School in Focus – Picture Book Reviews

We’re well and truly in to the school routine now, although some mornings seem to lack that ideal, perfect-world motivation and drive. But with these following picture books at the ready, your kids will be inspired to remember their purpose and excitement for the day ahead.

Time for School, Daddy is a gorgeously humorous role reversal-type situation, in the same as essence as the previous title by Dave Hackett, Time for Bed, Daddy. Most often than not it is in fact us parents struggling to get out of bed, greeted each morning with the bombardment of children eager to get the day started. And here, this is no different. The little girl wakes a dozy, grumbling Daddy so they can get ready for school. She gives him his favourite breakfast, which always ends in a mess. She washes and dresses him in his work clothes, not without a bit of chaos. She packs him a mighty fine lunch, a tad of grooming and then it’s time to walk out the door. But who’s going to school today?
Tonnes of energy emanate from both the text and the images, with an innocently grown-up voice from the girl’s perspective as she guides her father through the hectic routine. The bright and vibrant cartoon illustrations work beautifully in a simplistic, obvious focus on the actions, which are the perfect linchpin for the irony that makes this book so witty. Time for School, Daddy is adorable, motivating fun for children from age four.

University of Queensland Press, January 2018.

The school or public library may just be the best place to get inspired, excited and transported (figuratively) during a normally busy day. So for anyone who loves to read, a chance to dive into books would be plenty of motivation to leave the house in a hurry in the morning. But for one little girl, there is one book in particular that she can’t get enough of. Lucy’s Book, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini, is one special story that follows one special story on many adventures as it is shared by Lucy to all her friends.
Lucy and her mum visit the library every Saturday. The enchanted red book, of which we speak, is recommended by Mrs Bruce and borrowed a multitude of times from the library. Lucy loves it so much, all her friends are dazzled by its charm and it makes its way into their hands too. The book is escorted on holidays to Honeycomb Bay and China, to the zoo, and even made into a banana sandwich. But what happens when the book is no longer available for borrowing? Do you believe in destiny?
Just like the premise of this story, the lively illustrations pronounce a real community feel; one of shared values, togetherness and spirit. With influences from real people (Mrs Bruce is a friend of the author and also the image of Megan the librarian at the local school), Lucy’s Book feels like a real-life fairytale where everyone gets to be involved in the swirl of magical bookishness and where fate is a reality. Dreamy for book lovers of any age.

Lothian Children’s Books, February 2017.

Ruby Lee is a highly enthusiastic student with a big imagination. But when it comes to being chosen as classroom helper, she’s not always the most efficient. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! is a wild and animated tale of learning patience, working to your skillset and being yourself.
Award-winning author Lisa Shanahan, together with graphic illustrator Binny, provide a linguistic and visual treat with their eccentric blend of humour and design. Shanahan’s quirky names are just the beginning of the literary goodness, with dialogue that perks in all the right places, and a storyline that is so authentically realistic despite all the crazy and creative figments Ruby Lee imagines in her mind. And flawlessly, Binny’s fantastical, detailed illustrations with blocks of colour and line work add that extra depth and meaning to both Ruby Lee’s real and made-up worlds.
Preschool and early years children will adore being taken into Ruby Lee’s school life as messenger as she discovers not how to be like someone else, but where her own strengths lie. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! plays out like a set of comical and whimsical scenes that will be requested to be delivered over and over again.

Lothian Children’s Books, July 2017.


Review – Fredrik Goes Bananas!

Fredrik the gull lives on an icy island where everyone loves fish. Fish for breakfast. Fish for lunch. Fish for dinner. Fish of all types and sizes.

It’s clearly no wonder that one day – whilst tucking into his rotten shark fin soup – Fredrik realises something. He’s sick of fish. The townsfolk are so shocked, they think he’s gone bananas.

Fredrik knows he has to do something about his fishy problem, so he sends away for some mysterious supplies and starts building a mysterious object. It has a wooden frame and glass panels and is built directly over the hot springs that pouf warm steam into the air. What on earth could he be doing? The townsfolk are baffled, his wife is verklempt – she is so dazed and upset by her husband’s antics, she can only be revived by the smell of fresh mackerel!

After some time, a very special plant grows in the mysterious greenhouse. I won’t spoil the surprise but let’s just say it’s not only Fredrik who ends up going bananas!

This is a sweet, simple story with kooky undertones – my kind of kids’ book – and of course, it’s so easy to love Cheryl Orsini’s divine imagery, as evocative and delightful, as always.


Fredrik Goes Bananas! is published by Scholastic.


Review – Look, Baby!

I’m totally obsessed with Cheryl Orsini’s work, and I’m yet to encounter a Penny Matthews book I didn’t like, so Look, Baby! seemed a winner to me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

This simple and sweet toddler book follows the travails of a wee baby as he navigates his day – from waking in his cot, through dressing and breakfast, to banging pots in the kitchen, a visit to the park, dinner, bath and bed.

Rhyming text on each verso page underpins a full page illustration of baby in action, and each opposing recto page features a line-up of objects that can be seen from the main picture, each labelled.

Perfect for very young children, the book is not only designed for word comprehension but contains a lovely narrative that pulls the reader through the book.

Orsini’s illustrations are pure delight and will readily engage the very young, through to toddlers.

Would love to see this as a board book, as I’m sure it would be dog-eared in no time.

Look, Baby! is published by Working Title Press.

Five Very Bookish Questions with illustrator Cheryl Orsini

Which genre of children’s books do you like most and why?

I’m a big fan of all sorts of picture books and have to fight my 9-year-old daughter for ownership – quite often we have to buy two copies. My favourite author/illustrator is Maira Kalman; she embraces all manner of nonsense in her writing and her illustrations are wonky and wonderful. A couple of her books include Chicken Soup Boots and What Pete Ate From A-Z.

Which books did you love to read as a young child?

Always, always picture books for me. I still have a few very weather beaten (and page eaten) copies of The Man Who Didn’t Wash His Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky, I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by the prolific Mary Blair, and a much loved copy of Babar’s Voyage by Jean de Brunhoff.

Which three attributes make for a great children’s book?

vanallsburgA curious surprise – I’m quietly thrilled by a story that takes an unexpected turn. A good example that comes to mind is The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg. I won’t say much more about that, I don’t want to spoil the ending!

Quietly funny – It’s quite wonderful when a book is able to make you smile each time you read it. Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand.

Thoughtful detail – There’s nothing more exciting than coming to the pages in Eloise in Moscow when you open up to reveal Russia in all its glory. Amazing!

What is your number one tip for encouraging children to read?

Let them choose want they want to read, give them plenty of time in the bookstore to browse the books and have them choose one themselves.

Name three books you wish you’d written.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, Irving the Magician by Tohby Riddle and Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

About Cheryl

With a love of colour and a weakness for a good story, Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations regularly appear in many Australian magazines including The Australian Women’s Weekly and Gardening Australia Magazine. Best known for her children’s books, Cheryl has over 20 titles to her name, her most recent being Pom Pom, Where Are You?, The ABC Book of Rockets, Planets and Outer Space and Wibbly Wobbly Street.


Review – Pom Pom: Where Are You?

Loving any book set in Paris, but even better when an adorable little puppy dog named Pom Pom is involved.

Pom Pom lives in a tall building in the heart of Paris. Every day, Henriette and her parents, walk him down the Rue Sainte-Geneviève to the post office. Keen to see ‘more of the world’, Pom Pom one day escapes, trotting off into the great Unknown.

This is a simple story, following the journey of a wee dog as he blunders his way into limousines, onto boats, skateboards and bicycles, into baby strollers, through an art gallery and into the home of a well-meaning family who think Pom Pom is helplessly lost and lonely.

Of course, it’s not until Pom Pom realises how much he misses his own family, that he knows he must try to find his way home. Can he make it back to Henriette?

Natalie Jane Prior’s story takes the reader on a glorious romp through Paris (who ever needs an excuse?). Her delightful little character will enchant children, as he scurries around the pages of this beautiful book.

Cheryl Orsini’s absolutely divine illustrations are some of my favourite in a picture book this year. From the endpapers, through the book proper and the covers, too, her utterly whimsical illustrations are so eye-engaging, it’s a delight to turn each page and witness a new surprise.

If you’re someone who appreciates really beautiful picture books, then Pom Pom is for you.

Pom Pom: where are you? is published by Penguin/Viking.


Today on Friday Book Feature we’re looking at two wonderful books for young readers by Marianne Musgrove. These simply told stories feature well drawn characters facing very real problems for this age group.


As Lucy discovers in Lucy The Lie Detector, one lie can lead to another and before you know it you’re enmeshed in  a world of deceit.

First there’s the scratch on Dad’s new car then there’s the escaping guinea pig. Lucy digs herself in deeper and deeper until finally it’s time to tell the truth.

I love the authenticity of this book. As Lucy gets herself into more and more trouble the reader is carried along with her, wanting her to tell the truth, wanting everything to turn out okay.

It’s a book that introduces children to the concept of choices and the consequences of the things we do.

Lucy The Lie Detector also delves into the world of an adults definition of truth and the confusion this can cause for a child.

Why is it not okay for a child to lie but it’s okay for one parent to fib to another about eating chocolate or forbidden cake? As Marianne Musgrove points out in Lucy The Lie Detector, it’s hardly surprising that children become confused.

Lucy The Lie Detector raises important issues, but in a non-preaching and non-confrontational way. Lucy is a great character who readers will empathise with and there’s also plenty of humour to lighten the more intense moments.

Lucy The Lie Detector is the sequel to Lucy the Good, another entertaining and insightful read about this irrepressible heroine.


Juliet is a little girl with a lot of worries. She’s only ten but it seems like it’s up to her to solve everything – her parents fighting and her Nana’s upset about growing old.

Juliet copes with the stress in her life by making lists and trying to be grown up, but she can’t stop the nervous rash or the churning in her tummy.

When Juliet moves to Nana’s old bed room, she discovers the Worry Tree underneath the wallpaper. That’s where Nana used to hang up her troubles for the night when she was a little girl.

Now the animals in the Worry Tree are there to help Juliet. There’s Wolfgang the Wombat to take care of the stress caused by her two best friends fighting over her, there’s Petronella the Pig who takes care of worries about school, Gwyneth the Goat who looks after her when she’s sick, Dimitri the Dog who looks after family worries, Piers the Peacock who is the guardian of worries about ‘lost’  things and the hole in the trunk for the worries you can’t describe.

All the characters in The Worry Tree are wonderfully authentic and Marianne Musgrove clearly has a deep understanding of the concerns and fears experienced by children this age.

Marianne’s publisher, Random House has provided a downloadable Worry Tree so that readers can find a place to hang their worries.

Lucy The Lie Detector and The Worry Tree are beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini and their gentle wisdom and irresistible characters will resonate with young readers.


Welcome to our first Friday Book Feature. So many fantastic books! Unfortunately, too many to feature here, but these are my picks for this week.


Written by Trudie Trewin & illustrated by Cheryl Orisini

I live on a rough winding road that goes for more than 10 kilometres and is peppered with bark, lizards and the occasional hopping kangaroo. So I was totally intrigued with the concept of Trudie Trewin‘s new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street, and the idea that a road could be straightened or ‘made perfect’.

Beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orisini, Wibbly Wobbly Street tells the story of the only street in Squareton that’s not straight and smooth and wide. It’s a street that doesn’t conform. Mayor Angle and his fellow councillors take some radical action to try and bring it into line with the rest of Squareton.

Trudie Trewin says the story was inspired by a friend of hers who had trouble remembering the name of a street she was talking about.

She ended up just calling it ‘Wibbly Wobbly Street’ because of its hilly and twisty nature. It struck me as a fun name for a story, but it took me about four years, and many failed drafts, to come up with a plot to suit.

Wibbly Wobbly Street is a picture book for ages 3-6 and the ridiculousness of trying to physically straighten a street will appeal to their sense of humour.

Particularly as the street is obviously much more exciting than the rest of Squareton.

Trudie  has also used fun words, like ‘wibble-extomy’ and ‘wobble-otomy’, which add to the appeal. She says she loved being able to use wibbly wobbly language in the book. “I loved using words like rectangle-fied, wobble-otomy, wibble-ectomy, hotch-potch, askew, squiggled, joggled.”

So, what’s unique about this book?

Celebrating individuality isn’t new, but I can’t think of another book where this theme has been approached from the point of view of a stubbornly twisted street.

Wibbly Wobbly Street is published by Scholastic Australia ISBN 9781741695618


Written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Leila Rudge

I’ll admit to complete bias with this book by Meg McKinlay. Firstly, I love ducks and secondly, I love the concept of class pets and think they add something special to any school room.

In Duck for a Day, Mrs Melvino brings a duck, Max into the classroom and Abby desperately wants to take him home for the night.

Abby lives in a spotless house where pets are not allowed because they might make a mess. A classroom pet visit is a temporary thing and Abby manages to persuade her Mum to let her bring the duck home. But this is only the first of Abby’s hurdles.

Next she must overcome the strict demands of Mrs Melvino who won’t let Max go home to an environment that is less than ‘duck’ perfect.

Streets also play an important role in this story because when Abby finally gets to take Max home, the duck disappears and waddles up the street to the park. Duck for a Day is a beautifully illustrated book for 7-9 year olds full of gentle humour and situations that kids will relate to.

Duck For a Day is published by Walker Books Australia – ISBN 9781921529283


Tomorrow, we start our FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE at Kids’ Book Capers –  and this week, it’s all about streets and ducks.

I can’t wait to talk about some new releases in the wonderful world of kids’ books.

We’re going to be blogging every Friday and greeting new arrivals to the book shelves.

Discover Trudie Trewin’s quirky new picture book Wibbly Wobbly Street which has been beautifully illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

We’ll also be taking a waddle down the road with Duck for a Day written by Meg McKinlay with gorgeous illustrations by Leila Ridge.

Look forward to seeing you then.