That’s the Spirit – Aussie books that inform and thrill

With only a week to go before you sling a few more lamb chops onto the barbie, here is swag of ‘must read’ Aussie kids’ titles to put on your reading list, (not the barbie).

theres-a-magpie-in-my-soupThere’s a Magpie in my Soup Sean Farrar & Pat Kan

It’s that time of year when raucous baby magpies scream night and day for food. Seems they are no different when submersed in soup. Sean Farrar takes pre-schoolers on a merry epicurean romp through a menu of Australian critters as they pop up in the most extraordinary of places, (the only one that failed to make the endemic Aussie grade was the porcupine whom I felt could have been replaced by the Echidna). Snakes slither from cakes, cockatoos appear in loos. Possums get stuck in pies and blue tongues pop in for lunch. Kan’s chipper illustrations jockey this ditty merrily along  as rhyme and fauna are introduced to young readers in a fun, relatable way. A jolly little bedtime read.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

stripes-in-the-forestStripes in the Forest – The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine Aleesah Darlison & Shane McGrath

Demonstrative illustrator, Shane McGrath teams with accomplished author, Aleesah Darlison in this picture book for mid primary readers about the last Tasmanian Tiger. Portrayed in a sweeping epic narrative from a female tiger’s viewpoint, Stripes in the Forest escorts readers through Tasmania’s pre-settlement days to present day, as she recalls a life of cyclical and human influenced changes. Gradually numbers of her kind reduce to the point of assumed extinction however, Stripes ends on a positive note of supposition; what if she is not the last of her kind?

Stripes in the Forest is alluring for its historical references, detailed Thylacine Facts and nod towards the need for environmental awareness and understanding. Full marks for this picture book for making a difference.

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

this-is-banjo-patersonThis is Banjo Paterson Tania McCartney & Christina Booth

Two leather clad gold embossed volumes of verse sit reverently upon my bookshelves: The Singer of the Bush and The Song of the Bush – the collected works of A B Banjo Paterson. Now another, smaller, more modest but equally as treasured title will accompany them; This is Banjo Paterson.

This inspired new picture book by the notable partnership of McCartney and Booth is as entertaining as it is beautiful. It begins in the middle of the Australian bush, at least Andrew Barton ‘Barty’s’ story does but do not be misled by the smooth  informative narrative of McCartney’s for Booth’s illustrations tell another story. Readers are invited into Barty’s urban backyard where they are introduced to his inclinations, desires, friends, and favourite pastimes. He has a hankering for horses and rhyming words but ‘is also a fine sportsman’.

Barty harbours a secret desire to write in verse as he grows and one day one of his anonymously submitted pieces is published. From then on end there is no stopping ‘Banjo’ as his name becomes synonymous with the classic bush inspired, character driven poetry and stories many of us know to this day.

Quiet and unassuming in its delivery, This is Banjo Paterson is visually rich and emotionally satisfying to read.  Many aspects of Banjo’s accomplished life are covered in a way that is both revealing and appreciable for young readers.  McCartney’s knack for conveying facts in a beguiling spirited fashion is put to good use in this picture book that broadens minds and warms hearts. The inspired broadsheet replication at the book’s conclusion includes sepia coloured photographs of Paterson and a more detailed chronological description of his life plus extracts from several of his most well-known poems. Highly recommended for early learners and primary aged readers, This is Banjo Paterson is a marvellous introduction to one of Australia’s literary heroes.

National Library of Australia Publishing (NLA) February 2017

lennie-the-legendLennie the Legend:  Solo to Sydney by Pony Stephanie Owen Reeder

Once upon a time, a nine-year-old boy named Lennie Gwyther took his pony, Ginger Mick for a ride. It was a very long ride, from country Victoria to Sydney, over 1,000 kilometres in fact but in the days of the Great Depression back in the early 1930s, people were accustomed to making such long arduous journeys.

Lennie’s mission was to be at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and his tenacity and determination were recognised and admired by the entire nation. Lennie’s story is adeptly told by Reeder with animated narrative and is interspersed with complementing historical snippets. Occasionally, comparisons are made between present day and last century living. Stunning photographs of this slice of Australia’s past are included along with fascinating statistics and notable people. The result is a feature-rich read, well endowed with fact and good story telling. Ideally suited for primary aged readers and those who love legends.

NLA February 2015

the-dreaming-treeThe Dreaming Tree Jo Oliver

Whilst suffused with the essence of the Australian landscape and renowned poets, let’s take a moment to appreciate the free verse poetic stylings of Jo Oliver whose, The Dreaming Tree reflects the ‘joy and freedom of being a child in Australia’.  Oliver’s poems, many of which are centred on the fierce and dramatic beauty of the Australian countryside, flow and ebb with all the finesse and passion of a verse novel. They are both uplifting and enlightening, and an extreme joy to read. This collection is presented in a picture book format accompanied by Oliver’s own dreamlike illustrations.  Her note at the end stresses that ‘poetry is fun’ and simply ‘feeling and thought playing together in words’. Oliver’s feelings and thought play magnificently together in The Dreaming Tree, for which I can list no favourites for I relished them all.

Highly recommended for primary and lower secondary school students as an excellent illustrative tool for capturing the essence of feeling in verse and injecting an appreciation for the enjoyment of poetry into the young.

New Frontier Publishing February 2016

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!

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Under the Christmas Tree – Part 1

Okay, with just over a month and a half to go, it’s time to get serious about Christmas. For the next 42 days or so,  I’ll attempt to fill your Christmas lists with some nifty literary ideas for kids to go under the Christmas tree this year. Today we look at some terrific non-fiction titles guaranteed to raise a few oohs and aahs on Christmas Day.

cheeky-animalsCheeky Animals – Shane Morgan

The classic 20-year-old picture book, Look & See, inspired Shane Morgan’s hard cover board book, Cheeky Animals. Clean, smile-inducing text compliments simple yet strong illustrations of some of our most cheeky cherished Aussie animals.  A great stocking stuffer for 2 + year olds.

Magabala Books October 2016

funny-facesFunny Faces – Dr Mark Norman

Just as funny but using expressive real life images of a variety of animals and their amazing anatomy to accompany concise, information-laden narrative is Dr Mark Norman’s, Funny Faces. This soft cover version is a close up, informative, extraordinary (did you know a Dragonfish has teeth on its tongue!)  look at the funny face bits of a planet of animals, birds, invertebrates and reptiles. The fact file and images are sure to keep budding biologists absorbed for years. Super handy and an easy to reference guide book for early primary project makers. Check out other titles in this funny series, here.

Black Dog Books June 2014

animaliumAnimalium – Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, Animalium is a cloth bound, pocket-sized gem of a book that invites fledging Attenboroughs to enter a literary museum of the animal kingdom. I felt as though I was wondering through the astonishing exhibits of the London Natural History Museum, exploring the world of mammals, invertebrates, fish and more. This is a biologist’s nirvana: insightful, knowledgeable text, and clear, detailed illustrated plates. Excellent go to book that is a work of art unto itself for mid to upper primary.

The Five Mile Press October 2016

amazing-animals-of-australian-national-parksAmazing Animals of Australian’s National Parks – Gina M. Newton

Gina M. Newton’s Amazing Animals is an environmental triumph. This large, soft cover book leaves no leaf or stone unturned as Newton guides inquisitive minds through a plethora of our national parks and their fascinating individual habitats. From the Tropical Rainforests in the north to the Mallee Woodlands of the arid south, Amazing Animals focuses on the species that inhabit these places with detailed Q & A, fast facts, and a ‘did you know’ kind of narrative. Diagrams and close up photos completes this brilliant compendium of who what and where along with a comprehensive ‘how to use this book’ guide that even includes a Conservation Status indicator. Young readers may be familiar with some of the species highlighted; they may have even spotted a few of them in their own neighbourhoods. What is nifty about this guidebook is that they can now actively get out and explore more of the native parklands in their locale and become more wildlife aware by doing so. Superb. Highly recommended for classroom to bedroom bookshelves of primary and above readers.

NLA Publishing October 2016

awesome-animals-horse-fun-factsAwesome Animals – Horses Fun Facts and Amazing Stories – Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill

I was your typical horsey-obsessed little girl. That kind of passion never real dissipates, merely dims with neglect. Dianne Bates and Sophie Scahill have produced a handy, bookshelf friendly series of Awesome Animal books that present eager young readers with a mindboggling array of facts, figures, trivia, and fun stories for a menagerie of animals. This one, about Horses is incredible. Layered with more information about horses than I have ever encountered, Horse Fun Facts is comprehensive, breezy, easy to navigate and utterly captivating. I guarantee readers will learn something new each time they delve into these books. Horses is an awesome mix of entertainment and information that will fuel those pony club passions forever more. A brilliant, value-laden gift idea if ever there was one.

Big Sky Publishing September 2016

fantastically-great-women-who-changed-the-worldFantastically Great Women Who Changed the World – Kate Pankhurst

History, whilst fascinating can be a tiresome thing to wade through at times. Not so anymore thanks to Kate Pankhurst’s illustrated explorative journey with some of our planets most noted, daring, and incredible women. Great Women Who Changed the World covers such heroines as Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, and Anne Frank. Others like, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart are also featured, each with their own two-page spread festooned with detailed trivia type tip bits all gorgeously illustrated to create a visual wonderland of facts and figures. By the time young readers have swam the English Channel with Gertrude Ederle or uncovered the first Pterosaur skeleton with Mary Anning, they will be hundreds of years wiser and no wiser for it! This awesome picture book ends on a note of great inspiration, namely for young misses but the message is universal: never give up, believe in yourself, back yourself, and dare to be different! Truly fantastic and a must have in your Christmas stockings!

Bloomsbury Children’s Publishing October 2016

For more great gift ideas, visit The Kids’ Reading Guide – Information Titles and stay tuned for my next instalment of Under the Christmas Tree.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017

 

Elizabeth Honey’s ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ – One for Mum and Bub

1733911_origHop Up! Wriggle Over!, Elizabeth Honey (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, April 2015.  

Cherish the moments of early mornings, chaotic meal times, constantly chasing tails and a house that’s never tidy, because one day it will be a distant memory; and you’ll miss it. This recent release emanates all this energy, and more; it’s a gorgeous, totally relatable book for mums to share with their little cherubs for Mother’s Day.  

elizabeth_honeyAward-winning author of poetry, novels and picture books, Elizabeth Honey‘s books exude vibrancy, joyfulness and wit. She also illustrates her own books, which are characteristically heartwarming and delightful. Some of her titles include I’m Still Awake, Still!, Ten Blue Wrens and That’s not a Daffodil! (CBCA 2012 Honour Book).  

Distinct to her charmingly boisterous style is her latest celebration of our unique national fauna; ‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a completely adorable book of an Australian animal family bouncing through a busy day.  

With glorious onomatopoeia in short, punchy bursts, the baby mammals jumpstart the day with a scene parents know all too well. No more rest for the wicked; Mother Koala and Father Kangaroo are soon hustling as the daily routine begins.

”Hop up! Wriggle over! Wakey wakey. Hungry.
Crunch crunch. Gobble gobble. Lick lick. More!
Bong! Bong! Clang clang! Ting ting! Shhhh!”
 

Hop up! Wriggle Over! ImageWith nine little ones to attend to, breakfast is like a clanging, tinging orchestra of bowls and spoons. A trip to the playground is like running a marathon trying to keep up with their abundance of energy. Tea time sounds of nibbles, chomps, slurps and burps. And bath time is bubblicious pandemonium. Finally, the kidlets settle for a story, and kisses, snuggles and sweet dream wishes see the babes peaceful at last.  

As playful as the text, Elizabeth Honey’s illustrations radiate life, animation and spirit. Typical toddler-like actions in the pictures suitably mimic the frolicsome hubbub that the words express. At the same time, her pencil and watercolour paints create a gentle feeling in its technique and natural earthy tones; perfect to capture the warmth and innocence of this loving family.  

‘Hop Up! Wriggle Over!’ is a beautiful introduction to different Australian animals and the reinforcement of the daily routine. It is a book of romping good fun, but also a nice way to end a busy day. What could be better than a story and a snuggle with your precious ones just before bed? An enchanting, lively book recommended for babies and young children, and their mums.
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Renée Treml Reveals Answers About Her Picture Book, ‘The Great Garden Mystery’

meRenée Treml is a talented artist and author, originally from the States, now residing in Melbourne. She creates her stunning illustrations primarily using the scratchboard technique, setting her work apart with its unique qualities. Her artwork can also be seen at design markets and art exhibits through a range of gorgeous products. Renée has three equally delightful picture books published with Random House Australia; One Very Tired Wombat, Colour for Curlews, and her most recent, The Great Garden Mystery.  

Review – The Great Garden Mystery
thegreatgardenmystery9780857984166Those curious curlews are back, and already set on the trail to solving a most mysterious problem. A menagerie of suspects are called to order. Who is stealing all the beetroots? What a conundrum!

In playful rhyming prose, Renée Treml and her exquisitely drawn animals take us on a journey to decipher each clue as they add up to solve the case.

First, hare finds a sign. It’s a poo that is square. Clearly, he is not guilty. As they discover a hole under the fence, some snagged fur, a wide trail, and a dislike to beetroots, each animal gleefully asserts their innocence. But when the roo bounds away, humorously, those suspicious creatures believe the puzzle has been pieced together.

And when all is calm and quiet, in the dark of night, who emerges to fill his belly once more? Who could have guessed? Think back to the first clue and you will have your culprit!

I love the playfulness and adventure of The Great Garden Mystery, as well as Renée’s black and white scratchboard drawings against the soft, pastel background colours. Kids from aged three will delight in this curiously intriguing animal tale, too.  

I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about Renée Treml’s fascinating journey to creating her books, including her joys and challenges with illustrating The Great Garden Mystery.  

Your books all include a common theme featuring the adorable, sleepy wombat, a range of native birds and other creatures. What is the appeal of these Australian animals?  
I grew up in the States where I commonly saw little songbirds, woodpeckers, squirrels and deer – animals which probably sound very interesting to someone who is not from North America.  When we moved to Australia at the end of 2007, I was immediately smitten with the wildlife – here we have huge noisy parrots, sleepy koalas hiding in gum trees, teeny little pademelons and big bouncy kangaroos.    
The wombat that is featured in all of my stories is based on the very first wombat I ever encountered.  He was at a wildlife sanctuary in Brisbane and managed to sleep soundly despite being surrounded by noisy children, adults, cockatoos and kookaburras. Every time I went to visit the sanctuary, that wombat was having a good snooze.  I only wish I could sleep like that too.    

What do you love about creating children’s books?  
For many years I was unknowingly creating characters through my artwork – I kept drawing the same animals over and over and discovering their unique personalities.  When I wrote my first story it felt like I was rewarding my favourite characters.  It was so much fun.  I still maintain a sketchbook full of (mostly) patient characters that are waiting for their turn in a story.  

You have a unique, beautiful style of illustrating. How did you develop your style?  
Thank you, but I think it is fair to say that my style found me.  My style developed from practicing, experimenting and attempting to master new mediums and subjects. Over the years my style has evolved into what it is now, but I am always looking out for new ideas, subjects and materials so I can continue growing and changing.    

What is your favourite medium to use?  
I love working with inks and paint on clayboard, although lately I have been trying to bring mixed media and collage into my illustrations.      

Who is your favourite artist/s?
Sorry – I can’t just pick one and if I tried to make a list I would worry and fret for ages trying to narrow down the list.    

the great garden mystery koalaWhat was your favourite part of The Great Garden Mystery to illustrate?  
My favourite scene to illustrate is where koala accuses the fox of stealing the beetroots.  I loved that koala – he was so sassy and never once thought he could be a suspect.  Trying to capture his brashness, the fox’s slyness and the roo’s discomfort was just good fun.  

What was the hardest part?  
To be honest, this book was a hard one to illustrate. This is the first time I have worked digitally to create my illustrations.  I had to teach myself how to make my digital artwork look indistinguishable from my scratchboard illustrations – that was so hard!  Also, drawing the garden without cluttering up the compositions and illustrations, proved to be a very big challenge for me.  Thankfully, I have wonderful editors, publishers and very honest friends who had excellent suggestions all along the way.  

What was the reason for the change in your process from the last two books?  
I created all of the illustrations for my first two books using clayboard. Clayboard is a masonite board that has been coated with a thin layer of clay. They are beautiful to work on, but only come in limited sizes, are a lot more expensive than paper or canvas, and aren’t really reusable (unless you paint over them completely). I squeezed as many drawings as I could onto each board, then sent the very heavy box to my publisher for scanning. A month later I received the digital images, which then required cutting and pasting each illustration back into my page spread. Working on clayboard added at least 2 months to our timeline and in the end was not the most environmentally friendly process.
I still prefer to work on clayboard when I’m creating art for galleries or shows, but for books digital scratchboard has its benefits:
(1) I can create artwork that looks very similar to my scratchboard drawings; (2) we skip the shipping, scanning and editing phase, which saves 1-2 months; and (3) I can add or change things quite easily, even after we are theoretically finished the book.  

How long did the process take you to complete all the illustrations for The Great Garden Mystery?  
Working part-time, the illustration part probably added up to about 3 months. I had a huge learning curve trying to master the software and we also experimented a lot with different styles. I am so happy with how it turned out that I have almost forgotten how hard it was to illustrate!  

renee treml owlWhich animal is your favourite to draw? Why?  
I am totally obsessed with owls – they have so much personality.  I am just waiting for the inspiration to strike for an owl story…    

What special message do you want your readers to take away from The Great Garden Mystery?  
As a scientist and wildlife lover, I would love kids (and adults) to become aware of all the clues animals leave behind.  Take the time to look at the ground for broken eggshells, scat or footprints – you might find yourself a little mystery (even in the city).      

What was the highlight for you in 2014?  
The highlights for me this year were the TGGM-events where everyone got to try their hand at scratchboard and we got to talk a lot about wombat poo.    

Are there any special milestones or events that you are looking forward to in 2015?
This year I am really looking forward to organizing a few primary school-visits. I love teaching and interacting with children and have some fun writing and illustrating workshops to present.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renée!
Thank you for the opportunity!

Enjoy Renée’s stunning website at:
http://www.reneesartwork.com
http://www.facebook.com/ReneeTremlAuthorIllustrator

Interview by Romi Sharp
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner