Belief Compassion Dreams – More Picture Books that Inspire

The well of picture books possessing that alluring duality to entertain and inspire never seems to run dry. Here are a few new titles to keep you topped up.

Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie

Phil Lesnie used pencil, watercolour and a tiny bit of gouache to decorate Cummings’ story of compassion and hope. According to his note, he also spilled his coffee on it twice and left it in. Despite his refreshing flippancy, both he and Cummings have created a picture book awash with extreme visual sincerity and narrative beauty. Their story follows the flight of a migrating sandpiper whose tug for home takes the reader through crumbled war-torn landscapes, over deep river valleys, through dark stormy nights, and across flood-ravaged plains and turbulent seas until finally coming to rest near Mia’s house.

At various locations, a feather or two is lost, each causing a reaction between those who happen upon it, connecting us, the reader, with the inhabitants from lands far distant and their circumstances. The sandpiper is a curious yet brilliant choice for the allegorical conduit between that which is normal for some and catastrophic for others.

Feathers promotes themes of immigration, hope, tolerance, cultural awareness, compassion and humanity in a divinely beautiful way. Highly recommended for primary aged readers.

Scholastic Press August 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge

When a small rhino sets off across a the ocean waves in search of something more, he discovers a world of possibilities and wonders greater than he could have ever imagined and the satisfaction of eventually returning home. This is a comely tale of living your dreams to their fullest and ignoring those soothsayers who warn you otherwise. See Romi’s full review, here.

Walker Books Australia August 2017

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

I’m Australian Too focuses on multiculturalism from within our own backyards or indeed, the backyards of a dozen or more typically Aussie kids with not so typically Aussie roots. Celebrating diversity in a way that pre-schoolers will relate to, Fox uses simple verse and a conversational tone to prompt readers to investigate their own cultural heritage and to not only celebrate it but embrace those with different family histories, as well. Each introduction ends on a bouncy high note suggesting that no matter where we originate from, no matter what the circumstance of our being Australian, we are all one and better for it.

Scholastic Australia March 2017

Sarah and the Steep Slope by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

One of the most powerful and affecting picture book teams around, join forces again to present Sarah’s story of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sarah is unable to leave her home because of a slope. It blots out the sun and surrounds her house blocking every exit. Despite her best efforts, the slope will not budge, trapping Sarah, ‘all day long’. Until the slope doctor makes a suggestion and with the help of her friends, Sarah discovers a way to see past the slope and to conquer it.

Sarah and the Steep Slope is a tremendous story of courage, friendship and emotional resilience. Occasionally we, including young children, all encounter slopes like Sarah’s that effectively prevent us from seeing what is beyond and inhibit us from venturing further than we need to. Parker’s narrative gives one hope and salvation from negative thoughts and actions by illustrating the formidable healing power of friendship. Ottley reinforces this notion of self-belief with utterly lovable, whimsy-filled illustrations that bathe each page with texture and meaning without imagery clutter. Another masterpiece and my new best favourite.

Little Hare Books, imprint of HEG August 2017

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Review – Ruben

It took Bruce Whatley almost the same amount of time I have been plying my trade as an author to conceive and create this 96-page picture book (around 10 years that is). To call Ruben a masterpiece is a discredit to the complexity and intense beauty that harbours within each page. One might spend hours alone exploring the end pages, searching for clues and analysing the significances secreted within.  This is not a picture book for the faint hearted. However, it is a supreme testament to Whatley’s self-effacing talent and a proclamation to strive to be the best you can be. As decreed by Whatley himself, ‘It had to be the best I could be.’

Ruben is a captivating synthesis of picture book and graphic novel. Told in parts akin to chapters, it describes the solo existence of a small boy living in the shadows of a futuristic city that functions only on what it receives. It is incapable of producing anything in return, an inequitable industrial wasteland of pylons, viaducts and ominous occupants who represent the pseudo organic heartbeat of a mechanical monster.

Continue reading Review – Ruben

Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Picture books have an immense power and ability to relay subject matter in a range of perspectives. How young developing minds perceive the world around them helps them make sense of themselves as well as those living in worlds different from theirs. The following picture books all support themes of perception in the most tender and winsome ways.

The Cloudspotter by Tom McLaughlin

A young boy seeks solace in spotting clouds and the adventures they enshroud. His imaginative blue-sky sojourns stave loneliness until he encounters The Scruffy Dog whom he feels is after his cloud sanctuaries for herself. He plots to remove her but when she is no longer beside him, realises that both she and he had been searching for something else all along.

A beautifully illustrated succinct look at imagination, friendship and viewing things from a different point of view. A must read.

Bloomsbury June 2015

Ollie’s Treasures by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan Continue reading Perception – The Power of Picture Book Point of View

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

The Magic of Music – musicality in picture books

Deploy music to tell a story and joy results. You need only to think about your favourite song to understand this. Unite the magic of music with the unique creation of a picture book story and the result is something very special indeed. These next few picture books combine a passion for music and story and the exceptional ability of both to bring people together. They’re also a whole concert-full of fun.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! By Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop

Not only is the word hullabaloo an absolute hoot to roll off your tongue, it implies mayhem of the most exuberant manic kind. This is exactly what The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! delivers.

Lively, liberating adventure is what Jack and Jess encounter one morning upon entering a zoo that is ‘strangely deserted.’ Even the new roo seems to have bunked. Unable to find a single real-life occupant, they begin a quest to track down the missing residents with little more than a trail of feathers, footprints, and poos, aka scats, to guide them.

Their bush tracking efforts eventually lead them to a party to end all parties. Every animal is hooting and tooting, and hopping and bopping a right hullabaloo! There’s cake, a surprise appearance and enough revelry to fill a pirate ship. For whom is this euphonious shindig, though? Well, you will have to come to the party yourself to find that out.

Tunefully rhythmic and exploding with joviality, this is classic Carthew and Tortop. Great musical verse (with a lovely reference to the Silvery Moon) and animated illustrations make The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! worth getting vocal about! Make sure you read Romi Sharp’s full rhapsodic review, here.

New Frontier Publishing May 2017

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill and Giuseppe Poli

Life for the residents of Level 8 in their apartment block is rather subdued and unexciting. They coexist placidly with very little interaction despite their close proximity, so artfully portrayed in the very first pages by Poli. Then one day, The Baby arrives. And, as babies are wont to do, that changes everything.

Baby’s persistent refusal to sleep wears his mother to distraction. His cries are heard and felt by each resident of Level 8, again shown by Poli’s brilliant vignettes that provide telling glimpses into the lives of Baby’s neighbours.

Then, Baby’s chance discovery of the pots and pans cupboard sets off another chain of cacophonous chaos. Each clamorous clang, squeak, squawk and stomp, vibrates throughout Level 8 and awakens a melodious joy in all who dwell there. Slowly, each of the residents is drawn to the rooftop to rejoice in all things musical, with one noticeable difference. They are celebrating, together. But, can you guess what happened to Baby amidst all this musical mayhem?

Hill has composed her palpable passion for music into an elegantly told tale that truly does rise ones soul an octave higher. Poli’s illustrations resonate charm with very few brush strokes. The linear use of images and variation of perspectives, rather like notes on a musical stave, sweeps the reader along the corridors of Level 8, in and out of the apartments and finally to their common park area, which the residents now utilise to play together in their newly formed Baby Band.

Baby Band is a symphonic story pre-schoolers will love having read to them, incongruously gentle in appearance and sound yet magnificently entertaining. This story elicits plenty of opportunity for musical interaction and discussion about all manner of instruments, pots and pans notwithstanding. I adored the cleverness of it all and the irony of young children being able to find solace and slumber in sound. Bravo!

New Frontier Publishing March 2017

The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

Sometimes, finding yourself only occurs because of some other serendipitous discovery. This is what happens to a young bear cub one day after he happens upon a piano in the middle of his forest home. At first, the sound Bear is able to procure from the piano is so awful, he abandons it but after several seasons not only does he mature so too does his ability to produce beautiful sounds from this strange thing.

Playing the piano transports Bear far beyond the wooded boundaries of his forest and fills his heart with melodious joy. Night after night, crowds gather around bear and his piano entranced by the magic he evokes from its ivory keys, until one night Bear is given an opportunity he is unable to say no to, to see the world and share his music with it. And so, he leaves his home and friends behind.

Bear’s tale of yearning for brighter lights and attempting to make better of himself is not unique but Litchfield’s personification of a bear embarking on a journey of self-discovery is both touching and purposeful. Bear’s successful debut in the big lonely city and then consequent tug to return to his old friends and home draws the reader in with cinematic magnitude. When he does return to the forest, he is deeply dismayed to find no one and nothing as he left them. He worries his desertion has made them angry or worse that they have forgotten him. However, he is mistaken as the heart-melting ending reveals.

The Bear and the Piano is a picture book that quietly moves you to the core as an operatic aria would. Bear is tragic yet infinitely loveable. His desire to share his love (of music) and taste the bittersweet reality of his dreams is one many of us may harbour and thus relate to easily. It is easy to like and admire his courage and equally as easy to feel his heartache and despair in spite of his successes. It can be lonely at the top. Luckily, for Bear, and us being at the top is not the be all and end all.

This book is an arresting mixture of loud and strong – forte piano as it were and is beautifully supported by Litchfield’s sumptuous illustrations. A pleasure for lower to upper primary students.

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books Quarto Group UK March 2017

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

To an infant child, the world is full of unbelievable marvels. Every new discovery is cause for celebration and intense scrutiny. They inherently know how to appreciate the most minuscule details of life because for them, these are the ones that count the most.

Robert Vescio’s latest picture book, Ella Saw The Tree invites young readers to pause for thought and cherish the finer details of life, ones they are often forced to abandon or forget about as they deal with the daily need to ‘grow up’.

Today, we welcome Robert back to the draft table to discuss how his book about mindfulness can help us all slow down whilst catching up with the things that really matter.

Welcome Robert! Tell us a bit more about Ella Saw The Tree.

Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Robert Vescio

Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

The first round of school holidays is upon us. Kid induced dilemmas are rife. How do you deal with them? Whip out one of these chuckle-creating reads and indulge in ten minutes or more of togetherness time, is how. These picture books are guaranteed to make molehills out of mountains.

Busting! By Aaron Blabey

Lou’s dilemma matches my own on an almost hourly basis. But what is Lou to do when the queue to the loo is so long. Anyone with a weak bladder like me or toddlers with the inexplicable ability to ignore the call of nature until the last absolute possible minute will adore this ode to toilet queues. Busting! is all those desperate dashes through the supermarket, late night dreams of locked toilet stalls and screaming brakes on the motorway for verge-side emergencies rolled into rollicking rhyme and goofy pictures. Just brilliant. Potty humour has never read so well.

Suitable for potty training youngsters from three years and up.

Scholastic Press March 2017

I Don’t Want Curly Hair by Laura Ellen Anderson Continue reading Dealing with Dilemmas – School Holiday Reads Sorted

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

A well-known writer for kids once stated, ‘Imagination is simply Image – Nation’ meaning, you fill your ideas well from all the images pooled from your life experiences, the world around you, and your impressions of it. That is what really constitutes imagination. However it occurs, unleashing it is the penultimate fun part. Here are two imaginative new picture books that do not hold back.

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

There is a veritable shipload of things to like about this rollicking tale of adventure and mayhem set incongruously within the confines of the Blossburn’s family lounge room. Sillett’s surreal tale about a book with a mind of its own explodes with mirth and mystery the kind of which pre-schoolers love to wallow in. It’s not just wallowing that they can indulge in either. There is enough onematapedic dropping and plopping, sploshing and splashing to have little ones dashing for their gumboots.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

‘There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple too. And up in the nursery, an absurd little bird is popping up to say, “Cuckoo, cuckoo!”’

So marks the passing of time as decreed by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Time, we often complain about its restraints and resist its ravages but to ignore it completely results in chaos. At least it does for the village of Schoenwald in Home of the Cuckoo Clock.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock is Robert Favretto’s first venture into the picture book world, one he makes with considerable assuredness and aptitude along with illustrator, David Eustace. Together they navigate the difficult yet supreme landscape of telling stories in pictures against the stunning backdrop of Germany’s Black Forest region.

Schoenwald is caught in a peculiar metaphysical time warp, in other words, frozen in time. It’s not a bad thing ignoring the passing of time however complete deprivation of any time keeping results in some devastating situations for the villagers: children are late for school, the shops do not open on time, and cows are not milked. The problem? No clocks.

Continue reading Review – Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Hooray for Lucy Cousins!

Lucy Cousins is much-loved, highly acclaimed international author-illustrator best known for her beloved Maisy series. She is also creator to Peck Peck Peck, and Hooray for Fish! And there is always much excitement when her new releases are revealed, even if they are simply new editions of the old. Go wild for Cousins’ latest books! They will keep your little ones entertained for hours.

Hooray for Birds! is the extravagantly captivating sequel to Hooray for Fish! Not only is there an immediate hook with endpapers containing a wonderfully colourful menagerie of beaks a-squawking and wings a-flapping, but then read the opening line: “Can you imagine… You’re a busy bird?”. Well, can you imagine?! Those little minds will be racing, hearts fluttering and arms ready to soar! Reading and acting this book out with my four year old has been a pure joy, every time!

With the most vibrant, solid colours, enlarged bold text and a patterned array of bird species engaging every page in this large format book, it’s no wonder Hooray for Birds! is an absolute winner with young children. Its rollicking rhyming text almost literally escalates its readers to new heights, effortlessly inspiring them to perform in a fun-filled mimicking and imaginative role-play experience. Included are shouts of “cock-a-doodle-doo!”, there are hopping birds, pecking birds, ones with tall necks. There are parrots that talk, starlings that swoop, fly-catching birds, and ones that lay eggs. The list goes on with a cascade of onomatopoeia and lively action words, enough to make one exhausted as we reach a suitable ending when it’s time to say goodnight.

What a fantastically playful book with the massive potential for teaching and learning moments on the study of bird names, habitats and characteristics. Highly recommended, jubilant fun for all preschool aged children.

Maisy Goes Swimming was originally published in 1990, but here today we have a magnificently interactive new edition that is perfect for children from age three.

Your child may be a confident swimmer, or completely new to the experience. Either way, this book can be adopted as a familiar reference or as a simple introduction, both encouraging independence. Maisy is preparing for her visit to the pool, and with the reader’s help, she can dress appropriately for the occasion. The ideal size board book for small, busy hands, Maisy Goes Swimming is brimming with tactile goodness to entertain again and again. Large bold text in colours that match the clothing item of attention help little ones identify the correlation between word and picture. And most likely after just one adult read-aloud they will be able to ‘read’ it all themselves. From a wintery outfit of jacket, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, slowly but surely flaps are lifted, strings are pulled, parts are slid up or down and folds are opened. Watch out for the rudey-nudey Maisy when her layers are all off! Quickly slide that recognisable striped swim suit on and take Maisy for a swim.

The sturdy and high quality pages provide great comfort in knowing that for a book that your children will never get tired of, Maisy Goes Swimming is sure to be a classic for another 25+ years!

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. And we’re all for encouraging a love of books, right?!

When Maisy enters the bookshop with teddy in tow, she is delightfully greeted with an abundance of colourful books filling the shelves. Immediately both Maisy and the reader are confronted with a very real circumstance in the need to make decisions. Which book will she choose to buy? Exploring the range from bears, to fish, trucks and art, it is the book about birds that catches her eye…it’s a book to share with her friend Tallulah. Some books are factual, and some can spark one’s imagination. This concept is neatly woven into the story as Maisy and her friends at the bookshop discover topics that fill their minds with wonder and excitement, and a bit of humour too. After storytime and a bite to nibble, Maisy makes her purchase and delivers her present to its new owner for a fun shared reading afternoon.

Making clear the benefits and many ways to enjoy books, Cousins’ text and illustrations prove equally as enthusiastic and simple. Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is obviously a pleasurable reading experience about a pleasurable experience with books! For book-loving children from age three.

Walker Books, 2017.

The ANZAC Tree by Christina Booth

Christina Booth is a talented author and illustrator. She began her career illustrating books written by Colin Thiele, Max Fatchen and Christobel Mattingley and then graduated to creating her own picture books, which include Purinina – A Devil’s Tale and Kip. Kip won a CBCA Honour award.

We have a fine backlist of picture books about the ANZACS and my review of some top titles in recent years appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age http://m.smh.com.au/entertaining-kids/parenting-and-childrens-books/gallipoli-books-for-children-open-an-enlightening-window-on-the-reality-of-war-20150420-1mmcfl.html .

Christina Booth has added to the canon by writing and illustrating The ANZAC Tree (Scholastic Australia) ready for this year’s ANZAC Day.

The ANZAC Tree is set on a farm in Tasmania and traces generations of soldiers from the one family. Phillip, the young narrator at the beginning of the story, likes to climb the big hill and look out at forever. His older brothers each planted a tree on the hill before they left for the Great War. Phillip waters the trees. Roy’s survives but Percy’s tree is dying, foreshadowing his fate.

The narration quickly changes from Phillip to Kenneth, who is Roy’s nephew. Kenneth farewells his father (probably Phillip as an adult), who is going away to fight Mr Hitler. When the family don’t hear from him, Kenneth waits under Uncle Roy’s tree.

In the next section it is implied that Kenneth is the soldier fighting with Uncle Joe in Korea. His daughter, Sophie, takes over the narrative. The psychedelic Sixties follow and Emily witnesses her brother Kevin being drafted to fight in Vietnam. He later has a Vietnamese girlfriend and watches the sunset under Roy’s big pine tree rather than attending the ANZAC parade. Then Chris sees his cousin Jenny go to fight in Iraq and Jack skypes his father in Afghanistan. The story culminates with family members united once again under the pine tree planted by great-great-grandfather Roy a hundred years earlier, appreciating that war isn’t something to be proud of, but being brave enough to fight in them to protect other people is.

Children will enjoy the challenge of deciphering the family relationships and following the recurring symbol of the tree in this powerful, soulful story inspired by real people and events. The illustrations, including the drawings of photos, extend the narrative. The structure is sophisticated but executed skilfully and seamlessly in words and pictures. The ANZAC Tree is a commemoration of one family’s fallen, and is also an excellent picture book for primary schools to use to observe ANZAC Day.

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston

From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!

Review:

Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.

A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.

Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.

EK Books, March 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Join us now for the interview:

Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!

DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.

Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?

DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.

How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?

DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.

What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?

DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.

Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.

Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?

NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.

The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.

The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.

Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?

DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.

NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.

This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.

What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?

DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!

NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!

It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.

DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.

Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx

NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!

DP: It’s been a pleasure, Romi. Thanks J

Purchase The Fix-It Man.

The Fix-It Man will be launched in both Brisbane and Melbourne! Check the flyers for details.

 

The Blog Burst party continues at the following websites. Check them out!

Kids’ Book Review

Creative Kids’ Tales

Dee White

GumbootsPearlz

Visit Dimity Powell at her website, and Nicky Johnston at her website.

Please enjoy one last special show, courtesy of Nicky Johnston!

Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

In the name of love and all things sweet and sugary, here are a few picture books that will melt your heart. It is not so much that they honour Valentine’s Day, rather the notion behind the date, of love cherished and shared. Succumb to both.

Guess How Much I Love You – Colouring Book by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

Children across the globe will have no trouble recognising the iconic figures of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare. Guess How Much I Love You is one of those timeless picture books that somehow manage to enchant readers even as they age. In a heart-warming tale of what may be viewed as one-up-mans-ship (but of course, isn’t!), Little Nutbrown Hare endeavours to prove to Big Nutbrown Hare how fathomless his love  is. Of course, it’s an exercise in wishful thinking for Big Nutbrown Hare is always able to provide a counter example of how he loves his buddy just as much, thus, showing children that the love of an adult towards a child is limitless.

It’s a message that is simply told and beguiling illustrated and is now available as a delightful A 4 sized colouring book. Apart from full spreads, depicting the story to colour-in, and decorate with the included stickers, fans of Guess How Much I Love You can extend their artistic verve with page after page of interesting images to colour, rather like those you would find in a therapeutic colouring in book.

Fun and useful, this is an activity-based book to love and treasure.

Walker Books February 2017 Continue reading Valentine’s Quickies – Picture Books that Melt Your Heart

Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Writing a book about bullying or indeed, attempting to instill relevant social life issues into an entertaining format for kids, is always tricky to perfect. Alison Reynolds has managed to pull off this feat of meaningful storytelling with her captivating picture book series, Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds. You can read Romi’s review of these two new titles, here.

Today she joins us briefly at the Draft Table to discuss just how she tackled the dicey subject of bullying with The Playground Meanies. This episode with Pickle and Bree is one of my favourites as we are reintroduced to Jason, the big footed, kind-hearted panda whose good deed not only saves the day but opens the pathways to friendship in a way very young children can’t help but connect with. Continue reading Doodles and Drafts – Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

Picture books are a unique marriage of art and words. Occasionally, not even the words are needed. A picture book can evoke emotions so intense, you’ll wonder how so few images and words managed to resonate such an immense amount of feeling in such a short space of time. This is what I find so utterly attractive and astonishing in well-written picture books. Today, we reveal a few that not only take my breath away, but also astound me with their cleverness, humanity and sheer depth. Enjoy. Continue reading I Don’t Believe it’s a Picture Book! Astonishing reads for all ages Part 1

All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Under the Christmas Tree Part 6 – Tis better to give than receive

It’s almost time to step away from the desk and wrap up the year. What a year it’s been, brimful of incredible stories and pictures, all of which have been a delight to share with you. It is, as they say; better to give than receive, so here are some final last minute helpful hints for something worth tucking under the Christmas tree.

was-not-me Was Not Me! by Shannon Horsfall

This fits the Naught but Nice list. Perfect for the school holidays, this picture book by talented newcomer, Shannon Horsfall will have kids swinging from the chandeliers and surging through the high seas with her calamitous Not Me character. He is cheeky and illusive and always hangs the blame for the mess on the carpet or the floods in the bathroom on his twin brother, Me. Mum suspects foul play and is not so easily fooled.

was-not-me-illos-spreadKids and mischief is a mix that portends all sorts of hilarious possibilities. Horsfall has managed to bottle that common go-to-get-out-of-jail card-catch-cry that kids so frequently use, ‘Was not me!’ with lightly rhyming humour and very likeable illustrations. Something fun for bored would-be house wreckers these holidays aged four to eight.

Harper Collins Children’s Books July 2016

twigTwig by Aura Parker

Another author illustrator production this time by Aura Parker whose unique organically inspired illustrations turn this gentle story about making friends and starting school into an obvious holiday choice for four to six-year-olds.

Heidi is a stick insect. She is tall and slender and blends in incredibly well with her surroundings so much so that she goes virtually unnoticed by all those around her. Such anonymity does not bode well for a creature as unassuming as Heidi and she fails to make an impact on her new classmates or even her energetic teacher, Mrs Orb. Dejected and miserable, it is not until Scarlett inadvertently unearths Heidi’s indignation that the rest see Heidi for who and what she is for the first time. From then on, the webs of friendship begin to spin.

twig-and-aura-parkerTwig is a sweet tale about finding the confidence to embark on new adventures. It is also a glorious detailed experience of visual discovery. Each of the end papers is crawling with critters and bugs of every description with prompts to seek them out. Twig is a marvellous way of getting real with bugs with a captivating nod to counting, species classification, biology, and colour. A picture book to truly pour over.

Scholastic Press November 2016

elephants-have-wingsElephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

We have reviewed this one before (read Julie Fison’s encounter with Susanne Gervay, here) but it’s worth special mention and a prime place under the Christmas tree.

At a time in our history when there should be no child that suffers comes this powerful picture book by the accomplished team of Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro. Based partly on the ancient parable the Blind Men and the Elephant, this outstanding work is suffused with elegance, immense spirit and a beauty that young children will recognise and draw from even if they are not able to comprehend the complexities that lie within each page.

My daughter was nine when she first read it and stated, ‘It is great out of the box thinking isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought that elephants could fly.’ Indeed, capturing the essence of the blind men and the elephant in a picture book is one thing. Exhibiting it with such exquisite heart and sensitivity as the team of Gervay and Pignataro do is higher than commendable.

The journey of discovery begins one night as two young siblings beg their father for a bedtime tale. This particular night he tells their grandfather’s story, thus spanning the generations. From his recount, we learn of a group of children from varying cultural backgrounds intent on going out one dark night in search of a secret. They each find part of something, each certain they are right in their assumption of what it is, each unwilling to accept that their interpretation of their discovery whilst subjectively correct in one instance could also be part some bigger picture. They ‘argued until everyone was angry’ – my favourite line in the book, also one of the most disparagingly accurate of observations. It is not until grandfather appears with his candlelight that the children discover that each of them ‘was right, but also wrong’ and the magnificent elephant is revealed.

But what of the secret? As brother and sister embark upon the elephant’s sturdy back and soar with him over the many glorious fabrics of their world, they come to appreciate not only the beauty that surrounds them but also the cracks that threaten that beauty, until finally they arrive home, conscious now of their differences and sameness.

elephants-have-wings-illos-spreadThe subtle nuances so intricately and delicately woven into this creation are numerous. Pignataro’s textured, collaged illustrations, lift and transport, defying gravity and borders. They convey a rich tapestry of multiculturalism, religion, and ultimately, Nirvana – a divine realisation of self and the ability to see past fear, a call to reach out for harmony. The use of the colours of the Chakra, of pages drained of any pigment and then restored, provide reasons to clutch tightly to life, ride out derision, to hope – to forge forward.

Gervay’s impossibly expressive narrative articulates confusion, disaccord, reconciliation, and understanding, prompting young readers to ponder and question all that which they see (and hear) around them. To paraphrase the words of George R R Martin ‘Just open your eyes… is all that is needing. The eyes see true…then comes the thinking and in that knowing the truth.’

Supremely brave, eloquent and masterful, Elephants Have Wings will initiate discussion over many shared readings; it is one to treasure and grow with.

Ford Street Publishing October 2014

Find your elephant within as soon as you possibly can.

Cherish your Christmas moments. Give a Book. Read lots!

See you in 2017!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Under the Christmas Tree Part 4

It’s time for some fun fiction for kids. This little cluster of Christmas inspired picture books is sure to generate a smile or two and plenty of sage head nodding, perfect for slipping under the Christmas tree.

christmas-at-homeChristmas at Home by Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson

I adore the homegrown simplicity juxtaposed with the bustling busy detail Dawson’s illustrations project in this seasonal picture book. Saxby’s narrative is snugly woven to fit the meter of O Tannenbaum however instead of endless verses about pine branches, it’s the lines applauding classic Aussie Christmas lunching and community Christmas light displays that demand your cheery attention. From decorating the tree and touring the neighbourhood streets in search of the most  razzle dazzle to squeezing around the table and forcing down a feast, Christmas at Home is a jazzed up observation of a typical Aussie silly season enjoyed with those you love… at home.

The Five Mile Press November 2016

pig-the-elfPig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Oh dear, he’s back and behaving badly as per usual. Resounding full marks for this festive episode of the world’s most self-centred pooch. Pig the Elf is a hilarious cautionary tale of greed and arrogance vs compassion and gratefulness. Blabey’s lilting and often times, cutting verse is almost of sing song quality, the carolling type no less (I had to hold myself back) and puts readers nicely in a ‘night before Christmas’ mood. Pig wants stuff for Christmas, lots of stuff and is not shy about slugging old Santa up for it. He does get his just desserts in the end although I’m not sure if he requested them as part of his kilometre long Wish List and I’m not altogether convinced he will mend his gluttonous ways; which I guess bodes well for future puggish adventures. Unbridled fun for pre-schoolers, pug lovers, and kids with Christmas lists that may warrant a hefty bout of structural editing.

Scholastic November 2016

the-naughtiest-reindeer-goes-southThe Naughtiest Reindeer Goes South by Nicki Greenberg

How can you not love a picture book with real snow and ice on the cover? Well at least that’s what the cover of the latest joyful instalment from Greenberg feels like. This type of tactile teasing instantly puts readers in the mood for some frisky frolicking about with Ruby, the naughtiest reindeer on Santa’s team. She and brother, Rudolf are bickering over sleigh-lead-pulling rights until Mrs S steps in and awards both of them poll position in the sleigh line up. Ruby however is having none of it. She swoops and swerves rebelliously, eventually causing sever upset and capsizes the sleigh. Stranded in Antarctica, Ruby has to overcome chilling reality and hostile penguins to make amends and deliver Santa’s presents on time. Greenberg’s rippling verse and super jolly illustrations transport young pre and primary school readers on a glorious special-delivery ride.

Allen & Unwin September 2016

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-rainAll I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward

Two front teeth. A hippopotamus. A visit from Old St Nick. Not a lot to ask for, so why not some relief from the crucifying clutches of drought? Jane’s Christmas wish is about to take on a dramatic realisation. She lives with her farmer parents in Australia’s drought stricken Outback.  One day she makes the long trek into town to see Santa to place an extra special order with him. It’s not toys and presents that she yearns for as she counts the sun shot days down to Christmas morning. When it dawns, magic rains forth.

Brooke’s soulful text expresses the exact type of childlike innocence that allows such magic to spill into our lives. Believe, hope, and wish hard enough for something and it will eventually come to pass. If only that were true for our farmers.  Still, this picture book sings hope. Forward’s stunning watercolour illustrations drag us from bone dry dusty paddocks into mud-splattered pastures. Her end pages depict the stark before and after contrasts that epitomises our harsh Australian climate with such eloquent beauty, it will make your heart dance for joy, too.

At a time of year where in many parts of Australia, holiday cheer withers under the savage heat of summer, All I Want for Christmas is Rain is a timely reminder of the spirit of Christmas with a stout-hearted nod to those amazing Australians who feed us, the farmers. Evocative and poignant.

New Frontier Publishing November 2016

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017For more cool gifts for kids this Christmas check out Romi Sharp’s recommendations and Cait Drew’s list for older readers, or visit the Kids Reading Guide, here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Doodles and Drafts – In conversation with Tania McCartney over tea!

Tania McCartney March 2016 cropTania McCartney is no stranger to the world of Kids’ Literature. Her knowledge and ability to produce entertaining, endearing and enduring picture books is nothing short of remarkable and now sitting comfortably in her enviable arsenal of accreditations, is a re-discovered gift – illustration.

Sumptuously rich in detail and stuffed with enough iconic charm to make both Banjo Paterson and Con the Fruiterer feel at home, her first self-illustrated picture book, Australia: Illustrated delivers a (very satisfying) slice of all things Aussie to an audience who might still remember what a frog cake is as well as those young enough to regard the Wheel of Brisbane as their first Ferris wheel ride.

Australia IllustratedIt is a magnificent compendium of facts, landmarks, foods, cultures, flora, fauna, natural wonders, celebrities and attractions playfully illustrated in Tania’s unique, considered hand. Her drawings do more than just tell a story and describe a caption. They fill my visual soul. New South Wales’s Snowy Mountain region is resplendent with wild silver Brumbies (skiiing, horse riding and snowboarding as it were!) for example, revealing Tania’s cheeky take on life and no doubt, her own personal reflections of a land she clearly adores.

Her affection is contagious. From the divinely cloth-bound cover and very first end pages, clean and devoid of the congestion of civilization (a nod to the pre-settlement days of Australia perhaps), to each State and Territories’ four to five page expose of their specific peculiarities, Australia: Illustrated draws the reader in and, sublimely, educates and entertains along the way. The final end pages, a testament to the diversity and wonder that fills this wide brown land (with green bits, girt by sapphire seas) we call, home.

Today, we leave the draft table for a pair of comfy armchairs, a delicious cup of tea and a few precious moments with the gifted creator behind EK Book’s newest non-fiction picture book release, Australia: Illustrated.

Welcome, Tania. It’s great to finally spend some ‘virtual’ time with you.

So lovely to visit, Dim!

Your very first self-illustrated picture book, Australia Illustrated, is out any moment. Has this been a dream come true?

In a word: yes!

Have you been suffering heart palpitations? I know I’d be more anxious that than

Yes. How did you know??

I could hear them all the way up here in Brisbane.

I’m not surprised. They’re pretty thunderous.

Has this book been a bucket-list kind of thing?

Yes and no. It was more of a meant-to-be than a bucket-list-thing, though now it’s been ticked off my bucket-list, I’m happy it got onto that list!

It has actually just been a long-buried seed of an idea but it may not have even grown if the circumstances hadn’t been right. There was a grant I wanted to apply for, I needed a contract to do so, my publisher just happened to think the idea was fabulous at the time (this changes, as you know!) and I got a contract the next day.

You’re kidding?!

I know! If only all contracts were like that! This was a little scary, though, because the idea was quite ethereal at the time. I mean, I knew it would unfold okay… and it did. But I did it all the wrong way.

What do you mean?

I basically winged it. I had an outline, of course, but the content was pretty much an organic process. I was SO lucky to have this kind of opportunity. And I did the cover first. I mean, who does the cover first?

I don’t much about the illustrative process, but that does sound a little dotty.

SO dotty. But it worked because that cover was one of my favourite things to create, and it set the scene for the style and layout of the entire book. I highly recommend up-ending processes!

Are you proud of thi047 qld daintrees book?

I am for the fact that I finished it. It took a year and contains over 1000 hand-drawn images over 96 pages. Half of the finished pages are digitally illustrated, too, so it was a lot of work and I was also in learning mode at the time (re-learning my illustration skills and also learning digital skills—I basically learned as I went).

I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-illustrated book and I think first self-illustrated books take a lot of courage. Like, a lot. It’s scary because I’ve had years to get used to writing criticism, but illustration criticism is a whole other colour on the palette.

So, my nerves are on standby, for sure—and I have to consistently tell myself I created this book for me, no one else—and that if kids and adults happen to take pleasure in it, that will please me very, very much. In fact, ALL creators should create books for themselves first and foremost. If we created them for other people, we’d never enjoy it as much or do our best work. And once our books are published, they become someone else’s anyway, so it’s nice to hang onto ownership during production!

Oh gosh, Dim, this tea is so good.

Thanks! Isn’t it divine? You’ve written several books about Australia. Will there be more?

Probably not. I do have ideas for books about Australian people (biographic), plants and animals but they won’t be Australia-centric, if that makes sense.

I don’t know why I’ve written so many books on Australia. It’s not a conscious decision. Perhaps it’s because the world is full of so much negativity right now—I fully realise and accept that our country (any country) is far from perfect, but it just feels so nice to celebrate what’s good here sometimes. And there’s so much that’s good. Australia Illustrated is a celebration of w007 au beautifulhat’s good.

Hear hear! What brought you the greatest pleasure when creating Australia Illustrated?

So much. The creative freedom. The ability to play and allow things to unfold. I know it’s not realistic, but it would be incredible if all books could be created in this way! It’s just so much fun. I loved relearning skills and meeting my characters and learning so much about this country that I never knew.

I loved the digital illustration and the layout and design. I also loved doing the finishing art in Photoshop. Creating the fonts was fun.

How did you do that?

With an app called iFontMaker. It’s fabulous. You can get so creative. You can even create fonts for your kids, using their handwriting.

Sounds fascinating, I’d love to give it a go.

You must. I also loved pulling the pages together. It’s so satisfying.

So, hang on, you did quite a bit for this book. Not just writing and illustrating?

027 nsw sydney ferriesI did heaps. I researched, wrote, fact-checked, drew, painted, did digital illustration and mono-printing, scanning, touching up, photography, fonts, layout, design, typography, cover layout and design—all to print-ready PDF. I LOVE doing all this. It’s so satisfying and skills-building. Then I had the wonderful Mark Thacker from Big Cat Design take all the PDFs and whack them in InDesign for the printer.

And my gorgeous publisher Anouska Jones was my editor and second eyes and ears, and I had a group of other eyes and ears, too, and then there was the team at Exisle and our printing coordinator Carol and publicist Alison and all the fabulous book reps and all the wonderful friends and colleagues who helped me authenticate things and help me out with research.

I have an entire page dedicated to thank yous! I also had the backing of the ACT Government—artsACT—for their grant to help produce this book.

So while I did a lot, I certainly didn’t do it alone. No one ever does it alone.

Gosh, we have an amazing bunch of people in this industry.

We do. I feel privileged to be part of it. This really is great tea, Dim.

Of course it is, it’s from Queensland! What’s next for you, Tania?

Well, I’ve just come out of a long rest! I took a lot of winter off, other than ongoing obligations and a little bit of production on some upcoming titles.

 Oooh – can you share them with us?

COVER FINAL smilecryfullcover-smallWell, one is a sequel to Smile Cry with Jess Racklyeft. The other is a follow-up to This is Captain Cook with Christina Booth—and we’re also in the middle of another picture book for the National Library. Tina Snerling and I have been working on books 6 and 7 for the A Kids’ Year series.

I’ve been planning my illustration style for my first illustration commission with the National Library and I’ve been working on a non-fiction pitch for them, too, which I’ll illustrate. And I’ve been finalising a junior fiction manuscript after talks with a gorgeous publisher. Oh—and just like you would, I have several thousand other little bits and ideas floating around.

Yes, something I can relate 100% to! But would you have it any other way?

No! Well, yes—I really needed that time out after Australia Illustrated. It was an enormous amount of work. 96 pages!! So happy to have my energy and mojo back now, though.

Mojo back is good! Tania, thanks so much for stopping by today. I’ve really enjoyed the chat.

Me, too, Dim! And thanks for the tea!

The kettle is always on…

This is more than a picture book, more than a resource; Australia Illustrated is a meaningful, beautiful, thoughtful, piece of art.

Order Tania’s, Australia: Illustrated, here.

Australia Illustrated Launch PosterFollow all the excitement of her Virtual Launch this week with reveals, sneak peeks, more interviews and giveaways, here.

EK Books November 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website — www.markcarthew.com.au

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing

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Review – Sugar and Spice Collection

Sugar and SpiceFairies and ponies, ballerinas and bows; all things nice, may not be what all little girls are made of but this omnibus picture book collection, Sugar and Spice, fresh out of the uber productive creative forge  of EK Books is sure to delight even the fussiest of feminie tastes. Designed with little girls in mind, this three-volume picture book gift set features stories by three different authors, each illustrated by Gwynneth Jones. Enjoy them individually or as a boxed collectors’ set.

The firstPatch and Ruby we devoured was Patch and Ruby by Anouska Jones. My Miss 10 reviewed this one but I’m inclined to agree with her response. Sweet and impossibly alluring, Patch and Ruby is a story full of ponies and chooks and cuter than cute meeces. Jones’s narrative is warm and restrained enough to sustain short attention spans whilst the illustrations excite the tactile senses and illicit quite a bit of cheeky humour. Keep an eye out for the chook in rollers. So clever.

Patch and Ruby is a gentle tale about finding your perfect fit and making friends along the way. The notion of seeing things from another person’s point of view is secreted away in Patch’s longing to find that missing something in his life yet pre-schoolers will be satisfied enough, soaking up the gorgeous equine inspired atmosphere of this tale.

Dance with MeDance with Me is the second slice of sweetness in this set. Penny Harrison has penned another story ostensibly aimed at sweet young ladies under eight but adorable enough to be enjoyed by pre-schoolers, everywhere. Dance with Me is a timely tale of affections and life changes. I can’t help but hear Frank Mill’s, Music Box Dancer in my head when I read about the beautiful pink clad ballerina who ‘lived in a small, wooden box.’ She and her little girl enjoy many joyful dances together until one day the little girl grows up and the ballerina is free to enjoy her own dances far from her box. However, her adventures are cut short when she is relegated to the shelf for many years until one day, someone new calls her to ‘come, dance…’ once more.

Gwynneth Jones’s spectacular use of altering perspectives, subtle colours, and Decalage (the metaphoric visual interpretation of the text to show a different meaning) is spot on and once again cleverly pins readers to their seats.

The Great Sock SecretSusan Whelan is the author of the third spicy instalment, The Great Sock Secret. I love how the fairies rule supreme in this toe-levelled view about one of the first world’s most cryptic mysteries: where do all the odd socks go? Jones’s eye-popping illustrations are phenomenal, revealing to the reader what Sarah already knows about the missing socks in her home. Whelan takes the reader on a whimsical treasure hunt of subterfuge as Sarah tries to preserve the fairies’ secret from her mother.

Fast paced and fun, The Great Sock Secret will make you stop and think next time you are faced with mismatched laundry and reticent children.

All three Sugar and Spice picture books will bring a smile to your face and comfortable warmth to your heart. They are easy to read, diverse in flavour and delivery and beautifully presented; the rich paisley patterned spines are just glorious.

These beautiful tales also stirred up many fond childhood memories; of my own music box dancer, backyard ponies, and the inevitable transitions we all make from childhood to adulthood. Thankfully, stories like these ensure an infinite sense of innocent pleasure and pure magic for generations to come.

Highly recommended for ages 4 and above.

For those lucky enough to reside in NSW, head to the Wallsend District Library this Saturday, 8 October for the official Sugar and Spice Collection Launch.

EK Books October 2016

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Striking Out – Picture books that challenge

There are times in every small person’s life, when they are faced with taking the plunge, striding into the unknown, and just striking out into that adventure called life. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s downright wrenching, but who says it can’t be fun. Here are a cluster of recently released picture books that will enlighten and inspire in those darker and daring times.

CrustsCrusts by Danny Parker Illustrated by Matt Ottley

I adore the sinuous artistry of this incredible picture book team. A picture book with their names on the cover promises great subtlety and infinite pleasure. Crusts is no exception. One third graphic, two thirds regular, this picture book grabs the most frustrating habit a maker-of-lunchbox-lunches has to contend with – the uneaten crust and flips it on its head.

Jacob is your typical crust-eating refusal expert. His mum is your typical eat-your-crusts enforcer. Neither is willing to give any ground, which is unfortunate because in a galaxy far far away, a tiny planet is crumbling into nonexistence and has had to jettison three explorers to Earth in an attempt to locate and transport planet-saving crusts back to them. At first, it seems the mission is doomed to fail as Jacob squirrels away crusts by the bin load and scribbles away at plans the explorers feel are useless to their cause. Turns out, there is more to Jacob’s distaste in crumbs and ingenuity than meets the eye.

Parker’s narrative is always spot on, poetic and soulful. Ottley’s fanciful illustrations strike the perfect balance between droll fantasy and tragic normality. Crusts is a crowd pleaser even for those unwilling to swallow one physically. It accentuates the values of tenacity, humanity, selflessness, and kindness and comes highly recommended for lovers of invention and space travel.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE August 2016

Zelda's Big AdventureZelda’s Big Adventure by Marie Alafaci Illustrated by Shane McG0wan

I love the plucky audacity and determination shown by Zelda the chook. Zelda has a dream, ‘to be the first chook in space.’ However, the road to the Milky Way is long and arduous and none of her coop-mates is willing to lift a primary wing feather to help her achieve her ambitions.

Undaunted, she strikes out alone and finally launches herself into chook history. When she eventually comes home, her fickle-feathered friends agree Zelda’s tenacity and drive are by far the best examples of how to get anywhere interesting they’ve ever encountered. With her appetite for space exploration sated, Zelda concedes adventures are always more fun when shared with friends. This is a fun, easy to read, easy to share picture book encouraging perseverance and courage. Great for pre-schoolers and early primary readers and chook lovers like me.

Allen & Unwin 2016

Up up and AwayUp, Up and Away by Tom McLaughlin

Like his previous titles, The Story Machine and The Cloudspotter, Up, Up and Away warms the very cockles of your heart and is guaranteed to cheer you. Unlike Zelda who travelled far into space to find her first planet, Orson, a boy who loves to make things, prefers the challenge of making his own. And he does.

At first, the new planet is slow to find its position in Orson’s universe but slowly with a lot of tending loving care from Orson, his planet grows up and even develops its own gravitational pull. That is when Orson realises, that he must let his beloved planet find its true place among the stars. Under five year olds will relate to this on a number of levels; pets growing up, butterflies dying, outgrown shoes and so on. Adults will be reminded that one day their own tiny planets will eventually have to orbit elsewhere, too.

This whimsical picture book describes the sometimes unavoidable necessity of letting go of things you love the most in order to set them free. McLaughlin elevates this difficult life lesson to a place of beautiful reason and logic in spite of the nonsensical notion of mixing up a planet from scratch from ‘a cup full of rocks and a dash of water’.

Powerful and smart, Up, Up and Away is about accepting and recognising challenges and change.

Bloomsbury August 2016

OutOut by Angela May George Illustrated by Owen Swan

Sometimes taking on new challenges is not always a matter of choice. Out is a stunning debut picture book by George, which tackles the unrelenting struggles of refugees and their emigration attempts. We never learn the real name of the young asylum seeker in this story, but she is recognisable as a girl with much heart and soul and deep pools of courage. Together with her mother, they endure a treacherous journey from their homeland to Australia. Life is very different, and it takes a while for them to assimilate to the music, dancing, and language. Everything is a new challenge for she and her mother and yet throughout their ordeals, she always retains the thinnest, most fragile tendrils of hope, as depicted by a bright yellow ribbon she carries everywhere.

Written with frank solemnity Out resonates with positivity and a belief that good will always prevail. Swan’s gentle muted illustrations convey emotion and compassion and allow the characters of the story to stand out when they are surrounded by so many others that are in exactly the same boat as they, as it were.

Persuasive and compelling, Out will suit readers four and above and help them realise the strength of the human spirit whilst appreciating the various paths they can take (or must make at times) to reach their goals.

Scholastic Press June 2016

 

 

 

Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.

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Fun for Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

One of the most joyful pleasures a child can enjoy is Daddy-time. There can never be too much of it. Here’s a new selection of picture books you can share with your special little someones on Father’s Day or indeed, at any time at all.

The Ballad of Henry HoplingseaThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea by Julia Hubery Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I love the look and feel of this jolly little tale. It is less about dads and more about appreciating what you have rather than agonising over what you do not have but it makes such entertaining reading that it is sure to give dads, daughters and sons sufficient enough excuses to stay snuggled together in reading harmony for many lovely moments.

Humble farmer Henry is besotted with Carmelita and begs her hand in marriage. In spite of their solid and long standing friendship, she refuses succumbing instead to her princess inspired yearnings to live in silks, eat oysters and one day be whisked off her feet by a shiny brave knight. Henry can supply none of these things so forsakes he is farmer origins and sets off for Knight School.

Henry’s proactive tenacity is admirable however; his kind heart is bigger than his knightly ambitions and abilities. Which of these though will be enough to win over Carmelita? Humorous rhyming text and bewitching illustrations full of colour and captivating detail ensure this is one ballad readers will want to relive again and again.

Little Hare Books (HEG imprint) August 2016

Counting on YouCounting on You by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Part of the You Have my Heart series, this padded hard cover picture book is the ideal size to slide into any Father’s Day gift bag. The text is sublimely simple but saturated with exquisite moving emotion. Readers are taken through a flowing collection of days, many of them recognisable to young children, those: ‘I can’t-find-my-socks days, my tummy-is-too-full days’ until they are reassured of the presence of a loved one who can hug them closer ,squeeze them tighter and ‘make things better’ than anyone else; in other words, the adult they can count on.

Counting on You examines the 6 primary emotions formerly identified under the Parrot’s classification. Cowcher’s restrained colour use is heavenly, truly evoking movement and feeling. Highly recommended.

The Five Mile Press August 2016

I spy Dad JBI Spy Dad! By Janeen Brian Illustrated by Chantal Stewart

No two dads are ever quite the same; they are as diverse and individual as pebbles on a beach. I love how kids love their particular version of dad no matter what he does, what he looks like or how he acts. One little girl wonders which dad belongs specifically to her and searches for him among dashing, splashing dads; sewing, mowing dads; and creeping, leaping dads enjoying the cheeky chase until she finds the one who’s just for her.

Brian’s gifted way with rhyming words ensures every beat of this search is on point while Stewart’s illustrations are playful and bright. A sure favourite for under sixes.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

Where's Dad HidingWhere’s Dad Hiding? By Ed Allen Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Never a dad around when you need one? Prolong your search and fun with this colour-saturated picture book promoting games and play, Aussie animals and relationships. Where’s Dad Hiding? encourages young pre-school aged readers to carefully examine every one of Tortop’s vibrantly illustrated page spreads for Baby Wombat’s missing dad.

Daddy Wombat is cunningly secreted on each page among a glorious collection of colourful Aussie inspired landscapes and situations. I get the feeling Daddy Wombat enjoys being cheeky and slightly irreverent just like real life human daddies as he leads Baby Wombat on a teasing search. This picture book pulses with verve and character making it a delight for dads to share with their kids.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

Grandpa is GreatGrandpa is Great by Laine Mitchell Illustrated by Alison Edgson

No matter what mantle they fall under grandad, pop, Nonno, opa, gramps, there is no mistaking the greatness of grandpas. This cute rhyming story reinforces the many moments and things grandfathers make memorable for their grandchildren. Whether it is playing games together, making mess, rocketing to the moon or simply watching the tellie together, Mitchell’s engaging text and Edgson’s bold use of baby animals to depict the grandpa-grandchild bond is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

The Greatest Fathers Day of AllThe Greatest Father’s Day of All by Anne Mangan Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

It’s the witty parallels I enjoy in this rhyming picture book about a dad eagerly anticipating his Father’s Day but like so many mere males, gets it mixed up a little. His blow-by-blow expectations take readers through some typical and well-loved Father’s Day morning rituals as his excitement mounts then crumbles into disappointment.  Children eager to plan their own Father’s Day surprises for dad will value the familiar similarities and the divine pencil and gauche watercolours used by Ainslie.  Her illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Anna Pignataro’s; her characters exuding the same sort of charm in their sweet alluring faces. A nice way to mark the occasion of Dad’s Day.

Harper Collins Publishers first published 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dads!

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Review – Little Wing

Little WingAuthor illustrator, Katherine Battersby has flown many miles in recent times, a bit like her latest picture book character, Little Wing. Little Wing catapults the connotation of taking a leap of faith into glowing picture book form that is a pure delight to read.

Little Wing is the smartest animal in the world. He owes his genius to good old-fashioned book learning, that is to say, he reads – a lot. Nearly everything he knows is attributed to the days he spends between the pages of dozens of books bequeathed to his island home by providence.

Little Wing illos spreadIt appears a satisfying way to spend his days; I mean who hasn’t dreamed of reading under swaying palm trees on a sun soaked faraway island as a full time occupation! I’d call that heaven but for Little Wing whose aspirations and yearnings clearly outclass mine, ‘something was always missing.’ So, he sets out to find it.

Turns out, it’s Little Wing’s sense of self that is absent and no matter how many books or alter egos he assumes, none of them provide the right answer, the perfect fit. Until one radiant morning, realisation dawns and Little Wing’s life transforms forever. His social circles are greatly enhanced, as well.

Little Wing illoThe wait for Battersby’s next picture book has been well worth it. Little Wing exudes all the warmth, charm and wit of her debut picture book character, Squish Rabbit whilst introducing fans and new readers to a wonderfully new winsome critter. He is difficult not to love with his little wings and clacky big blue bit (aka his beak). However, what makes Little Wing universally appealing to young and old is his quiet and unquestioning fortitude. Even when faced with one of life’s most prominent and niggling questions: who am I and why am I here? Little Wing diligently pursues the answer until the answer literally flies right over him.

His tenacity tells young people that being one thing is fine but if you want to try other things, new things, then that’s okay too; you just need to be brave enough to pursue your dreams, to make that first leap into the unknown. Youngsters are no strangers to change. In fact the leaps in their young lives are almost always forced and without negotiation: going to school, moving home, surviving decaying family situations, growing up…So it won’t be hard for them to accept Little Wing as someone they can emulate and learn from.

Little Wing is likely to resonate with adults just as strongly. We all want to learn to fly. How many of us really have the courage to look deep within ourselves, take that first big breath, and then, move forward, though? It’s a daunting prospect but like Battersby herself, Little Wing does it with admirable aplomb.

Battersby’s accompanying artwork for this story is nothing short of fabulous. Bland bookish concepts are captured in bold watercolour and pencil illustrations intoxicatingly combined with fabrics, textiles and scanned vintage books. The resultant collage effect is a cocktail of fun and colour. I love it! So does my Miss 10 who spent many joyful moments with me feverishly examining the end pages in an effort to match feather to friend.

Katherine Battersby & Little WingLittle Wing is a picture book experience that sings on many levels but most importantly gives children license to extend themselves and follow their most ardent callings in order to reach true happiness.

Little Wing is available now, here. For those fortunate enough to live in SE Queensland, Katherine Battersby is touring a number of local schools, accompanying Little Wing as he explores his new home.

Little Wing # 2Little Wing is officially taking off this Saturday August 13th at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Queensland. Join Katherine, Little Wing, and special guest, Peter Carnavas from 10.30 am for lots of fun and feathers.

UQP August 2016

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Empowering Inspiration – Picture Book Reviews

The following picture books possess special qualities in their ability to address difficult topics, but in most sensitive and inspiring ways. From the team at publishing company, Empowering Resources, here are three valuable resources that can literally change the lives of many dealing with tough life circumstances.

imageThe courageous and talented Naomi Hunter, founder of Empowering Resources has brilliantly delivered these touching tales to the world. Her first authored book, A Secret Safe to Tell, explores the delicate issue of childhood sexual abuse, based on a troubling time from her past. With beautifully gentle illustrations by Karen Erasmus, this book is one of comfort and encouragement in feeling safe enough to trust in seeking help.

Children who are victims of abuse understandably are confused when fun, warm love and a special relationship with someone they know turns into a period of awkwardness, hurts and threats. Even though this is what they are told to believe, abuse is never their fault. When the little girl in the story eventually faces her fears and exposes her secret to the flowers and birds, she is serendipitously blessed with a new, colourful heart and the power to be free…

Unsurprisingly shortlisted in the 2015 Australian Book Industry Awards, A Secret Safe to Tell has brought about a revolution of support for this initiative and has helped many around the world share their stories and lift their heavy burdens in order to heal. It has also already been, and will continue to be a fabulous, ’empowering resource’ for early years educators and parents to teach their children about body safety, appropriate interactions with older people in their lives, and that it is ok to tell.

Read more in my interview with Naomi Hunter.

imageNaomi‘s most recently published book, Even Mummy Cries, explores the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies families on their journey that is life. Whatever the type of struggles being faced, it is perfectly normal, and healthy even, to have an outlet for the internal battles we are dealing with. For this heart-rending and reassuring story, the soft watercolour and pencil illustrations by Karen Erasmus are suitably gentle, visually captivating and highly impactful.

The children in the story just adore their fun mummy, who loves them back “more than a GAZILLION BILLION TRILLION plus INFINITY.” But when she reverts to a sad and lonely place, and EXPLODES with tears in the middle of the night, the kids feel a sense of hopelessness and a deep sting in their hearts. Until the tears stop…

imageAt the very heart of this book is the security for its readers; Mums, you are not alone. Kids, well, you just do what you do and your mummies love and treasure you no matter what! With beautiful sentiments, Even Mummy Cries is another important book for primary school aged children to understand some of life’s complexities without feeling guilt, and the power for parents to be able to share their pressures in sensitive ways without feeling shame.

Read more about Naomi Hunter’s inspiration for this story here.

imageYou’re Different, Jemima! explores self-expression, individuality and self-assurance. Written with gusto, just like the nature of our main character, Jedidah Morley sends a positive and nurturing message that standing ‘loud and proud’, and just being yourself is more than ok. I particularly like the colour variations that Karen Erasmus uses to highlight the scenes of imagination and personality as opposed to the overall sense of uniformity.

Jemima’s teacher, Mrs Smith and the other students degrade her for ‘colourful’ and unique ways of expressing herself. It is her eccentric-looking duck picture that has everyone, including Jemima, questioning her sense of belonging. But when Mrs Chuckles takes over teaching the next day, Jemimah’s self doubt is put to rest and her ‘differences’ are celebrated.

You’re Different, Jemima! is a refreshing story for preschoolers that allows and encourages individual personalities to shine as bold and bright as they can be.

The Empowering Resources website with all their current and upcoming books can be found here.

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Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

#BooksCreate confidence and kindness

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Spinning Tales – Cricket inspired Young Fiction

I realise it’s brass-monkey weather already and for many a young sportsperson, rugby jerseys are in preference to baggy greens. However, the warming image of red leather cracking against willow against a burnished summer sky is one I am in dire need of right now. Therefore, here are a few of some recent favourite cricket inspired reviews. I use the term favourite with reserve for if not for this selection of picture books and novels, I might still not know my googlies from my dot balls.

Picture Books

Knockabout CricketKnockabout Cricket by Neridah McMullin Illustrated by Ainsley Walters

Until last year, I had little idea of the exact history of Australian cricket and was unaware that one of our first International cricket stars was an unassuming bloke called Unaarramin, otherwise known as Johnny from Mullagh Station in WA.

Knockabout Cricket is a fictional portrayal about Johnny’s appearance onto the 1860’s cricketing landscape. Through the eyes of a pastoral station’s son, James, readers are introduced to a tall Aboriginal boy whose natural aptitude, ball skills and ability to ‘read’ the ball is nothing short of spectacular. A team of indigenous players is soon formed and admired by all who watch their daring and athletic play.

Johnny MullaghThe subsequent matches played between the Aboriginal 11 and the Melbourne Cricket Club become the catalyst for what is known today as the Boxing Day Test and eventually, the first tour of England by an Australian cricket side in 1886.

McMullin’s narrative is complemented by informative text neatly incorporated into each page of Walters’ illustrations. The overall effect is alluring and maintains interest but perhaps the most fascinating addition for me was the handy field position drawing and photograph of the Aboriginal cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavilion in 1867.

A worthy introduction to a sport legend for early primary readers.

One Day Hill Publishers February 2015

Boomerang and BatBoomerang and Bat by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

This long awaited picture book release does not disappoint. This time the story of the First Real Eleven is told through the eyes of Johnny Mullagh himself thereby evoking a slightly more personal feel. Where before, we knew the names of the indigenous team thanks to a photograph, in Boomerang and Bat, Greenwood involves each of the shearers and station hands by name from the start.  Within pages, we are familiar with Cuzens’ barefoot bowling; Dick-a-Dick’s heroic parrying displays, and Johnny’s exceptional batting prowess.

Under the tutelage and determination of captain-coach, Charles Lawrence, the team eventually makes it to the MCG. However, Lawrence has more far-reaching plans for his team and so covertly smuggles them aboard The Parramatta Clipper bound for England thus initiating the first international tour for an Australian cricket side.

Johnny’s team went on to delight and excite crowds at Lords, whilst proudly donning caps with the emblem of a boomerang and bat. They earned standing ovations and considerable admiration until the demands of touring and occasional discrimination became too strenuous, killing one teammate and eventually sending the others back to Australia. Despite their amazing sporting achievements abroad, there was little fanfare to welcome the Australian 11 home. Johnny continued to play the game he loved with amazing adroitness often scoring a hundred runs, however it would be another ten years before another Australian cricket side would leave the country again to compete. For this reason alone, Johnny and his teammates are Australia’s first true international cricket stars.

Boomerang and Bat illos spreadGreenwood’s balanced narrative is both touching and colourful conveying fact with soul. Denton’s illustrations capture the humour and atmosphere of not only the pastoral settlements and rugged proving grounds of our players but also the refined serenity of the playing fields of the home of cricket.

An awesome historic picture book to share with pre-schoolers and above.

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Meet Don BradmanMeet…Don Bradman by Coral Vass Illustrated by Brad Howe

Being a non-sporty, bookish type of kid who gained much of her Australian contemporary history knowledge from the TV mini-series of the 80s, I had but a peripheral knowledge of last century’s cricketing legend, Don Bradman. Thankfully Random House’s Meet..series is around to fill in some of my sporting history gaps and educate new generations about one of our national heroes.

Vass’s narrative opens with Don as a small boy, completely engrossed with the game of cricket. He practises daily, studies the form of players constantly and one day, in spite of his smallish stature, takes up the bat. Instead of a meteoric rise to cricketing stardom, life pitched a few dot balls of its own and Don had to work and wait his way to his dreams like the rest of us. Thankfully, he never declared them over. His spectacular batting ability was soon signed up by the St George team in Sydney allowing to him compete in the national Sheffield Shield competition for NSW. He debuted by scoring a century. Not bad for ‘the Boy from Bowral’.

Meet Don Bradman illos spreadWith the help of Howe’s cartoonesque illustrations reminiscent of 30s and 40s comic strips, readers follow Bradman through his career as he sets new records, scores new highs and helps Australia win and retain the coveted Ashes (1934 and 1936). Even the controversial Bodyline tactic devised by the English Cricket team in the 1932-1933 Ashes series was not enough to curb the brilliance of one of Australia’s most impressive sportsmen to date.

Captivating end pages and a succinct timeline pay further homage to ‘our Don Bradman’ and ensure another part of our cricketing heritage is not lost to new generations.

Random House Children April 2016

Mid-Grade Novels

Lucky BreakGlen Maxwell Lucky Break by Patrick Loughlin Illustrated by James Hart

If modern T20 cricket is more your thing, cast your beau peeps on this exciting series by Penguin Random House. The first book of this cricket series endorsed by T20 Player of the Year, Glen Maxwell, hit the stands in 2014. Since then Academy All-Stars, World Domination and State Showdown have bowled into bookstores.

Highly recommended for any kid who has a passion for team sports, cricket whites or even just a thirst for exciting dual gender inspired adventure, the Glen Maxwell series penned by sporting enthusiast, Patrick Loughlin rings with solid spotting voice, tween humour and plenty of fast paced action. They are perfect reads for those needing an excuse to read something that thrills rather than bores.

Glen MaxwellI do not know cricket, do not watch cricket, nor even profess to love cricket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed these books thanks to the energetic storylines, bolstering words of encouragement from a real-life sporting icon and (thank goodness) a comprehensive glossary of cricketing terms that means this summer those tedious hours spent in front of the tellie watching seagulls scatter across the pitch will suddenly become much more meaningful.

Random House Children’s Books December 2014 – November 2015

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

Packing it on – Dog titles with a Difference

I can’t help it, but my shelves seemed littered (pardon the pun) with delightful doggie-inspired titles lately. Just what makes animal tales, namely those featuring cute and courageous canines so attractive for young readers? Is it that dogs and cats are real, free of pretension and judgement and brimming with pure joie de vivre? Is it because their will to live for the here and now surpasses all others, just like a young child’s? Whatever the magnetic force behind the love of dog stories, this small pack merely reinforces the bond.

Picture Books

The Whole CaboodleThe Whole Caboodle by Lisa Shanahan Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Lisa Shanahan brought us the irrepressible Bear and Chook and has a knack of capturing the thrill of story within singsong narrative. The Whole Caboodle is no exception and offers ‘oodles’ of imaginative linguistic word play with the added bonus of walking 3 – 5 year-olds through some fun counting rhymes. It’s more of a stroll-through-the-park-spot-the-hidden-dog-breed than a full-blown doggie tale, but Rudge’s expressive illustrations will keep you tugging at the leash for more. Great for kids who are into dogs and all their varied shapes and sizes.

Scholastic Press April 2016

My Dog DashMy Dog Dash by Nicki Greenberg

The memories of my not-so-distant puppy schooling experience with our border collie leapt back to prominence as I read Greenberg’s cute account of one little girl’s adventures with her new pet. If you were to read the text aloud without the pictures, you’d swear her pet, the fiend of puppy school, is the worst dog you’d ever laid eyes on. Look again though and you’ll see that not all dogs are created equal. After one agonising night of anguish, this pet turns out to be the best companion ever. Greenberg rarely disappoints. Her jolly illustrations, beguiling contradicting narrative, lovable characters, and utterly adorable ending are assured winners. Go Dash, Go!

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Mrs DogMrs Dog by Janeen Brian Illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

As a child, I once read a story about a cat told from the cat’s point-of-view. The cat knew his owner as Fur-on-The-Face. I can’t recall the title or author but have never forgotten the magic of living in the head of that cat and seeing the world as he saw it. Mrs Dog reignites that magic in the most alluring and compelling way. Mrs Dog is too old to round up the Woolly-Heads anymore but that doesn’t stop her from adopting an orphaned baby Woolly-Head, whom she calls, Baa-rah. She takes Baa-rah under her paw, teaching her all there is to know about the farm except how to bark properly. Little Baa-rah is unable to communicate this way until he is forced to find his inner-dog and save his best friend

  Brian’s exquisite use of language is the beating heart of this gorgeous picture book and conveys a story that will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your heart. Crosby-Fairall’s illustrations are equally divine. The alternating use of perspective shifts the reader seamlessly from merely being an observer to Mrs Dog’s, the Tall-Ones’ and of course adorable little Baa-rah’s point-of-view. A simple tale of devotion, love and loyalty possessing all the best bits of Babe but stunning and memorable in its own right. Highly recommended and not just because Mrs Dog is a beautiful Collie.

The Five Mile Press May 2016

Mid-grade Reader

Regal BeagleRegal Beagle by Vijay Khurana Illustrated by Simon Greiner

This is an enjoyable little mix up of a book attractively presented as a hard soft cover just right for post preschool hands to master. Combining imagination with fantasy, Regal Beagle tells the tale of Lucy, the deceased Queen’s best friend and only living beneficiary to the throne. Lucy is brave and clever, caring and loyal but is in danger of losing her crown to the diabolical Lord Runcible who craves the title of ruler of the kingdom as his own. His obsession to rid the kingdom of Queen Lucy causes an infestation of plague proportions and provides plenty of witty hustle to this easy to read story. Khurana’s writing style is chatty and carefree and is ably supported by Greiner’s jazzy graphic illustrations. A fun, flowing read perfect for kids who understand that anything is possible.

Random House Australia 2014

Junior Fiction

The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggin

The Dog RayThis blue ribbon read strikes with pinpoint accuracy at dog-loving 7 – 12 year-olds. Hefty subject matter is served up as a heart-warming tale about a girl who dies tragically and returns to life as a dog following a Pearly Gates blunder. As pedestrian as that sounds, this sweet little story lopes along at a satisfying pace that will keep children page turning until the very end. Daisy aka Ray’s spiritual, emotional and canine journey is just as likely to make you grin as it is to move you to sadness, however one thing is for sure, it will captivate young readers enough to make them want to wag their tails (if they had them). Funny, spirited and stirring, The Dog, Ray embodies much more than just Daisy’s afterlife as a dog. Homelessness, friendship, animal cruelty, tragedy, and family relationships are incorporated throughout this story, which is big on heart and suffused with hope. It does have a happy ever after ending, however perhaps not the one you were hoping for. Concise, captivating and creative.

Hot Key Books first published 2010 Bonnier  April 2016

 

Mums are Super! – Small reads, big on Heart

Mums come in all shapes and sizes and deserve adulations, which match their boundless love, tireless efforts, and quiet achievements. To fit them all into one day – Mother’s Day – is a mission impossible so shower your mother with gratitude (and great reads) year round! Or, if you are like me and prefer to share special literary moments with your reasons for motherhood (aka your brood), then curl up with one or two of these titles, together.

Too Cute 0 – 4 year olds

I love You Carry and Play board bookI Love You

This super dinky, pretty in pink board book forms part of the Carry and Play series, which neatly cover most of the celebratory seasons of the year: Christmas, Halloween, Spring time and so on. I Love You is an excellent fit for Mother’s Day given the mummies and babies theme. Simple assuring text, sweet illustrations and a shape and size that is perfect for little people with tiny hands and big hearts to grab on to will ensure hours of devoted reading; they’ll love toting around their very own copy.

Bloomsbury 2016

You have my Heart by Corrine Fenton and Robin CowcherYou Have my Heart

Another smallish picture book big on heart is You have my Heart. The suggestion that something special lies within begins with the padded cover and rich depth of joy portrayed by the bright red balloons, which float quietly yet purposefully throughout. The balloon belongs to someone who like us all, drifts through life on an ever-changing tide of emotions. There are good days, great days and ‘tears-tumbling-down days.’ This is a delicate exploration of Parrot’s Six primary emotions and all the other in-between days, ultimately uplifting and reassuring young readers of their value and worth and that they are loved and cherished You have my Heart illos spreadunconditionally. Cowcher’s restrained two-tone illustrations are superlative. Guaranteed to melt your heart.

The Five Mile Press April 2016

Pre-school Perfect 3 years +

My Mum's special SecretMy Mum’s Special Secret by Sally Morgan Illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Every child thinks their mum is special. It probably has a lot to do with the way she selflessly provides and cares for them. How she always has time to play with them, guide and teach them, watch over them and share with them the small wonders of their immense worlds, much like mother Kookaburra does with her chick. Morgan’s simple conversational text sits comfortably alongside Kwaymullina’s jolly colour-filled illustrations. Bold and bright, big on Aussie character but possessing a theme recognisable in any language, this neat little picture book will reinforce the mother-child bond snuggly.

Omnibus Books April 2016

Nannie LovesNannie Loves by Kylie Dunstan

Celebrating a mother’s love spans many generations including a grandmother’s. By examining each and everything and everyone Nannie loves, Dunstan takes us on a vivid holiday to Nannie’s farm, however for the narrator, it’s a much cherished regular visit. We meet her cows and chooks and Grandpa with his assortment of checked shirts. We ride tractors, wander about the farm, help collect eggs and best of all participate in the beautiful sharing of family and food. It’s a love of countrNannie Loves chooks illosy, family, and life that is pure and encompassing and it is superbly rendered  by Dunstan’s use of paper collage and pencil illustrations. I love it. I ‘m sure your Nan will, too. Gorgeous for those shared reading occasions when you both want to feel extra special.

Working Title Press March 2016

Fantastic Fun for 4 – 10 year olds

SupermumSupermum by Leah Russack Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Have you ever notice just how super your mum is? Perhaps not as she dashes about conjuring up meals, making mess disappear and healing all hurts. For one small child however, their mum’s superpowers are sensational secrets they are busting to share, so they do. This picture book is outrageous fun and exploits the perennial favourites – imaginative play and superheroes – with funky new verve and humour thanks to Tortop’s charismatic illustrations. Crackling with wit and colour, each scene smartly supports Russack’s simple statements – with a nifty twist that every child will immediately warm to. Supermum is proof positive that mums can do just about anything, with or without a cape. Superb for reading aloud and jumping off couches with.

Scholastic Australia April 2016

Take Ted InsteadTake Ted Instead by Cassandra Webb Illustrated by Amanda Francey

It’s the uncluttered natural flow of Webb’s narrative that makes Take Ted Instead a delight to read out loud but it’s Francey’s lavish illustrations that will draw readers back to this tale of bedtime procrastination. Yes, familiar theme but fun new approach with plenty of predictive word play that readers under five will appreciate just as fondly as those slightly older. Our little boy is tired but rather than succumb to bed, clings to a rising determination to send his many varied companions off in his place; my favourite bedtime victim is next-door-neighbour Ned but I think Francey’s portrayal of Ed (the goldfish) is gorgeous, too. Will Ted end up in bed, alone or will bedtime end in peace and joy? A delicious bedtime story to wind up Mother’s Day with.

New Frontier Publishing April 2016

Hope yours is wonderful, too. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Supermums out there.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Picture Books of the Curious Kind

I’m always up for a good imaginative mystery that gets my mind, and heart, racing. It must be that dopamine rush I get when experiencing something novel and exciting, the eager anticipation and engagement, and finding something I can relate to. For kids it would be no different and the following two picture books, not surprisingly, tick all the boxes in the ‘curiosity’ department.

imageArthur and the Curiosity, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

When adults are oblivious to the hidden secrets and wondrous treasures of the world because they are overly concerned with ‘moving on through’. That’s the situation that Arthur experiences on his school trip to the museum. His teacher takes little notice of the amazing artefacts and ancient wonders as she hauls her class across the landscape pages. But Arthur’s not so heedless. Amongst and within the exhibits Arthur notices a ‘CURIOSITY’ – a mischievous green creature that seems all but a figure of his imagination. Taking his time to examine his surroundings, Arthur gains much more than he bargained for than any of his bustling peers.  The final page leaves us with a sneaking suspicion that Arthur’s excursion has left him with a lasting impression!

imageLucinda Gifford‘s bright and colourful illustrations are playful and eye-catching, allowing readers plenty of scope for discovery and delight as they ‘move on through’ the book at a steady pace. Her text is equally joyful and witty with double meanings that are sure to set tongues wagging with the endless conversational possibilities. The ‘curiosity’ is “…the UNUSUALLY active volcano.” and “…an EXTRAORDINARY mummy in the Ancient Egypt exhibition. Poor Miss Blunkett was trying to wrap things up.”

Arthur and the Curiosity is a fun read to explore and enjoy with its elements of humour and surprise. Children from age three and up will also relish the opportunities to identify with and show ‘curiosity’ towards the diverse characters, topics and experiences that are fostered by this book.

Arthur and the Curiosity is being launched on April 16th at The Little Bookroom. See details here.

imageThe House on the Hill, Kyle Mewburn (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

‘Curiosity’ can present itself in many forms; and in this book it presents with a thrilling anticipation. Here is a story to send shivers of curiosity up your spine in the hauntingly stunning, The House on the Hill. With high levels of suspense to chill your bones, this poetic spookfest is a winner.

With Mewburn‘s ode to Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, his romantically suave language and rhythmic canter beautifully rolls off the tongue. Sarah Davis‘s monochromatic, sepia toned imagery marries flawlessly with the spine-tingling lyrics to create an optimal intensity of creepiness and tension.

imageWhen two young ghosts are beckoned by the bell in the house on the hill, they find themselves “Upon the gate a portent hung, a dragon’s claw, a serpent’s tongue.” The initial terror slowly dissipates  with more and more clues being revealed as the characters edge closer to their destination.  Child-friendly hints dubiously lure us towards the dingy dwelling, like dancing moths, jack-o-lanterns and the characters’ outfits that appear distinctly like white sheets with cut-out eye holes. Davis’s striking illustrations with her extreme angles and perspectives, perfectly placed focal objects and effective use of light and shade draw us in with every breath as we follow the ‘ghosts’, and their cat, on their journey through the ‘haunted’ house on the hill. And just when our hearts can’t race any faster, we reach the final reveal and encounter the most ghoulish group of vile creatures – children!

imageIdeal for your Halloween thrills and celebrations, but equally fun-tastic all the year round. Behind the moodiness and apprehension, The House on the Hill takes preschoolers through an adventure of bravery, friendship and togetherness. There is loads of room for educational opportunities with its brilliant use of poetry, vocabulary, visual literacy and the arts.

You can watch the spooktacular book reading with Kyle Mewburn here.

Teaching notes are available at the Scholastic website.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Jess Racklyeft Touches Hearts with ‘Smile Cry’

imageJess Racklyeft is the illustrator behind her adorably heartwarming debut picture book. With her beautiful, vast array of design and art work and use of mixed media, Jess’s passion and talent shines brightly in Smile CryToday we find out more about her illustrative inspiration.

Review:

“It’s such a cool book! It never finishes and you could just read it all day!” – Miss M, age 6.

The fun flip-over format with its narrative meeting in the middle is just the beginning of what makes this book so special. Smile Cry, where you can start at either end, deliciously offers its readers a gourmet of emotive goodness to explore and ponder.

My two daughters, ages 3 and 6, perfectly fit the target age group for this clever story, and our first reading experience was … unforgettable! Each page turn, whether we were enjoying the kinds of ‘smiles’ or the types of ‘cries’, motioned us into role-play and thought-provoking action.

imageThe reactions of the three cute characters – piglet, bunny and cat – are easily identifiable as they face a mixed bag of situations, and feelings. Tania McCartney‘s text is wholesome and pure with sentiments of depth that delve further than it appears on the surface. Her beautifully written phrases allow their readers to consider the subtleties of each emotion. It may be a sorrowful, disappointed or even a joyful cry, or an ecstatic, satisfied or grimacing smile. From a ‘hug a cuddly monkey smile’ to ‘perhaps it’s a lost cry’, or a ‘tickle smile’ to a ‘tickle cry’, the level of warmth and empathy will touch each heart in different ways.

Jess Racklyeft‘s illustrations perfectly suit the delicate nature of the story with their pencil and watercolour softness and pastel tones, not to mention her sweet, cuddly characters that exude personality and warmth. I also love how Jess has included fine details and layers to turn each spread into a story of its own.

Smile Cry is a divinely heartfelt book, chock-full of sweet and savoury sentimental moments. It is a valuable resource for building foundations for sound emotional development. Readers from age three will simply gobble it up at every turn, over and over again.

EK Books, March 2016.

Interview:

Congratulations, Jess, on the recent release of your first picture book, Smile Cry! How do you plan on celebrating its launch?

Thank you so much! On Saturday April 9th I’ll be launching the book at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North (Melbourne). This is my local bookshop, and since I wandered in there almost four years ago with my baby has been a place of inspiration and support… They’ve been stocking my cards and prints, and now my first book.
On the day we will have tasty baked goods, drinks and lots of games. A musician friend Claire Hollingsworth will be playing a few songs, and I’m looking forward to sending it off into the world with some cake and champagne. The fantastic author Tania McCartney recently launched the book in Canberra and it looked like such an amazing day.

What were your thoughts on Smile Cry when it was handed to you to illustrate?

It was a big build up as I had entered a competition to illustrate the book that Tania and the publisher Anouska had run on an online drawing group, the 52 Week Challenge. I had seen a couple of lines of text from the book to create my entry, but wasn’t sure how the narrative would work or the characters etc. So when I first saw the manuscript I was so excited about the possibilities. The text was so image-filled, Tania had put together such a sweet and sensitive manuscript and my mind was racing with the illustrative possibilities!

What was it like to collaborate with the talented Tania McCartney?

She’s just a dream to work with. She’s so passionate about children’s books (like me!) and has so much respect for the industry and the process. I used to work for a children’s publisher and I know usually the author and illustrator don’t have a great deal of interaction in the process, but I was so lucky EK Books allowed us to work closely on it. I think this resulted in the best outcome for us both – and we had so much fun through the process. She’s an inspiration.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Smile Cry?

imageOn “An ate all the pies smile” I snuck in a little copy the paper The Age. One of my favourite pastimes pre kids was an afternoon of sun lounging with the paper in the park with some baked goods. Sadly, this doesn’t last more than a few minutes these days, but I drew it remembering those days very fondly J. Also, I created a very subtle colour palette for each side – Smile has slightly warmed tones, and cry cooler.

I love the softness of your lines, tones and sweet characters in the book. This style perfectly suits the gentle nature of the story. What was your favourite part of the book to work on? Why is this meaningful to you?

Thank you so much! It’s funny because I did another book around the same time, and by coincidence they are coming out the same month (The Midnight Possum) – it’s a completely different style though, and I didn’t actually consciously plan out the look as much as I now see they have. It just sort of came together in a very easy way (with a lot of drawing, of course!).

imageIn terms of my favourite part… I loved working on all of it to be honest! It’s been a lifelong dream to illustrate picture books and the process was just a joy. I think the pig walking in the forest page was perhaps my happiest one as it is my happy place being in nature too.

Your illustrative repertoire is wide with work including children’s books, painting and design of cards and prints. Is any one venue more challenging than the rest? Where do you plan for your art to take you in the future?

I had a long time working in other industries before working as a freelance illustrator, so when I set out to make my career viable and stable, I wanted to gain work in a lot of areas. It’s been pretty challenging trying to keep up with all the different projects and clients, especially since we had a second baby, but I do enjoy working on lots of different things. I would say picture books are the most challenging as you have to dive so deeply into the project, but it is something I would like to do more of. I hope one day to both write and draw my own books, as well as create a line of décor products for kids (I love translating illustrations to different mediums – eg doonas!).

Sounds gorgeous!

Have you always wanted to be an artist? What do you love about illustrating for children?

I have, although I got swept into working in a variety of other jobs before I got back to my true work love, illustration! I love the fact that you are creating work that a child can connect with and it may stick with them for the rest of their life. I reflect back on my favourite books from my own childhood, and the way they spoke to me so strongly in an emotive or imaginative way.

What does your work space look like? Is there an item in your studio that you cannot live without? What are your favourite mediums to use?

imageWe are really lucky in that we have a “granny flat” out the back of our garden which has beautiful light, and an intercom so I can hear when our bub wakes! I love working with watercolours (and always have) although more and more I am having fun experimenting with digital media. I’ve also been scanning in my 3 year old’s artwork and use some of this for collage material for my work, or for drawing with her – for example last October she did some watercolour marks and I made an Australian bird painting a day in ink.

How did you get your break in the industry? What is your greatest tip for emerging illustrators?

imageI sent the most amazing lady, Patricia Howes from Omnibus, my portfolio for 6 YEARS! While I look at my first work and grimace, she was so kind and would send the most helpful feedback – and called me to say I had a job illustrating a book with Sally Morgan (you could have blown me over with a feather). I’ve also been lucky to have yearly catch ups with Anna Walker, and amazing people like Tania and EK Books to support me through the process of working on my first book. So I guess I am saying – make connections, friendships and keep chipping away, as all those incredible people from the industry are usually also very kind and happy to share their knowledge.

What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects or upcoming events that you can share with us?

In October my next book will be released with Scholastic, called One Little Koala. Right now I am working on many many client projects, from designing resin jewellery for Erstwilder, creating portraits for my Etsy shop, designing candle labels for a non-profit, painting a peony for a wedding gift, designing fabric etc…. I keep a little overview of projects on my website www.jessesmess.com as they come to fruition. But in the background I am always musing over the next possible book project, so hopefully next year I will have a couple more out in the world J

Looking forward to seeing more amazing art from you. Thank you so much for joining us at Boomerang Books, Jess!

Thank you so so much for having me!

Purchase Smile Cry.

Find details for the launch here.

Jess Racklyeft can be found at her website, on Facebook and at her Etsy store.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Cyclone

CycloneI was but a babe in arms when Cyclone Althea swept across Townsville on the eve of Christmas in 1971 however, I will never forget the noise of it; the warning sirens, the howling winds, the pelting rain. We were hushed into submissive silence by the storm screaming to get through our walls; muted by the all-consuming blackness, the sheer force of it. And then afterwards, struck again with incredulousness; our roof still over our heads whilst every other in the street lay shorn off, twisted and deformed in backyards where they didn’t belong.

Images like these are hard to erase. A few years later, another cyclone, this one by the name of Tracy struck at a similar time of year, blighting a similar town, producing similar indelible memories for the survivors.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie French45 years on, powerful storytelling duo, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley mark this event with their new picture book, Cyclone. It’s hard to ignore the images of this beautiful work, as well.

Following in the same potent spirit of their Flood and Fire collaborations, Cyclone focuses primarily on a single tragic natural disaster, which had cataclysmic consequences for not only the community it affected but also many others across Australia. The results are profound and moving, yet also hopeful.

A storm brewed out at sea on the 24th of December 1974, yet the residents of Darwin hunkered down, unconcerned, too preoccupied with the imminent arrival of Santa Claus to worry about a fairly normal occurrence for them. When Cyclone Tracy unexpectedly swung and hit Darwin full in the face, she did so with such vehemence and force that the township was taken unawares. As the BOM quoted, ‘The entire fabric of life in Darwin was catastrophically disrupted, with the majority of buildings being totally destroyed or badly damaged, and very few escaping unscathed.’

French depicts this wholesale devastation with lilting verse that pays homage to the intensity of the storm as well as infusing the tragedy with a personal touch. The narrator, presumably a small expectant child waiting for Santa but faced instead with a wild beast who consumes their town overnight, is shown huddling with their family in their brick barbecue amidst a sea of destruction.

FloodThe poignancy of the situation and the degree of loss is beautifully rendered by Whatley’s pencil and acrylic wash illustrations. As with its two predecessors, I believe Whatley executed Cyclone’s drawings with his left (non-dominant) hand producing exquisite expressions of infinite detail and fluidity. Streaks, smears and runs feature in every landscape representing the force and chaos of the storm and later the pervading sense of new life, slowly seeping back, where ‘houses grow…day by day’ – my daughter’s favourite spread. The washed-out appearance and toned-down hues do indeed reflect the tone and look of a feature film reel likely to have existed in the 70s. The whole effect is goose bump raising.

Cyclone is an ode of sorts to the man at the end of the phone line French happened to answer one fateful day following the catastrophe of Cyclone Tracy as she manned the Information Section of the Department of Urban and Regional Development. She will never forget his despair, nor his tenacious courage to rebuild and move on.

FireLike Flood and Fire, and Cyclone Tracy itself, Cyclone is a telling testimony to the legacy of good that can emerge from ravaged lives and homes. It cites that humans are ultimately survivors, capable of adapting and ‘inventing ways to live with whatever challenges the planet throws at them.’ We are reminded to respect the forces of nature and learn from our mistakes; a significant observation for those who have endured a natural disaster and for those of our more recent generations who have not. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2016

Children with Anxiety – Picture Book Reviews

Often it is our differences, fears and anxieties that contribute to our feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. It is common within our society to feel out of place or lack self-confidence. But you know what? That’s OK! Maybe it just takes a little time to warm up, to find your feet and be ready to tackle the world. Understanding and accepting oneself can often be a process that takes maturing, and a gentle and sympathetic support system can be a vital part of that growth. The following two books deal with these tender matters in beautifully delicate and encouraging ways.

imageThe Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribe Publications, 2015.

A sensitive young boy named Alfie feels the weight of the world on his shoulders as he struggles with social anxiety. Naturally, he’d rather hide than face performing as Captain Starfish in the upcoming fancy-dress parade. Those all-too-familiar feelings of nervousness that he has experienced before return. Admitting his fear of failure to the cowboys on his wallpaper is scary enough, but how will his Mum react when he tells her he can’t go?

Well, Mum (and Dad) are gratefully understanding. In fact, Mum takes Alfie to the aquarium instead. The underwater world is beautiful and wondrous, but upon spotting a starfish, just like his costume, he feels that heaviness weighing upon him once more. Fortuously it is a little shy clownfish that he connects with who shows him that it’s alright to wait in the wings (or coral, so to speak) until the time to emerge from the depths feels right.

imageDavina Bell’s genuinely heartfelt and beautifully written text so effectively relates Alfie’s fears and nightmares in an empathetic, delicate manner. Equally, Colpoys‘s exquisite illustrations with their soothing blues and greys and pops of neon orange, and the fantastic use of space and perspective add that perfect depth of soul and vulnerability.

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ speaks into the lives of many children facing anxiety. A poignant and enchanting tale set to add a little sparkle and illumination to the more sensitive souls of this often daunting world.

imageBeing Agatha, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Here we have another reserved child fearing the judgement of others. But just like it did for the boy in Davina Bell’s book, it takes time and encouragement for this character to truly realise what makes her an individual and thus overcome her internal struggles.

We are immediately drawn in with a pertinent discussion topic. First we see that Agatha’s parents are of an inter-racial (or inter-specie) communion, and that Agatha is centred at this somewhat of a divide at family get-togethers. Then there’s the fact that her likes and abilities seem less impressive than others’ – another reason to feel a sense of lack of worth. So Agatha decides that hiding from her classmates is the solution, until she realises that she’s more important than she thinks. With a little reinforcement from her teacher, Agatha’s friends are able to rattle off a number of traits that make her special. But they all agree, “no one else is a better Agatha than you!”

imageWhilst Anna Pignataro‘s simple narrative relays Agatha’s worries about her lack of belonging, it is her pictures that form the basis for its interpretation. Anna’s language is sensitive and gentle, and her illustrations support these qualities unequivocally. The grey tones of the charcoal render the story’s restrain and softness yet carry a sense of similarity amongst the characters. And it is the pops of watercolours and collage elements that give life, spirit and individuality to each of them, too. A wonderfully eclectic mix that this book highlights of difference as well as belonging.

‘Being Agatha’ is a modest, sweet and intriguing story lightly addressing feelings of anxiety with a reassuring touch that a range of young children (and species) between 2 and 6 will be able to relate to.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Animals behaving badly – Picture book reviews

Archie illos spreadThey say animals have been done to death in picture books. Why then does nearly every second illustrated story I pick up feature talking, singing, skydiving critters of every shape and body-covering-skin type? Because kids adore them, that’s why. The funky demeanours of our animal friends serve not only to relay real-life stories and situations in non-threatening, easy to assimilate ways for young readers, they also ultimately create characters of irrepressible entertainment. This next selection of recently released picture books ably illustrates this point.

Cheeky monotremes, mammals, and avians

Echidna Jim went for a SwimEchidna Jim went for a Swim bristles with fun and frivolity until you realise things are shaping up to end very badly for poor old Jim who just wants to enjoy a day at the beach with his mates. The archenemy of inflatables is of course anything spiky, but Jim is not about to let that ruin his fun. Phil Cummings is known for his poignant, super sensitive picture books. Echidna Jim represents a more quirky, unconventional style for him that nonetheless embraces difference and friendship. I loved Laura Wood’s interpretation of the moon-jumping cow in, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Her portrayal of surfing dingoes and soggy cockatoos is just as beguiling. Great for tots over three.

Scholastic Press February 2016

ChipWestern Australian author illustrator, Kylie Howarth was raised on an emu farm so presumably understands the fevered machinations of our feather-minded friends. Chip is like most other gulls…he adores fish and chips; can’t get enough of them in fact. Sadly, his obsession leads to total prohibition of all fried foodstuffs from Joe’s Chips Van until one day Chip cooks up an idea involving the rest of his seaside-clan. Together, with a little perseverance and a lot of verve, they convince Joe of their potential sales benefit to him and thus earn a place at his table. This is a deceptively simple book featuring cuter than cute seagull pictures, an extra surprise element within, and the commendable message that human food is perhaps not the best for our wild native buddies no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Fun reading for pre-schoolers with the potential to lead to real-life discussions.

The File Mile Press March 2016

Archie no ordinary slothHeath McKenzie is no stranger when it comes to capturing animal antics between the pages of picture books. Archie no ordinary sloth, is his latest creation featuring one of my favourites in the jungle, the ebullient sloth. Well, at least Archie is which is what immediately alienates him from the rest of his inactive tribe. Lonely and unable to accept his unsloth-like incongruities, Archie flees and happens upon a group of outcasts whose appearances and attitudes help him turn his own around. They convince him to return to his friends whom he discovers, are in grave danger. Will extra-ordinary Archie save the day? A charismatic little picture book full of McKenzie’s zest-filled drawings, lovable characters, and comical prose perfect for focusing on the usefulness of being different.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Big Bad Bears

Bear Make DenNot since Goldilocks and the Three Bears have I wanted to doss up under the same roof as a bear so much. Bear Make Den is the combined effort of Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner and is gloriously illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In a subtle uproarious salute to the home handy man, Godwin and Wagner reveal Bear’s Ikea-inspired side as he blunders through a bout of home renovations. As his den fills with furniture and other home-making necessities such as art and ovens for cake baking, it slow dawns on Bear that there is little point in having a great home if you’ve no one to share it with. EBear Make Den cake illo spreadlementary, bear-like prose roars into life within Joyner’s intelligently drawn pictures. Bear is someone I’d love to share cake with. Bear Make Den  is a splendid book to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early primary readers a like because of the scope of its vocabulary, visual story, and suggestion about ‘the value of relationships in making us happy’.

Allen & Unwin January 2016

A Beginners Guide to Bear SpottingIf you’re going to keep hanging around bears, you would be wise to swat up on Michelle Robinson’s and David Roberts’ Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. This big, hulking bear of a picture book is laugh-out-loud funny and constitutes a primary- schooler’s essential guide to surviving a walk through bear country. It patiently takes readers through a series of serious definitions whilst trying to focus young attention spans on the various dangers and attributes of the Black and the Brown bear, which as it turns out, are confusingly similar. By the end, we are none the wiser as to whether bears are truly sweet cuddly teddies in disguise or not, but sufficed to say, we were warned. In spite of the drop-bear being the most fearsome Ursus we Aussies have to contend with, Bear Spotting is still a convincing and very comical read. Robinson’s text is as wry and witty as it was in There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes, while Robert’s drop-dead brilliant illustrations read like a box-office smash. Highly recommended.

A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting illo spread jpgBloomsbury children’s Publishing Australia March 2016

 

Two True Blue Tales – Australian Picture Book Reviews

Two enchanting books in a series written by Aboriginal elder, Aunty Ruth Hegarty and playfully illustrated by Sandi Harrold are about Aussie animals on Aussie adventures. The Creatures of Dryden Gully’ and ‘Pip and Pim’ take their readers on journeys of self exploration and discovery, with the tendency to veer off track slightly as young children often do. But their delightful characters and moralistic storylines remind us all of which path to follow.

imageThe Creatures of Dryden Gully is a special story of a mother’s protection and unconditional love as a young Kangaroo Joey discovers what it means to be unique and proud. Author and storyteller Aunty Ruth Hegarty, a child of the Gunggari Nation and the Stolen Generation, tells a heartwarming tale of Joey who is eager to grow up. When the Royal visitors, the deer, arrive to their land, the Natives are nothing but intrigued by their beautiful characteristics and abilities. In a bid to stretch his legs and explore his surroundings, Joey secretly follows the Royals to a clearing. But when poachers make a sudden, alarming appearance, Joey is confused and frightened. Luckily the young roo remembers his mother’s earlier lesson in survival and the pair are lovingly reunited.

With earthy-coloured oils on canvas, the illustrations are endearing and reflective of the pureness of the story. The Creatures of Dryden Gully reminds us of the importance of listening to our elders and recognising our own special qualities. It also reinforces awareness of folklore and concepts native to Australia. For children from age four.

imageWritten and illustrated by the same collaborative pair, Pip and Pim comparably appeals to its audience with a similar important message, sweet demeanor and playful images. It’s virtuous storyline is told tenderly yet colourfully, with dedicated text pages that oppose the illustrations.

Eager little possums, Pip and Pim, can’t wait to explore the forest floor for the first time. The liveliness of the bush under the bright moonlight, the call of the cicadas and the song of the night bird all add to the excitement of their first out-of-tree adventure. But despite their parents’ warnings to be careful, the young ringtails pay no attention. Initially they find other creatures such as echidnas and bandicoots busily foraging in the darkness. Then, upon stumbling into a plover bird’s nest, the screeching father frightens them and they quickly scamper off to find their awaiting parents.

With Harrold‘s spirited, bold illustrations showing off the glowing flora and fauna amongst the authentic nighttime hues, Pip and Pim is a delightful and charming book to share with your loved ones. A story of trust, listening to elders and a bit of mischief, it is an effective way for preschoolers to learn important life lessons about parental guidance and ‘stranger danger’ with an Australiana flavour.

Scholastic Australia, 2015.

Winning Pets – Picture Books of Animals

From egotistical and obnoxious, to intelligent and in desperate need of affection (and food), our furry pals have differing needs and talents but we just love them no matter what! The following picture books are bound to surprise and delight your little ones with their humorous, sweet and heart-warming antics that only our beloved animals can offer.

imageRemarkably Rexy, Craig Smith (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2015.

Rex is the proudest, most majestic and self-absorbed cat in town. For years he’s owned the streets – well, Serengeti Street. His incessantly groomed appearance, captivating dance steps and poses have been the biggest attraction amongst the kids passing by. That is, until Pretty Pamela steals his thunder with her elegant prancing. What follows for Rex is just like a series of unfortunate events that leaves him looking a bit less than perfect. Has he come to the realisation that maybe the fuss isn’t worth all the effort?

Craig Smith‘s watercolour and pen illustrations are characteristically warm and hilariously energetic. And in his debut as an author, he also successfully brings us a charming and skittish story. There’s something very visceral and real about this vain yet likeable cat, and the other irritable animals, that makes this book so relatable.

‘Remarkably Rexy’ is a fun, delightfully comical and engaging story that preschoolers will be giving prominence to over and over again.

imageOur Dog Knows Words, Peter Gouldthorpe (author), Lucy Gouldthorpe (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Some pets are brilliant and shine in their own way. From cats to dogs, in ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ this clever family pet can definitely impress. From simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘shake hands’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’, to more complex tricks like ‘roll over’ and ‘scratch’, this playpul pup always obeys. Well, maybe not always! I love how this dog is such a loved and integral part of this household. From bed jumping to car rides, cat chasing and beach time frolics, this pup is having a ball.

This is a beautifully simple, and ‘waggish’ story of a word- and fun-loving canine companion. The equally endearing and uncomplicated line drawings and coloured patterns make ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ a clear, light-hearted book. It’s also terrific for encouraging young children to value and appreciate our faithful furry friends.

imageWombat Wins, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.

Speaking of champions, two in the children’s literature field are the superlative Jackie French and the prolific illustrator, Bruce Whatley. They have teamed up again for the next winning wombat book in the series; it’s ‘Wombat Wins’.

While Mothball is up to her usual cheeky capers of wanting (and demanding) carrots, she also happens to be competing with a group of small, athletic humans to be the first to reach her prize. This determined, robust character takes us through an energetic, fast-paced and amusing romp. I love how she speeds across the uncluttered landscape pages in her characteristically melodramatic style. The simple, punchy language is the perfect match for this fiesty but adorable creature.

Preschool aged children will no doubt be racing to savour ‘Wombat Wins’ as much as humanely (or wombately) possible. It really is a winner!

imageI Need a Hug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

From winning wombats to winning hearts, Aaron Blabey once again seduces us with his charming story and its theatrical satire. Although not your common type of pet, this sweet little hedgehog starving for a cuddle is certainly irresistible. Unfortunately, this is not true for Lou the rabbit, Ken the moose and Moe the bear who don’t fair kindly to this poor, prickly creature. But when hedgehog feels all hope is lost, the story closes in a satisfying way…with a bit of a twist!

Blabey presents this story with his typically expressive rhyming couplets, farcical scenes, tongue-in-cheek humour and intense-looking characters. Always a winning combination throughout his books.

‘I Need a Hug’ oozes tenderness and kindness. It shows us literally (check the endpapers) that negative feelings can be turned into positive ones by perhaps taking a risk and offering a gesture of peace. Even towards the most unlikely of friends. It’s an adorable book of learning compassion and receptiveness in a cute and funny way, as well as being the perfect bedtime story when you can steal a few extra hugs and kisses!

And for more reviews on amazing animals check out Dimity‘s recent line up of picture books here.