Review – Sylvia

SylivaLike many, I have a vegie plot. It’s small and handy, full of kitchen herbs and beans mostly. It’s sustaining too albeit not so much for me, but to a host of garden creepers, crawlers and sliders. Long ago, I succumbed to the ‘live and let live’ theory, having exhausted beer and egg shell supplies to wage further battles against one of the most sluggishly sinister of backyard pests, the garden snail. Sylvia, the second picture book by author illustrator, Christine Sharp suitably celebrates my life style choice.

Sylvia is a tiny terrestrial pulmonate gastropod mollusc aka garden variety snail. She inhabits the gigantic vegie garden of Simon Green with whom she is smitten beyond reason. She adores Simon, her love for him running deeper than her predilection for his ‘buttery beans and luscious lettuces’. Alas, the object of her ravenous desire sees only the result of her absent-minded obsession: ‘munched mushrooms and holey kale’, which for Simon amounts to the unforgivable wilful destruction of his market stall sales.

Sylvia illos 1He is determined to stomp out the perpetrator. Sylvia slogs on downhearted but undeterred. She finally hits upon a priceless piece of marketing prowess; she takes to the air to broadcast her love for Simon and in doing so unwittingly, raises unmitigated demand for his vegetables.

Simon’s feelings towards Sylvia morph; ultimately blossoming into adoration, although I’m not sure his affection for her is one hundred per cent true love or a more lusty mixture of gratitude and admiration for her determination and incidental promotional assistance. Either way, harmony amongst the fruit and veg is restored in this feel-good tale of love and yes, live and let live doctrine.

Christine Sharp 2 Sharp dedicates Sylvia ‘for the growers, gardeners and lovers of green’, but kids aged 3 – 6 years and above will get a kick out of the swirling text and close up, eye-level drama taking place in the vegie patch, enriched by Sharp’s animated, eat-me illustrations. Presented without a hint of gloss on matt, buff brown pages, each vegetable and invertebrate detailed adds a dynamic, organic quality to the story. Edible species are easily identifiable however children not familiar with ultra-fresh produce, the kind that comes with roots or grows on vines, can easily match narrative descriptions with the cross-section, above-below-ground pictures Sharp includes.

Carrots and coloured chards zing; purple-hearted cabbages hum under the moon’s midnight glow; all begging to be gobbled up, which Sylvia does – a lot. Particularly pleasing is the spread depicting how parsnips, beetroot and broccoli can actually be transformed into bowls of steaming soups, succulent salads and delectable smoothies, providing solid positive visual links for youngsters and promoting healthy attitudes. Great ‘thinking-outside-the-vegie-box’!

Sylvia illos 2At the very heart of it all is Christine’s great love of nature and sustained organic gardening. She states that, “In a world of large-scale commercial food growing practices that are often unkind to our health and the health of the planet, growing at home or buying from the local growers’ market can promote wellbeing and create community, while taking care of the Earth.’

For kids who find wonder where adults often only see wilt and woe, Sylvia is a marvellously refreshing avowal that tiny things really do matter. Makes me kind of, sort of, almost love snails too – well Sylvia at least. Snap up this garden fresh release here.

UQP September 2014

 

Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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Review – Bea

Fitting in with your flock is important. Occasionally though, our sense of self is questioned, buried beneath the need to conform. Mixing like with like is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s safe, secure and reassuring.

Bea, however, is a bird who favours being true to yourself in preference to self-preservation. She dares to be different. She has unusual tastes. She does not fit in.

Bea PBBea is the enchanting debut picture book of stellar new author illustrator Christine Sharp. In Christine’s’ own words, ‘Bea is a book about appreciating being in the moment and delighting in the simple things – dancing, star gazing, and above all, friendship.’ And soaring with the fruit bats on calm nights…

Sounds poetic doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Sharp’s fluid text floats dreamily across the pages, often undulating and swirling about the tree tops just like a flock of birds. It’s wild and free, daring and challenging, playful and fun; the very essence of what makes a picture book attractive to young children.

Bea’s contemporaries lead a mundane sort of existence. They spend their days pecking at ants, watching worms wiggle and building nests. Nothing less than you’d expect from a bird. But they have never experienced the sublime joy of ‘singing sweet songs to the moon’ with your best friend like Bea has.

In contrast to their ‘birdy-ness’, Bea bakes berry pudding, dances to disco beats and dreams of travelling the world, in a hot air balloon if you please.

Christine SharpThe clever use of alliteration, which is loosely presented in alphabetical order, beckons to be read out loud and with as much vibrancy and spontaneity as the illustrations evoke. Sharp’s abilities as an artist and designer are reflected in each richly vivid page spread. A mixture of scanned pencil drawings, paintings, photography, fabrics and objects used in collages bring Bea and her best mate, Bernie, to life and deliver a beautiful, textured feel to the book. For me they evoked the stirring scent of rose gums and damp scrub and crisp mountain air. Younger readers will be charmed by the juxtaposition of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ art on each page (as defined by one seven year old).

Bea is an instantly likeable character whose slightly eccentric tendencies and far reaching desires inspire a tremendous sense of self. Her actions prompt others to ask, ‘Why?’ This is no bad thing in my book. She blithely lives her life to the beat of a different drum (or wing in this case). And her best mate Bernie admires and appreciates her all the more for it. I do too. Bea pleasantly surprised me with its simple message of how important it is to feel at ease in your own skin, no matter what your feather type.

Share this alluring picture book with pre-schoolers and those who are developing their own idea of their place in the flock.

UQP March 2013