A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Review – The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box

The Fearsome Frightening Ferocious BoxDo you remember those Magic Eye (random dot autostereograms) 3D puzzles of the late 80s? The ones where if you stare long and hard enough at them and go into a cross-eyed kind of trance, you’d mysteriously see a world or picture in unimaginable depth and detail? Personally, I loved them and spent a lot of the early 90s staring into pages of pixelated patterns.

David Legge and Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is reminiscent of these puzzles but in a much better, beguiling way. This picture book by the team that brought us Kisses for Daddy and Captain Crabclaw’s Crew, invites you to think deep, look hard and be brave!

It all begins innocently enough. One day an innocuous looking box appears. No one knows where it comes from. No one knows what is inside. And of course not knowing is the spur of all great endeavours; as any child will tell you; curiosity must be sated at all costs and in this case, that means the box must be opened.

Monkey is the first to attempt it but is thwarted when the box begins to moan. A spine chilling couple of stanzas provide clues as to the potential occupant of the box and is followed by a cautionary, ‘open the box if you dare’ warning. This becomes the box’s mantra and pattern of riddles throughout the book.

We are also advised that our eyes may play tricks on us and that in each of the illustrations accompanying the riddle, the occupant could be one of six creatures secreted therein.

This is where the fun starts. Finding all six of the illusive animals artfully hidden within the scenes is harder than you’d imagine. It took the eyes of two adults and one seven year old to locate each of the animals and I’m ashamed to say, in spite of years of Magic Eye practise, I’m still searching for some! The animals are not in random dot stereograms by the way but hidden as craftily.

Frances WattsThe Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box is utterly compelling. While I found alternating use of rhyming verse and animal narrative a little jarring at times, Frances Watts is spot on with her use of descriptive clues and creates the perfect amount of suspense and tension to keep readers guessing and searching. Watts cleverly guides us through a myriad of scenes from the wetlands, arid desert wastelands, woodland forests and even the Arctic ice floes, as we attempt to find the answer.

The fantastically detailed illustrations of David Legge allows us to linger in each scene, exploring the environment of the creatures who lurk and dwell within at least until we discover them. The drawings are bold, expressive and panoramic in their design and feel. I love the textured, stippled effect used throughout the book too, which gives the characters more tactile warmth.

As each riddle emitted from the box is solved, the creature portrayed steps up to be the one brave enough and fearsome enough to open the box. But none of them quite cuts the mustard especially when faced with a warning from the box that it will attack if they dare open it.

It finally dawns on our crew of beasties that they are collectively terrifying in their own right and if they open the box together, they will outmatch whatever is inside.

Now I’m not going to divulge the box’s contents. You’ll have to puzzle that one out for yourself. But if you are a fan of Parsley Rabbit, you are going to adore The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and its chuckle out loud ending. My seven year old certainly did.

This is more than a simple picture book. It’s a gripping, enigmatically visual, educational experience. It’s a journey through the diversity of our natural world and the creatures that inhabit it. It’s Deadly 60 meets Graeme Base.

Does curiosity finally kill the cat? Open The Fearsome, Frightening, Ferocious Box and find out for yourself.

Recommended for the very brave of heart and 5 to 50 year olds.

ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers Australia 2013

And just for fun:

Magic Eye Mental floss