There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

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Under the Christmas Tree Part 5 – Festive boredom busters

For most of us, it is now officially school holiday time, the season of fraught mothers, constant interruptions, drained purses, and frazzled tempers. Or, if you’re clever, blissful moments spent with your darlings in between extended periods of boredom busting activity. Festive harmony is easy to achieve, you just need the right materials.  Here are a handful of books that entertain and instil serenity.

the-anti-boredom-christmas-bookThe Anti-Boredom Christmas Book by Andy Seed and Scott Garrett

The title speaks for itself but does this book hold the eggnog? Ecstatic to report, it does and some! If you love trivia, jokes, silliness, and just good old-fashioned fun quizzes this is the boredom-busting book for you (and your kids). Perfect for slipping into your carry-on luggage if you happen to be going away or tucking into the backpack for those incurably long family lunches, we force our children to endure over the holiday season, The Anti-Boredom Christmas Book is stuffed with things to do, think about and act out – no pencils required!  (Although there are plenty of arty / crafty options to get creative with.)

Seed’s zany laugh-out-loud facts and games challenge the curious reader: would you rather wear frozen undies or sleep in a bed of snow? You can even learn how to say snow in 18 languages – always good to know. Wacky and wonderful insanity to fill the holidays with whilst simultaneously inspiring sanity.

Bloomsbury Publishing December 2016

wonderful-world-colouring-bookWonderful World Colouring book by Alison Lester

For a more Australian flavoured boredom buster, sample Alison Lester’s Wonderful World kids’ colouring-in book. Whether you are a fan of colour-the- drawings type productions or not, this one is sure to please and entrance the budding artists in your home. Focusing on the art of illustration, Lester ingeniously includes dozens of helpful illustrative snippets and hints to nudge would be artists on their way. Suggestions like: ‘try drawing with your left hand’, ‘always leave a little bit of white in the eyes’, and ‘don’t try to make everything perfect’, are secreted away among her own iconic images on the end pages and in an introductory ‘Drawing Tips’ prologue.

wonderful-world-illo-spreadInside, there is a treasure trove of thick sturdy pages of assorted images and scenes just begging for colour and personalisation.  Exceedingly so much more than just a colouring in book, Wonderful World will inspire, occupy, and educate for days.

Allen & Unwin 2016

my-lovely-christmas-bookMy Lovely Christmas Book

While their creative juices are still flowing, consider this as a sweeter than sweet stocking filler. My Lovely Christmas Book is a quaint diary sized festive book, brimming with blank pages and cheery prompts that allows readers to fill it with their own lists, notes, poems, and wishes, in short, to create a lovely Christmas book for them by them. It ostensibly covers the 12 days of Christmas so could be substituted as a tooth-friendly form of advent calendar, as well.

There is space for photos, favourite listings, and recordings of all the best bits of Christmas a kid can have. Sublimely illustrated, this is an exquisite combination of meditative colouring in book, crafty hang out and personal journal, which subtly encourages youngsters to observe and cherish this most magical time of the year.

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2016

the-kids-survival-guideThe Kids’ Survival Guide – Avoiding ‘When I was young…’ and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran

I’m not sure I should be recommending this but it is insidiously brilliant no matter how potentially detrimental it may prove for we struggling parental types just trying to do our jobs. The Kids’ Survival Guide, is a crafty (not in the arty sense) cheeky, wickedly funny and devilishly useful hand book for kids who’ve had a gutful of the lectures, rules and dumb sayings adults dole out to them day after day of their young lives.

Thoughtfully sectioned into handy parts, the Guide escorts and educates readers on how to remain calm and cope with brain exploding stupidities like ‘You can have a motorbike when you’re older’ -how much older? A day, a month, a minute? Or, what about, ‘You should know, I’ve told you a hundred times’. Berran could be right or at least her character Sam could be right; parents do say the lamest things. Apparently, it’s all in the manual Sam and his mate, Jared found. I just hope they don’t strike back too hard as he shares some of his ‘brain-blowing close encounters’ and teaches fellow sufferers how to ‘twist, flip and turn’ the rules around. Heaven help us. Essential and absorbing reading that is sure to occupy young minds for precious minutes this Silly Season. Warning: Adults should read first to allow time to come up with some witty counter-attacks. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Big Sky Publishing October 2016

 

 

Where do I belong? – Picture books & Place

When penning a narrative or even recording ones past, authors must be aware of a number of aspects that shape a reader’s impression of the story. A sense of place is one such nuance that forms specific reactions and can colour a reader’s entire experience. When fashioned convincingly enough, a sense of place depicts not only where the story’s characters live and interact but can also provide the answer to how they and the reader belong (to the story). Here are a number of picture books that encourage a distinct sense of place.

Hello!Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

‘Hello!’ is an icebreaker most young children are adept at. However, what if a potential friend’s first language is not English? Hello! is a brilliant introduction to 12 other languages commonly used in Australian homes, including three Indigenous languages. Once children learn to say hello, they are then able to share all sorts of things with their new friends, including favourite games, foods and customs, all in that language. Each new introduction includes how to count up to ten, as well.

Hello spreadThis is a fascinating multicultural exploration aimed at pre-school and primary aged youngsters and is nothing short of ingenious. Many children will have already encountered other people in their lives whose backgrounds and languages differ from their own. Hello! is an unobtrusive, inviting way to show differences need not discourage friendships. Flower’s cartoone-sque illustrations gently emphasise meaning whilst a comprehensive pictorial glossary and pronunciation guide at the end aid carers with extended learning. A marvellous go-to book recommended for home and classroom libraries alike.

National Library of Australia April 2016

Granny's PlaceGranny’s Place by Allison Paterson Illustrated by Shane McGrath

As a city girl growing up far away from my grandparents’ Sunshine Coast hinterland property, visits ‘to grandma’s farm’ were always chocka block full of new adventures and sunny memories to treasure. This bewitching sense of belonging echoes throughout Granny’s Place thanks to Paterson’s beautifully unaffected prose and McGrath’s sublime sepia suffused illustrations.

Granny's Place illo spreadA young girl describes her grandparents’ home that is ‘brimming with treasures of the olden days’ and has ‘springy metal beds and shiny hard floors with tasselled mats…’. It’s a place steeped in rich memories and every day opportunities. It is where family gather in large noisy waves and tiny discoveries, too good to share are made every minute. It is quite simply ‘the best place in the world’. A place where children flourish, absolutely. Alas, people and places cannot last forever as our girl learns to accept after the passing of her grandfather. When Granny has to leave the farm and move to a new life in the city, it is hard to appreciate her new place at first. Fortunately, memories are not so easy to forget and Granny’s love prevails.

Granny’s Place is overflowing with gorgeous imagery that will ignite warm recollections for many older readers. It also radiates the spirit of adventure and the changing rhythms of life that most young people will recognise whilst celebrating these childhood memories.

A marvellous homage to Australia’s past identity and a fitting example of creating a special sense of place.

Big Sky Publishing April 2016

Mr Chicken arriva RomaMr Chicken arriva a Roma by Leigh Hobbs

Mr Chicken pays homage to childhood dreams and aspirations personified. It could be argued that the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016-2017, Leigh Hobbs is living a little vicariously through the rambunctious, irreverent Mr Chook who was a bit different to other boys and girls. As a youngster, ‘instead of playing games’, he dreamt of life abroad.

Fortunately for fans, both grew up, giving us the opportunity to experience an incredibly detailed, hilarious romp through (this time) Italy’s capital city, Rome. It’s a cavort of pure indulgence as the charming and very forgiving city guide, Federica, escorts Mr Chicken aboard her Vespa through Rome’s traffic ensnarled streets, past the Colosseum, to gelatarias, through the Trevi Fountain and even the Vatican. Hobbs leaves no ruin unturned in this whirlwind excursion, revealing stops I had hitherto forgotten about since my European backpacking days.

Mr Chicken Trevi fountainIf you ever consider tackling a trip to the big five European cities with a chicken in tow, Mr Chicken would be the chook to recruit. Unabridged humour told and depicted in the way only Hobbs can. Fantastic fun and insight to lands beyond for pre and early primary schoolers.

Allen & Unwin August 2016

A New York YearTwelve Months in the Life of …A New York Year & A Texas Year by Tania McCartney Illustrated by Tina Snerling

Unlike the other phenomenally successful titles in the Twelve Months in the Life of picture books series, which look at the life of children from other nations including Australia, A New York Year and A Texas Year focus on individual states within the USA.  Even then, the breathtaking diversity of cultures and idiosyncrasies is almost too mind bogging to comprehend. Yet, the McCartney Snerling picture book team convey these elements with aplomb.

Like their forbearers, New York Year and Texas Year kick off with introductions to the five children who will be our guides throughout the year across these states. They are a delightful homogenous mix of Texans and New Yorkers whose obvious differences (in aspirations, cultural ancestry, and appearance) only serve to highlight the sameness they share with kids all around the world. I particularly love Texan Ethan’s ‘when I grow up’ revelation; ‘I want to be a rock star or a palaeontologist’. Classic seven-year-old clarity!

A Texas YearAs the calendar turns, we are taken on a colourful eclectic  parade through each state stopping to observe significant dates, play games endemic to the region, take in the unique flora, fauna and natural wonders, and then, happily, return to the table to feast on local delicacies. It truly is a smorgasbord for the senses.

I love the detail McCartney is able to inject in the meandering text, which is neither excessive nor too sparse. Each fact acts as a signpost that sparks interest and allows children’s eyes to wonder and roam rather than stick to a regimented reading pattern. Snerling’s cute upon cute illustrations offer clean crisp characterisation and support the minutia of facts superbly.

This series is fast becoming a magnificent compendium of fun, fact-fiction picture books, which kiddies from all over the world can use to draw comparisons and conclusions about their international neighbours, supporting tolerance, enhancing awareness and creating as it were, a marvellous sense of place. Highly recommended for 4 – 8 year olds and big people who don’t get out as often as they should.

EK Books August 2016

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Double Dipping – Save our Trees!

With National Tree Day just around the corner (28th to 31st July) what better way to celebrate the importance of sustaining and enriching our environment than by honouring earth’s life source, the tree.

Here are two picture books that appeal to the younger end of the market. There are many more, that showcase the magnificence of trees and nature: Jeannie Baker’s marvellous works, Tree by Danny Parker and Margaret Wild’s Tanglewood, for instance. Hunt them down and enjoy, but for goodness sake, leave those trees standing!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleBarnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville by Robert Vescio Illustrated by Cheri Hughes

Barnaby is a gardener who loves to rove and gather. With his assorted stash of seeds, he dreams of transforming his home, Bunnyville into a verdant wonderland of fruit and veg. The major of Bunnyville, however has other ideas. He believes bunnies are designed for one thing and one thing only, to dig. Faced with this opposition, Barnaby devises a way to turn the mayor’s stony greed into positive action.

Barnaby illos spreadWhen a treasure map promising to reveal the lost treasure of Bunnyville turns up, the mayor enlists every paw and claw of Bunnyville to find it. Enthusiastic excavation ensues but the only ‘treasure’ unearthed is an rusty old key by Barnaby. While the rest of the township concedes defeat, Barnaby utilises the myriad of holes created by the hunt and with some luck and patience, Bunnyville is transformed into a lush productive garden.  The townsfolk are delighted, the mayor impressed by what Barnaby reveals is indeed the ‘lost treasure of Bunnyville’. The concept of 2 and 5 a day as never looked so delicious!

Robert VesicoThis ambrosial little tale about bunnies and treasure hunting neatly encapsulates Vescio’s subtle plea for perseverance and preservation in a way that will appeal to under 6-year-olds. It gently emphasises that ‘a tree is a treasure’ and that from little things, big things, important things really do grow – into ‘growing treasures’.  A playful and useful way to introduce young readers into food production and conservation. (I love Hughes pumpkin bright illustrations and amazing seed-studded end pages, too!)Take it with you as you head out to plant something this weekend!

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

The Gobbling TreeThe Gobbling Tree by Mark Carthew Illustrated by Susy Boyer

An oldie but a goodie, this classic picture book by Mark Carthew and Susy Boyer depicts what happens to the seeds we plant and the consequences of our interaction with them.

The gobbling tree situated on a rise in the local park is never named but becomes the focal point of concern for the neighbourhood kids when one by one they lose a precious plaything to its arboreal clutches. Kites, cricket bats, balls, sticks, boots, even Jacob’s ladder (Ha Ha) are gobbled up as each attempt to get their objects back results in more lost items. Soon most of the town’s treasures are stuck within the tree’s grasp including, Simon! It’s not until nature shimmies to her own dance that normality is restored…until the next cricket match that is.

Mark CarthewAnyone who has ever had a Frisbee stuck in a tree and failed to dislodge it with a variety of other thrown items will relate to this hilarious lyrical misadventure. (I’m putting my hand high up, here!) Carthew’s ability to bring song into story is well loved and in this case, worthy of receiving the Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2009 Award. Boyer’s drawings capture the colour and comedy of the situation beautifully. This favourite never grows old and underlines my deep-rooted respect for trees evermore.

New Frontier Publishing first published 2008

So whether you intend to plant a tiny parsley seed or the beginnings of something large and magnificent, encourage your children to honour nature this weekend, indeed every weekend. They can enjoy books like these as they wait for their treasures to grow.

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Being You is Best – Picture book reviews about Self

Teddy illo spreadIt is sheer coincidence that the following picture books lie on my desk at a time when the tenets of tolerance, acceptance and being yourself are being so brutally questioned again, (when are they not). However, it is heartening to know that equally powerful positive messages are available and as accessible as picking up one of these books and sharing it with the next generation. The message is clear and simple: being you best.  It’s ok. It’s empowering. It’s beautiful. And it is not wrong. Here are some awesome new publications, which emphasis this conviction.

Being You is Enough Being You is Enough and other important stuff by Josh Langley

Josh Langley produces a number of inspirational, aphorism-infused illustrated books but I especially warmed to this recent release aimed fair and square at primary aged readers. It contains ‘all the important stuff a kid should know…’ conveniently listed from 1 to 11. Loud, bold, and just a little bit irreverent, Langley encourages youngsters to recognise and listen to their own superpower, the voice in their heads.  This voice can mislead you but also be your best friend and guide you to other awesome thoughts.  He goes on to reveal ways to combat angry feelings, bad thoughts, and many other internal conflicts common to young kids.

There is no sugar coating the message here, the advice is simply described and plainly delivered. This honest and straightforward approach will appeal to under 10-year-olds and frankly anyone else who is suffering from a touch of self-doubt. Langley’s line illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to his affirmations, quirky and kid-like, again bursting with appeal.

Being You is Enough is a terrific green light of a book to strengthen kids’ self-awareness, acknowledge their need to ride unicorns and reinforce the understanding that they are loved and never alone. A must read, wonderful bunch of little miracles between two covers.

Big Sky Publishing February 2016

Introducing TeddyIntroducing Teddy A Story about being yourself by Jessica Walton Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

I could not wait to read this one. Errol and his teddy, Thomas are the best of friends. They do everything together but increasingly, Thomas feels less and less like playing. Something disturbs him so deeply that he is terrified it will destroy his friendship with Errol. A mighty conflict of self is raging within Thomas who eventually reveals to Errol that he wishes his name were Tilly, not Thomas.

Walton’s sensitive narrative escorts young readers through the tricky landscape of gender awareness and acceptance. It is a watershed picture book for it not only exposes children to different family models, equality, and tolerance of others, it gently challenges the paradigms of society whilst highlighting its diversity.  MacPherson’s charm-laden illustrations ably reinforce Thomas aka Tilly’s growing discord and eventual surrender to being herself.

Full of relevance and grace, Introducing Teddy is tastefully rendered and should be on every classroom bookshelf.  Suitable for early to mid-primary readers and anyone fearful of questioning their own sexuality.

Bloomsbury Publishing May 2016

The Mozzie with the Sharp SnozzieThe Mozzie with a Sharp Snozzie by Irina Goundortseva

Resonating the delightful tones of the Ugly Duckling, The Mozzie with the Sharp Snozzie is a delightful visitation of one little mozzie’s sense of self. Our chipper little protagonist lives by the pond in perpetual awe of the beautiful butterflies who flutter about being beautiful all day long. She yearns to join them, to be as beautiful as them but they shun her because of her ugly and boring appearance. Disheartened, Mozzie retreats then embarks on a plan to elevate her popularity by disguising her true self. The shallow butterflies are enamoured by their beautiful new friend until disaster strikes and ‘things go from bad to worse’. Will Mozzie abandon her newfound friends and self-appreciation to save the day?

Vibrant illustrations accompany a lively text and storyline that will have little ones enthusiastically page turning to the very end.  Mozzie… is an invigorating tale about the benefits of being proactive, being yourself, and loving who you are. In addition, it does wonders for the esteem and profile of mozzies everywhere, which I think is reason enough to hunt it down to enjoy.

Big Sky Publishing August 2016

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