girl reflects on what makes her own baby so individual, forging their special bond with one another.

With large font and an energetic, rhythmic tone, Margaret Wild‘s text is age-appropriate, warm and playful that makes for an easy, enjoyable read. Karen Blair‘s characteristically gentle and pronounced illustrations beautifully reflect the richness, diversity and idiosyncrasies of families and in particular, babies.

A special book for babies that celebrates how life is truly unique for everyone.  

imageOur Love Grows, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Following on from the completely divine ‘How I Love You’, another babylicious book by the irrefutably talented Anna Pignataro is ‘Our Love Grows’.

Once again, the maternal bond between mum and baby is explored, this time through reflections on precious past moments. Little panda, Pip ponders; ‘Mama, when will I be big?’. In comparison to their natural world around them, Mama gently guides Pip through the processes of growth and change. She reminisces about the time her little one was tiny; how the stars were just a few, his footsteps so small, his toy Birdy all new and Blanky so big. Mama explains that as nature and Pip have grown, so has her love for her curious child.

The browns, blues, greens and golds in the watercolour and pencil illustrations beautifully reflect the natural, oriental-type settings and the cycle of the seasons, and the warmth and tenderness associated with this loving relationship. Anna‘s text equally suits this affectionate tone with its rhyming and first-person language, enabling its readers and listeners to connect with the story and with one another.

Featuring soft and magical images, with a gentle and sweet storyline, ‘Our Love Grows’ is a lyrical, soothing book perfect for sharing with children from age two.

Musical Book Beats for Little Ones

Music and books have many benefits in common for a baby’s long-term development. Learning about patterns and sequencing, counting, memory, expressing language and emotions are all powerful advantages to being exposed to these experiences. And when combined, this makes for a most engaging, dynamic and instrumental union. Here we explore a few upbeat and rhythmic books for toddlers and preschoolers that are sure to have them bopping away to their little hearts’ delights.  

Fish jamFish Jam, Kylie Howarth (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.  

Who doesn’t love a scit-scatting-dooba-diddling jazzy sea-minor fish? Unfortunately, all the creatures in the sea. Toot the fish beep-bops his way around the ocean, only to be shooshed by grumpy seals, lobsters, penguins and killer whales. He is just too noisy. But one day he comes across a most unexpected surprise that changes his solo singing days forever!
‘Fish Jam’ is such a fun way to explore music through the instrument of your voice. Author / illustrator, Kylie Howarth has produced a bubbly and entertaining story through her minimal text and vivacious cartoon-style pictures.
Preschoolers will be ‘o-fish-ally’ overjoyed to chant along with Toot for plenty of pipe sessions, no matter who’s listening!  

Children's+Book+Review,+B+is+for+BedtimeB is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.  

Here we have a beautiful lyrical lullaby that sings us through an alphabetical routine from awake time to catching zzz’s. A little girl and her puppy dog settle for bed with the help of their loving family. A Book read by dad and a ticking Clock on the wall, “Dd is my Dog, who’s not sleepy at all.” Gran gives a Hug and mum gives a Kiss. The Moon shines on her Nose. Eventually she is Quiet and as she goes to Sleep, she cuddles her Teddy Under the covers, Yawns and hushes until morning.
Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are as sweet and harmonious as the gentle tempo of the words. I love the fluidity of the watercolours and gouache and the patterns of the collage.
‘B is for Bedtime’ is perfectly paced to soothe young ones into a cosy slumber, to be enjoyed each and every night.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

Baby BeatsBaby Beats, Karen Blair (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

Toddlers will love joining in to the rhythm and beat with this group of young children playing on their instruments. ‘Baby Beats’ immediately sets the musical tone, inviting the readers to make sound with their hands and feet. We explore beats and booms on the drums, bangs and clashes on the cymbals, tapping sticks and the chick, chick, chick of the shakers. All the strumming and singing eventually exhausts these tiny superstars as they lay down to rest.
Gorgeous, soft crayon and watercolour paintings set against white backgrounds effectively gives focus to the performances of the characters. The little details in the pictures like the funny actions of the cat, and the additional ‘home-made’ instruments also lend themselves to further enjoyment and ideas on creating your own music at home.
‘Baby Beats’, with its inclusive onomatopoeia, is a perfect book of sounds and rhythm and the introduction to a range of musical instruments.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

51wdwNe+JBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Chooky-doodle-doo, Jan Whiten (author), Sinéad Hanley (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

This one’s not musical as such, but is ideal as a preliminary to finger games and songs about numbers. ‘Chooky-doodle-doo’ is a whimsical counting story with some rhyming elements to keep little ones joining in all the way through. One chick finds what it thinks is a worm and gives it a good tug. Enlisting the help of another chooky chick, the pair huff and puff, struggling to get this worm free. The story continues with subsequent numbers of chookies pulling on a continually elongating worm. Five chicks and a rooster cannot shift the stubborn squirmer, and with a final flop and a chooky sprawl, they discover that the worm is not actually a worm afterall!
Adorable, funny and interactive. With colourful handcrafted and digital illustrations, young preschoolers will love the humour and playfulness of these cheeky chooks.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Susanne Gervay’s Elephants Have Wings

susanne-gervay-2010Susanne Gervay is an award-winning author, speaker, recipient of the Order of Australia and all-round dynamo. She rushed into my life last year at the Central Queensland Literary Festival. I had the pleasure of sharing an apartment, and lots of stories with Susanne during our week-long visit to schools in Rockhampton and Emerald. Her energy was infectious whether we were visiting schools, snorkelling at Great Keppel Island or discussing stories.

Today she joins me to chat about her beautiful new picture book, Elephants Have Wings, which explores the humanity in all of us. The book is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro, who has created more than fifty books for children. 

JF: Congratulations on your new picture book. Tell us about the inspiration for Elephants Have Wings?

Elephants Have WingsSG: Inspired by my journey to India and South East Asia where I spoke in Delhi, Goa and Singapore, I returned imbued with the cultures and spirituality of India and Asia. I experienced the Baha’i Temple in Delhi where I was part of a service under the open-air lotus roof of the temple. Five young people read from their holy books from five different faiths.

I also became aware of mystical stories. One was the parable of the blind men and the elephant which is part of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism. Another was in Hindu mythology, that during the monsoon rains which refresh the earth, the clouds are regarded as the wings of elephants.

Young people today are overwhelmed with media reports of terrorism and religious conflict, and it is time to reach out and create a safer world for our kids. Elephants Have Wings came out of this. It would be a gentle, nurturing picture book celebrating family, inter-generational story, beliefs in a world that is both beautiful and threatened, opening discussions of harmony, inclusion and peace.

As the daughter of refugees, action for inclusion and peace are personal. I was privileged that Anna Pignataro, also the daughter of refugees, would go with me on this journey.

JF: This is your third picture book. What appeals to you about this type of writing?

SG: I used to write poetry as a child and also adult. Writing picture books is like a return to this old love. An idea grabs my mind and heart, and with careful words laden with meaning, character and narrative, I use this spare form of writing to create story.

Gracie and JoshHowever the real gift of writing picture books is working with a talented illustrator. Anna Pignataro and also Serena Geddes (illustrator for Gracie and Josh) bring their narrative story to my words, making the picture book richer, expanding and extending ideas, bringing in their own narrative as well.

JF: It’s your second book with illustrator Anna Pignataro, can you give us an insight into that relationship?

Anna Pignataro and I collaborated closely on both Ships in the Field and Elephants Have Wings. Both are very complex books thematically. Ships in the Field is about a refugee family finding home, while Elephant Have Wings is the search for truth and harmony.

We discuss every aspect from ideas, design, symbolism, colour, characters, without constraining each other’s creative style. It is a wonderful collaboration.

JF: Apart from being an immensely successful writer, you are also heavily involved with literacy organisations and foundations. What is the reason for this?

SG: So much of what I write and do are driven by my refugee background. I deeply understand disempowerment. Without literacy there is little hope of a future. I am very proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room to Read which has reached more than 9 million children in the developing world with literacy. My 4th and final I AM JACK book – called BEING JACK partnered with Room to Read to advocate for literacy for all children. I am also proud to be a Role Model for Books in Homes which takes books to indigenous and disadvantaged Australian children.

Being JackJF: Most of your work has a deeply personal side. Do you ever worry about sharing too much of yourself?

SG: I have great respect for young people who feel so much but have little experience or power to deal with life’s challenges. When I inform my books from personal experience, I risk criticism. That hurts sometimes. However, young people sense truth in what I write, and they find friends in my books, their own answers and pathways forward. They are worth the risk.

JF: What’s next for you? I know you’ve been working on a film script. Can you give us any details?

SG: I have contracted with the wonderful TV producer who did ‘Round the Twist’ and Animalia’. However that will take several years to eventuate.

However the adaptation of my I AM JACK into a play by Monkey Baa Theatre has been extraordinary, touring across Australia and the USA since 2008. There will be another Australia wide tour in 2015 and a USA tour. I was on part of the USA tour this year which was hugely successful and a great experience where I spoke to many thousands of kids and teachers about I AM JACK, did a lot of media and hung out with the Monkey Baa theatre team.

My new project is a children’s series called The Tales of Harry at The Hughenden Hotel. Since my children grew up in The Hughenden and I have spent so much of my life here, there are so many funny, sad, moving stories to explore.

JF: Thanks for visiting, Susanne, and good luck with Elephants Have Wings.  The Central Queensland Literary Festival crew

www.sgervay.com

www.sgervay.com.com/blog

In Rockhampton: Michael Gerard Bauer, Elaine Ouston, Krista Bell, Julie Fison, Meredith Costain, Judith Rossell, Royce Bond, Susanne Gervay, Paul Collins and Kevin Burgemeestre. 

Julie Fison writes for children and young adults. Her books include the Hazard River series for young readers, Choose Your Own Ever After, a pick-a-path series that lets the reader decide how the story goes, and Counterfeit Love for young adults.

 

 

 

Magical Moments for Mum – Mother’s Day Reviews

Dear Mums, whether you begin it with burnt offerings and flowers in bed or embark on a 24 respite from the usual onslaught of bickering and demands, you are celebrating Mothers’ Day because you are part of one of the most magical clubs in the world. The following assortment of picture books, all out now, encapsulates that magic. They are in equal parts cute, absorbing, whimsical and funny.

 

How I love youYoung children under five are well catered for. How I Love You by Anna Pignataro (Scholastic Press, March 2014) oozes tenderness and charm. What it lacks in narrative depth is more than compensated for by the understated beauty of Pignataro’s glorious illustrations. Children will enjoy mimicking the high-lighted prose as they visit a diverse collection of Aussie animals at bedtime, each revealing by their actions just how they love their mummies. Sweet and perfect for bedtime togetherness.
Mummy You're Special to MeSimilar in design and content is Laine Mitchell’s and Kim Fleming’s, Mummy, You’re Special To Me. (Scholastic Australia, April 2014). Again this is less of a story and more of an exploration of the divine diversity and uniqueness of mummies all over the planet.
Little Giraffe thinks his mummy is super special because she’s ‘kind’ and ‘strong as a knight’. As he navigates through life, he discovers a universe of other mummies each with their own special qualities. My favourite encounter was sipping tea with Little Camel’s hip and groovy Gran.
Some of Mitchell’s rhyming verse felt a little off key at times but Fleming’s adorable, multi-technique illustrations were special enough to send me right back to the beginning to enjoy it all over again.

Hootie the CutieHootie the Cutie (New Frontier Publishing, April 2014) by Michelle Worthington and fresh newcomer to the children’s book scene, illustrator Giuseppe Poli, could as easily be enjoyed by dads and grandparents but deserves special mention here, because what mum does not welcome a little dragon magic in her day?
Worthington weaves a winsome, whimsical woodland tale about an owl, small in stature but large in heart and spirit, and brave beyond all measure as it turns out. Poli completes the very pleasing tapestry with illustrations that will enchant the pants off you.
Hootie the Cutie reminds us that sometimes loving (our children) is about allowing for growth and letting go while simultaneously showing pre-primary aged children that independent thought and actions are qualities that can shape and strengthen who you really are. Highly commendable.
Jam for NanaNanas are high-profiling a lot these days and little wonder when grandparents make up the highest proportion of informal childcare in Australia according to (AIFS)* statistics; so Deborah Kelly’s and Lisa Stewart’s, Jam for Nana (Random House Australia, April 2014) is destined to be a generational crowd pleaser.

This picture book delights on many levels; from its dustcover-covered, recipe-book shape and size to its comforting unrushed rhythm and wholesome narrative. It is a book you’ll want to treasure, or at least share with your little one and their significant grandparent. Told from a little girl’s point of view, it highlights the special bond between her and her grandmother and centres on her desire to recreate ‘real jam’ for her nana.
It reminded me of a time in my childhood when backyard apricots tasted like ‘the warmth of a hundred summers’ too and life was full of substance so pure and thick and wonderful, you could ‘hold it upside down and shake it’. Stewart’s divine illustrations and Kelly’s shared pancake ritual make this one very special picture book.
Nurturing and snuggling are all well and good but bringing a smile to mum’s face is perhaps the best thing you can give her. My Mum says the Strangest Things, (Black Dog Books, April 2014), is guaranteed to have her LOL in no time flat. In fact, I can barely get through it (with my Miss 8) without crippling waves of laughter washing over me.
ThMy Says the Strangest Thingse Katrina Germein and Tom Jellet team that gave us My Dad Thinks he’s Funny and My Dad Still Thinks he’s Funny, train their humorous cross-hairs on mum’s idiosyncratic refrains this time, with deadly accuracy. For adult readers, the sweet irony of mum’s idiomatic expressions is difficult to ignore and impossible not to relate to: ‘when mum’s tired she says everyone needs an early night.’ Love, love, love it! There is something here for every member of the family. Older primary aged kids will be rolling their eyes and trying not to laugh. You’ll be taking stock of the next ‘strange thing’ that falls out of your mouth.

 

So, however you end up spending Mothers’ Day, make sure you take a moment or two to share it with the little people who gave you the reason to read picture books again in the first place (and linger longer in bed for at least one day of the year). Happy Mothers’ Day!

* AIFS.gov.au viewed Feb 2014.

 

SHIPS IN THE FIELD

Ships in the  Field is Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro’s beautiful new picture book about a little girl whose dearest wish is to have a dog. But it’s not just about a dog. This dog symbolises hope, peace and security.

Ships in the  Field is a story of  many layers and Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are a perfect compliment for the text, and add so much to this poignant story. Her centre page spread of the refugees filing onto the boat that will take them to safety is a moving illustration that needs no words.

Just like many refugees, the little girl in this story has no name, no identity in her new country.

Underlying the little girl’s dream of having her own dog is the story of refugees; of what it’s like to find yourself in a new land, having survived the ravages of war and left your home behind.

Award-winning author, Susanne Gervay and award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro are part of that immigrant and refugee story.

Susanne’s parents were post-war Hungarian refugees who migrated to Australia and Anna’s parents were post-war Italian refugees facing the same kind of displacement.

So it’s not surprising that this book is so authentic in its joy and sadness.

You’ll have to read this amazing story for yourself. I’m not going to tell you why this book is called Ships in the  Field, but it’s the perfect title.

The text is heartwarming and full of hope and Anna Pignataro’s evocative watercolours will make you feel as if you are reading this story from inside the book. Look for the little details that tell a big story.

I loved the strength of the relationships in Ships in the  Field, and the hope and love woven through this story.

This is a brave and important book with a strong message told in a gentle and thought provoking way.

Ships in the  Field is for readers 7+ and is published by Ford Street Publishing.

Migrants and carousels

I read LOTS of picture books! My youngest is not quite three and she loves picture books. She’ll spend ages flipping through pages and pointing things out to me. But most of all, she loves it when we sit down together, and I read them to her. So we do it every day.

You know, there are lots of really ordinary picture books out there. Some aren’t very well written. Some aren’t very well illustrated. Sometimes both text and visuals are just fine… but the overall book is missing a spark. So, when a really good picture book crosses my path, I stand up and take notice. And I’ve encountered two such books this week.

The first of these is a brand new book, scheduled for publication in February. Ships in the Field is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Anna Pignataro.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the title. Ships in the field? What could that possibly mean? It’s actually a mis-pronunciation of “sheep in the field”, very common among European migrants in Australia. And once I realised this, it immediately brought up a host of memories. You see, my parents are migrants. They did, and still do, pronounce certain English words in an odd way, often adding an extraneous ‘s’ to pluralise a word that is already plural. And so we have “ships” instead of “sheep”.

Ships in the Field is a story about migrants escaping war; a story about making a new life in a new country; and the story of a little girl who wants a puppy. It is both simple and complex at the same time. A simple story about a girl, for a small child to follow and enjoy. And behind that, the story of her parents. In this book there are no country names, there are no dates, there is no specific setting, giving the story a universality and timeless quality.

“Papa grew up in a village in the old country, before it was broken. Ma grew up in a city in the old country, before it was broken.”

The illustrations are beautiful! They are filled with the same humour, warmth and subtlety as the text. There is so much to discover on every page.

Both Gervay and Pignataro are children of migrants. Perhaps that is why they’ve produced such a heartfelt and ‘real’ story.

The second book is from a couple of years ago, although I’ve only just read it. Flame Stands Waiting is written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione. Set in what looks like Melbourne’s Luna Park, this is the story of Flame, one of the horses on the carousel.

Flame is the horse that doesn’t move up and down. Flame is the horse that stands completely still. Flame is the horse that the kids are least interested in. Flame is the horse that always stands waiting…

Until one day, a girl named Clara chooses to ride on Flame and teaches Flame that although he can’t move up and down, in his heart, he can do anything and go anywhere.

“And now, whenever the carousel turns and the other horses dance, Flame dances too… in his heart.”

This is such a lovely book — a heart-warming story with gorgeous illustrations. Although it was published in 2010 it is still widely available and highly recommended.

If only there were more picture books as good as these two.

Catch ya later,  George

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Literary speed dating with a sequel

Yesterday I attended the Macmillan Winter Sales Conference along with the team from Ford Street Publishing. Why? Because Macmillan distribute Ford Street’s books. And Ford Street will be publishing my new teen novel, Gamers’ Challenge, sequel to Gamers’ Quest, in September this year. (Actually, I got my advance copy at the conference. Exciting!) It was an odd, exhausting but ultimately fulfilling experience. So I thought I’d tell you about it…

Here’s how it all works. During the conference, half a day is set aside for a publisher’s expo. All the publishers who are distributed by Macmillan come along and set up on tables with their books and promotional material. And each publisher is allowed to bring along a couple of authors and/or illustrators. And then three hours of literary speed dating ensues.

Macmillan sales reps from around the country (and New Zealand) come along and visit each table in groups. Four or five of them sit at each table and the publisher and authors/illustrators get about 20 minutes to promote their books. Then the MC calls swap time and the reps move to the next table. And so it goes until each rep has visited each table.

The whole idea is that the reps become more familiar with the books that they will be selling into bookstores across the country. Given the number of books that are published each year, it is a real asset for publishers to have reps who are actually familiar with their books. And it’s easier for the reps to sell books that they know a little something about. So it’s a win/win situation.

It’s all actually a lot harder than it sounds. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s tiring. But also, ultimately, rewarding.

I was lucky enough to be invited by Ford Street, along with award-winning illustrator Anna Pignataro, whose picture book Ships in the Field (written by Susanne Gervay) will be published in February 2012. This meant that my book got a little extra time, as I was able to spend five minutes telling each group of reps about Gamers’ Challenge, how I will be promoting it, and why I think it’s a book that bookstore will be able to sell. And just as if I had been speed dating, I desperately hope that I’ve made a positive impression in my small amount of time — that the people I’ve spoken to will remember me; and that when they come to visiting bookstores, they’ll say something nice about my book so that the stores will want to stock it.

Like any author, I want my new book — my baby, that I’ve spent months labouring over, and that will now go out into the world on its own — to be liked and to sell well. And this sales conference was one step on the way to that goal.

But there’s still lots more promotion to go!

Tune in next time for a guest post from Hugo-nominated author Sean McMullen.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… speed tweeting, anyone?

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EVERYONE LOVES A PRINCESS

With the impending wedding of Prince William and his long time girlfriend, Kate Middleton on the horizon, princesses are very much on some people’s minds at the moment.

As a small child I remember playing prince and princesses with my siblings. I was always Princess Anne and my older sister got to be the Queen, but I always thought it was more glamorous to be a princess.

Even today when there’s so much talk of republics and monarchy free states, little girls all over the world dream and pretend to be princesses.

That’s probably why princesses make such great book heroines. Princesses feature today in two books from Scholastic, Princess and Fairy Twinkly Ballerinas and Lilli-Pilli The Frog Princess.

PRINCESS AND FAIRY TWINKLY BALLERINAS

This “look and find” book by Anna Pignataro is full of glitter and colour and princesses and fairies.

The beautifully detailed illustrations are great for children who love to spend time poring over a page, looking at the tiniest detail.

And who wouldn’t be charmed by rabbit fairies dancing and flitting their way through a colourful adventure?

Peter Pan, Captain Hook, The Sugar Plum Fairy and other popular characters make their appearance in the magical land that Anna Pignataro has created.

Young readers will love the encore finale where the fairy ballerina bunnies put on a glittering show for a cheering audience.

LILLI-PILLI THE FROG PRINCESS

This picture book by Vashti Farrer & Owen Swan has a very real princess dilemma. Lilli-Pilli is the eldest and loveliest of the Royal Tadpoles but instead of a tail she has frogs’ legs.

There are advantages to this but of course when it’s time for her to find a prince, having frogs’ legs when you’re a tadpole becomes a problem.

That’s until Lilli-Pilli  she meets a juggling, acrobat, trapeze artist, gymnast prince and finds that they are made for each other.

This book has an important theme for children who feel as if they are different and don’t belong. In Lilli-Pilli the Frog Princess, Lilli-Pilli finds someone who likes her just the way she is.

Owen Swan’s beautiful illustrations show Lilli-Pilli at her leaping, tumbling, gymnastic best. Readers will empathise with this princess heroine and learn that it’s okay to be different.