Just a Little Bit of Love – Picture Book Reviews

There are a few ‘love-ly’ events about to reward us with their heartwarming presence, including Valentine’s Day, Library Lovers’ Day and International Book Giving Day. Yep, they all fall on the same day: February 14. So what better way to help your children fall, or continue to fall in love with books than to share one, buy one, borrow one or give one away. Here are a few with the themes of friendship, hope, compassion, and of course, love to make your hearts sing with an abundance of warmth and affection.

The Poesy Ring, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2017.

The perfect book to share this Valentine’s Day; a beautiful story of love, hope and the power of destiny. Graham’s poetic text alluringly ties in with his moving line and watercolour illustrations that sweep and navigate in succession across the pages. And aptly so. This is a story of the boundless journey of a symbol of love – a golden ring, inscribed with “Love never dies”, beginning its adventure with heartbreak in Ireland, 1830, and reaching its timely fate as a cherished jewel in New York City, 1967. Bound in a meadow for many a season, accompanied by many a creature and unknowing passers-by, the ring then finds its path to the bottom of the sea, only to be eventually discovered once more to where it meets its ultimate destiny. Graham’s touching account grips the heart and mind with his ponderings of one of life’s magical mysteries. The Poesy Ring is sure to win the affections of primary-aged children and rekindle fond memories for any adult who has ever been in love.

Ash Dresses Her Friends, Fu Wenzheng (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Here is a gorgeous story of making connections; where loneliness is turned into fulfilling bonds. Author / illustrator Fu Wenzheng’s text explores the relationship between internal feelings and outwardly behaviour, with a character that reveals a change from sadness / being quiet to contentment / sharing with others. Wenzheng also showcases her talents with her multicultural and textural print and watercolour illustrations that emanate a beautiful Chinese flavour of pattern and dual-tone red and grey. The book’s theme is around sharing and helping others through generous and creative gestures. This is demonstrated by Ash, a shy, azure-winged magpie who discovers her immense satisfaction in tailoring clothes and other textiles for her new animal friends with her patterned material. And the love she receives in return is even more rewarding. Ash Dresses her Friends is a physically small book wrapped with big-hearted and indulgent goodness that will help young ones to open themselves up to loving friendships.

Fox & Moonbeam, Aleesah Darlison (author), Narelda Joy (illus.), Wombat Books, September 2017.

This sumptuously detailed picture book with its lush, digitally mastered illustrations and richly emotive text shows nothing less than a grand sense of faith and courage. Gerard Fox serves as a clock winder in the Queen’s palace. This unfulfilling job is only endured, for the moments he has time away he breathes in life through his violin-playing occasions in the park. Mademoiselle Moonbeam Lapin, famous ballerina, lives the high life of travel, glamour and lights, yet her heart is empty. The pair, upon meeting, lead us to a satisfying ending showing them both shining from the inside out. Darlison‘s narrative is thoughtful and provocative, luminously balancing with Narelda Joy’s intricate, layered collage in a traditional Victorian England setting. Fox & Moonbeam contains a wonderfully perceptive concept of entrusting in a friendship, but particularly in the self-belief and courage to be able to follow your passions and achieve your potential. Encourage your primary-aged children that it’s their ‘time to shine’!

What’s Your Favourite Colour?, Eric Carle and Friends (authors, illus.), Walker Books UK, February 2018.

What a brilliant explosion of diversity, flamboyance, life and love in this colourful book of art! If ever there was a time to appreciate all the colours of the rainbow, to accept and embrace our different preferences and what makes us happy, it’s right now. Eric Carle invites all his friends to choose, illustrate and describe their favourite colour in this glorious collection of artwork, poetry, and poignant little stories. Carle explains his love of ‘yellow’ for its challenge when mixing colours, but also for the yellow sun. The shades roll on, with Bryan Collier’s ‘blue’ awakenings opposite a collage of his little girl amidst blue balloons. Mike Curato paints a substantial picture of his favourite colour ‘mint’. ‘Purple’ reminds Anna Dewdney of her love of her old purple polyester trouser suit, and peacocks in her garden! In total, fifteen award-winning author/illustrators grace the pages with their marvellous textural, dramatic, effervescent and nostalgic pieces. One of our very own, Marc Martin vividly pops with his flock of magnificent watercolour crimson rosellas – his favourite colour is ‘crimson red’. A childhood photo and short biography of these diverse contributors complete this celebration of individuality coming together to form a colourful rainbow. What’s Your Favourite Colour? is beautiful, inspiring and mesmerising for any age.

 

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

The Star and Felicity Marshall

Last Tuesday I went along to the launch of Felicity Marshall’s picture book, The Star, which I reviewed a couple of posts back. Port Melbourne Prints and Framing (276-278 Bay Street, Port Melbourne) was a terrific location for the launch, which also doubled as the opening of an exhibition of artwork from the book. In my review, I mentioned how beautiful the artwork in the book was… well… seeing the original artwork up close blew me away. It is stunning! The exhibition is open until 27 April. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend popping in to see it.

The launch was packed with people, food and wine – and Felicity spent quite some time trapped at the autograph table. With her successful launch now behind her, Felicity has dropped in at Literary Clutter to answer a few questions about The Star.

What came first, the pictures or the words?

The idea of a story about fame came first – in a mixture of pictures and words. Because I write AND illustrate, I find it quite natural to think in both images and words when developing the genesis of a story. I cannot honestly say one came before the other. I think most author/illustrators do this – jumping back and forth. However I did fine tune the text before the finished illustrations were all done.

What inspired you to tell this story?

It may well have all started in a doctor’s waiting room, looking at one of those magazines full of trivia and trash about the lives of fleeting stars. And yes, I realised I too can be a voyeur when flipping through page after page of articles about who has been dumped, who has bad dress sense, who is too fat, too thin, too old, or is now on the scrap heap. The celebrity culture is in our face – on radio, television, and in print. It affects young people profoundly. In many school visits I have done, and conversations I have had with young people (from age 3 to adolescents) I was struck by how often the question “What do you want to be when you grow up/leave school?” received the response “I want to be famous” or less often “I want to be rich”. Not even “I want to be a famous movie star / footballer / ballerina / astronaut / detective / fireman”. Fame, in their minds, was no longer attached to excellence in performance or human endeavour, but was now an entity in itself. Then I thought a lot about the famous Andy Warhol quote,  “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. I looked at those trashy magazines again. I decided we had a new phenomenon that I call pseudo-fame. The story of The Star grew from there.

What has been your biggest brush with fame?

My biggest brush with fame was when I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut who walked on the moon.

My biggest brush with pseudo fame occurred when I (unknowingly) was in the presence of someone from Big Brother. I can’t remember his name…

I think that The Star really has the potential to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. Did you deliberately aim to do this?

I don’t think I consciously have done that. But I do believe that any good story for children will also appeal to adults, who may see a deeper layer of meaning. Not just in my books, but in all children’s books/stories, and for centuries.  There are many “children’s” books that are much loved by adults, and often adults overlook how profound children’s books can be.

Tell us about your favourite picture book?

Oh dear, I have so, so, many favourites, I can’t narrow it down to one. I will go for three – and this is a hard task you understand.

For very young children, I think The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is one of my all time favourites. Simple illustrations and a beautiful story about the change from caterpillar to butterfly.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole is another favourite for all the fun and naughty rebellion that Babette does so well. Quirky, expressive drawings and a deliciously satisfying story. Especially appeals to my inner girl defying adult constraints!

The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a truly beautiful masterpiece of fine drawing and a universal tale told without any words.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about The Star?

Lots! But I would rather they read the book themselves. I will say, however, that there will be more about the story of Marion, Harley and Polka in the future.

Many thanks to Felicity for taking the time to visit Literary Clutter.

Tune in next time for the first in a series of posts about vampires.

Catch ya later, George