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

 

 

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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Finding the Love within – Part 2 – Annabel’s Dance

Annabel's DanceI mentioned last week the merits of not judging a book (or a person) by its cover. Today my hypocrisy shows for I’m rather partial to the cover of our Part 2 picture book review about dealing with differences, newly released, Annabel’s Dance, by Diane Jackson Hill and Lois Bury.

It’s quirky and sweet, exudes fleecy softness yet is eye catching and dare I say, more than a little sheepish, which is all rather fitting for Annabel’s Dance tells the hitherto untold story of a sheep whose unique appearance and delicate constitution sadly alienates her from her mainstream counterparts, aka The Mob.

High on a hill lives not a lonely goatherd, rather Annabel’s flock that are everything you’d expect of a mob of sheep; clean, docile and conforming. Then there is Annabel who is anything but. She is messy and unkempt, erratic and in a constant state of disarray. Her oddball behaviour does nothing to endear her to her fellow sheep who are quick to push her aside and keep her there.

Annabel's Dance illo spreadAnnabel retains her fraught emotional balance by retreating within herself, repeating the mantra, ‘Hazy mazy oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy.’ She tries hard to control her exaggerated reactions to every day events and smells and noises but her incessant restlessness offends the others’ sense of correctness so much so that she is shunned even more.

Annabel’s supersensitive responses exacerbate at shearing time thanks to the aggravating noises and sensations so she avoids it, until over many missed shearings, she becomes a prisoner of her own condition…and wool! To her detriment, one day her overgrown mantel trips her up, literally. Farmer Shanks springs to her rescue and resourcefully and caringly helps her to overcome her worst anxieties. This sudden special treatment forces the other sheep to re-evaluate their opinions about Annabel. But will it be enough for them to follow suit?

Diane Jackson HillHill developed the idea for this picture book in an attempt to understand the behaviours of her granddaughter and the disorders of ADHD and Autism. Whilst doing so, she learned the true life stories of individual sheep found in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Victoria who incredibly escaped annual shearing and have been found with up to 6 years’ growth of wool. Could they by supersensitive too? wondered Hill. And so, Annabel’s Dance was born.

And inspired it is. Hill’s rippling narrative and strong use of visceral vocabulary (wool the colour of ‘whipped cream’, growing in ‘tight crinkles’) is both appealing and entertaining. It conveys Annabel’s plight with sensitivity and respect so that we ache for Annabel but not in a pitiful way.

Lois BuryBury’s gorgeous illustrations focus largely on Annabel, she is the vivid abstract splat in the mob’s otherwise ordered life, thus in spite of her innate shyness, she stands out, a situation many young readers on the Autism / Asperger’s Spectrum will no doubt recognise and take heart from.

This is a picture book that deserves repeat readings and thanks to its robust thick feel pages and sensible layout, will stand up to them. Annabel’s Dance and all her uncontrollable wriggly jiggly quirks is a beautiful celebration of individuality that encourages readers to embrace and accept the exceptional abilities that hide within us all. You just have to uncover the wool over your eyes to see them!

Baaatastic for 3 – 6 year olds and lovers of woolly jumpers, everywhere.

Wombat Books February 2016