Bugs, Trains and Dragon Tales – Picture Books for Starting School

Starting school for a new year is definitely a big transition for most kids (and parents). Learning new routines, new skills, ways of managing change and making new friendships are all a part of the progression towards a happy and healthy school life. The following few picture books deal with these themes, friendship in particular, and will have your little ones starting the year with fresh and open eyes (and hearts).

imageMolly and Mae, Danny Parker (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, October 2016.

Friendships are not always straightforward. Just like a train journey, there are bumps, bends, fun moments and impatient moments. Divinely structured text by Danny Parker, together with brilliant illustrator, Freya Blackwood, magically represent the adventure of ‘friendship’ via two girls travelling side by side through a countryside train ride.

Beginning on the platform, Molly and Mae giggle and play as they wait for the train to arrive. Beautifully rendered warming and cooling tones perfectly contrast with one another to create the backdrop for the long, scenic landscape pages as we travel through each moment, and emotion, of the trip. From excitement to boredom, frustration to solitary dreariness, forgiveness and absolution, the illustrations perfectly portray the bond between Molly and Mae, which inevitably reaches the distance.

Gorgeously rich and evocative in every sense, Molly and Mae is an enchanting voyage of the ups, downs, ins and outs of relationships; sweet, thought-provoking and heartwarming all at the same time. A wonderful book for children from age four.

imageMy Friend Ernest, Emma Allen (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), HarperCollinsPublishers, February 2016.

Another story exploring the complexities of friendship is My Friend Ernest. Oscar tries to be brave when he begins at his new school, with knight helmet and sword in full attire. But he is challenged at every turn when a kid with freckles, dressed as a dragon, bares his teeth and tramples on Oscar’s sandcastle. The battle between knight and dragon is finally surrendered when both boys admit they’re not as brave as they had planned for. Finding common ground is the ultimate solution and the boys share imaginative role play experiences together as new friends.

With gentle narrative written from Oscar’s point of view, and equally soft colours and textures in the illustrations, My Friend Ernest is an encouraging tale of overcoming initial discrepancies and building confidence when forming new friendships. Perfect for early years students in any new situation.

imageTwig, Aura Parker (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, November 2016.

There is no camouflage when it comes to the gorgeousness of this book. Its messages of teamwork, compassion and friendship are clear, as is the sweetness of the whimsical illustrations in every minute little detail.

Finding the new girl, stick insect Heidi amongst the tall trees and scuttling of hundreds of tiny insect feet is no easy task, but a fun one for its readers, nonetheless. However, for Heidi, being invisible to her classmates makes for a lonely, dispiriting starting-school experience. Finally being discovered by others proves to be equally about self discovery and expression, and a beautifully-weaved gift from her new friends helps Heidi to bloom in full vibrancy.

Twig; an enchanting and gentle book for preschoolers and school starters to explore their own self identity and confidence when approaching new experiences, as well as an engaging and eye-catching story of hidden, ‘creepy-crawly’ gems and counting fun.

imageThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea, Julia Hubery (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), Little Hare Books, September 2016.

Talk about dedication! This young farmer would do anything for his princess, going as far as the farthest lands to prove he can be the bravest, most heroic knight that his princess desires. But Henry Hoplingsea soon realises that this life of swords and slaying is not what his own heart desires, for his passion still lies in a simple life with his love. And fortunately for Henry, his princess has had a change of heart, too. Maybe there’s still some room for a ‘spark’ of excitement!

The Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea is a sweet and romantic tale of making sacrifices for the ones you care about, following one’s heart and appreciating what you have. Rich and meaningful, full of warmth and energy, both in the text and illustrations, this book is an insightful example for early years children of tenaciousness and relationships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Double Dipping – Friendships lost – picture book reviews

Recently, the world lost one of the Children’s Literary Industry’s most recognised and iconic author illustrators, Narelle Oliver. Among many of the literary legacies she left us (you can read about her marvellous achievements and books in Joy Lawn’s post, here), she was a woman who encouraged and maintained sincere relationships with everyone she met, friendships rich and real. During last week’s reflection about her, two books found their way to me promoting further introspection on friendship, love, and loss.

Molly and MaeMolly & Mae by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly and her close friend, Mae are about to embark on an adventure together, a train trip into town. They are filled with bubbly excitement, relishing each other’s company, sharing the passing of time until the train arrives and the telling offs by Mum as they scamper, bounce, hide and ballet the wait-time away. Like all little girls, they are so engrossed with their games and secrets that they are blissfully unaware of the wider world surrounding them on the platform.

Their joie de vivre eventually spills into the carriage, over seats and under foot as the countryside slides away outside, until, after many miles, games become stale and tempers fraught.  Delays halt fun and bad weather smears their vision, turning their friendship murky. A trip by oneself can be lonely, however and the girls miss each other in spite of their falling out or perhaps because of it. Eventually, as they near their destination, they cross bridges of a physical and emotional kind. Their journey takes them over hills, through valleys, sometimes running straight and true, other times navigating bends and tunnels, until together, they arrive, holding hands.

Molly and Mae is a wonderful analogy of friendship brilliantly executed by this talented picture book team. There is an eloquent sparseness about Parker’s narrative that harmonises each and every word on the page with Blackwood’s oil painted illustrations. The combination is intoxicating and terribly alluring.

Blackwood’s visual story contains several signposts that guide readers through this warm and recognisable tale of friendship; transporting them through all the exuberant, boring, testing, dark, and illuminating parts of the friendship journey.

Memorable, visually poetic, and beautifully written, this picture book is not only perfect for little people from four years upwards but also makes a gorgeous gift for those remembering and sharing friendships, past and present.

Little Hare Books HGE October 2016

Ida AlwaysIda, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso

I always feel a little conflicted with the idea of harbouring animals in unnatural habitats far from their original ones, from their norm. This picture book, however questions what is normal, learned and ultimately depended on and loved from a polar bear’s point of view.

Gus lives in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. He is joyously unaware of the bigger city outside of his parkland world where zookeepers and visitors come and go and tall buildings form his boundaries. This is largely because he lives with Ida, his polar bear room mate. She is right there with him, everyday, always. They play ball together, splash in their pond together, chase and race together until it’s time to rest and relax as the city’s heartbeat hums around them. Their days seem repetitive and predictable but for Gus and Ida, they are all that they need. Until one day, Ida isn’t quite there.

The city and zoo’s residents continue to shuffle and hum and rush and squabble but Ida can no longer join the raucous of daily living because she is old and has fallen ill. Gus struggles with this abrupt change, refusing to leave Ida’s side when she is too tired to play, insistent on helping her and making the most of ‘the laughing days’ they have left together, until one day, ‘Ida curls into quiet’ and is no longer there.

In spite of his loss and grief, Gus continues, listening as the city pulses around him. In its rhythm, he feels its life, his own heart beat and Ida, right there with him, always.

Ida Always illos spreadTouching, a little tearful but ultimately inspiring, Ida, Always was inspired by the real life relationship between two polar bears in New York. Apparently, not only Gus mourned the loss of his friend but also the entire city and all who had cared for and come to know them.

Levis’s treatment of their story is heartrending and not overtly sentimental, allowing the reader to observe and understand the bond of friendship and love possessed by these two creatures who knew little else but the world, which their friendship created. By telling their story with subtle fictional flavour, sharing their thoughts, and hearing them speak, we feel an affinity with Gus and Ida that we might not otherwise have felt. The result is poignant and powerful, and enhanced beautifully by Santoso’s illustrations.

Ida, Always is a story about love, loss, friendships and how those we truly cherish remain with us, always.

Koala Books Scholastic September 2016

 

 

 

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!

 

 

 

 
 

 

Freya Blackwood’s Books Make the Perfect Gift

It’s true. You can’t deny it. Freya Blackwood‘s art is so exquisite that whether it’s for a Christmas or birthday gift, or a ‘just because I want it’ gift, every household should own a piece of her talent. And of course, coupling with superb artists of writing makes purchasing decisions all that much easier. Two of the many books on this year’s Kids’ Reading Guide list are ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’ and ‘Perfect’, both illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  

imageThe collaboration between Freya Blackwood and Libby Gleeson continuously impresses, with previous winning titles including ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ and ‘Amy and Louis’. Also on the awards list is ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present’ (review) with its success for Younger Readers in the 2015 Children’s Book Council Awards. Following on with another beauty is the second in the series; ‘The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet’.  

Text and illustrations once again work harmoniously, beautifully connecting emotion, energy, playfulness and a sense of familiarity and everyday life. The colourful, pencil sketches throughout this hardback chapter book are delightfully engaging and appealing to its intended audience; perfectly relatable as a read-alone or read-aloud experience.  

In A Friend, Cleo has nothing to do on a rainy day, and cleaning her room just doesn’t appeal. But her parents’ patience with her food-splattering, mascara-splashing ways are wearing thin. Cleo is a fun-loving, creative and resourceful little girl with a big imagination. How will she overcome her boredom? In A Pet, Cleo’s friend Nick, and the rest of her class (almost) have a pet. But not Cleo, and she is desperate to have one. When her parents refuse Cleo is disappointed, but her inquisitive and rational nature leads to a win-win solution for all.  

imageThe authenticity of the conversations and actions in the stories effectively translate through Freya’s illustrations. When Peanuts the puppy pees on Cleo’s dress, you can see that real shift from gentle comforting to true frustration (and the puppy’s confusion), all drawn with spot-on body language and perfect line placement. Genius!

‘A Friend and a Pet’ is a book packed with genuinely heartfelt, and humorous moments, encouraging readers from age six to explore their own imaginative and creative sides, just like the loveable Cleo.  

Allen & Unwin 2015.  

image‘Perfect’, written by Danny Parker, explores a wonderfully carefree Summer day for three little children and their cat. This picture book, aimed at the early childhood age group, oozes beauty and tranquility, radiance and tenderness.  

With Danny Parker‘s expressive, poetic verse, accompanied by Freya Blackwood‘s soothing, soft shades of blues and yellows, you can’t help but feel a sense of transcendence wash over you with each page turn. Sunshine and baking, construction and balancing, fresh air and cool shade, windy skies and ‘one great big day’. We are taken on this joyous path as the children wander and explore the beautiful seaside beside their lush green country town, and then settle for a snuggle and a night-time dream.  

imageI adore Freya’s magical pencil and acrylic illustrations that enlighten all the senses, and her beautiful way of capturing light and movement through sequences, texture, depth and perspective.

A ‘Perfect’ resemblance of the spirit of childhood, the warmth of togetherness and the refreshment of a cool breeze on a balmy Summer’s day.    

Little Hare Books 2015.

Freya Blackwood Blitzes the CBCA Awards

My Two BlankeysIn an unprecedented achievement, illustrator Freya Blackwood has won three of the five categories in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. In the past few years Freya has generally been shortlisted two or three times but this year all of her shortlisted books are winners.

Her partnership with incomparable children’s writer, Libby Gleeson resulted in two winners: The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present (Allen & Unwin) for Younger Readers and Go to Sleep, Jessie! (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) for Early Childhood. Freya won best Picture Book with Irene Kobald for My Two Blankets (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont). This is a powerful refugee story with symbolic touches. Gleeson and Blackwood have had award success with their other books, including Banjo and Ruby Red, which was a 2014 Honour Book.Go to Sleep

Freya Blackwood previously won the prestigious international Kate Greenaway Award, with Margaret Wild, for Harry and Hopper and has another gem coming later this year, Perfect, which I wrote about here.

Other 2015 winners are the amazing Claire Zorn for The Protected (UQP) in the Older Readers category, which I reviewed in the Weekend Australian here. Claire’s debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, was an Honour Book last year, so she is a rising talent, and a lovely person.

Protected

The YA Honour Books are Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc) (my Weekend Australian review here) and The Minnow by Diana Sweeney (Text Publishing) (reviewed here).

The other category that Freya Blackwood didn’t win – I haven’t ever seen a non-fiction book illustrated by her – is the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. Text Publishing had another scoop here, winning with the impressive coffee table book, A – Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. Honour Books are the exquisite Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolley and the superlative Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) and Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker (Department of Veteran Affairs). A-Z

Honour Books in Early Childhood are Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press) and Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin). Honour Books for Younger Readers are Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House Australia) (which I’ve reviewed for Boomerang here) and Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers). Honour Books in the Picture Book category are The Stone Lion by Ritva Voutila and Margaret Wild (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) and One Minute’s Silence by David Metzenthen and David Camilleri (Allen & Unwin). Camilleri also won the Crichton Award for debut illustrators.

Congratulations to the winners, as well as all the shortlisted authors and illustrators, and their publishers. It is great to see so many small publishers recognised in these awards.

I’ve also written about the 2015 CBCA shortlisted books for Boomerang Books here.

Stories Behind the Stories; Interview with Acclaimed Author Libby Gleeson

A true master of her craft is one that writes to elicit a multi-sensory experience from the very sight and sound of her words. She makes you feel, she makes you ponder, she creates suspense, excitement, and sorrow. All aimed to tug at your heartstrings, and all equally gratifying. The acclaimed multi award-winning author that holds the power to harness our emotions with her stories is Libby Gleeson AM; Australian author of over 30 books for children and young adults. I am thrilled to welcome one of our greatest national treasures and inspirational advocate for children’s literature; Libby Gleeson.  

Libby Gleeson PhotoPlease tell us a bit about your writing journey. What have been your biggest obstacles, and greatest personal achievements?
I was trained as a teacher but wanted to be a writer and so began that transformation while living and working in Italy in the nineteen seventies. I then went to London and joined a writers’ workshop which was formative in teaching me about editing my own work. Subsequently, back in Australia I read my work with other writers and that helped me to refine the work to make it publishable. Obstacles are just life and family commitments, and getting published many times is always a great achievement.  

Which books did you enjoy reading as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  
I read everything as a child and particularly loved L.M. Montgomery’s work – Anne of Green Gables, etc.

You’ve been winning Literary and service awards, in Australia and internationally, for over 30 years. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant for you?
All awards make you feel affirmed and so I am very grateful when successful. I know how hard the judging process is so I also know; intellectually that not winning is not necessarily a judging that the work is no good. The Bologna Ragazzi for The Great Bear is one highlight, as is the PM’s award for Red. All CBCA awards are important and make you feel pretty excited. The highlight was also receiving an AM, a Member of the Order of Australia.    

You’ve written over 30 books including picture books, early readers, books for older readers, non-fiction and short stories. Do you have a preference for a particular age group or genre, and why?
No preference. All are very satisfying. Big novels take a lot out of you so they are usually followed by something shorter. (But not always easier!)  

Many of your books are touching tales with heartwarming, heartwrenching and real moments that leave a lasting impression on the reader. Which of your stories resonate most strongly with you?
Nothing is a favourite but close to that sentiment are The Great Bear, Amy and Louis and in the novels, Mahtab’s Story. The novel I am Susannah is also pretty special.  

Your writing style is gentle, carefully crafted and compelling. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or does it require many drafts to achieve this quality of writing?
It does take lots of drafts to look so natural!    

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Your long-standing collaborations with illustrator, Freya Blackwood, have been hugely successful with works including ‘Amy & Louis’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’, ‘The Cleo Stories’ and ‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’. How did the pairing come about and what aspects of her style do you think best compliment your writing?
I saw Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya when I was writing Amy and Louis and I thought her gentle style and her palette would suit my story. Fortunately she agreed to illustrate it. I would always ask her to join me when the work is of small children in a domestic or playful context.  

‘Go To Sleep, Jessie!’ (see review) deals with the love and despair of a girl with her screaming baby sister. Did this story evolve as an influence from your own childhood upbringing with your siblings, or more as a mother of three daughters?
This one came from mothering 3 daughters and believing little children are happy sleeping together.  

In ‘The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present’ (see review), Cleo is a loveable girl who overcomes some tricky concepts with creativity and a positive attitude. Is Cleo based on anyone you know? How did you develop this character?
Cleo is based on my own daughters Josephine and Jessica and Freya’s daughter Ivy: all very creative  

‘The Cleo Stories: Book Two’ is currently in the pipeline. Can you reveal anything about Cleo in this next chapter? Will there be more Cleo Stories in the series?
I’d like to write more stories about Cleo – she’s a charming character to work with. In Book 2 Cleo is desperate for a pet and she’s also lonely when her friends aren’t around to play with. She solves each issue creatively.  

mum-goes-to-work‘Mum Goes to Work’ (illustrated by Leila Rudge, see review) is a groundbreaking and reassuring story about adapting to the realities of working parents, and how children can positively manage this lifestyle. The original version was published in 1992. Why has it been re-released? How do you feel the impact of the message will compare nowadays with what it did 23 years ago?
The original version went out of print some years ago but Sarah Foster, the former publisher at Walker Books felt it should be brought back. I’m very glad she did. I think working mothers are much more of an ordinary part of life that they were back then, but I think children are very unaware of what that means in their mother’s daily life. And I think many parents aren’t really aware of what their child does during a day at childcare, although a lot more information is now provided.  

What brought about the inspiration to write ‘Mum Goes to Work’ all those years ago?
I had kids in Child Care and discovered that the 4 year olds knew what their dads did but described their mums only as cooks, dishwashers, etc – housework. All the mums would have been workers or students because that was the only way you could get a place at the centre. So I interviewed the mothers at our centre and built the book around that.  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of us ‘Libby Gleeson’ fans look forward to in the near future?
‘Cleo book 2’ will be out in 2015 and I am busy researching and writing 1918, a book set during the last year of WW1. It is the final title in a series published by Scholastic. 1914 and 1915 are already in bookshops.  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers wanting to become successful children’s authors?  
Read an enormous amount. Write lots and try to find a course or a group that specialises in children’s books. Find courses at The Writers’ Centre or Community College or similar.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Libby! It has been an absolute pleasure.  

Libby Gleeson received the Lady Cutler Award in 1997, became a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, and has won numerous awards here and overseas. Some of her picture book awards with the Children’s Book Council of Australia include ‘Banjo and Ruby Red’ (see review), ‘Shutting the Chooks In’, ‘Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House’, and ‘Amy and Louis’, amongst others. Awards in various State Literacy Awards, Prime Minister’s Literary Award (‘Red’ won in 2013), and the international Bologna Ragazzi Award (‘The Great Bear’ won in 2000) are also prestigious prizes that she has achieved.  
Amy&Louis_cover

More information about Libby Gleeson and her books can be found at:
www.libbygleeson.com.au

Libby Gleeson’s Books in Review

With a multitude of Australian and international literary and service awards, and over 30 books written for children and young adults, Libby Gleeson AM has proven her commitment, talent and prestige in the children’s literature industry. Here we explore a few of her latest books for young readers; the most recent is the quintessential, ‘Mum Goes to Work’.  

mum-goes-to-workMum Goes to Work, Libby Gleeson (author), Leila Rudge (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Originally published in 1992, Mum Goes to Work is back in 2015. A story of the importance of mums and an awareness for the many hats they wear, including a view into the world of working mothers.
We are introduced to all the mums and their children as they congregate at the child care centre. The story continues with snippets into the busy days of each mum at work, and their child at care. Nadia’s mother is a student (of architecture, as seen in Leila Rudge‘s illustrations), and it is paintings of houses and building blocks that Nadia meticulously works on at child care. Laurence’s mother serves food and coffee in a cafe, whilst he makes a three-layer sand cake and lots of sand biscuits with his friend in the sandpit. We see mums as nurses, at-home mums, receptionists, retail assistants, office workers and teachers. Meanwhile, the children play with baby dolls, puzzles, construction, ride bikes and read books.
Libby Gleeson‘s text gives equal significance to the mother’s work as it does to the activities of the busy children. Leila Rudge’s illustrations perfectly suit the tender feel of the story, delivering a touch of humour and meaning to the words, and plenty of details to explore. Her gentle watercolour, pencil and collage pictures are gorgeously expressive and beautifully spread between the text.
Mum Goes to Work is a welcome insight into the daily lives of working mothers and children in child care. It’s a joyous story of identity and having a place in this big world. Readers can gain a greater appreciation for the commitment, sacrifices and pleasures that women achieve for their families. Equally, this resource allows mums wonderful opportunities to further bond and relate to their children. Fun, interactive and visually appealing; it’s a win-win for all!  

go-to-sleep-jessie--1Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

A little girl cannot sleep while her baby sister occupies the same bedroom…and screams. No amount of comfort and pats from Mum settle baby Jessie. No amount of sweet stories and lullabies from Dad settle Jessie. The girl is frustrated beyond words, but when Jessie is taken out and all is quiet, she still can’t sleep, and finally comes to realise the perfect solution… A little bit of sisterly love and affection goes a long way.
A really gentle and endearing story that delicately explores the struggles of sleep-time routines. I love Libby Gleeson‘s descriptions of the baby’s behaviour, paired with the raw emotions of the older sister. I also love Freya Blackwood‘s whimsical and dynamic images that show these feelings with vignettes and contrasting tones of orange and blue.
Go To Sleep, Jessie! will melt your heart. It is perfect as a bedtime story at the end of the day, and especially for children who understand the joys and angst of having a younger sibling.  

resized_9781743315279_224_297_FitSquareThe Cleo Stories: The Necklace and the Present, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

In two delightful chapters we meet a little girl named Cleo, who brilliantly solves some real life problems. In ‘The Necklace’, Cleo envies her friends as they show off their glamorous jewels, but all Cleo has to offer is a jumper she received at Christmas. Unable to wait until her birthday, Cleo takes the initiative to gather her resources and creates a beautiful, unique necklace on her own. The next chapter, ‘The Present’, sees Cleo desperate to give her mum a nice present for her upcoming birthday. She’s wracked her brains, emptied her piggy bank, and even got herself into a very sticky mess attempting to piece an old broken bowl back together. Finally, Cleo cleverly presents her mum with the best gift ever!  
Once again, this dynamic duo that is Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood have created a stunning book for young readers, with such a loveable and relatable character that is Cleo. Gleeson’s text is suited to both independent readers, as well as being an engaging read aloud story to those in the early stages of reading. And Blackwood’s illustrations are just gorgeous, soft yet complimentary of the energy and personality of the creative little girl.
The Cleo Stories is a charming short chapter book of a girl with resilience, ingenuity and flair. If she hasn’t already captured your heart, she will! I can’t wait to find out what she has planned in the next instalment of The Cleo Stories (Book Two coming out in 2015).  

banjo-and-ruby-red-1Banjo and Ruby Red, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.

Banjo the chook dog is very efficient when it comes to rounding the chickens… Except for Ruby Red. This obstinate chook would rather sit on the woodheap, staring at the sky. Then comes the day when Banjo discovers Ruby Red not on her pile, but rather flat on the ground with her eyes shut. Will his loyalty and commitment to his job see Banjo take on a new role? What becomes of this complex relationship between dog and chook?
A heartwrenching and warming tale all encompassed into one beautiful story of rivalry and friendship. Libby Gleeson‘s text is simple, yet compelling and evocative. Freya Blackwood‘s illustrations are equally expressive, fluid and powerful, creating both calm and chaos with her sketching, varied perspectives and earthy tones.
Banjo and Ruby Red won Honour Book in the CBCA Awards 2014, and deservingly comes highly recommended for anyone looking to engage in a touching, funny and energetic story.  

Love these books? How would you like to discover more about their remarkable author; Libby Gleeson? Stay tuned for a very special appearance on Boomerang Books! Coming soon!

‘Perfect’: Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker

ParachuteYesterday I was fortunate to hear about upcoming releases from Hardie Grant Egmont at their roadshow. Kate Brown, marketing manager, opened by informing us that there has been an 81.58% growth in the children’s book market since 2003. When comparing this with the 8.84% growth in adult fiction and 6.55% decline in adult non-fiction, the importance of children’s books is obvious.

One of the highlights of the event was hearing children’s publisher Margrete Lamond interview Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker about their first picture book collaboration, Perfect (from the Little Hare imprint). Even though it won’t be available until the end of September it did sound ‘perfect’, relaying a simple, idyllic outdoors childhood.

Both these creators already have a strong body of work behind them. Danny’s is not as extensive as Freya’s but includes one of my favourite picture books, Parachute, which was sublimely illustrated by Matt Ottley, and Tree, also illustrated by Ottley. Parachute was CBCA shortlisted last year.

Maudie and BearFreya Blackwood is one of my absolute favourite illustrators. She created the inimitable design, illustrations and print fragment collage in The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild, which was shortlisted in the Qld Literary Awards and CBCA. She has also collaborated with Libby Gleeson in a number of titles, including Banjo and Ruby Red and Look, a Book! One of my other personal favourites is Maudie and Bear, written by Jan Ormerod, where Freya experimented brilliantly with panels as doorways. This won the CBCA early childhood award.

Little Hare has a history of excellent books, including The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner and the Audrey of the Outback junior novels, written by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James.Audrey

Danny also spoke about his upcoming series called Lola’s Toy Box. It wasn’t just Danny’s entertaining talk or his juggling that grabbed my attention. This series looks very special. It’s about a human girl whose problems and issues are addressed when she goes inside the toy box and interacts with the forgotten toys in different scenarios. Danny uses intertextuality from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Where the Wild Things Are and other well-known books. Realism bookends fantasy in his plots.

Debut author, Zanni Louise spoke about her upcoming picture book Too Busy Sleeping. This is illustrated by Anna Pignatoro.  Fascinatingly, Zanni was discovered through her blog.

Another debut author, Patrick Guest, was inspired by his son’s battle with terminal illness to write That’s What Wings Are For. It looks like another special title from Little Hare.

And one of my favourite YA authors, Melissa Keil, is published by Hardie Grant Egmont. Seek out Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Banjo

Review – Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

banjo-and-ruby-red Banjo and Ruby Red has been shortlisted for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Early Childhood Book of the Year Award, and rightfully so. It is an emotive story that tugs on the heart strings, created by the dynamic duo, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, who also collaborated on award-winning Amy and Louis, Half a World Away, and Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House.

Banjo is an old farm dog and Ruby Red is a haughty chicken, and they never see eye to eye. Can they ever be friends?
This funny and touching story of antagonism and love is by award-winning author Libby Gleeson, with illustrations by internationally acclaimed Freya Blackwood.  

Bark. Bark. Bark.
Banjo is the best chook dog. He works hard and always successfully hustles all the squarking chooks back to roost. All except Ruby Red. She’s more interested in watching the sky, giving the old dog more exertion than he needs.

But one day, as Banjo is rounding up the chooks, he discovers that Ruby Red is nowhere to be found and he searches all over the farm. Our hearts drop when we finally find her lying still with her eyes closed.

Will Ruby Red survive?

It is through true loyalty, care and compassion that Banjo takes the chicken’s life in his own paws. He lays with her, keeping her warm for days, and we watch as a miracle unfolds before our eyes.

It is the finale that captures the most heartwarming, touching moment, so warmly depicted in the beautiful illustrations.
Bark. Bark. Bark.
Squark. Squark. Squark.
Chooks fly into the yard, peck at the ground and settle on their roosts.
Except Ruby Red.  

I love how illustrator, Freya Blackwood has integrated feelings of both still and movement, calm and chaos; from the smooth lines of dozing animals to the sequences and rougher sketching of a leaping Banjo and wildly flying chickens. She has also cleverly used text to add to the impact of the noisy animals, to draw the reader right into the scene. The soft earthy tones of the paint, mixed with the outlines and shadows of black pencil, are perfectly suited to an active chook dog rounding up lively chickens in a farm yard.

Banjo and Ruby Red is an absolutely gorgeous story about the friendship between a lovable, spirited dog and an obstinate chicken, with a touch of humour, and stunningly captivating illustrations. Definately a book to capture the hearts of readers of any age.

This book review can also be viewed at www.romisharp.wordpress.com , and on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner.

Five Faves (Picture Books) for Book Week

Here are 5 fantastic favourites you should reach out and grab onto with both hands – FAST!

Silver Buttons Silver Buttons by Bob Graham, Walker Books UK August 2013

Jodie draws a duck just as her baby brother, Jonathon, takes his first steps. An exquisite and poetic glimpse at a speck in time overflowing with life; beginnings and farewells, dramas and insignificances. Brimming with Bob Graham magic.

Banjo and Ruby Red Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Little Hero Books, August 2013 Antagonistic Ruby the chook is teasing, taunting, stubborn and disregarding. Old Border Collie, Banjo, is determined, loyal and equally as strong-willed. A sometimes smiling, sometimes heart faltering look at the love and friendship that ties two seemingly opposites together.

Omar the Strongman Omar the Strongman, by Gregory Rogers, Scholastic Australia, July 2013 A tender tale of a big man with an even bigger heart who eventually finds his perfect sense of place and value in the circus of all places. Sensitively and sublimely depicted as only Gregory Rogers can.

Davy and the Duckling Davy and the Duckling, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, Penguin/Viking Australia, July 2013 Perfectly orchestrated story of a duckling who imprints on a boy who becomes his everything even after the boy becomes an actual human father years later. A gorgeous cyclical life tale of enduring relationships and the power of the bond of love.

The Nelly Gang The Nelly Gang, The Adventures of Nelly Nolan, by Stephen Axelsen, Walker Books Australia, August 2013 Rousing adventure yarn presented as graphic picture book, set in the 1850’s and chock full of bushrangers, gold, and unlikely heroes.

Why are these books all worth a look? Because they are supremely strong tales, gently told by phenomenal story tellers and harmoniously illustrated by renowned illustrators.

There is something for every taste. View and buy any of these picture books simply by clicking on the title.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Review – The Treasure Box

Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.The Treasure Box

The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.

We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.

Treasure box illoPeter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.

Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.

Margaret WildMargaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.

Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.

I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.

Penguin / Viking January 2013

Review – The Terrible Suitcase

Can a suitcase can be terrible? What could be so terrible about it? Could it be the way it looks, the way it drags on the ground, its awfully bad manners? Or is it what’s contained inside?

I must admit I was little nervous about this and was intrigued to find out, but I should have known the secret would simply lie in outward appearances. Clunky old suitcases aren’t cool for just-about-to-start-school kids – no way. Everyone else has super cool backpacks. With torches and drink bottle compartments and super cute stickers.

But not our little heroine, who is inexplicably condemned to ugly suitcase hell. Golly, I truly felt horrified for this child, lumbered with this daggy old clunker for no apparent reason at all.

As her first day at school unfolds, as grumbly as can be, the suitcase soon becomes a magical focal point for our narrator and her classmates. It’s a toolkit, it’s a super computer, it’s an integral part of a spaceship game – and a vessel for those all important spacefood sticks. In this way, its super presence brings a group of uneasy first-day kids together, offering comfort as well as friendship.

This is a lovely story on not what a suitcase is but what it could potentially be, however, the ending is confusing, with no tie in to preceding text or imagery and no effective wrap-up.

Freya Blackwood’s iconically sketchy illustrations are beautifully and most typically whimsical and gorgeous, and help lend form to an otherwise charming story.

The Terrible Suitcase is published by Scholastic.

 

PERFECT PICTURE BOOKS FOR BEDTIME

I know from watching my own kids growing up that there are definitely books for different occasions.

There are books full of fun and action to start the day and there are books that are more mellow, that leave small readers feeling warm and snuggly and ready for sleep – the perfect bedtime stories.

These are the books that gently lead them into the land of nod – books like Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug. Both are tender funny stories for young readers about family and being loved.

Samuel’s Kisses

Written by Karen Collum and illustrated by Serena Geddes

Published by New Frontier publishing

Samuel loves going shopping but he notices that the people around him don’t share his happiness and sense of fun.

He decides to brighten up their lives by blowing them kisses.

This is a beautiful book depicting how a small child can find a simple solution to adult grumpiness.

There is movement and a gentle rhythm in this story as the kisses find their way around all sorts of obstacles to reach their mark.

Serena Geddes expressive and colourful illustrations show the affection and happiness that surrounds little Samuel and how he makes such a positive difference to the world around him.

This uplifting story is full of light-hearted fun but has a strong message and a satisfying ending for the reader.

the Runaway Hug

Written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Published by Scholastic

This book is a collaboration between two of Australia’s favourite picture book creators, Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.

‘Mummy’, said Lucy. ‘Can I have a hug before I go to bed? I promise I’ll give it back.’

As Lucy discovers, a hug can go a very long way. It can be shared with Mummy and Daddy, it can be shared with the twins, it can even be shared with Annie the dog. The secret to sharing a hug is for it to be given back.

This hug seems to go especially far and along the way it becomes softer, sleepier, bigger and even peanut-buttery.

But when the hug runs away, Lucy doesn’t know what to do. How will she keep her promise to Mummy?

the Runaway Hug is a gentle, charming story with a perfect ending for bedtime reading.

Freya Blackwood’s beautiful illustrations are full of action and the sort of telling detail that young readers love.

Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug will leave readers feeling snug, safe and ready for sleep.