Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

There’s a fair chance that issue-based picture books are going to tug your heartstrings and touch your soul purely because they dare to devote themselves to issues that matter to you, the reader. You should never be frightened of feeling, nor should you be wary of exposing your child to feelings. Even if your child has not yet experienced a similar situation, sharing stories with soul is a key way to introduce them to the myriad of emotions and circumstances that make up their world. These next few picture books are prime examples.

Lily’s Balloon by Katrina Roe and Helene Magisson

Lily is disappointed and overwhelmed by a day out at the fair that is until she finds something that makes her feel ‘quiet on the inside’, an ivory coloured balloon. This balloon calms and heartens her but she accidentally lets it out of her grasp at the park. It soars towards the clouds leaving Lily behind.

Tom, fledging photographer, happens upon the balloon as it drifts across the park’s lake and it becomes one of his favourite shots. However, the balloon dances on until it snags in the branches of Amelia’s garden. After she sets it free, her heart soars with it.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

Everyone Belongs – Harmony Day Picture Books

Today, Harmony Day, is a day of celebration, marking the significance of community inclusion, diversity, respect and belonging. As my kids went off to school in their orange attire and stocked with their cultural lunch, they are amongst the nation representing a position of peace, togetherness and harmony. To follow on this auspicious day, we will be reading some inspiring and poignant books, a few of which are listed here.

This hauntingly stunning picture book by Margaret Wild, with stirring illustrations by Freya Blackwood, will have readers gasping with bated breath at its tainted beauty. The Feather, a symbol of redemption and hope, floats with its message of how one object can be so powerful in bringing people together, and also how quickly that faith can be lost. But with that inner light and love, it can not only be restored but also prospered.

Wild’s poetic, visual narrative is as soft, light and silky as the regal feather it represents, conjuring deep reflection and emotion within its harrowingly dark, war-torn setting. Blackwood beautifully does the same with her expert use of light and shade, highlighting the glimmers of hope amongst the grey and ghostly village. And with the strength of two inspiring children as the central characters to help signify the sense of safety, warmth and optimism with the clean feather, overcoming its muddied, spoiled shadow of life, is a brilliant concept that this superb pairing have perfected.

The Feather is a striking reminder of the importance of community and living together in harmony to reach a common goal of peace, happiness and a fighting spirit. Meaningful, majestic and masterful for primary aged children.

Little Hare Books, February 2018.

In association with Amnesty International UK, and a special foreword note by Yoko Ono Lennon, this heart rending rendition of John Lennon’s 1971 hit song, Imagine, feels poignant and powerful, empowering and inspirational. It is a beautiful book to share with every generation every day, and particularly on a day like today’s Harmony Day.

The pigeon, or dove (symbol of peace) in the book takes its readers / listeners on a journey over the waters and across the world, welcoming a colourful and varied array of birds to join him. The lyrics relay the message of living in peace without restrictions of borders, predujices against religions and cultures, or material things. Hence the wording, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

Jean Jullien is a perfectly suited illustrator for this book with his bold black line and brightly coloured drawings; simple, charismatic and impactful. His images are joyous and energetic and heartwarmingly represent how “the world will live as one.”

Our younger generation of preschool and primary school children will hopefully carry forth this valuable mission of human rights; of equality, safety, belonging and love, in helping to Imagine and ‘make the world a better place.’

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, September 2017.

Hello!, illustrated by Tony Flowers, is a playful and exotic blend of cultures following twelve children from different backgrounds. We meet kids from Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities, to Asian and European heritage. Each section introduces a child and describes some special qualities and traditions like cuisine, clothing, language, recreation and holidays. The book is complete with guides on pronunciation of terms from each language and photographs adopted from various resources.

Flowers casts a wonderful representation of diversity and energy with his detailed pencil and watercolour illustrations.

Hello! is a terrific resource to have in every early childhood and primary school setting. This book certainly acknowledges, represents and celebrates our wide mix of multiculturalism in our country to encourage the value that ‘everyone belongs’.

NLA, April 2016.

Happy Harmony Day!

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