Monstrous Mayhem – Picture Books for Halloween

Forget the spook and gore this Halloween! Try obtain the element of surprise with humour, fun and interactive giggles. Combined with themes on friendship, belonging, and challenging emotions, that’s what these brilliant picture books for young kids are all about.

This first one comes highly recommended for an entertaining, inspiring and innovative book experience. The Scared Book is cleverly constructed to communicate a range of emotions and strategies with its audience…literally! Author Debra Tidball uses leading language in her role as the animated, ‘scared’ book with dramatic statements, questions and invitations to help console its fears. The truth is, the book simply cannot tell its story without the assistance of its readers to disarm those pesky monsters protruding from its spine.

From requesting interaction to scratch a tingle, to rub away goosebumps, blow away giant butterflies, then flick, trample, shake and fan the last remaining remnants, the book is able to get some relief. Whilst helping to calm it down from all the excitement, the book is in fact providing some useful strategies for its readers to deal themselves with feelings of anxiety, fear and self doubt. And successfully, the book ends with a vote of encouragement and praise that readers can be proud of.

Kim Siew’s illustrations are certainly kooky, but in the most vibrant, energetic and guileless way. Preschool aged children will no doubt be better off having experienced this highly pleasurable book, becoming intrepid saviours in relinquishing The Scared Book’s, and their own, fears over and over again.

Hachette Lothian Children’s Books, September 2017.

Ok, the title sounds scary, the concept sounds scary, but I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon is downright hilarious. And by the look of those huge saucer eyes and stunned expression, the monster on the front cover is far from menacing.

Perhaps a little too impulsive, the speckled yellow egg-shaped beast is distraught at the fact that his good friend is now gone…because he ate him. So he searches for a new friend, only to discover the creatures he greets meet him with rejection after rejection. Whether they feel he is too big, too small, too scary or too slow, the monster feels hopelessly dejected. He reflects on his impulsivity, until a new friend emerges. Could this be a match made in heaven?!

Preschool kids will crack up with the joviality of the scenes and the sharp-witted and repetitive one-liners of the text. The cartoon-style, textured and bright characters on black backgrounds bring a sense of playfulness to the book’s ‘dark’ humour. I Just Ate My Friend is the perfect, quirky book that has the power for valuable discussion on friendship, belonging, and the possible effects of instant gratification, as well as being a fun resource for role play and definite repeat reads.

Allen & Unwin, July 2017.

The dialogue between narrator and Little Monster is utterly delightful in Sean Taylor’s I Want to Be in a Scary Story. When the toothless, purple monster requests to be the star of a scary story, he gets a bit more than he bargained for. The narrator sets him up at every turn, creating far more frightening scenes than the little mite can handle. But don’t worry, young readers will find them, and Little Monster’s reactions simply hilarious. Conversing further with the narrator, the monster decides he should do the scaring…on second thoughts, maybe a ‘funny’ story would be better! Fed up with his trickery, Little Monster finds a way to give the narrator the comeuppance he deserves…and it’s frighteningly funny!

Text and illustrations coincide clearly in identifying scenes between conversation and ‘in the story’ moments with the use of plain and coloured backgrounds consecutively. Speaking parts, which are gorgeously candid, are also colour coded, furthering interaction with readers whether taking turns or reading independently. Jean Jullien’s artwork is perfectly bold yet child-friendly with its thick line work and strong statement colours, adding the element of drama without the frightening factor. Preschoolers will revel in the spooky (but much more amusing) shenanigans of sabotage in I Want to Be in a Scary Story – just in time for Halloween.

Walker Books UK, September 2017

Treasured Books We Call Home

Home. A place of comfort, security, familiarity, belonging, warmth, and love. Our precious children and creatures of nature deserve this soft spot to fall, but what happens when these aspects are in question? Here are five beautiful books that address courage and hope in reuniting with the safest place in the world.

imageHome in the Rain, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

Highly acclaimed and legendary creator, Bob Graham, returns with yet another philosophical journey of inspiration and enlightenment. In similar vein to Graham’s Silver Buttons and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Home in the Rain emphasises a snippet of a family’s life within the bigger picture of the outside world. The language is poetic-like, the message, tender, in amongst the dreariness of the exterior scene. Graham’s illustrations tell the tale of family bonding and protection in this haphazard situation with a striking juxtaposition of smoothness versus rough, and warming tones versus dull.

As Francie and her Mum brave the car trip back home from Grandma’s house in the pouring rain, as the animals shelter and the fishermen get soaked, the little girl has only her family on her mind. She ponders the name of her soon-to-be baby sister. It is by the oily rainbow puddles of the petrol station that this light of hope falls upon this loving family and a beautiful moment in time is born.

Home in the Rain is a thought-provoking, sentimental story of observation and anticipation, where the most important revelations occur in the most unlikely of places. A book with universal themes and the comfort of home. Recommended for ages four and up.

imageWhen We Go Camping, Sally Sutton (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

A home away from home. Award-winning New Zealand author, Sally Sutton, takes us on a rollicking, rhythmic trip to the great outdoors. Equally matching the exuberant verse is Cat Chapman’s ink and watercolour light-filled landscapes and spirited characters that fill the pages to their entirity.

A family day out camping becomes a sing-a-long adventure of all the fun and excitement, and nuisances, that coexist in this type of setting. From setting up tent, to racing friends, fishing for dinner and shooing away flies, bathing in the sea, using a long-drop to pee, and dreaming through the night, every turn carries forward the last with a whimsical one-liner to cap it off. “When we go camping, we sleep through the night, Sleep through the night, sleep through the night. And dream of adventures we’ll have when it’s light. Hushetty shushetty snore-io.”

When We Go Camping is a joyous treat for camp-lovers and for those adventurous preschoolers to understand there will always be a sense of safety even being away from home, as long as your family and friends are there with you.

imagePandora, Victoria Turnbull (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2016. First published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, UK.

Absolutely exquisite. From its gorgeous silk cover to its mesmerising illustrations and smoothness of the words in the same silky nature, this memorable fable will be forever captured in your hearts. It’s How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham) meets The Duck and the Darklings (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), with a splash of Adelaide’s Secret World (Elise Hurst); a story of loneliness, compassion, connection and life.

Pandora lives alone in a derelict land of broken things. In amongst the trash she has made herself a sweet, comfortable home, desperately eager to restore whatever treasures she can find. But it is when an injured bird arrives quite by accident that Pandora realises what her heart has yearned for all this time. Her charity fortuitously germinates the most unexpected and beautiful life, colour, warmth and music to Pandora’s world.

Pandora opens up endless possibilities to uncovering the magic and beauty of our natural surroundings, as well as providing us hope and wisdom in generating change for the better. A truly haunting and visually arresting book that early primary children will long to read and cherish for all time.

imagePattan’s Pumpkin; An Indian Flood Story, Chitra Soundar (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016. First published by Otter-Barry Books, UK.

Translated by storyteller, Chitra Soundar, is the flood story told by the Irular tribe, descendants of Pattan. Expressively written, and vibrantly illustrated with illuminating colours and a stunningly raw style by award-winning Frané Lessac, Pattan’s Pumpkin is certainly a feast for the senses.

Just like in the traditional tale, Noah’s Ark, the saviour passionately commits his energies into uprooting and rescuing the animals on his farm from a dangerous flood in the valley of the Sahyadri mountain. It is his good fortune that an ailing flower grows into an enormous pumpkin; the vessel in which he and his wife safely and generously nurture and carry all the creatures from the darkness to the light of the plains.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is a joyous retelling of a classic Indian tale. It signifies growth, heroism, and a respectful and spiritual harmony with fellow beings in one community.

imageTime Now to Dream, Timothy Knapman (author), Helen Oxenbury (illus.), Walker Books UK, November 2016.

Popular and critically-acclaimed illustrator, Helen Oxenbury (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt), together with children’s writer, Timothy Knapman, have produced this heartwarming adventure of family, home and belonging.

A secret lullaby unfolds as two children, brother and sister, set off to explore the mysterious sounds coming from the forest. Although the hidden dangers and the words of the song are unclear, it is obvious that with the gorgeously soft and serene watercolours, there is a definite purity and gentleness about this tale. The little boy is convinced there is a Wicked Wolf lurking in the woods, and wants to go home, but his sister assures him (and us) that “everything is going to be all right” and we continue forward. A surprising (or not) discovery ties it all together with the anticipated lullaby we can finally understand, settling all the babies in the story into their snuggly beds.

Unequivocally alluring and lovingly reassuring, Time Now to Dream is full of life, warmth and imagination. It will remind young readers that home is really where the heart is.

Review – Who is Fitzy Fox?

imageWho is Fitzy Fox?, Amelia Trompf (author), Jennifer Bruce (illus.), Little Steps Publishing, September 2016.

Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.

Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.

imageSet in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?

Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’ explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.

Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.

Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Teacup

TeacupI want to frame this picture book and hang it on my wall. To label Teacup as having bucket-loads of appeal for audiences familiar with and sympathetic to displacement, migration, social disruption and family change strips away the myriad of other sophisticated, elegant qualities this book deserves to be described by. It is simply sublime.

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley is a timeless story of a boy fleeing his home to ‘find another’. We know not where from nor why but immediately warm to his story after learning that amongst the meagre possessions he takes with him is a teacup which holds some earth from where he used to play.

Teacup illo spreadUnlike any other creature on earth, the need to retain ones past in order to make ones way better into the future is strongest in we mere humans, especially in times of dramatic change. Therefore, the boy sets off across seas sometimes kind and friendly, other times wild and testing. Along the way he has time to contemplate all that he has left behind; his home, his sense of place, his beloved family and the naivety of childhood. The clouds that swirl above him may not be permanent but his memories remain secure as does his hope, until one day that hope takes root in the form of a sapling apple tree.

This symbolic tree of life sustains him until the day his is able to build his life anew; older, wiser, a better receptacle for change, just like his teacup.

RY-001The beauty of this story is its incredible scope. It could be describing loss or the dislocation of refugees. Others will interpret it as a story of a search for love and belonging. Whatever journey Teacup takes you on, Young’s eloquent use of words and symbolic imagery massage your emotions to the point of quiet reverence. The narrative bobs gently upon these thematic eddies, always moving forward, into the unknown.

Matt OttleyEven more arresting than the text are Ottley’s illustrations. More like a collection of fine art, they are jaw-drop beautiful, each a breathtaking portrait of the boy’s journey. Dense in texture and meaning, Ottley’s illustrations reflect sky and sea, at once both soothing and uplifting.

Teacup is a picture book to treasure for its undiluted beauty and the subtle way it transcends moralising on human rights and condition, thus making it an important and exquisite reading experience for youngsters aged four and above.

Potential award winner.

Scholastic Press April 2014