Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

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The Latest in the Chook Doolan Series

Award-winning author James Roy has successfully developed this series particularly with boys’ literacy development in mind. The Chook Doolan series have been created with a most likeable and relatable character, themes of friendship, family and courage, and plenty of humour and action to captivate its emergent reader audience. With seven or eight short chapters, easy-to-follow language and support structures, and exuberant, witty black and white illustrations by the talented Lucinda Gifford, these books are winners for children aged five and up.

imageSimon, better known as Chook, is not very brave. That is, he is chicken. InChook Doolan Saves the Day’ (Book #3), we are privileged with Chook’s emotional conscience and his honest thoughts towards things such as his dislike for sports. His friend, Joe offers to teach him to play soccer to prepare for their school lessons. But in particular, Chook needs to learn to brave the unyielding stampedes of Ashton Findus and Marty Petrovic. Despite his woeful excuses, a pep talk from big brother Ricky encourages Chook to listen to his angry rooster head-voice (as opposed to his scared chicken head-voice), and he miraculously manages to save the day (the ball, that is!). However, although overcoming this huge battle; both on the field and inside his head, somehow I don’t think Chook Doolan will be changing his reluctant ways any time soon.

imageIn ‘The Tiny Guitar’ (Book #4), Chook’s busker friend, Eddie Two-hats, sits on the same corner every day singing and playing his ukulele. But one day, Eddie Two-hats is taken away by ambulance and Chook is left confused and extremely concerned. To be able to help out his friend, Chook needs to make some money so that Eddie can eat. With his new ukulele gift from Dad, many hours of video instruction and practice, and a whole bunch of courage, Chook delivers the musical busking performance of his life. It may not have been flawless, nor have generated much income, but his efforts proved successful in more ways than one…even if it was only a one-time show.

Young readers will easily identify with the feelings associated with sudden change, being challenged to learn a new skill, and one’s internal insecurities. These books also inject the comically relatable advantages and pitfalls to sibling support (or lack thereof), as well as highlighting the encouraging nature of a good friend.

The Chook Doolan books are complete with a smooth stream of emotional trials, sound messages of compassion, hope and triumph, as well as plenty of winsome humour to capture the hearts of all sensitive souls like Chook.

Walker Books, August 2016.

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Lily the Elf – New Releases

imageSo utterly adorable and perfect for exploring deep emotions, friendships, problem solving, confidence and adventure are award-winning Anna Branford‘s Lily the Elf series for emergent readers. All with five short, steadily-paced chapters, enlarged font and sweet, detailed illustrations by Lisa Coutts throughout, these books are irresistibly readable.

I read the latest two books with my six year old daughter, alternating pages as we like to do. She participated with confidence, both understanding the concepts as she read and enjoying the active listening role as well. The books also effectively engaged her interaction as chapter endings left us with opportunities for discussion.

imageIn ‘The Sleepover’, Lily’s cousin, Fern, is invited to stay for the night. It has been a long time since they have seen each other, but Lily is excited nevertheless. She helps prepare a delicious meal, some fun games, a special bed for Fern and her favourite bedtime stories. The anticipation is almost too much to bear, but when Fern finally arrives, Lily’s expectations for a fun evening are soon dashed. Fern dismisses all of Lily’s efforts, leaving her confused and disappointed. But despite Fern’s scornful attitude, Lily manages to cut to the core of the issue and gently reassures Fern, slowly but surely, that she is safe and welcome.

The themes of empathy and kindness are evidently clear but written beautifully to reflect associated feelings of misplacement, uncertainty and disillusionment. Intertwined are playfulness and familiarity to make this story relatable and relevant to its early readers.

imageIn ‘The Jumble Sale’ Lily’s elf neighbourhood is holding a Jumble Sale Day to sell their no-longer-needed belongings. Lily yearns to buy a dress-up mermaid’s tail with her elf coins. But when Dad and Granny begin to clear out some of their own old dress ups, Lily is cross, but not as devastated as the notion of selling her baby cot with the precious hanging cloud. The day turns from bad to worse when she discovers the mermaid’s tail is too expensive, and her cot is the only option for a couple expecting their first baby. With a little thought and a lot of courage, Lily’s generosity, resilience and willingness to part with the special treasures ultimately lead to the satisfying ending she hoped for…in more ways than one!

I love how this story focuses on sentimentality and how simple possessions can evoke such strong feelings deep within us. It also reminds us that we are still able to cherish our memories forever, and allow others to create their own memories with those passed-on treasures.

Totally age-appropriate with supportive reading structures, simple language and whimsical illustrations, children from age five will just adore this special, spirited and good-natured series with a whole lot of heart.

Walker Books, August 2016.  

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Raised in a World of Picture Book Goodness

It is so important, particularly today, that our future generations are brought up as genuinely kind and caring people with peace and prosperity in heart and mind. It is our duty to continue to empower and raise our children as strong, tolerant and protective members of our society and environment. I love these following picture books for their beautiful messages of compassion, fervour, accepting differences, and making differences.

imageTogether Always, written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo, is a sweet, profound and mesmorising book of everlasting friendship and overcoming differences in opinion without comprising values.

Pig and Goat ‘always‘ do everything together, no matter what fruit hangs from the trees in the orchard. They laze about in the sun and the stream, tell tales and hum tunes when the other is down. One BIG night Goat decides he feels the need to take Pig and go exploring over the hills. But when Pig misses his home, they forfeit their ‘sticking together always‘ pact and part ways. To soothe themselves to sleep or to comfort themselves when they feel lonely, Pig and Goat find ways to remember each other. They know that although they are physically apart, they are, in fact, ‘always‘ in each other’s hearts.

Gorgeously textured pencil and watercolours in splats and strokes magnificently outline the characters, showing both the elements of togetherness and individuality. This is further carried through when the mix of cool and warm tones are subtly separated when the friends are apart from one another.

Together Always is a deep and meaningful story with plenty of playful moments. It would perfectly suit preschoolers and beyond who might be grappling with complex friendships or missing a mate who has moved out of their immediate everyday world.

Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont, March 2016.

imageIf you’ve heard of the movie ‘Oddball‘ then you’ll know and appreciate the persistence and virtue of the characters in the story. Poignant and uplifting, Chooks in Dinner Suits is based on the real life events of farmer, Swampy Marsh and his tireless, ongoing work with his canine pals to save a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island. Gorgeously written in a factual yet frolicsome narrative by Diane Jackson Hill, with visually arresting scenery and playfulness by Craig Smith, this book is an eye-opening, captivating and warming experience to touch every heart and soul.

When settlers establish themselves in a town besides the small island off Warrnambool, soon humans, dogs and foxes make a devastating impact on the land and the penguin population. Swampy Marsh takes notice and pleads with the townsfolk to help reinforce his plan to protect the area, to no avail. But when penguin numbers dwindle to not even a handful, the people agree and Swampy recruits his two best Maremma dogs to act as the loyal, sensible and fiercely protective guardians that they are. Needless to say, the waddle on Middle Island flourishes, and just like with all happy endings, we are graciously gifted with a sense of relief and calm.

imageA story of hope, triumph and passion, guts and determination, Chooks in Dinner Suits is sure to ignite the spark in its early years readers to also advocate and fight for the future of our environment and its amazing wildlife.

More information about the island, the work of the Maremmas and the growth of the Little Penguin colony can be found at the back of the book, and you can also visit www.warrnamboolpenguins.com.au to read about the project.

Museum Victoria, June 2016.

imageEntrancingly adorable, eclectic and whimsical mixed media illustrations go hand in hand with this special story of courage and helping others in need. From the legendary storyteller that is Sally Morgan, collaborating with talented artist Jess Racklyeft, Midnight Possum is a book to treasure.

We all know that possums enjoy adventure and mischief in the dark of night. But what happens when there’s trouble? How do they escape those sticky situations? For one stealthy Possum, no problem is too much effort when he comes across Mother Possum calling for help. One of the twin babies is missing, but it doesn’t take long before Possum grunts, scrabbles and heaves his way down the dusty chimney in ‘mission impossible’ style. There he finds the tiny mite frightened as he clings to a brick ledge. Some ‘risky business’ later, the pair sneak out the pet flap in the back door and return to safety…and dinner!

Highly interactive, engaging and humorous with its fluid narrative, questioning, fun sound effects and cheeky illustrations, Midnight Possum ticks all the boxes. Children from age three will be hanging out to read this active book of bravery over and over, at all times of the night!

Scholastic Australia, April 2016.

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It’s a Dog’s Life – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous ways.  

imageBob the Railway Dog, Corinne Fenton (author), Andrew McLean (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Based on a true, moving story, Corinne Fenton uses a beautiful, poetic tone to tell of the history of the progress of railway tracks across vast Australian landscapes dating back to 1884.

Bound to be rabbit hunters in outback South Australia, a cargo of homeless dogs enter the station. It is Guard Will Ferry who spots a smiling, irresistible pup amongst them – Bob. Bob becomes the Guard’s travelling companion, covering areas from wheat fields through to mining towns, all the way from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. For years he’d spring on and out many a train; his experiences expanded along with the tracks being laid. Bob was a part of it all. He befriended many, and even attended a range of special events like the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in New South Wales. Bob was a wanderer. He had spirit and gusto. He was the railway dog that everyone knew and loved, and his photograph remains at the Adelaide Station still to this day.

A fascinating, delightfully written retell of an important part of Australia’s importing / exporting and travel network development, with the focal element being the adorable four-legged adventurer that brings life and excitement to this momentous tale. Matching the lively nature of the story are the watercolour, charcoal and black pencil illustrations with their fine details, movement and energy. Andrew McLean uses suitably muted colours with an almost sepia-tone representing this era with class and perfection.

‘Bob the Railway Dog’ features a strong, loveable character with extraordinary audacity. It is a great addition to any home or early years classroom with a wonderful Australian historical and social background.  

imageDog and the Lost Leg, Carlee Yardley (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

With its charming sewn cotton and fabric characters, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a story with plenty of humour, interactivity and warmth.

It is always difficult to cope with the loss of something you’ve become quite attached to, particularly when it happens to be one of your legs! When Fox notices that Dog’s problem is caused by his missing leg, they embark on a mission to find it. Meeting other animals at their places of work, each one tries to help by offering a leg from the lost-and-found. Unfortunately, a motorbike boot from Bruno’s shop doesn’t quite fit, nor does a clawed foot from Harriet’s fruit market, and an assortment of tails from Pete the Peacock’s barber shop is definitely not right. A few giggles and some tears later, they finally approach Pip at her fabric shop. The leg that she sews looks a bit out of place, but it is perfect and puts the jiggle back in Dog’s tail.

A simple storyline with simple-looking yet adorable pictures (although I’m sure they would have been a lot of work to create) contains the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud moments and those of compassion from its preschool-aged readers. I can just hear those excitable shouts of “NO!” from the audience as they are questioned, “Is that Dog’s leg?”.

This book is an animated, engaging story of the case of a missing leg. With elements of problem solving, creativity, acceptance and wit, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a testament to the power of friendship and charity between diverse characters.  

imageThe Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend, Felicity Gardner (author), David West (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Here is another adorably funny book about dogs but with the inverse view of taking care of your best pet friend; the human.

Contrary to most picture books, this one is written for dogs. As an explanatory, informative text, the canine narrator describes all the important things there are to be known about ‘Best Friends’. But it is the way the pictures and words work together that capture humour and depth, and truly provide an eye-opening experience into the dog’s perspective. For example, apparently it’s alright to sit on the Best Friend’s face while they sleep because it is the dog’s job to wake them up if they sleep too long. Helpful gestures include taking out the rubbish, gardening, bringing in the washing and cleaning the toilet! All depicted with those cheeky, rascally behaviours that humans get annoyed about. But those astute pooches have perfect manipulation skills – the slight head tilt and the puppy dog eyes – works every time! And, dogs, even when the Best Friends do things that make no sense (such as strange haircuts and outfits), it’s your loyalty, protection, affection and love that will always get them on side.  

With vivacious, colourful illustrations that feature a mixture of media including watercolour, pencil and scanned newspapers and fabrics, this book captures a real sense of warmth, familiarity and truth. It contains the best elements about welcoming and loving a pet in your family, complete with all their accompanying antics.

‘A Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend’ fosters an appreciation for our pets in a heartwarming, refreshing and ‘waggish’ way, sure to be adored by anyone from age three.