Quirks, Quandaries and Quips – Picture Book Reviews  

I love coming across books that allow the freedom to ‘think outside the square‘, so to speak. Books that play ‘chasey‘ with your imagination and let you run wild. And books that at the end of a chaotic day leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in your heart. The following three picture books do all those things in their own special kind of way.

imageStanley, written and illlustrated by Colin Thompson, takes quirky to a whole new level. Thompson, a legend in the children’s book world, superbly paints a solid picture of his unique characters, both conceptually and visually. Focusing on the themes of non-judgement and individuality, his descriptive language, gangly humans and mixed media images align perfectly.

Stanley may look as if he was “built out of bricks that had been leant against and rained on and loved…, as strong as a mountain” but in truth he was “as soft as a pillow.” Adorably depicted across the page is Stanley in his muddy glory, sitting wide-eyed and innocent under the spotlight. As you will see, the thing that makes Stanley happy and his tail quiver most is his red ball (and his human, Gerald). Life with a small family (Stanley, Gerald and his mum) has its perks and responsibilities, but at times he feels lonely. One day, Stanley is disappointed after an unfortunate occurrence at the park. Then, without realising how it happened (since dogs usually don’t understand the intricacies of people’s bonding process), his house is filled with a new family. Stanley may not realise the connection between his park experience and his current living situation, but he finds himself enjoying the baking smells, extra company… and a brand new red ball. Although, he probably could have done without the tablecloth bridesmaid’s dress!

Stanley is a witty and gentle book about the complexities of human personalities and relationships and the simplicities of a dog’s life. There is also a subtle yet valuable message about taking risks with understanding people (and dogs) and looking beyond the exterior. Recommended for primary school children.

ABC Books, 2016.

imageChasing her previous excitable tale, Clementine’s Walk, Annie White‘s latest delight follows suit in the same charismatic demeanour; it’s Clementine’s Bath.

Guaranteed to whip preschoolers along on this wild romp, Clementine and her smells sure do arouse. Pongs from rubbish piles are not quite considered the bed of roses that this carefree pooch relishes, and the family won’t have a whiff of it. So now she finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Bounding off in rhyming couplets, Clementine makes her dash away from the dreaded B-A-T-H and all through the house. Hiding in an assortment of obscure places, like between pot plants, into the shed and inside the toybox, Clementine’s efforts fall flat and she, to her dismay, surrenders with a SPLASH! But perhaps there are perks to being clean and pleasant-smelling, after all.

Delightfully energetic and fast paced in all the right places, Clementine’s Bath exudes this chaotic liveliness that most dog owners know all too well. With softness, warmth and colour, this book will groom young readers into the excitement of caring for a pet.

New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

imagePreschoolers will take absolute pleasure at the quips these characters have prepared for their readers. This is a Circle by Chrissie Krebs is no more than an all-rounded, wise-cracking, rhyming pursuit in top form. With bold, vibrant colours and animated personalities much in likeness of Ben Wood’s illustrations, here is a page-turning, eye-catching and whimsical tale with an abundance of energy.

It all looks innocent enough when we are introduced to the seemingly-friendly characters and a random selection of labelled objects. But things quickly turn sour when animal turns against animal and objects are used for pure selfish gain. First the tap-dancing goat climbs the enormous box. Then the song-singing cat is cat-apulted up there due to his own reckless driving habits. A violent pant-wearing fox angers the wild-looking bear who chases him around and up to the top of the box (with the help of a pile of the randomly-selected shapes, objects and vehicles). And so now that they have successfully squabbled their way to the top, what will be their next quandary?

A highly entertaining collection of giggles and teachable moments with its clever integration of concepts and rhyming words. The text highlights those key words with bold and enlarged print, enabling young readers to identify the sounds and main elements in the story. Oh, not to mention the slick, tactile cut out circle on the front cover is a great way to hook readers in! Funny, innovative and engaging, This is a Circle will have children from age three running in circles to have this book read to them again and again.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2016.

For more concept-related books see Dimity‘s list here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015