A Touch of Spirit: Talking with Teena Raffa-Mulligan and Who Dresses God?

Today we’re joined by the remarkable Teena Raffa-Mulligan, author to a number of children’s titles including picture books, junior fiction and middle grade novels, as well as romantic reads for the adults. Always possessing a love of the imagination, magic, excitement and adventure, Teena has produced such engaging titles like Friends, True Blue Amigos, Mad Dad for Sale, amongst others, and her latest re-release edition of Who Dresses God? The latter is a gentle and touching story inspired by her daughter’s spiritual exploration of the practicalities of the higher being, that is, God. When years ago as a young child, this divine little soul sought philosophical insights into how God can hear, see and speak, how He transcends yet blends into everything, everywhere, without any physical connection. This is a tender and loving rhyming picture book that opens the gateways to enlightened discussion amongst families with preschoolers and beyond, and is particularly delightful to share around this holy time of year. And here’s Teena to share more with us…

Teena, you have had a long relationship with writing coming from a background in journalism. How did your path lead you to become a children’s author, and what do you love about the world of children’s books?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Books opened a door into the wonderful world of imagination for me and from the time I learnt to read my head was filled with story ideas of my own. The journalism came about by accident rather than intention. In high school when the vocational guidance officer suggested I become a journalist I dismissed the idea as I thought it would be far too boring to write news stories.

My ambition was to be a ‘real’ writer and I had dreams of living a Bohemian life in Paris and writing serious literary novels. However a good looking surfer came onto scene and instead I married and we bought a home and started a family. I’ve always loved books, so I read to our baby son from the time he was a few months old. That’s when I decided I wanted to write for children. I knew nothing about the publishing industry and it was long before computers and the Internet, so it was a learning journey. I received some lovely feedback about my ‘beautiful writing’ and ‘engaging characters’ but all my early manuscripts were rejected by multiple publishers.

That’s when I decided it would be easier to get freelance articles published than children’s books – and it was. Editors bought my stories, requested more and I soon found myself doing – and enjoying – the job I’d dismissed as ‘boring’ in my teens when local papers came on the scene. General reporting and feature writing evolved into sub-editing and editing and I learnt some invaluable skills that I was able to use in my creative writing.

I never lost my dream of becoming a published author, so continued to write, submit and learn everything I could about writing for children. In time the acceptances began to come in. I love the world of children’s books because imagination is unlimited and possibilities abound. It’s a world of magic, wonder, excitement and adventure and the kid in me revels in having the chance to explore it through writing and reading.

You’ve written a mix of articles, short stories, poetry, picture books, juvenile fiction and adult titles. Do you have a genre you feel most comfortable with? What do you find are the most common themes or influences in your writing?

I’m happiest writing for younger readers, and that can be a poem, short story, picture book or chapter book. I’m a bit of a butterfly so staying focused on a novel is a bit of a challenge for me. Many of my stories have themes of belonging, family and friendship, though I don’t set out with that in mind. Essentially, I look on the brighter side of life and my stories invariably have a lightness and optimism about them.

You have recently re-released your gentle and loving story, ‘Who Dresses God?’, originally published in 2012. What can you tell us about this book and what is your aim for readers sharing it with family members, particularly around this time of the year?

The book was inspired by my younger daughter, who asked me that question as a child after a conversation with my mum. We weren’t a religious family so the question came out of the blue for me. I answered it the best I could, we had an interesting discussion and I didn’t give the subject any further thought until a few days later when my writers’ brain clicked into gear. I didn’t consciously set out to write a picture book. It was one of those ‘gifts’ that turn up from time to time in a writing life; a story, poem or scene from a larger work that arrives without warning and the only effort on the author’s part is to commit the words to the page or screen.

I hope the story will start a discussion between children and their family members and encourage young people to think about the world we share and whether there is more to it than there appears to be.

What kinds of strategies, discussions or activities would you suggest for parents and educators to engage in following the reading of ‘Who Dresses God?’?

These two awareness exercises are simple for young children to do:

1. Close your eyes. What do you see? How does it feel? Cover your ears with your hands. What can you hear? How does that feel? Close your lips and cover your mouth. Try to speak. Does it work? How does it feel when you can’t use your mouth and tongue to speak?
2. Go outdoors to a nature area such as the park, bushland or seashore. Stand perfectly still and look around you. What do you see? Listen. What do you hear? Can you feel anything? Then go through the same process, only this time with closed eyes and blocked ears. How much of the world around you are you aware of when you do this? NB. This can also be done in a suburban shopping centre or city street; also while travelling in a car, bus or train.

Here’s one for older children:
Imagine you have the amazing power to create your own world and everything in it. How would it look and how would things work? Write a description or draw a picture of your world.

You and illustrator, Veronica Rooke, have not only collaborated on the development of this and several other books, but also conduct school presentations together. What has it been like working with her on these projects?

I met Veronica when I was working for a local newspaper and she was producing a weekly cartoon strip for the publication, so our friendship goes way back. Our paths used to cross from time to time and I knew she was a talented artist but our creative collaborations didn’t start until she moved into the street where I live about 12 years ago. I was looking for someone to illustrate the new edition of my stranger danger picture book and saw her jogging in the street so stopped to ask if she’d be interested. As it turned out, she’d recently made an employment change and the timing was right.

I was impressed with the way Veronica worked, because I had no idea how to brief an artist. I simply handed over the manuscript and said, “See what you come up with. I’d like it to be bright and colourful with cartoony characters.” She asked the right questions, produced wonderful illustrations, designed the book and organised it to be print ready for the printer.

I still take the same approach when I commission Veronica to create illustrations or book covers, though occasionally I will suggest a particular style or mood. I was thrilled when Serenity Press commissioned her to illustrate my picture book, Friends, and encouraged a collaborative approach, because we work so well together. I give her space to interpret my stories artistically and she is always willing to make changes if there’s something I feel isn’t right.
As for dual presentations, it’s great for a writer to have an artist in the room. We take turns to show how we work, interact with each other and the students, and while I’m talking, Veronica can add pictures to my words in the background. We’ve also put together a joint workshop presentation that gives young people the chance to make their own picture book.

Fun Question: If you could dress God, what would you choose for Him to wear?

Hmm. This one’s tricky! Because God isn’t like you and me, I’d dress Him in a rainbow, a symphony of birdsong and the gentle caress of a spring breeze.

What does Christmas time look like for you and your family? What are your favourite festive traditions?

We always have a family get together at our house in the evening for our children and their families. The meal is buffet style, with contributions from everyone: a selection of salads, sliced chicken and turkey, vegan and vegetarian options, trifle and fruit salad for dessert. Every year I make the chocolate snowballs and chocolate fudge my mother-in-law used to make, and the bean salad and nut meat pasties that my mum made at Christmas.

After the meal there’s gift giving, followed by a walk to the beach just over the hill and a cricket game in the cul-de-sac opposite our house. I love that our family can be together at this time.

For many years there was another tradition on Christmas Day, and that was a visit to the Italian family home in Fremantle. It began in my childhood and long after my grandmother died my bachelor uncle continued to hold open house there. My father’s side of the family would all turn up at various times, gather around the enormous table that filled the big kitchen and catch up on all the news. Sadly, after my uncle died eight years ago the house was sold and that tradition is no more. I miss it.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

I have a new picture book in production and scheduled for release by Daisy Lane Publishing in mid-2019. When the Moon is a Smile is about the special times a small girl spends with her dad, who no longer lives with them. I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Jennifer Sharp, who spent a week exploring London with me last year after we both attended the Serenity Press writers’ retreat at Crom Castle in Ireland. I also can’t wait to see what illustrator Amy Calautti comes up with for the illustrations.

Thank you very much for your time, Teena! It’s been wonderful learning more about you! 🙂

It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. You asked some great questions and the dressing God one put me on the spot!

Visit Teena Raffa-Mulligan at her website, and on her blog tour for Who Dresses God? here.

Sea Song Publications

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Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Here are a few more stories with heart that encompass the three pillars of great picture books: to enlighten, educate and entertain.

Finn’s Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbott

It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.

Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug the Heart – Part 2

Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

I remember when I was a pre-schooler, the day our World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft How and Why Library sets arrived. They lived in their own custom-built bookshelf and went with us whenever we moved house. I was contemplating selling them this year to free up space or failing that, surrendering them to the compost heap. Now, after spending time with Lenny and Davey, I’m not so sure. Like their Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia, each lettered volume holds countless childhood memories anchored in place by facts and figures now hopelessly out of date but somehow still completely valid. How does one discard their former life – a childhood of countless special moments and first-time discoveries – so decidedly?

Moreover, how does one describe Lenny’s story. Wrenching (you will need tissues – preferably 3 ply), soaring (pack your wings), absorbing (allow for a few sleepless nights spent page turning), tragic (get another box of nose-wipes just in case).

Lenny’s Book of Everything is a story with a heart as big as Phar Lap’s and gallops along at a pace that both rips you apart emotionally but is simultaneously restorative and mindful such is Karen Foxlee’s talent for powerful story telling. This story describes the relationship between Lenny, her younger brother who has a rare form of gigantism and their beleaguered mother. Theirs appears a drab ‘moon-rock’ coloured existence yet flashes of brilliance strike everywhere, everyday: their mother’s pink work uniform, the pigeons on their windowsill, Mrs Gaspar’s outrageous beehive, the ubiquitous letters from Martha Brent and of course, her regular dispatch of encyclopedic issues to them. All conspire to create warmth and hope and put the reader at ease while sweeping them ever closer to the inevitable conclusion.

Continue reading Review – Lenny’s Book of Everything

Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

There’s a fair chance that issue-based picture books are going to tug your heartstrings and touch your soul purely because they dare to devote themselves to issues that matter to you, the reader. You should never be frightened of feeling, nor should you be wary of exposing your child to feelings. Even if your child has not yet experienced a similar situation, sharing stories with soul is a key way to introduce them to the myriad of emotions and circumstances that make up their world. These next few picture books are prime examples.

Lily’s Balloon by Katrina Roe and Helene Magisson

Lily is disappointed and overwhelmed by a day out at the fair that is until she finds something that makes her feel ‘quiet on the inside’, an ivory coloured balloon. This balloon calms and heartens her but she accidentally lets it out of her grasp at the park. It soars towards the clouds leaving Lily behind.

Tom, fledging photographer, happens upon the balloon as it drifts across the park’s lake and it becomes one of his favourite shots. However, the balloon dances on until it snags in the branches of Amelia’s garden. After she sets it free, her heart soars with it.

Continue reading Stories for the Soul – Picture Books that Tug at the Heart Part 1

Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Spring has sprung and with it a prolific explosion of sublimely divine children’s books. Here is the slimmest selection. Do search the bookshelves for more.

The Perfect Leaf by Andrew Plant

Befittingly released on the tail end of our Southern Hemisphere autumn, The Perfect Leaf is a glorious explosion of colour and joy. Smothered in hues of honey-on-warm-toast, this book oozes the golden splendour of autumn on each page, promoting friendship, imagination and creativity in a way adults often forget about but children naturally embrace.

In a world where imperfections are deemed as failures rather than avenues for alternative thought and being, this book serves as an important reminder for us all to rejoice in the small things in life and look for the unique beauties within them. Plant’s multi perspective illustrations saturate each page, providing the perfect backdrop for his syrupy prose. The Perfect Leaf is a lovely vehicle for discussion about nature, seasons, perception, acceptance and friendship. And, while more autumn hued than spring, worthy of treasuring as the days warm.

Ford Street Publishing October 2018

Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber and Fern Martins

At a time when children are constantly being reminded of the arid nature of this land, Big Fella Rain is a supremely refreshing, soul-quenching look at life in the Top End of Australia.

Continue reading Sensational Spring Kids’ Stories

Forever Inspiring; Elizabeth Mary Cummings on The Forever Kid

Children’s author and poet, with a background in education and psychology, Elizabeth Mary Cummings is known for her sensitive attention to difficult topics including mental health and anti-bullying issues. Following titles, such as The Disappearing Sister and Dinner on the Doorstep, Elizabeth has recently released her picture book on grief, The Forever Kid. She has paid careful consideration as to celebrate the life of a family’s son and brother in a joyous way, rather than treat this story as a sorrowful tragedy. Johnny, their forever kid, is beautifully and authentically remembered on his birthday – an event they honour every year, despite his absence. Vince, narrator and younger brother, portrays a host of emotions, including sadness, guilt and joy as the family look both back and forward on life with and without their Johnny. A narrative genuinely thought-through via the child’s perspective. Equally, the illustrations by Cheri Hughes add an extra layer of depth with their angelic, water-wash qualities to represent the softness and tenderness of the emotion and the family’s  tradition of telling ‘cloud stories’, as well as the vivacity that reflects their strong memories of their loved one. The Forever Kid is undoubtedly a book that children from age four will strongly remember and gain solace in knowing there are positive ways to cope in difficult situations.

Big Sky Publishing, October 2018.

Elizabeth is here today to talk with us at Boomerang Books!

Congratulations on the release of your heartfelt picture book.

A powerful and beautiful story such as The Forever Kid would grip the hearts of any audience coping with grief or change. What was your motivation for writing it, and what do you hope is gained by readers?

The story came to me one night when my parents were visiting, I woke at about 2a.m. and the story was there and I wrote it down immediately before I lost it. The trigger was probably talking through family times as well as having at that time just lost a dear friend to cancer. The idea of grief was right at the surface of my emotions I guess and being with my parents had made my mind turn to the story of my father losing his younger brother who was a teenager at the time of his death.

What have you found to be effective strategies in dealing with grief? How does your book show the processing of such sadness and mourning in a positive way?

In dealing with grief there is more of an understanding that this is complex and that does not go away once time passes. For those who have suffered loss and grieving, it is a process but it is also a state in which they live after the initial loss.

In The Forever Kid, Vince and his family celebrate and remember Johnny on the day of his birthday. On talking to many families who have suffered the loss of a child I have found that this is common practice. Although sadness is certainly present this can be the day where there is a reflection on the life of the loved one. This celebration of life in itself becomes the positive coming together and of that opportunity to talk about that loved one.

For children it is vital that they have access to the truth as well as have a chance to be involved in the grieving process both around the time of death and after. It is important that [children] have a safe adult or older sibling or child to talk to about how they feel.

What is your involvement in the community regarding help with family and mental health situations?

I have no official role. I obviously write on the topic and am a great believer in narrative therapy.

Your previous titles (the Verityville and Elephant in the Room series) were all published independently. This time you have gone down the trade publishing route with Big Sky Publishing. How have your experiences differed in terms of support and marketing opportunities?

Well, when publishing independently one has all the control and all of the responsibility. It is a double-edged sword. Traditional publishers have bigger budgets, more control and wider reach. The decision as to how to publish (independently or trade) and who to publish (publisher selection) much be made in the light of what one is writing about and what one’s intention is for the story. As I have been working on my own marketing for almost four years now I understood the publisher’s considerations better than a first time author might. Publishing is no easy task and it takes a team to develop a book all the way through. Even when working independently I am working with others – designers, beta readers, editors and other professional services I may need to contract in to help produce a book as best possible.

Anything else of excitement you’d like to add? News? Upcoming projects? TBR pile?

Some of my new projects include: two poetry collections, a new picture book called The Green Striped Hoodie about bullying and resilience, finding a publisher for a project I have been working on to do with trauma and recovery as well as a couple of environmental projects and some more Verityville stories!

That’s all very exciting! Thanks so much, Elizabeth! It’s been a pleasure!

Elizabeth can be found at her website, and on blog tour here.

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Daddy’s Day Delights – Picture Books to Share with Dad

The thing about dads is, they’re just big kids in slightly longer pants. No matter whether your dad, or grandpa, is the bouncy, flouncy type, the serious, steady kind or the biggest kid in the house, this little collection of picture books pay homage to them all and are perfect to share with your dad on Daddy’s Day this year. Enjoy!

I Love You Dino-Daddy by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd

This winning picture book team have done it again with a perfectly rhyming, boldly colourful, dino-deluxed romp around the house and park with Dad.  Dino-Daddy packs plenty of playful punch and is a hilarious gallery of the unending personas the average daddy undergoes on a daily basis.  Builder Dad, Sleeping Beauty Dad, Party Dad, Monster Dad, each scenario mirrors the all the rip-snorting, sometimes unexpected qualities of fatherhood that come with the job and cement father child relationships. Ideal for sharing quietly or not so quietly with children from two years and up.

Bloomsbury for Children June 2018

The Daddy Shop by Aleesah Darlison and Kelly O’Gara

Unlike mummies, some daddies can’t be there every minute of every day (she says with tongue in cheek for this story works equally well if the roles were reversed). Unfortunately, little Tai’s daddy is one of those daddies whose work sometimes prevents him from spending time with his son. This makes Tai cross and recalcitrant enough to take matters into his own hands when he learns daddy is unable to make it to the Father and Son Picnic Day.

Continue reading Daddy’s Day Delights – Picture Books to Share with Dad

Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

Continue reading Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Duck, Duck, Penguin?! Bird Inspired Picture Books

Laughter, mishaps, laughing at mishaps; these are the grist of good picture books. Throw in a few feathered birds, the odd duck and a penguin or two and you have the makings of hours of picture book fun pre-schoolers and avian lovers everywhere are sure to get in a flap about.

The Penguins Are Coming! By Meg McKinlay and Mark Jackson

McKinlay’s predilection for waddling birds works a treat in this re-release paperback about an exciting new addition down at the zoo. Every animal is a-twitter and a-flutter because the penguins are coming only trouble is no one is exactly certain what a penguin is. Supremely illustrated pages depict each animal’s supposition of these new-comers, each description becoming more implausible and exaggerated than the last until even our accepted idea of a penguin is altered from boring little black and white bird to Hawaiian shirt wearing, pizza gobbling, party animal. The Zookeeper tries to set the record straight, supplying his charges and readers with sensible genuine penguin facts only to be ultimately comically upstaged. Oceans of fun and colour with plenty of apt facts and enough animal imagery to fill a real life zoo.

Walker Books Australia 2018

Continue reading Duck, Duck, Penguin?! Bird Inspired Picture Books

The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.

Loss of a Grandparent

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan.  Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.

Continue reading The Greatness of Grandparents – Picture Books that Celebrate Generations

A ‘Hole’ Lot of Curiosity – Picture Book Reviews

Sometimes curiosity can land you in trouble. But it is the being brave part that will ultimately lead to triumph. These few picture books show children that exploration is a healthy thing to help overcome fear or uncertainty. And they are a ‘hole’ lot of fun, too!
Be sure to also check out Dimity’s great list of Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts.

The Hole, Kerry Brown (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), ABC Books, April 2018.

Squirrel starts the line up of dangling animals overly curious about a long-drop hole that lies in the middle of the track. Teetering on the edge of total panic about the presumed formidable, black-holed monster within, Squirrel cries out for help, only to drag Ostrich and three chattering monkeys into the lightly-suspended quandary. A brave and clever field mouse makes the call, ensuing a deep suspension of baited breath amongst characters and readers alike. Luckily, the ‘monster’ isn’t interested in animals for tea.

Brown’s delightful rhyming couplets come with a sensory feast of emotive and visual language to fill you with empathy, wonder, and even a few giggles. The illustrations by Lucia Masciullo are whimsical and witty in the face of perceived danger. The Hole is beautifully alluring, brilliantly enlightening and wonderfully heartwarming for children from age three.

The Hole Story, Kelly Canby (author, illus.), Fremantle Press, February 2018.

I love the play on reality and literal meanings behind this story of rehoming a lost hole. Charlie doesn’t realise that picking up a hole and putting it in his pocket, and backpack, are the worst places to have a hole. So he boldly sets off to find it a new owner. Young readers will already be amused at the thought, ‘you can’t pick up a hole!’, and now they are left to wonder who would want it and how it could possibly be useful. Well, Charlie greets a whole lot of people who are clearly NOT interested in the hole, such as the arachnid and reptile store owner, the boat builder, the seamstress, gardener, and doughnut maker. So, who is?

Canby’s energetic, sharp and unconventional narrative paired with her cartoonish, fluid illustrations complete the story that allow children to open their minds to the absurd, and also assess some very real and practical concepts. The Hole Story makes for great discussion and learning opportunities, as well as a fun and wacky adventure of finding a place to belong.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Curiosity did not get the cat, in this case, because Scaredy Cat, as the name suggests, is too scared to face even the meekest of things. A little girl’s four-legged friend shies away from sight in every scene, only to reveal its white, fluffy paws and tail in a terrified, obscure stupor. Gallagher’s delectable repetitive rhyme cajoles us along chasing poor Scaredy Cat through bees, towering trees and Granny’s super-duper sneeze. Hoses, wandering noses and costumed kids, striking poses. Each verse beginning with, ‘Have you seen my Scaredy Cat? He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!’, eventually leads us to the climax where a proud, flexing little girl claims her gallantry and saves the day. Now the girl has revealed her true and brave identity, will Scaredy Cat?

With Tortop’s ever-gorgeous, enticing and infectious artwork charging with colour and energy, it would be no surprise if Scaredy Cat is chosen to play his hiding game over and over again. Preschoolers will adore this romping tale of friendship, bravery, pets and love.

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Beautiful Books for the Beauties in Your Life

Mums, Grandmas, Sisters, Aunties or any other special person in your life, all deserve a show of gratitude and love. Mother’s Day is a day to reinforce those bonds, to share memorable moments, or simply just to connect with those who make a difference. Dimity has already covered some ‘marvellous’ picture books here, so I’ll reinforce these beauties, and add more of my own treasures to the list.

The Dream Bird is an absolutely exquisite visual and imaginative treat that takes its readers on a fanciful flight from a state of playful awakening to the cosy slumber of dreamland. Such a memorable and warming story by picture book expert, Aleesah Darlison, mesmerisingly illustrated by talented newcomer, Emma Middleton. I love that it is Gran who, despite the other family members’ efforts, is the comforting soul of this story that helps young George to fall asleep. And the soft shading and infused deep reds and maroons are just the perfect choice to represent a mature and tender sophistication. When Gran begins her tale of the graceful Dream Bird, a snowy scene transports us to a wondrous land of majestic snow leopards, kingdoms made of lollies and treasures hidden amongst magical mermaids. Then a peaceful George conjures his own favourite dream as a loving Gran sings and leaves him with a gentle kiss. The Dream Bird is an idyllic symbol of beauty, warmth, whimsy and unconditional affection that children from age three will need as part of their daily bedtime routine.

Wombat Books, April 2018.

A gorgeous book for wonderful mums is Marvellous Mummy, written and illustrated for the first time together by husband and wife team, Katie and Giuseppe Poli. In this tender and playful story, mummy elephant takes on many personas and behaviours that are highly relatable for young children to recognise with their own mums. From sneaky and quiet to noisy and loud, friendly to grumpy, skilful and brave, caring, snuggly and most importantly, perfect (in her sometimes unperfect way). A joyful book shared between mother and daughter of many adventures and everyday routines, with bright and airy, energetic and gentle illustrations. At the same time, Katie’s short phrasing and regular use of absorbing verbs compel interaction and repeat reads. Marvellous Mummy is a marvellous reminder of just how strong, special and versatile our mummies really are.

New Frontier Publishing, May 2018.

Another absolutely glorious collaborative creation is The Silver Sea by the young people at The Royal Children’s Hospital, their teachers and the masterful and much-loved Alison Lester and Jane Godwin. This book is such a treasure filled with glimmering magic amidst a palette of silky words and images in a sea of spectacularness. The team, together with the unwell children, have created a marvel of colourful ocean pictures with creatures that make the pages come alive. The poetic narrative leads us with two characters – a mother-like figure and her child – into a shimmering world of waves, splashing with dolphins and seals, flying with sharks and leafy sea dragons, further into the deep with a whole underwater aquarium until they reach the pale morning sky. The Silver Sea, curious, imaginative and enriching, developed out of such inspirational foresight, and with profits returning to the RCH it is a must-have to cherish in any home, school or hospital.

Affirm Press, February 2018.

This one’s to share with the wild, spirited granny in your life! You’ll never have to have another ordinary day after you’ve read Grandma Z. Debut picture book author-illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett brings life to town when Grandma Z rolls in on her motorbike. Albert is celebrating his birthday, except it’s not much of a celebration with his ordinary, boring parents living a life of ho-hum and melancholy blandness. But when his grander-than-life grandmother in her bold, blue coat enters the scene, the pair enjoy a day of adventurous, curious, daring, imaginative and exotic goodness, conjuring up all of Albert’s favourite things. The narrative suitably ties in with the plot with its quirky and unpredictable phrasing. Equally, with a Scribble-flavouring in an Allison Colpoys style, the illustrations make a bold statement with their neon blue and orange and black line tri-colour palette and retro look drawings. Grandma Z encourages a thrilling realisation that life is what you make of it, not only on your birthday, or Mother’s Day, but every day.

Scribble, February 2018.

Another special lady in your life may be your sister. Perhaps you’d like to send her affirmations of appreciation and love for all the things she does for you. In this adorable picture book by Joanna Young, My Sister represents laughter, teamwork, care and the ultimate friendship. Sisters from age two will adore the sweet, heartwarming illustrations in calming watercolour tones and tidy visual appeal dedicating one image to each question of ‘Who…’ ‘Who is the one who sits next to you… grows up with you… and is always on your side?’ The sisters in the story show a story of their own with their cute, amusing and oh-so-sweet little antics. My Sister is a book of pure joy and love, that surely mums with daughters would delight in sharing together this Mother’s Day.

New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.

The Endsister by Penni Russon

Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Middle Grade Novels that Defy Belief

Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Mother. The person who mothers you, nurtures you, Band-Aids your grazed knees and kisses you to sleep at night; the person who is always there to listen to you, has cuddles to spare, and tugs you back in line when things go askew deserves every ounce of recognition and celebration we can muster. These next few picture books do just that and more. Sit down with your mother, child, or grandchild this Mother’s Day with one of these touching picture books.

Marvellous Mummy by Katie Poli and Giuseppe Poli

Discovering the creative picture book chemistry of a new picture book team is akin to embarking on an exciting new adventure for me. When the team is a husband and wife collaboration, the intrigue doubles. Marvellous Mummy is the first creation of Katie and Giuseppe Poli and manages to tick many of my ideal picture book boxes. It’s bright and breezy in appearance, possesses narrative that is succinct and able to endure the rigors of repeated reading and evokes warmth and identifiable situations that even very small children can recognise and love.

The narrator’s mummy, represented as a capable, caring and sometimes feisty she-elephant, is many things, just like real-life mummies. She is silly and fun and goofy at times. She is not beyond being rambunctious and playful, sneaky and knowing and sometimes grumpy and grouchy, either. However, she is always kind and loving and of course, the best mummy of all because she is yours. Katie’s repeating phraseology and use of strong verbs to emphasise this mummy’s characteristics and engagement with her offspring provide the opportunity for little readers to interact and anticipate her qualities. This prompts them to recognise the same qualities in their own mothers, perhaps encouraging them to search for more.

Giuseppe’s illustrations are playfully exuberant. Each page is awash in pretty pastels creating a soft, gentle mood that is both childlike in appearance yet focuses powerfully on mama elephant and her child. Mummies are not perfect every minute of the day nor are they invincible but they are strong and beautiful and capable in every conceivable way in the eyes of their young children. Marvellous Mummy portrays this simple concept well. A delight to share with pre-schoolers and to remind all those mummies out there how special they are.

New Frontier Publishing May 2018

Continue reading Mummies are Marvellous – Mother’s Day Picture Book Reviews

Out of This World – Junior Fiction that Take You Places

One of the reasons I always had my head thrust deep into a book as a child was because I just could not get out. Stories take you places. Great stories make you want to stay there. This trio of junior to middle grade novels allows children to slip effortlessly into other worlds to live, dare, survive and marvel at places and people far different from the ones they already know. Enjoy.

The Spectacular Holly-Day by Dave Lowe Illustrated by The Boy Fitz H

Dave Lowe’s relaxed narrative style earns plenty of laughs, guaranteeing it to win the attention of adventure-loving primary schoolers. The Spectacular Holly-Day follows on from The Incredible Dadventure and The Mumbelievable Challenge and is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Despite the almost travelogue introduction, the story revs up once adventure seeking Holly Day sets out on her own in a strange new country, Malaysia and manages to foil the destruction of a local environmentally rich island by ruthless developers. The comical comic-style illustrations add an atmosphere of fun, yet Holly and the people she meets during her Malay stay feel real and purposeful. Conservation balances easily with themes of friendship, perseverance, habitat destruction and family. Lowe also manages to create a thick air of authenticity with the use of plenty of Malay lingo and food that will appeal to readers from seven years of age and above.

Bonnier September 2017

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Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

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Nostalgic about Aussie Summer – Picture Book Reviews

There’s nothing like an Aussie Christmas than the fresh scent of Summer mixed with a fragrance of fond memories and the savour of new ones. That’s how the following picture books will entice their readers, both young and old – with peace, unity and joy as we pleasure in the warmth of the festive and summery holiday season in Australia.

Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher return with another stunning ‘Little Dog’ story. From the iconic Melbourne in the previous, magical Christmas tale, Little Dog and the Summer Holiday takes Jonathan, Annie and their precious Westie, with caravan in tow, on holiday to the idyllic sites of Sydney. Immediately, Fenton paints a gloriously detailed adventure full of evocative language that is sure to bring about that nostalgic cue of wonderful family trips of yesteryear. Passing legendary landmarks such as the Dog on the Tuckerbox and Sydney Harbour Bridge, paddling at Bondi Beach and rattling “down the mountainside on the steepest scenic railway in the world” all make for an exciting, memorable holiday with family, friends, and of course, beloved pets.

Cowcher’s whimsical illustrations add a pleasurable sense of romanticism that capture the beauty and evocation of holidays like this. Parents and children will equally delight in Little Dog and the Summer Holiday, either reminding of the good old days, or enthusing a predilection for future family vacations. A beautiful book.

Black Dog Books, Walker Books, November 2017.

Summer – peaceful, tranquil, cheerful and contentment. Words that describe that special feeling of rest, fun and togetherness during the sunny season. And words that describe the special feeling emanating from this book by June Factor and sublime creator Alison Lester. Thirty years in print and Summer still feels as good as a homemade steamin’ puddin’ on a balmy Christmas Day.

Factor’s simple, silky and smooth Aussie voice shines through with robust rhyming character as we are swept up in a temperamental mix of family antics, Summer nuances and changing weather during the hot festive season. Lester’s legendary scenic art and winsome characters keep us occupied throughout with all the glorious combinations of farmyard outlooks and high-spirited busyness, respectively. From flies a gatherin’ to early morning rises, kin gatherin’ and present opening, pork a cracklin’ and raising glasses, clouds gatherin’ and making a bolt for cover, and finally napping and playing ‘til the stars are gatherin’ in the night sky.

Summer is a book of leisure, affection and ambience that will remain a classic to treasure and indulge in all the year round.

Viking Penguin Random House, November 2016. First edition 1987.

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Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 4 – Picture Books

You’d be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed at this time of year by all the demands of the Festive Season, with end of school and social obligations too numerous to count. Time out is as important for your children as it is for you, so why not take a precious moment or two to sit down, relax and share some of these sublime (new) picture books with them to rekindle your Christmas spirit. Some of these are so good, they feature in Romi’s roundup of Christmas must reads, too!

Fostering Festive Cheer

Merry Everything by Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft

McCartney’s matchless ability to appeal to little readers all over the world is reaching legendary status. Merry Everything epitomises this in the most deliriously dreamy way using evocative language, occasional merry rhyme and lashings of relatable love as readers reflect on animal families from all over the world hunkering down on Christmas Eve to wait for, you-know-who. It’s the focus on ‘cuddles and kisses’ and all the extraordinary departures from normal at this time of year that I love and young children will recognise and appreciate – fun and games with relatives, gorging on Christmas goodies, and falling into a seasonal stupor afterwards. Racklyeft’s illustrations are sweeter than a plate of choc cherry balls and just as enticing. Love Love Love this.

Windy Hollow Books October 2017

Continue reading Dim’s Christmas Cracker List # 4 – Picture Books

Kids Will be Rapt to Find More Wrapped this Christmas – Part 2

Back again with yet another wonderful collection of gift suggestions for the festive season (see Part 1 here). This time, a few picture books perfectly gorgeous for preschool children who will love the buzz, love and tingle that feels like Christmas.

Merry Everything! is an utterly joyous celebration packaged in a magical wrapping of scrumptious words and pictures to create all kinds of warm and fuzzies. Naturally! It’s by one of my favourite creative combinations; Tania McCartney and Jess Racklyeft!

A book about inclusion and togetherness at Christmas time – what better way to introduce this global jollification than with the endpapers adorned with addressed letters to different animal families around the world. The story continues with sentiments so lovingly expressed through Tania’s kind of lyrical prose about all the preparations pertained to the common link that is Christmas. Bees buzz with busy, pandas wrap surprises, monkeys hang lashings, whilst penguins string songs on the starry sky. Appropriate atmospheric and seasonal scenes and habitats are beautifully thought out in Jess’s sugary sweet watercolour illustrations. Her paintings dazzlingly feature a medley of winsome critters and creatures so busily assembling the festivities with their families. And “on Christmas Day, the world tingles with happy.” Tania’s text continues to bring joy with her mix of cheerful verbs and rhyming elements, humour and bursts of emotion, just like full tummies at the end of a jubilantly hectic day.

A universally appealing book that is brimming with love and intimacy, warmth and unconditional happiness, Merry Everything! is everything a young reader could wish for this Christmas.

Windy Hollow Books, October 2017.

That Christmas Feeling is another heartwarming tale by Lili Wilkinson and Amanda Francey that has us craving that aura of magic and excitement in the lead up to the big day.

But how do you define ‘that Christmas feeling’? Is it baking the Christmas pudding, decorating the tree as a family, singing carols or visiting ‘Santa’? Dottie, Jem and their pup Shortbread reminisce about their special moments last year as they await the arrival of Mum and Dad at their grandparents’ house. This year is not quite the same, and for some children this may be a reality where compromises and adapting to change need to be made. In a bid to find the feeling they so long for, Jem shows Dottie a tree with twinkling lights and they sing songs together. Then Mum and Dad join them with a delivery that qualifies as the most precious ‘Christmas feeling’. It will literally give you shivers!

Touching and packed with emotion, and detailed illustrations that are equally full of life, reflection and charm, That Christmas Feeling is a tribute to the significance of family love and balancing expectations in times of uncertainty or change. Preschoolers will be overcome with hearts filled with joy after sharing this gorgeous book.

Allen & Unwin, September 2017.

What a joyous story brimming with sunshine and optimism, friendship and generosity! A Very Quacky Christmas by Frances Watts is delightfully cheerful with stunning illustrations by Ann James, perfect for reflecting on the true spirit of a bright Christmas.

Samantha Duck gloriously sings, “We wish you a quacky Christmas” whilst winding tinsel around reeds, hanging baubles and stockings on branches, and writing wish lists for all her friends. In the meantime, by her side is the pessimistic tortoise, Sebastian, certain that Christmas is not for animals. But, despite his scepticism he agrees to help his friend collect precious items from animals around the farm – sharing in a Christmas for animals is a delightful idea, after all. A cart full of presents and a bumpy ride later, who else shows his support, encouragement and nobility but Sebastian himself!

A Very Quacky Christmas is an absolutely feel-good book about giving and sharing, with its provocative text and effortless, dreamy illustrations that allow the golden effervescence to wash over the pages and into your heart. Love.

ABC Books, HarperCollins, October 2017.

Here’s a gift that keeps on giving – the legendary classic, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury), specifically designed as a gift book with an all-encompassing snowglobe inset into the cover.

Follow your journey through the long wavy grass, deep cold river, oozy mud, dark forest, and into a swirling whirling snowstorm as you shake and swish the book to create a ‘cool’ whooshing, kinaesthetic experience. What a blast! Continue on your suspenseful way to the narrow gloomy cave, and rush back home again with bear-on-tail, right into the comfort of your bed.

A masterful gift idea from the people at Walker Books to allow us oldies to relive the drama and excitement, and for the youngsters to be inspired to engage in all the songs, actions, role plays and good old cuddles that accompany this favourite treasure. Designed to captivate our hearts with some interactive fun, We’re Going on Bear Hunt Snowglobe Gift Book will be a winner for preschoolers this Christmas.

Walker Books, October 2017.

Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.

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Review – The Elephant

It is a rare day on earth that I’m lost for words. Fortunately Peter Carnavas never seems to be. And he uses a few more than usual in his latest work, The Elephant.

Now it’s no secret I’m unashamedly enamoured by Carnavas’ work; his illustrated picture books embrace you like a warm welcome hug. This, his first foray into longer narratives, is a hug you can immerse yourself even deeper into but beware, you may not want to let go. I didn’t.

The Elephant is an average-sized, understated junior novel for people with small hands and large hearts. Even the cover is benign and quiet, muting the enormity of what’s to come. It reads with the elegant crispness of a verse novel using a collection of brief chapters to relay Olive’s story about her dad and the lugubrious grey elephant that plagues his every move. Despite the heavy nature of Olive’s situation, it’s this wonderful lightness of touch, Carnavas’ refined way with words to convey powerful meaning and Olive’s own irrepressible personality that add the light to her father’s shade and give this story a sunny disposition. Continue reading Review – The Elephant

Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Little books for little hands to grasp. Big world concepts for small minds to soak up. Board books are often baby’s first introduction to the relationship between sound and words and pictures. They also represent a delightful extension of love between parent and child as their worlds widen. These next few board books ensure these shared reading experiences are both entertaining and memorable.

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

This is the first in the Young Art board book series by young Indigenous Australian artists. Home grown and little hand worthy, it is a brief but merry parade of animals you might find at the Zoo. Some you’d have to look hard for, like the ‘prowling quoll’ and ‘queenly cassowary’ chicks, others are more immediate and recognisable like the ‘surprised lion.’

Button’s stripped bare text is spot on for toddlers and two year olds but includes some jolly adjectives to keep little minds tuned in and turning. I love Wells’ painted and ink illustrations – expression plus! Collect them all for your 0 – 4 year-olds.

Magabala Books February 2017

The Thank You Dish by Trace Balla

Meal times at our place are often a mixed plate of dedicated eating, distracted concentration and animated conversation. The Thank You Dish draws on these around-table -scenarios as one family sits down to enjoy their meal.

Continue reading Never Bored – Board Books for Babies

Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

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Review – Who is Fitzy Fox?

imageWho is Fitzy Fox?, Amelia Trompf (author), Jennifer Bruce (illus.), Little Steps Publishing, September 2016.

Sweetly wrapped up in red and white this little treasure arrived at my door, keenly searching for a place to belong. Upon entering the world of this furry friend, I soon realised just how important his mission was to solve his ‘existential crisis’ of ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’.

Gently written in a child-friendly tone, first-time picture book author Amelia Trompf narrates a soul-satisfying tale of self-discovery, reassurance, the value of family, and a bit of adventure. The beautiful textures, detail and muted watercolours and pencil illustrations by Scottish-born, Jennifer Bruce equally provide an aura of warmth, comfort and familiarity that highlight the story’s sense of the affection of loved ones and the kindness of strangers.

imageSet in Melbourne’s eclectic suburb of Fitzroy, Fitzy Fox sets off on a path to determine whether his true identity is fox, or whether it is hound. Greeted with delicious cuisine, including veggie burgers and gelati, by the local occupants of busy Brunswick Street somehow doesn’t give Fitzy the satisfaction he is looking for. A trip to the State Library provides a glimmer of hope as the poor lost soul decides to embark on a trip to London. Fitzy Fox searches for his answer in such fascinating landmarks as Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park and Notting Hill, but to no avail. Has his journey across the other side of the world been all for nothing? Has the truth been under his snout the entire time?

Targeted at early primary school-aged children, ‘Who is Fitzy Fox?’ explores some deep, philosophical questions that may be extended to discussing cultural, religious, or gender-specific identities. But the playful and endearing tone of the book allows readers to enjoy it for its life and purity, and the comfort in knowing they are loved for who they are. Perfect for locals and visitors to Melbourne to soak up those vibrant street vibes.

Amelia Trompf has prepared wonderful teaching notes and activities on the Fitzy Fox website.

Who is Fitzy Fox? is on blog tour! Check out the schedule here.

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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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Far Beyond Our Imagination – Picture Book Reviews

Reading is a pleasure that allows for a range of benefits – reinforcing critical literacy skills, fuelling the imagination, inspiring empathy, and for the sheer joy. I chose these picture books with the commonality of the out-of-this-world theme, and I love that each one surprises its readers with elements of humour, compassion, relationships and the unexpected! Books can certainly take you to great heights where you can explore much more than initially meets the eye.

imageSpace Alien at Planet Dad, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

A powerful story intertwining the fun of space adventure play with the reality of adapting to family changes. Jake always gets a thrill when he visits his Dad’s place (Planet Dad) every Saturday. The bond between them is extraordinary as they act out a series of intergalactic missions, build space stations and enjoy spaghetti and meteorite sauce on movie nights. Jake is no doubt like many kids who receive special quality time with their fun, single dad. But in truth, life doesn’t stay the same forever. When a one-eyed, green Space Alien is suddenly a permanent fixture at Planet Dad, Jake is, as to be expected, furious. The place now has a ‘woman’s touch’ about it, and no amount of invader-blasting, alien-repelling or meteorite-showering action can force her out. Eventually Jake finds things in common with the Space Alien after a trip to the museum and slowly he comes to accept this new presence in their home.

Space Alien at Planet Dad is a super, highly interactive and energetic book that also deals sensitively and cleverly with changes to family dynamics. It allows its young readers, particularly those in blended families, the opportunities to perceive new situations and household members in a different light.

imageOlive the Alien, Katie Saunders (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Olive the Alien is another story based on the theme of accustomising to new, and strange, beings in the home. Understanding and accepting differences can often be challenging, particularly with no prior knowledge of the subject or their odd behaviour. In this sweet story of a little boy and his ‘alien’ baby sister, Archie eventually realises that her differences are not only endearing, but also that we all have (or had) the same inherent human nature. It’s difficult for Archie to comprehend the antics of his baby sister, Olive. She speaks another language, she cries VERY loudly, she makes a big mess, and she eats the most peculiar things. But worst of all, she makes really disgusting smells. She simply must be an alien!

Olive the Alien, with its beautifully soft, pastel shades and cute illustrations, is a humorous peek into the life of baby behaviour. Preschoolers with younger siblings will most certainly relate, but whether or not they admit to their own once-upon-a-stinky-nappy phase is another story!

imageMilo, a moving story, Tohby Riddle (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016.

Set in the early 1900s in New York, the story of Milo is certainly one of character, survival and good old-fashioned charm. For an ordinary life, Milo’s world is quite extraordinary, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He enjoys singing classics and playing quaint games with his canine pals, and every other day he delivers parcels within the quirks of the busy city streets. Then one day a blow up with his friend leads to a ghastly storm. Whilst the tumult rages inside his head, Milo and his kennel are also physically swept away to a most remarkable place above the clouds. Upon meeting Carlos, a plain-looking migratory bird, Milo’s mind clears and he comes to realise some important things:
1. The world is big and wide and there are many experiences to be had.
2. The power of friendship is strong and is to be valued.
3. Sometimes it takes an unusual, out-of-this-world adventure to understand and appreciate the little things in life.

Deep and profound on so many levels, Milo, a moving story is undeniably moving. From the intimacy of life in a kennel to the wide landscapes and perspectives, collages and real photographs of various locations. From the simplicity of old fashioned games and songs to the high-rising journey to the sky. The old-style sepia-toned hues contrasting with the mixed media cleverly and interestingly add a humble yet juxtaposed perspective. This book offers great scope for primary school discussions about development over time, on both literal and personal levels.

imageMoon Dance, Jess Black (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s another book to move you… Moon Dance is an unbelievably charismatic story to get you physically jiving at all times of the day or night. Rather than reaching out to space, in this lyrical fun-fest the moon comes to you. A group of Australian native animals gather together in Eucalypt Gully for a dance under the dazzling, full moon. Gorgeously hysterical terms and rhyming phrases add to the frivolity of the action.
“Wombat starts a conga, He wiggles his caboose!” We’ve got drunken blue-tongue lizards, clapping paws, cicadas on the timbals, a slow-dancing possum with a goanna, and a spry, moonwalking bilby.

Moon Dance celebrates the joys of togetherness and the wonderful benefits of music and dance. The illustrations are whimsical and lively, bursting with exquisite texture, detail and a glorious Australiana feel. This book will light up the night for children from age three.

imageThe Cloudspotter, Tom McLaughlin (author, illus.), Bloomsbury, 2015.

Sometimes we need someone to point us in the right direction… even if it is in plain view. The view Franklin likes to observe is the one in the sky… the clouds. He, alone, has amazing imaginary adventures with the clouds he spots, including swimming with giant jellyfish, driving racing cars and topping tall castle towers. That is why he is known as The Cloudspotter. But one day when a random Scruffy Dog tries to take his clouds, and ‘invade’ his cloud adventures, The Cloudspotter has a plan to rid the bothersome dog… and sends him off into the outer atmosphere. Soon he realises that what he was looking for wasn’t just the clouds, after all.

There is a refreshing illustrative mix of airy skies and bold foregrounds, with lots of visual clues to add depth and meaning. The Cloudspotter is perfect for preschoolers with wide imaginations, and the openness to the possibility of unexpected friendships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Reviews – Little Elliot BIG…

It is special holidays like Easter that remind us to appreciate one another and of our need for togetherness. Easter Bunny and Chick may be the renowned chocolate-giving pair this holiday, but Elliot and Mouse find their own kind of sweet goodness in this loveable series of friendship and hope.

imageWhen I first read Little Elliot Big City I thought, “This is me.” No, I’m not a tiny, polka-dotted elephant, but I am a quiet type, and quiet types tend to go unnoticed at times. I also moved to this fabulous country as a child, which at first felt like an overwhelming experience. So I can relate to Little Elliot.

Being miniature size in a big, bustling city for this elephant is like being an ant in a sea of giants. Attempting regular-sized people’s everyday activities is challenging, to say the least. But you know what? He always manages, and his eyes are open to the brighter side of life. Helping out a littler one than he (Mouse) not only gives him the confidence boost he needed, but he also wins a physical boost to finally be able to purchase that much-desired cupcake he was craving. A new treat and a new friend…what else could you ask for?


imageThe story of Elliot and Mouse continues in Little Elliot Big Family when the compact elephant finds himself in another quandary; feeling alone and empty when Mouse is away at a family reunion. In the streets, Elliot notices the special bonds between family members; brothers, sisters, fathers with children, mothers with sons, grandmothers and even cousins skating together. Elliot longs for connection, for a place to belong. Upon chance, Mouse finds him in the snow and takes him to celebrate the joyous attic-party with all the mouse generations. And they couldn’t document this auspicious occasion without including EVERY member in the precious family portrait!

Mike Curato has brilliantly written both books with such simplicity that is so full of meaning. The minimal text conveys depths of emotion and sensitivities, particularly in Little Elliot Big City, that carries the stories forward at a perfectly timed pace. What also feels accurately portrayed and supportive of the words are Curato’s illustrations’ moodiness, softness, atmosphere and old-world charm. Look to be set in New York in the 1940s, both books convey gorgeously rich history and spirit within their sepia-toned, rendered images.

image‘Little Elliot Big City’ and ‘Little Elliot Big Family’ are a complete set that complement the purpose of the other and warm our hearts. Same could be said for the two inseparable characters that show us how to love, and are truly, larger than life. Perfect for anyone from age three, and in particular those who need reassurance of their value in this world, and those who can appreciate the small things.

Look out for more Little Elliot books coming soon.

The Five Mile Press, November 2014 and October 2015.

Purchase Little Elliot Big City and Little Elliot Big Family.

5 Naughty and Nice Christmas Gift Ideas

With Christmas fast approaching, here are 5 great naughty and nice Christmas gift ideas for those you love or those you had to put up with this year:Crap Colouring In

  1. A colouring book
    Let’s face it, the colouring book craze isn’t going away any time soon, and for those ready to admit it, colouring books for adults can be a lot of fun. The Adult Colouring Kaleidoscope by Beverley Lawson is a good one, as is The Magical City and The Magical Christmas, both by the talented Lizzie Mary Cullen.
    But for the relative you don’t get along with, try Crap Colouring-In – Mindless Art Therapy for Modern Life by Joe Sumner. It’s bound to get your point across.
  2. A self-help book for the jerk of the family
    If you have a classic jerk in the family, who thinks he always knows best then you need to buy him a copy of I Know You Think You Know it All book by Chris Black. A self-help book full of advice and observations on how to stand apart from others and become an influencer, this could change someone’s life.
  3. A naughty bookThe Elf Off The Shelf
    If you’ve heard of the Christmas toy Elf on the Shelf, then you’ll know he/she brings a lot of joy to children and parents around Christmas time.  The Elf Off The Shelf by Horace the Elf is a parody of the ever popular The Elf on the Shelf and is definitely for parent’s eyes only. If you’d like to give a naughty or inappropriate gift to someone this year, then this is it.
  4. A book to give you peace
    If you’re tired of hearing the same old stories from Great Aunt Beryl or sick of listening to your brother-in-law talk about how important his job is, then you need a copy of The Martian by Andy Weir on stand by. One of the best books out at the moment, (and a favourite of mine) it’s bound to keep them occupied so you can get on with having a good time. (Or you could just read it and escape to Mars in the pages).
  5. Sticker bookThe Ultimate Dinosaur Glow In The Dark Sticker Book
    If you’re visiting nieces and nephews and want to give them a fun gift, then you can’t go wrong with a sticker book. Added advantage is that you can help them put the stickers into the book, or on the fridge, bathroom mirror etc. Check these out: The Cat In The Hat Sticker Book, Star Wars Classic Ultimate Sticker Book, Ultimate Disney Sticker Book and my favourite, the Ultimate Dinosaur Glow In The Dark Sticker Book.
    I wish you all a fabulous Christmas filled with books and laughter.

 

Review – Teacup

TeacupI want to frame this picture book and hang it on my wall. To label Teacup as having bucket-loads of appeal for audiences familiar with and sympathetic to displacement, migration, social disruption and family change strips away the myriad of other sophisticated, elegant qualities this book deserves to be described by. It is simply sublime.

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley is a timeless story of a boy fleeing his home to ‘find another’. We know not where from nor why but immediately warm to his story after learning that amongst the meagre possessions he takes with him is a teacup which holds some earth from where he used to play.

Teacup illo spreadUnlike any other creature on earth, the need to retain ones past in order to make ones way better into the future is strongest in we mere humans, especially in times of dramatic change. Therefore, the boy sets off across seas sometimes kind and friendly, other times wild and testing. Along the way he has time to contemplate all that he has left behind; his home, his sense of place, his beloved family and the naivety of childhood. The clouds that swirl above him may not be permanent but his memories remain secure as does his hope, until one day that hope takes root in the form of a sapling apple tree.

This symbolic tree of life sustains him until the day his is able to build his life anew; older, wiser, a better receptacle for change, just like his teacup.

RY-001The beauty of this story is its incredible scope. It could be describing loss or the dislocation of refugees. Others will interpret it as a story of a search for love and belonging. Whatever journey Teacup takes you on, Young’s eloquent use of words and symbolic imagery massage your emotions to the point of quiet reverence. The narrative bobs gently upon these thematic eddies, always moving forward, into the unknown.

Matt OttleyEven more arresting than the text are Ottley’s illustrations. More like a collection of fine art, they are jaw-drop beautiful, each a breathtaking portrait of the boy’s journey. Dense in texture and meaning, Ottley’s illustrations reflect sky and sea, at once both soothing and uplifting.

Teacup is a picture book to treasure for its undiluted beauty and the subtle way it transcends moralising on human rights and condition, thus making it an important and exquisite reading experience for youngsters aged four and above.

Potential award winner.

Scholastic Press April 2014

Last Minute Must Have for Mum – Picture book review

Dear Mum I love You #2This is a Mother’s Day book that shouts Mother’s Day and possibly one of the best picture book tributes to mums I’ve read since becoming one. It will melt your heart and make you want to scoop up someone small and hug them tight.

From the failsafe team of Ed Allen and Simon Williams, Dear Mum, I Love You addresses mums of all creeds and colours in a heart-warming, epistolary-styled, bright pink covered picture book. I love the concept of learning about the various glowing attributes of each young creature’s mother through their handcrafted notes and letters to her.

Clever word play deftly synchronises each creature’s relationship with their natural, species-specific behaviours; Junior the elephant loves wallowing in his bath for instance. Lachie the monkey loves hanging around with his mum; Mia appreciates the finer qualities of hide and seek thanks to her mum, the chameleon.

Each youngster’s little thank you note echoes the undiluted innocence and serenity the very young possess in truck loads without a trace of sentimentality or schmaltz. Well okay, it is a book full of love notes to mum so you’d expect a little cuteness. However, I never once felt trapped in a chocolate-box while reading this. Rather, it was a book I genuinely looked forward to sharing with my own child.

Allen’s sometimes-sarcastic humour and William’s pages of glorious colour balance it all beautifully. Each full-page spread is dense with textural detail and character rich imagery.

Philanthropically correct (at time of printing – I’m assured the .70c stamp is set to increase any day soon, though), Dear Mum, I Love You has real letters for little fingers to open, flaps to lift revealing hidden notes and most charming of all, real note paper for children to write their own message of love and appreciation to YOU. Arww… At least you would hope they act on this mindful prompt!

Dear Mum, I Love You combines the almost lost past times of letter writing and spending quality reading time together in a remarkably fun and delightful way.

As Evie, the deer sums up, ‘My favourite place in the whole wide world is always anywhere you are. I love you.’ And you’ll love this too.

Mother's day noteAvailable, in time for Mother’s Day sharing, here.

Scholastic Australia April 2015

 

 

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

9780349134284This is an incredible exploration of grief, family and identity and the pressures of expectations that come from each.

The book opens with a death, one that nobody else knows about yet, the death of Lydia Lee; middle child of Marilyn and James and sister to older brother Nathan and younger sister Hannah. Lydia’s death and its aftermath exposes the cracks and fault lines in the family life and tenuous relationships of the Lee family. Feelings and incidents that have gone unspoken all come bubbling to the surface as each family member tries to come to terms with the circumstances of Lydia’s death and the parts of her life they didn’t know about.

Celeste Ng tells the story in an intricate chronology that mixes together past, present and even the future all in a non-linear fashion. While this could get easily confusing in her hands you are never lost. Instead you slowly gain an insight into each member of the Lee family, their experiences, hopes and dreams. How those have shaped them and influenced others around them.

James Lee is from a Chinese background and Marilyn is not. Their relationship in 1950s America has been controversial with Marilyn ostracized by her mother following their marriage. James is a professor of American History who has always strived to fit into the country his parents adopted. Marilyn was a gifted scientist who gave up her academic studies to start a family with James. Both these experiences have fed into what each of them expects of, and for, their children.

While this is ultimately a very sad story it is also a moving and insightful story about the weight of identity. How that weight is put on us by people around us and how that weight is passed down generations and how the best intentions can have tragic and unforeseen consequences.

Buy the book here…

‘When I see Grandma’; A Compelling Account with Author, Debra Tidball

I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. It is the perfect book to share with young and old, and what better time to do so than Christmas time.  

high resDebra Tidball’s ‘When I see Grandma’ is a beautiful, poignant story of life, love, family and compassion. It will make you smile. It will make you teary. It will touch your heart in many ways. So thoughtfully and delicately illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom, the images evoke an array of emotions, and tie in magically with Debra’s gentle phrasing.

When the children visit their sick and elderly grandmother in the aged care home, it is their glowing presence that elicits grandma’s fond memories of her past.

”I’m sometimes sad to see her but I’m always glad that I can brighten her dreams.”

The little girl and her brother bring joy to the elderly through elements of music, ”for her dreams to dance on”, through their laughter and their youthful innocence. She nurtures her grandmother with a little pampering and cuddling, which strengthens the love in her heart. The story ends with a kiss for Daddy until he returns from work, and a kiss for Grandma, to say goodbye. The final image of the family sharing grandma’s old photos, which can be viewed in the endpapers, give the book the perfect uplifting conclusion.Wombat Books 2014.  

debra tidballDebra, congratulations on winning the CALEB Prize, and for being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards for ‘When I see Grandma’! What wonderful achievements!  
Thanks Romi.  

How did you feel when you heard the exciting news of your nomination and win?  
To be short listed for the same award category as the legendary (and our family favourite, Bob Graham) blew me away – he won the Speech Pathology award, but I certainly get bragging rights! And winning the CALEB prize was more quietly and personally gratifying.  

All the royalties of ‘When I see Grandma’ will be donated to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer’s Research and Care fund, which is amazing. What does this connection mean to you personally?  
My mum had dementia and the book is dedicated to her: it is based on visiting her with my two daughters when she was in an aged care home – so it seemed appropriate to donate my royalties to an organisation working in the dementia area. Hazel Hawke was a courageous and warmly regarded public personality and this fund seemed to be the right fit. The fund is administered via Alzheimer’s Australia who have been very supportive.  

Do you have any special childhood memories of your own Grandma?  
It’s interesting you ask that, Romi, because the only contact I had with my grandparents as a child was receiving birthday and Christmas presents from them (which my mother actually bought with money sent from overseas) and writing ‘thank you’ letters in return.  My mum was a ‘£10 pom’ and left her family in London in the 1950’s, so I didn’t meet my grandparents until, at a very elderly age, they came for a visit to Australia when I was a teenager, and it was actually very awkward. Having grown up without that grandparent connection, I was keen for my children to have an ongoing relationship with theirs, and for them them to know my parents as people with full and amazing lives.  

The illustrations in your book, by Leigh Hedstrom, are just beautiful, and instrumental in guiding the story. How involved did you need to be to create these specific images, and how much did you leave to Leigh?  
violin dream openingLeigh felt the story for the start and captured its essence with creativity and with some goose-bump  moments of serendipity. The first sketch she sent through was of grandma by the water hole in her swimmers – and I knew from that moment she would be perfect. The manuscript I sent to her had illustrative ideas which she took on board but the dream sequences were not an easy concept to illustrate. The idea I initially had didn’t work, and I loved the way Leigh wrestled with how to portray these pages – she sent a number of rough ideas, through the publisher, to me for comment – I appreciated the way I was consulted through the whole process and how Leigh valued feedback. I was thrilled with how it ended up – particularly the symbolic trail of flowers, laughter, hearts etc that link the bedroom scenes to the dreams. And I love the cartoon like characters and the vibrant colours which I wouldn’t have imagined but engage children so very well, adding fun and vibrancy to the narrative and giving the story it’s uplifting feel.  
I wrote the visual narrative of the young boy and his interactions with the residents into the story but Leigh was initially unsure that she could squeeze that onto the page – I’m so glad she managed it as it adds another layer to the story, about community, that I think is so important.  
As for serendipity, the little touches that had a huge emotional impact for me were Leigh having grandma dancing with grandpa in uniform – unbeknown to her, my father was in the Air Force and my parents started going out dancing when Mum started nursing; and the father in the story, both as a little boy and an adult, is a replica of my husband (glasses, hair colour, build, musical interest) whom Leigh had never met.  
It has Leigh’s personal touches too – the toys on the page where the grandmother is playing with her child are an expression of Leigh’s love of Disney, and she sneakily made the book that the mother reads with the class another of her collaborations (Marty’s Nut Free Party). The use of the endpapers to replicate an old photo album and to recognise some of these photos on pages throughout the book is an inspired way to weave a thread that wraps the whole together. I could go on….  

When I see Grandma’ is a lovely tribute to all Grandparents, but also fosters an appreciation for family connectedness. What message do you hope for readers, young and old, to gain from reading your story?  
I hope that readers get a sense that people are so much more than they seem at any one point in time, that everyone has a history and personal stories that are rich and vibrant and make up who they are – even when they are handicapped by age or illness. I hope, too that readers understand the importance for everyone to include children in an aged care community, and that a sense of connection can be made across generations despite apparent barriers.  

What does the festive season mean for you and your family?  
Christmas is a time for reflection and recharging after a busy year. We love to spend quiet family days and attend church. It’s also a nice time to catch up with extended family and friends who’ve been neglected during the year. Having spent last Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I realised I’m very much an Aussie girl – nothing says Christmas to me like summer – sleepy reading days relaxing outdoors with the smell of sunscreen and smoke (only from the BBQ hopefully!)  

Do you have any special traditions that you follow every year?  
As my children have grown up a lot these past few years (they are now adults) it is interesting to see what traditions have stood the test of time. We like to go to choral services at our local church together, beginning the with advent service of lessons and carols. We are excited to exchange presents on Christmas Day and Peter Combe’s Christmas album is still the album of choice to accompany this ritual. We may have a feast or famine of decorations – the gloss goes off glamming up the house or Christmas tree when the children realise that the pulling out the bling is always easier than packing it away. But remembering Christmas past is always part of the fun! I’m not a fruit cake fan, but I look forward to my Ice Cream Christmas Cake all year.    

What is your favourite Christmas children’s book?  
One with many happy memories from my younger years is a beautiful pop-up book of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C Moore and Tom Patrick – it was marvellously interactive both physically and narratively. More recently, it would be a tie between The Nativity by Julie Vivas and Wombat Divine by Mem Fox.  

endpaper when i see grandma You’ve had great success with your writing in 2014. What do you aim to achieve in 2015?
I have a few other manuscripts out to publishers as well as some other writing projects, so next year it would be great to have something accepted for publication – fingers crossed! I will also continue to search avenues to promote ‘When I see Grandma’ because it is such a pertinent and topical story, and it has the potential to be enduring.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Debra! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season with your friends and family!  
Thanks Romi 🙂  

Connect with Debra Tidball:
http://www.debratidball.com/
https://www.facebook.com/debratidballpage  

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Alex Field’s ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ is a Real Treat

1330-20120419211614-sophiaAlex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex Field, together with the ingenuity of illustrator Peter Carnavas, bring back the haughty but loveable duck in this Christmas tale about love and goodwill.

You may have already read Dimity Powell‘s fabulous review! Here’s some further promotion of this endearing book!

Mr Collins makes his debut appearance by pouncing on an innocent Maria, intended as a delicious ‘mousy’ feast. As punishment, Mr Darcy snatches her away and leaves poor Mr Collins out in the cold. It is Mr Darcy’s charitable friends that, after enjoying their pudding-bake time together on Stir-up Sunday, show concern for the cat’s wellbeing. Sweet Lizzy’s compassionate nature is finally rewarded on Christmas Day when she gets her wish under the mistletoe.

In true, delectable style, Peter Carnavas creates expression, a sense of warmth and focus with the perfect variation of colour, plain backgrounds and page layouts.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding is a fun and charming story about friendship and kindness, is a seasonable reminder that Christmas is a time of giving, with a beautiful sentiment of family traditions.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014.  

856-20141023120845-Cover_Mr-Darcy-and-the-Christmas-Pudding_R Alex Field shares her Yuletide joys and her inspiration behind ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ in this engaging interview. Thank you, Alex!  

Your books in the Mr Darcy series are all based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters. What do you love about Austen’s stories?
The first Austen book I read as a teenager was Northanger Abbey. It is her one title that has a dark, gothic twist, something all teenagers gravitate towards. From there I was hooked. I read every one of her books and go back to them often. It is her characters I adore. In two lines she tells us everything we need to know about Mr Collins. “Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth — and it was soon done — done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire.” I was very keen to include Mr Collins in one of the Mr Darcy picture books. At last he makes an appearance in Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding!  

How did this inspiration turn into the development of your own picture books?
One of my friends named her family duck Mr Darcy. Sadly, much to the distress of the children, he died soon after he arrived in the family garden. I started thinking about the possibility of creating a character for children based on Pride and Prejudice. Romantically I thought I could put this character on the page and the children in the family, who had lost their beloved duck, would see he lived on in a book. Of course by the time the book was published the children were all too old for picture books!  

What challenges have you found referencing Pride and Prejudice in your Mr Darcy books when considering suitability for children?
The language was a little tricky. I wanted to ensure that Mr Darcy’s pompous manner came across in the story. He is a very polite duck.
The challenge I set myself for Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding was to create a Christmas scene true to the Regency era. This meant doing away with the usual trappings of Christmas such as a Christmas tree and Santa. However the Christmas pudding was around in Regency times as was mistletoe so both these make an appearance.  

Congratulations on your latest book ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’! How did you celebrate its’ release?
Thank you! I was in London at the time visiting my daughter who is currently studying there. We went to Selfridges, looked at the gorgeous Paddington Bear windows and indulged ourselves in the Food Hall. As Paddington was a favourite growing up I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of marmalade.  

What did you find the most rewarding part of creating ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
I enjoyed the research leading up to writing the book. It was fascinating to discover more about the Christmas traditions we all take for granted today.  

The story includes the characters coming together to celebrate the tradition of Stir-up Sunday. How is this event meaningful to you?
My sister and I always used to celebrate Stir-up Sunday with our nan. She lived in the countryside in Hampshire, very close to Jane Austen’s home. Every year we made the puddings with Nan and she then used to give them out to all the family to share on Christmas Day.  

mr darcy and the christmas pudding_page The illustrations have been consistently adorable throughout the Mr Darcy series by the talented Peter Carnavas. How do you find working with him? With ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’, how much of the illustrative detail did you specify and how much is left to Peter’s imagination?
I love working with Peter. Early on when he was creating Mr Darcy he watched the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth lots of times to ensure he got the hat right. When he was creating Mr Collins he sent me a few rough sketches before finalising the character. Most of it is left up to Peter. He is a genius.  

Besides understanding the meaning of Stir-up Sunday, what special message do you want your readers to gain from reading ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
When I was doing my research I discovered that charity was at the heart of a Regency Christmas. I hope this comes across in the book. I still think it is an important part of Christmas.  

What can all your ‘Mr Darcy’ fans look forward to seeing from him (and you) in the near future?
I have a few ideas for upcoming books in the series. Jane Austen has given me a wonderful array of characters to work with.
For the moment I am going to enjoy the festive season with my children. This weekend we begin making the puddings!  
(Stir-up Sunday falls on November 23rd).

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Alex! Wishing you and your family a safe and enjoyable Christmas!
My pleasure. I wish you and all your readers a Happy Christmas.  

Follow Alex Field via her facebook page:  
www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Field

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

9781846689666It would not have surprised me if this had won this year’s Man Booker Prize. My heart was supporting Richard Flanagan’s magnificent The Narrow Road To The Deep North but I had a feeling this was going to get the nod. In the end it didn’t win but it would have been a deserving winner if it had.

This book ticks a number of boxes for me. It is about a dysfunctional family, it is predominantly set in a college and does both with a very clever twist. It is also told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator (whose unreliability is perfectly understandable). Just like Jeffrey Eugenides did with Middlesex this is also a compelling exploration of nature vs nurture told with an originality that is fascinating, entertaining, tragic and endearing.

The book is told by Rosemary who in her 40s is looking back at her life. While Rosemary is an unreliable narrator she is upfront about it and in recounting her story out-of-order our judgements and sympathies about her are tempered in different lights.

Rosemary’s childhood was far from normal. She and her twin sister Fern were the subject of a social experiment conducted by her father. The experiment seemingly ended when Rosemary turned five and Fern was sent away. This event was the beginning a fracture that slowly tore the family apart. Rosemary and Fern’s old brother Lowell would eventually run away from home, barely staying in contact, and the unspoken blame for both events would erode Rosemary’s relationship with both her parents and make it hard for her to form any new ones through school and into college.

This is a wonderful exploration of families, siblings and growing up and our are ideas about what they are and should be. It is one of those great novels that not only make you think but change the way you think. Full of humour, empathy and sadness it will ultimately reaffirm the power and importance of family, whatever shape or form it comes in.

Buy the book here…

Interview with Jo Emery, author of My Dad is a FIFO Dad

jo emery photoMy Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance of the mother who wrote the book, who is raising three children on her own for three weeks in every month. Today we talk with author, Jo Emery, about her moments of heartbreak and joy, her achievements, family life and plans for the future.  

Congratulations on the success of your book, ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’, already sold out on the first print run!
THANK YOU, it’s been a very busy and exciting introduction to the world of children’s books J  

Can you please tell me a bit about your career background, writing history and family?
I have been employed by the Department of Education and Training Queensland for the past 17 years and most recently held the position of Principal at one of the Sunshine Coast’s Primary Schools. I have been on leave for some time (3years) however, to raise my family. I have 3 children, Sahskia who is almost 7, Ahnika 3 and Grayson 11 months. My husband Steve and I have been married for almost 10 years and have been living a FIFO lifestyle for almost 4 years. I’m not quite sure when I signed up for the FIFO commitment but for now; we are making it work as best we can, for our family.  

I have written in poem, song and story for as long as I can remember. It is something I have always enjoyed and felt the need to do. It has given me respite and relief, enthusiasm and enjoyment and in this case an opportunity to help others stay connected to the ones they love the most.  

jo emery family photoWhy you were inspired to write ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’?
The story, My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop off of Daddy to the airport. We were late for the plane and had to leave Steve in the ‘drop off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time. My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also. (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband now catches the shuttle bus J) It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 18 months ago. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she was feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped she would be strong enough to feel in times to come.  

How has the change in lifestyle affected you and your family?
Firstly, we are separated physically … Steve and I had never been apart longer than 48 hours so weeks on end has been a very big change for us. Our family is apart 3 weeks of every month and together for one. But what we have learned is that our life style is not about the amount of time spent apart, rather the quality of time we have together. Our mantra is ‘To Make Everything Count’. We are a very open family, when we are sad we cry, when we are angry we get angry, when we are happy we laugh loudly and so the openness and respect we have for each other’s feelings helps us to deal with issues and move on. Our kids are very connected with both Steve and me but that is because we work on it. The difficult times we experience because of FIFO,  is on those special occasions that arise when we are apart… birthdays, weddings, funerals, Easter, holidays and so on.  

my dad is a fifo dad page3On the opening page of ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’ there is a child’s beautiful drawing and statement about her dad being the greatest. Can you tell us about that? Who drew the picture?
This picture was drawn by my eldest daughter Sahskia. This is her view of what it means to be a FIFO Dad. Clearly the ‘flying in and out’ component of his job plays on her mind. I love that her Daddy is still smiling while he departs and the family who remain are smiling too; even the man in the ticket box is having a happy day. My kids adore their dad and he knows more than anyone that they consider him to be the greatest dad ever, and that’s because he really is!  

We are then drawn in with fun scenes of an animated dad role playing, riding and reading stories with his kids. What are your partner’s favourite things to do with your three children?
Steve just loves being with them! We live in what we consider one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast and so visits to the beach, parks and in the pool are all of our favourites. Our kids are heavily into dancing and so having the opportunity to watch them do what they love to do most is wonderful when he is home from work.  

You capture the narrator’s thoughts, feelings and actions of sadness and resilience so well. Are these based on your own child’s words and behaviour, or your experience with dealing with these issues?
I would say that these thoughts are shared from experience, practice and hope. I guess I tried to capture what my child was feeling and mix it with my hopes for what she would be able to feel in the future. My children are very resilient and with age and maturity this is developing more and more. We discuss how to deal with issues of different kinds, very often and I hope that one day it will become second nature. In saying this, the children and I are all sensitive souls and so acknowledging our feelings and working through them is something we will always do.  

What do you hope this book achieves for its readers and the general public?
I hope that our story resonates with others in a FIFO/DIDO situation and that kids that are able to feel ‘OK when Dad’s Away’. I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and those families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.    

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_cover How have you found people’s responses to the book so far?
I have been completely overwhelmed and relieved that all of my readers have loved the story as much as we do. Hearing that there have been tears, laughter and reassurance is the vein in which it was written and I couldn’t be more proud! I have received some beautiful photos of kids reading the book together with sibings, together with mum and together with Dad. In some of the orders I have received, there is a sense of urgency for families to have the book ‘in time for when Dad gets home’, it’s wonderful that the messages within the book are being shared as valuable in advance of them being read.  

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process, and working with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn?
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason and firstly I found Ann-Marie and then was lead to Dragon Tales. I have been more than happy with this process and feel that in both, I have made the very best choice! I began my search for someone who could take my words and bring colour and life to them and give the beat of my heart to each and every one. You know you have made the right decision in your choice of illustrator when you open a PDF and your heart swells with emotion. Ann-Marie Finn, gave coloured life to my words and where there were no words her drawings carried the true intent of our family story, like she had known us for a lifetime. I am so very grateful! It is wonderful working with Kaylene at Dragon Tales as I have felt in total control over my work. She has offered constructive feedback and given me the necessary guidance of a true professional in this process, I couldn’t be happier!  

Do you have any plans to write more stories along this line, or on other topics? Will you continue to write picture books?
ABSOLUTELY! I have plans to continue working to provide materials that will support families living a FIFO lifestyle but as well as this I cannot wait to share many other picture books with children and their families.

Thank you for your insights on your journey and for letting us take a little peek into your life, Jo! All the best with your future plans!

For more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad, please visit:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com
http://www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – My Dad is a FIFO Dad by Jo Emery

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_coverMy Dad is a FIFO Dad
Written by Jo Emery
Illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn
Published by Dragon Tales Publishing

Brand new and hot off the press, and already sold out on the first print-run is the popular, My Dad is a FIFO Dad!

My Dad is a FIFO Dad was written by Queenslander, Jo Emery, mother of three and wife to Steve who works in Australia’s Resource Industry interstate. She wrote the book as both an emotional outlet and as a means of supporting other families experiencing the hardships associated with a lifestyle where fathers work away from home. This touching tale highlights tender and heartwarming moments; times of sadness, strength and pure joy.  

Dads can still be the greatest, most involved and loving dads, despite working interstate for three weeks in every month. The book begins with a gorgeous sentiment and drawing of an aeroplane by the child narrating the story. We are then captivated by scenes of a fun, animated father role playing with his three children, riding bikes and scooters in the outdoors, and snuggling together for a night time story.  

my dad is a fifo dad pageBut when Dad’s away, the little girl asks her Mum why he has to go away so often. To highlight his job’s importance she explains how Australia utilises its resources, which is nicely weaved into the story; here and again at the end.

”I think that’s pretty important!”  

Also beautifully integrated is the girl’s sense of longing, but also of resilience and warmth as she continues her daily life as a ballet dancer, swimmer, bike rider and at school, and she knows she’s making him proud. Thinking responsibly and positively helps the little girl to solve problems involving having accidents, friendship issues and boredom.  

Dad is always in the girl’s heart and mind; whether they are interacting over the internet, when she expresses her thoughts in her diary, and she especially relishes when they are finally reunited and hold each other in their arms once more.

my dad is a fifo dad page2Funny
Intelligent
Fantastic and
One of a kind.

He’s MY Dad
And I think that’s pretty important!  

Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad has a clear purpose in connecting with other families with FIFO/DIDO work arrangements. A clever inclusion is an activity sheet for children to write about their Dads. The emotions in the story are perfectly depicted in the pictures by the talented author / illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. The use of mixed media incorporates a wonderful balance of detail and movement in those active moments, and simplicity and calmness of the scene when the little girl reflects.  

My Dad is a FIFO Dad is a touching book about family unity and resilience, with a dash of humour, that young children will both enjoy and gain strength from. It is a relevant and valuable support resource for many families around Australia and the world.  

Look out for a fascinating interview with the author, Jo Emery, coming soon!

You can find more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad at the following websites:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com/
www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Review by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Aaron Blabey’s Lessons With a Twist

Aaron Blabey Aaron Blabey is an actor-turned children’s author and illustrator, having great success with award-winning books including Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, and Pig the Pug, which is becoming one of Australia’s best selling picture books.

Fortunate to have Sunday Chutney as the chosen book to be read in schools for Read for Australia during National Literacy and Numeracy Week this year, Blabey’s fortune continues with an estimated 500,000 children simultaneously reading The Brothers Quibble for National Simultaneous Storytime in May 2015!

His books are frequently becoming more welcomed into our household, with their strong sense of morality, sick sense of humour, a touch of darkness and bold, energetic illustrations that leave us wanting more! Here are a few titles to consider adding to your reading list.

the-brothers-quibble The Brothers Quibble
When baby Bunny is introduced is when Spalding’s world falls apart. With a hint of delirium and eyes as big as saucers, the oldest boy feels something called ‘utter and complete jealousy’ creep up from somewhere deep inside. And a WAR has erupted in the Quibble household!

Spalding goes on to cause absolute havoc, only to be sentenced to Time Out in his room. And as baby Bunny starts to grow up, he learns valuable lessons in self defense. But behind every taunt, quabble, whack and scuffle, Bunny still has nothing but love to give.
Eventually, Spalding’s frozen heart is melted and the brothers begin to actually like each other. Even if it’s not always sunny!

Delightfully dramatic illustrations are cleverly depicted through accentuated, crazed facial expressions and moody dark backgrounds. But at the same time there is a nice softness in the colour palette during those ‘loving’ moments.

The Brothers Quibble, a story of relationships, acceptance and jealousy, contains just the perfect amount of humour, touching moments and wickedness through its flowing, rhyming text that will capture all readers from age four, and particularly for those who understand the complexity that is sibling rivalry.

22735715 Pig the Pug
You can’t go past this eye-bulging, squashed nose little pug that graces the front cover of Aaron’s Blabey’s Pig the Pug.

From the onset, we learn just how greedy and selfish this dog is, as he has already claimed the book as his own on the ‘This book belongs to…’ label. True to classic tantrum behaviour, Pig blatantly refuses to share anything with friendly sausage dog, Trevor. A kind gesture by Trevor sees Pig the Pug completely ”flip his wig”.

Just like in The Brothers Quibble, Pig goes delirious and maniacal, showing that same crazed expression and shameful, immature temper as Spalding Quibble.
Pig doesn’t learn his lesson gently. Should we laugh at his misfortune? Ashamedly, yes. With a distinguishable reference to the phrase, ‘When pigs can fly’, Pig the Pug cannot and receives his just deserts, which only turns out to be sweet for one… Trevor!

Pig the Pug is delightfully told in fun, exuberant rhyme, with vivid, amusing illustrations.  A wildly funny read and a clear lesson in learning to share, suitable for all ages.

9780670075997 The Dreadful Fluff
This book is absolutely terrifying! But once again, Aaron Blabey has been able to leave us deeply affected by the experience, yet still wanting to relive it over and over.

Belly button fluff… absolutely dreadful! Serenity Strainer, who is little miss perfect, has found some… in her own belly button!

” ‘That can’t possibly be mine!’ she said.”

Sounds pretty harmless so far? Wrong!
The tiny fluffball turns into a horrific, teeth-gnashing monster, taunting Serenity, creating havoc and threatening her family. As each member of the family encounter the ball of lint, they are instantly engulfed and the evil thing grows larger and fluffier and even more dreadful. Finally, with some smart thinking by Serenity, the fluff monster is sucked into oblivion and everyone is saved.

Characteristically Blabey, his illustration style is amusing, quirky and bold, whilst delightfully and cleverly incorporating a clear moral. Lots of devastingly frightening fun for all ages.  

www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner  

Here Comes Peter Cottontail – Easter Reviews

Is your freezer full of hot cross buns? Are you feeling bilious after over-eroding the stash of chocolate eggs you’ve had hidden for weeks from the kids? If so, you may already be over Easter. But wait. There’s more! While you won’t find a great deal of religious meaning in the following titles, they do bubble and burst with frivolity and interactive verve, perfect for sharing with your family, which for me, ticks at least one of my Easter boxes.

Easter Egg expressFirst egg out of the basket – Easter Egg Express by Susannah McFarlane and Caroline Keys, is part of the cute and clever Little Mates A-Z series. Unashamedly Australian, abundant with alliteration and more colour than you’d find in a rainbow, Little Mates rarely fail to deliver. Fortunately, thanks to the help of their bush mates, Easter bilbies Ellie and Eric deliver as well, just in time for an Easter extravaganza. Easter Egg Express epitomises Easter eggactly; egg hunts, egg painting, egg eating and eggceptionally tasty hot cross buns. Eggcellent! (Sorry for the lame yolks)

10 Hopping bunnies10 Hopping Bunnies by winning team, Ed Allen and Simon Williams, serves up more frantic fun for 3 year olds. As with other titles in the series, including 10 Smiley Crocs, this is a zany rendition of the popular ditty, Ten Green Bottles. Counting to ten has never been so energetic and hilarious. William’s illustrations race, hop, bound, swing and bounce across the pages in a riotous countdown that is never boring but plenty bonkers. There’s a touch of Graeme Base on every page too, as readers are encouraged to spot hidden numbers. Practical, merry good fun.

There was an old Bloke who Swallowed a BunnyHow about another well-known tune, now that your vocal chords are all limbered up? There was an Old Bloke who Swallowed a Bunny! by series duo P Crumble and Louis Shea, will keep you singing. It seems incredible that, that old bloke and lady are able to look at another morsel after stuffing themselves silly with stars, thongs, chooks, mozzies and spiders. But these non-sensical characters in this nonsense nursery rhyme appear to have plenty of life and room in them yet.

Our old bloke finds himself famished whilst on the farm. The usual gastronomic gobbling ensues until ‘kapow!’ farmyard calm is restored. Again, it’s the in-your-face, brighter than day illustrations that steal the show. Simultaneous bonsai stories blossom on every page guaranteeing repeated readings and plenty of contemplative pausing and pointing out. But that’s okay because ‘Crikey!’ it’s funny.

We're going on an Egg HuntFinally, because Easter is slightly prone to exploitation, We’re Going on an Egg Hunt by Laine Mitchell and Louis Shea, is included in this fun and frivolous round-up for pre-schoolers. You’ll recognise the rhyme from the title and appreciate the vibrant illustrations accompanying the playful text as you sing along with the kids.

The look on our big-eyed, baby animal friends’ faces as they finally end their hunt in a choc-egg induced stupor is priceless; one we are all familiar with I’m sure. High energy plus high interactive potential = very morish. (There’s even a CD by Jay Laga’aia)

Bounce over here for more great Easter titles for young and old.

Scholastic Australia March 2014

 

 

Not-So-Trivial Christmas Pursuits

It’s something of a Christmas Day tradition in my family to do three things:

1.      Play backyard cricket

And I allow this, for although I normally loathe and despise what I officially term ‘stupid cricket’, with modified rules that you must swing at everything and it’s tips and run, it’s bearable. If I manage to bowl my brother out, I might even term it fun.

2.      Have a water fight

Admittedly, this tradition comes from an era where water was in greater supply and restrictions didn’t exist and has, due to draconian but necessary Queensland water restrictions, been phased out. For the record (and before you send me chastising emails), there was often more bomb than water, and it was the anticipation of the event and the squealing-fun, hide-and-seek chase that was more important than actually water bombing anyone.

3.      Read the books you received from Santa

This has always been my favourite part of the day. The body’s need to recline and digest the mountains of food it’s ingested lends itself to my two favourite activities: reading and sleeping. The snooze is optional, and there have been plenty of years where I’ve powered through sans nap because the book I’ve obtained is too good to put down.

It’s also the part of the day where I no longer appear rude to be off reading a book—my socialising with the extended family has been fully fulfilled and everyone else is doing the same thing. It’s not that I don’t like my family, of course. It’s just that Christmas invariably brings with it some excellent and often highly anticipated (or simply regularly hinted for) books, and it’s difficult for me to tear my eyes away from them once they’re in my hands.

But the afternoon reward of reading and napping in turn leads itself to my second favourite part of Christmas Day.

4.      Battle the relos in Trivial Pursuit

Reinvigorated by the afternoon nap and keen to engage in some more friendly banter and competition, Christmas Day ends with the obligatory and fiercely contested game of Trivial Pursuit. It starts with much discussion about who’s on which team. (For the record, you want to be on my father’s. The man’s a freak. We put it down to the fact that he’s and insomniac and bookworm and that he does, as a result, read an almost unparalleled number and variety of books.)

It ends with much good-natured debate about the answers to questions, whether something is ‘your final answer’, someone giving hints for those who are struggling, those of us younger ones bemoaning that we weren’t alive when an event happened and that we’re disadvantaged, giving ridiculous responses like ‘Hitler’ when we have no idea, and someone putting the piece of the pie in the wrong way and someone else having to employ surgical-like procedure to dislodge and correctly re-lodge it before the game can continue.

In all, it’s a lovely and relaxed way to spend Christmas Day and one that indulges my main interests. It’s also inspires me to read more books to improve my Trivial Pursuit skills. Currently, as the youngest child with fewer years of reading under her belt, I’m the team’s weakest link. This means I’m often paired with my father as a kind of handicap to even out the brainpower. Fortunately, he often still manages to carry me over the trivia line, which means that even though I might contribute the fewest correct answers, I’m more often than not on the winning team.

I’ve threatened in recent years to buy a newer, more Gen Y version of Trivial Pursuit (I can’t help but think the reason there are now a variety of themes of the game is because youngest siblings like me got jack of being useless or out of the question loop), but in a lot of ways I’d prefer to read more and expand my general knowledge so I can answer the questions in our existing and fairly old version.

So, here’s to a food-, family, stupid cricket-, reading-, napping-, and Trivial Pursuit-filled Christmas, where I will delight in great books and may contribute the odd useful and correct answer. I hope you have a great Christmas too.