Aussie Appeal – Picture Book Reviews

Worrisome wombats, bouncing bilbies and even talking gumnuts may not be your de rigueur when it comes to picture book characters. Yet their antics make up a substantial percentage of picture book storylines and provide vital introductions and links between Aussie kids and our rich, endemic Australian flora and fauna.

Look around and you’ll find dozens of titles touching on everything from spoonbills to fruit bats, puggles to possums and jacanas to joeys. Many are by authors you know and trust offering true works of art worthy of coveting and collecting. Here is a tiny selection of some of the more recent releases.

One Woolley Wombat ReadersPerennial author illustrator, Kerry Argent, has a tatty new First Reader series out now tailored for pre-schoolers. Small colour-popping paperbacks perfect for little hands and new readers feature old mate, Woolly Wombat, his bestie, Bandicoot and a swag of other Aussie birds and beasts in easy-to-read adventures. Beautiful introductions to counting, colour, rhythm and language conventions. Scholastic Australia March 2014

The Bush Book ClubBook club nuts along with reluctant readers will adore Margaret Wild’s and Ben Wood’s The Bush Book Club. It has a little bit of brilliance on each page; rhyme, comedy, cuteness, colour and galahs! Bilby sorely needs to slow down and smell the ink but he is too busy and bouncy to read let alone actually enjoy a book until one fateful night he discovers what it’s like for his head to be ‘full of words and stories’. A marvellous look at what it takes to appreciate the wonderment of stories and a must in the classroom and home. Modestly adorable. Omnibus Books March 2014

Possum's Big SurpriseRhyming picture books are not always easy to digest (when produced badly), but done well they glide across our palates as smoothly as birthday cake frosting. So it comes as little surprise that Possum’s Big Surprise by celebrated duo, Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft, is a feast for 4 + year-olds and above. Fun, frisky, teasing verse coupled with super-rich, eye-pleasing water-colour illustrations, an Aussie bush backdrop and a perky possum named Flossy, give kids plenty of reasons to keep page turning. Scholastic Australia May 2014

Karana EmuSlightly more serious but quietly impressionable is Karana: the Story of the Father Emu, by Brisbane and Wakka Wakka leader, Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold. In spite of the unwieldy title, this cyclical story is written in simple rhyming verse which unfolds easily leaving the reader fulfilled, enlightened and emphatic towards father Emu as he assumes the role of parent, nurturer, and chief educator for his chicks; just as father figures in many indigenous cultures do. An enjoyable tale to share with children because of its simplicity and heart but it was the emus’ eyes that clenched it for me; cute and clever! Scholastic Australia May 2014

 A Feast for Wombat features another Aboriginal author, Sally Morgan and first time picture book illustrator, Tania Ezinger.

A feast for WombatWombat is your typical underground slumber-champion with a strong predilection for his burrow. He rarely surfaces. When he does he encounters the goodtime antics of his friends, Goanna, Magpie and Dingo but is slow to join them in play until their persistence and kind-hearted surprise re-instates how much they value Wombat’s friendship.

Sounds a little trite and ordinary I know, however Morgan attempts to balance Wombat’s self-depreciating, woe-be-gone attitude with a questioning optimism that he displays by complimenting his friends’ various talents and by trying to replicate them albeit with little success.

I was pleased Wombat’s self-doubt is finally conquered and replaced with a greater sense of self-worth however felt a little muddled by the oscillating attitudes of Wombat’s friends towards him; sometimes generous and grateful, sometimes hurtfully frank. Four year-olds are unlikely to dwell on this (it is after all how true friends can be) gaining immense pleasure instead from Erzinger’s spirited acrylic based artwork. Keep an eye out for the hapless little spinifex mouse on each page too. Gorgeous! Omnibus Books April 2014

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie's Underwater AdventureWhether these titles stand up alongside such favourites as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Narelle Oliver’s Don’t Let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen! and Fox and Fine Feathers, Yvonne Morrison’s The Emu that Laid the Golden Egg or Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat to name a few, time will tell. But like the tiniest creature in the Aussie bush, there is bound to be a spot for them in your heart and on your book shelves.

 

Review – Marlo Can Fly

As we approach the beginning of the breeding season of the Australian Magpie, it feels fitting that my next review is all about one of my favourite Aussie song birds.

Marlo Can FlyHot on the heels of No Matter Who We’re With, is Robert Vescio’s newest picture book, Marlo Can Fly. But the question is; can she really?

From the moment we meet wilful magpie fledging, Marlo, we witness her in a number of situations none of them however, involving her taking to the wing. And why? Because Marlo ‘wanted to be different’.

As Marlo watches her bird friends soar and swoop, she steadfastly refuses to become airborne. Time and time again she defends her position; she doesn’t need or want to fly, reinforcing her belief that flying does not a magpie make.

Her stubborn determination to stand out from the flock is admirable if not slightly bemusing for her forest friends. Unable to convince her that as a bird, she should embrace flying, they resort to jesting and jeering each time she attempts to emphasise her difference.

Marlo wetTo prove her point, Marlo gives slithering, jumping, swimming and even crawling a go, all of which end in calamity and ridicule.

It isn’t until Marlo meets little Kev Koala, distressed and unable to locate his mother, that we suspect Marlo’s resolve to show there is more to her than just flying, is perhaps a ruse to hide the fact that she can’t fly or is too scared to fly. Suppositions Marlo has erstwhile denied but could be true…

Whatever the case, she finally casts all aspersions and doubts aside to help her friend in need. The bush creatures rejoice in Marlo’s newfound abilities and acceptance of herself, as does Marlo.

Robert Vesico Robert Vescio’s uncomplicated narrative style allows room for plenty of alliteration and action-orientated onomatopoeia. Kerthumping kangaroos, slithering snakes and cackling kookaburras give Marlo Can Fly an easy read aloud musicality sure to entertain under-fives.

Sandra Temple Sandra Temple’s modest yet striking combinations of pastels and coloured-pencil illustrations give each bushland creature a brilliant life-like appearance. They are simply beautiful to behold and lead us effortlessly to the heart-warming conclusion of a delightful Australian themed picture story.

Marlo’s triumph is finding delight in her sense of self. Yours could be not running a mile the next time one of these glorious birds loops and soars over the tree tops.

Recommended for 3 – 5 year olds and those who cherish the magnificent carolling of a magpie at dawn.

Wombat Books 2013

View or purchase any of Robert Vescio’s books here.