For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

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Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

More picture books to make you smile squint and ponder.

Hello! Illustrated by Tony Flowers

Hello is a simple enough salutation, right. That opening phrase designed to introduce, calm, and unite two or more people. But what if those parties can’t speak the same language? Hello! is a visual and linguistic opportunity for primary aged children to meet 12 other Australian children with different cultural backgrounds and experience their different languages and customs. Many of them also speak English, which makes this introduction a breeze for readers and their carers to float through.

Each child introduces itself; Hua’s family for example comes from China. She speaks Chinese and then launches into the appropriate greetings, discusses some of her favourite foods and covers the numbers one to ten before signing off. These brief four page encounters encourage children to meet more and more people and practise more and more languages without feeling overwhelmed by the newness of it all.

Not only are we treated to new words and their characters and or alphabets, but also Flowers’ bright illustrations which take us on a fun, colourful tour of cuisines, games and traditions. This is a glorious global version of Australia: Illustrated if you like (with emphasis on cultures most prevalent in Australia). Hello! is just as engaging and equally as useful.

NLA 2016 Continue reading Astonishing Picture Book Reads – Part 2

Review – Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price

Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, March 2017.

Strumming up a musical storm in a delicious brimful of plonks, plinks and twangs is the energetic page-turner; Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?. Sequel to the adventurous antics of Digby’s Moon Mission, here is a seamless transition from the moonlight to the limelight.

And just like its predecessor, the themes of teamwork, curiosity and problem solving, and the teachable concepts of measurement (telling time and noise levels) are included and presented in a whole new and refreshing melodic tone.

Price’s musical background is showcased in full spotlight, incorporating not only different instruments and their sounds but also in the way the narrative has been pitched. She has written this story with a tuneful arrangement, harmonising between rhyme and prose, just like the verses of a song. Clever!

Anil Tortop’s mixed-media illustrations once again bring life, colour, vibrancy and a discernible swag to the pages, composing the opportunity for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, bottom-wriggling romp for its audience. And to add further to the liveliness of this book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is accompanied with swinging song notes and QR code for ‘Digby’s Jam’; a lyrical composition by Renee Price (and family) herself!

Digby is perplexed by the mystery of a ‘super-duper noise’. So he sets out on yet another mission to find a conclusion. It takes five hours of careful auditory processing, watching each of his trusty friends explore a different instrument at different hours of the day. Stanley strums on his guitar at half-past one, Sophie toots on her kazoo at half-past two. Finally at half-past six the noise-o-meter makes a much-needed appearance, and when it rings out a ‘Thunderous!’ sound the gang know just where to look. With their newly acquired yodelling prowess in tow, the group enjoy a noisy jam… but there’s another unexplained sound to settle!

Euphoniously delightful as a read aloud experience, visually dynamic, encouragingly active, humorous and imaginative, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will lead its preschool audience on a most exhilarating journey of resounding goodness.

For more information on this innovative and talented creator, please read my interview with Renee Price on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here and through the Digby Fixit interactive website here.

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Animal Antics – Part 2

Well the animals still have it. This week we encounter more of their anthropomorphic antics between the covers of a veritable zooful of picture books.

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter and James Henderson

Although cute and compact, this picture book features the large and lovely antics of Benji, a robust Labrador looking pooch whose insatiable appetite for anything and everything becomes a catalyst of encouragement for one fussy eater.

Our Dog Benji is an animated account of a day in the life of Benji as told by his young owner. Henderson’s duotone illustrations rate highly for their detail, style, and humour illustrating Carter’s understanding of dogs well and their avaricious ways. This handy little book subtly supports the notion of eating well and exploring more food options for fussy eaters.

EK Books February 2017

Monsieur Chat by Jedda Robaard

This little picture book is oozing with charm and the exact sort of intimacy that young readers adore; they are privy to the outcome even if the story’s characters are not. Monsieur Chat is a cuter than cute little ginger puss living among the city roof tops of a French city.

Continue reading Animal Antics – Part 2

Reviews – Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds Books 3 and 4

The gorgeous Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series (by author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Mikki Butterley) continues from where it left off from The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster (see previous interview). With another two exciting books on exploring social etiquette and positive behaviour now available, we can hardly contain ourselves! Here they are:

Gently reinforcing the value of kindness, The Playground Meanies is a delightfully explorative story into managing challenging social situations in the playground. The Reynolds and Butterley team once again draw us in with their engaging script and expressive illustrations that truly allow readers to connect with these relatable characters.

It is a common occurrence for preschoolers to experience some level of bullying, even at their young age. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour, whether the instigator or recipient, can sometimes be confusing and definitely emotionally confronting. Alison Reynolds approaches this concept beautifully with her easy-to-follow and humorous narrative, and empowering ‘guide to good deeds’ notes that tie it all together.

When Pickle and the sensitive Jason are teased about their big feet by two little bears at the playground, it is Bree who shows maturity and wisdom, reminding her friends not to stoop to their ‘mean’ level. But Pickle, being loyal yet impulsive, sympathises with Jason’s sadness, and protests his vexation. And the result of his boisterous actions causes a roll-on effect. Getting along with the meanies may seem like a slippery slide to manoeuvre, but Pickle and Jason do well to compose themselves and be kind, with an effective result.

The Playground Meanies opens doors for plenty of discussion and role play, teaching children about positive actions in a sensitive, safe and playful manner.

In The Big Snow Adventure, Pickle and Bree hit the ski slopes a-sliding with aplomb. In this action-packed escapade of tobogganing-chaos, skiiing-turbulence and snowballing-frenzies, the heedless pair need reminding to respect the rules.

It’s all too easy to be unaware of invading people’s space or neglecting to check their feelings when you’re in your own world of fun and competition. That’s certainly what happened to Pickle and Bree during their trip to the snow. All the excitement of ski lifts and ploughing down the mountain makes them forget about listening to and following instructions and respecting the given boundaries. Disowned by their friends following the path of snow-covered destruction eventually leads Pickle and Bree to realise their foolhardy ways, and an exhiliranting ending to the day is had by all.

I love the consistency between books; the gentle and humorous storylines that play out like a real life scene, the strongly defined characters and the adorable multi-textured illustrations that make these books so full of charm and authenticity.

The Big Snow Adventure and The Playground Meanies are both delightfully engaging ‘lessons’ in friendship, respect, compassion and morality. Admirably empowering children from age four to harness a peaceful world, one step at a time.

Five Mile Press, February 2017.

Alison Reynolds recently completed her blog tour for her Pickle and Bree series. See her post with Dimity here and the books’ development here.

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Love-Inspired Books for Kids

With all things ‘love’ on the chart for today, there’s no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day (aka #bookgivingday) and Library Lovers’ Day with some especially special and adorable books with your loved ones. Here are a few to make your heart sing and add a warm smile to your day.

Love Thy Babies

Hello Little Babies, Alison Lester (author, illus.), ABC Books, December 2016.

Welcoming and watching your little one’s as they grow and change in this big, wide world is a truly heartwarming and precious experience. Alison Lester expertly caresses our hearts with her divinely narrated and illustrated glimpse into the developmental stages of six babies’ first year.

With the birth of Alice, Ruby, Mika, Zane, Vikram and Tom, the diversity of cultures, traditions, abilities and behavioural routines are portrayed with a beautiful synchronicity. Sleeping habits are formed with the jiggling of cradles, rubbing of little backs and strolls by the sea. Playing involves rattles, baths, a game of peekaboo and a favourite book. I love the messy food and eating behaviours, and how the babies are beginning to move about at different levels of independence. They are exposed to the beauty of nature through exploration and observation, and then it is time to say goodnight.

With its simple sentences and individualised colour vignettes for each baby, the reader is able to identify the characters and move through the pages with ease. And Lester’s ability to highlight cultural and developmental differences speaks volumes, particularly in today’s society and for new, overly-conscious parents.

Hello Little Babies contains the perfect bundle of love to share with your perfect bundle of joy.

I ❤ Preschoolers

Origami Heart, Binny Talib (author, illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, June 2016.

I love the Asian-infused qualities in this bunny’s tale of striving for perfection, high expectations and overcoming disappointment in the name of friendship. And I also love that the guts and passion addressed in the story shows us that reaching out, sharing your heart can lead to a happy ending.

The quirkiness of Kabuki begins when he is introduced to us from his burrow in the sky. He is the neatest, most organised and pedantic bunny in town, habituated to his strict routines and obsessive behaviours. In preparation for a visit from his friend Yoko, Kabuki picks up ‘perfect’ vegetables, ‘excellent’ snow pea tea, and ‘symmetrical’ flowers from the market. Everything is set in rows and cut to exact heart-shaped proportions. He is ready. However, his scrupulous plans are set to take a nose-dive when he hears of Yoko’s cancellation. But rather than wallow in his own grief, Kabuki literally throws his heart out to the city, and guess who’s there to catch it!

There is a strong character personality and equally meticulous line drawings and simple colour palette to match, but there is also a gentleness and endearing tone with its soft, handwriting text and little details like the displayed photographs of Yoko and the tiny red birdie that stays by Kabuki’s side.

With bonus origami instructions at the back, Origami Heart will have preschoolers pronouncing their love for this book, and for each other, over and over again.

All For Primary Kids

My Brother, Dee Huxley (author, illus.), Oliver Huxley (character, illus.), Tiffany Huxley (design), Working Title Press, July 2016.

Expressing love of a different kind, this story takes us on a heavenly journey of brotherly love. Created as a team, the Huxleys’ exquisitely haunting plot and mesmerising illustrations powerfully stir up the emotions in your heart and the curiosity in your mind.

With the strong opening, “I miss my brother. I’m so lost without him.”, the gentle, horned creature immediately grabs us by the horns and locks us in to his endeavour to find his long-lost sibling. Like black and white photographs in an album, we are treated to landscapes that defy logic and immerse our thoughts in old nursery rhymes and imaginative places as the creature desperately searches far and wide, over here and over there. There is certainly no need for descriptive phrasing when the graphite pieces of art tell it all. An ‘enlightening’ finale brings joy, colour, purity, and a sense of peace when the brothers reunite once more.

This book is amazing for its endless talking point possibilities, such as the meanings of being ‘lost’, the yearning for loved ones, and reality versus the imaginary, mystical or even the spiritual world.

My Brother can be appreciated on many levels, from the simple to the complex, however ultimately it is a book of pure beauty, extraordinary wonderments and undying love.

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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.

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Renee Price Sings with Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?

imageI just love sequels that cleverly, though subtly, intertwine with small connections but take you on a whole new, unique adventure. Renee Price, author, educator and entertainer extraordinaire has done just that with her second book in the Digby series – an enthusiastic, lively and inquisitive romp jam-packed with mystery, melody and rhythm. Not to mention its upbeat and dynamic illustrations. Today we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity of a sneak peek into the soon-to-be-released, anticipated Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?! Doesn’t the title just make you want to get out your maracas and microphones and shimmy to your heart’s content!

Renee is here to tell us more about her book. Welcome, Renee!

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is the fun sequel to the intriguing quest of Digby’s Moon Mission. Please tell us a bit about your latest book.

imageDigby and the Yodelayhee… Who?, much like Digby’s Moon Mission, portrays the joy and innocence of children’s imagination and curiosity. Digby and his friends have solved the mystery of a hungry moon, now it’s up to them (and some useful tools) to solve the mystery of a noisy noise! I’m really excited to release this book as it combines my two writing loves; stories and (spoiler alert!) song. J

How do you hope the concepts addressed in the story will resonate with readers?

I hope they will resonate really well! Digby’s stories celebrate friendship and teamwork, curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. I always write with these concepts in mind, yet rather than driving the messages home, deliver them in an entertaining and humorous way, and kids really engage and become enthused about getting involved, becoming part of the story, and problem-solving too.

What is your favourite part of the book? Why?

imageI have three favourite parts (is that allowed?)! I am once again, in love with Anil Tortop’s visual representation of my words. I swear she has a device that can tap into my brain and extract my exact thoughts on how I see my words looking on a page. I also LOVE the barcode design by Ozan Tortop (wait ‘til you see it, it’s so cool!). My third favourite part, and one I hold close to my heart is the musical element of the story. Combining words, pictures and music completes me! J

You are naturally musical yourself. What do you see as the main benefits of ‘tapping’ into one’s musical side? How have you seen children respond through your entertaining show performances?

I could rattle on all day about this one! Music is a universal language. Not only can we communicate through music, we can immerse ourselves in music to soothe, comfort, inspire, excite, entertain… there are no limits. We are all musical! I love visiting schools and preschools, seeing all kids engage in the story-telling that music offers and how it complements the written word. I can’t wait to launch the live performance for Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?. Music and story-telling galore!

You worked with the talented design team at Tadaa Book previously on Digby’s Moon Mission. Did Anil and Ozan Tortop meet all your expectations second time round? What did you enjoy most about your collaboration on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who??

imageI will never be able to properly articulate just how awesome this duo is. Not only are they incredibly professional and easy to work with, but they are so supportive and nothing is ever too much to ask. Their communication is top-notch and their work is utterly awesome. The entire collaboration with them has been enjoyable, from storyboard drafts right through to prepping files for print. I urge anyone contemplating a self-publishing journey to get in contact with them at tadaabook.com.

Being self-published you did quite a lot of work to get both Digby books off the ground and onto the shelves. Were you more confident this time? Did you do anything differently? What have been the advantages of already having the initial book under your belt, both in ways of publishing and marketing?

In some ways, I felt more confident because it was familiar and I knew what to expect, but it was also overwhelming at times because I knew what to expect! It’s a challenging journey, and at times, I wondered why I was putting myself through it all again, especially having two young children and little time to juggle everything. Through my first book, there were many things I missed as well, such as wider distribution channels, timing of publication date to meet Book Awards entry criteria, further research into print-on-demand services versus off-shore/bulk printing. But the advantages of having my first book out there, meeting more and more wonderful industry professionals to chat with and seek advice has been invaluable. One big thing I did differently this time was print offshore with a company who publishes a lot of trade-published titles. I’m really excited about the higher quality of my second book.

Fun Question! If you could be any musical instrument, what would it be and why?

Ooh, now this is a tricky one! I’d have to say a double bass – because then I’d finally be tall! J What would you be?

Hmm… I’d have to think about that!

Please share your book’s release date and what we can look forward to in the lead up to launch day and beyond. What exciting activities and events have you got planned?

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will be released on March 1 2017. A book trailer is now available (see below), previewing a little of the musical element of the book, too, and there will be some more sneak-peeks coming in the lead up to the launch. We’ll also have some giveaways and fun stuff via Digby’s Facebook page and website.

Launch Day is Saturday March 4 2017 at Wallsend Library (Newcastle NSW) and is shaping up to be an exciting morning, featuring a book reading, signing, colouring activities and a special music performance! Follow Digby’s blog for updates at www.digbyfixit.com.

Thanks so much, Renee! Looking forward to jammin’ with Digby and his friends very soon! 🙂

BIG thanks to you, Romi! You’re a superstar. J

Pre-order your copy of Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here.

Published by Create It Kids, March 2017.

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Guest Post with Robert Vescio – Connecting Friends Oceans Apart

robert-vescioToday, dedicated writer for children and father himself, Robert Vescio uncovers the story behind his latest picture book, Jack and Mia. In this special guest post, he reveals how his own family background influenced this story.

But first a little bit about Jack and Mia. I have to say I love the look and feel of this book. Claire Richards’ diversity aware illustrations make me want to reach out and stroke the cover and pages. They are vibrant, childlike and at the same time, visually satisfying, filling up the pages with joyful colour, kind of how I’d imagine kids would view their world. The pages themselves are thick and glossy, a delight to turn through. The generous finger feel somehow makes me want to start reading the story again immediately I get to the end which will put this book in good stead for those repeated read requests.

Vescio’s tale is reminiscent of other classic picture books addressing the friendship separation theme such as Amy and Louis by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood but flips the concept ijackandmiamedn that Mia does not move away at first, but rather into Jack’s life. By doing so, suddenly ‘his days were full of rainbows’. He experiences a deep, rewarding friendship with Mia, unlike any other he’s ever had. They share everything together even a case of chicken pox and become King and Queen of their kingdom, until suddenly, Mia has to move ‘far, far away’. It’s not exactly clear where Mia’s family are transferred to however Richards’ illustrations suggest that it’s because of her father’s military postings.

Jack’s kingdom is in tatters, his world in ruin as he worries that Mia will no longer remember him being so far away. Little does he suspect that she shares the same despair as him until he happens upon one of Mia’s books, left behind in his toy box. It is this simple keepsake coupled with a bit of modern day technology that reunite the pair once again and allow their kingdom to flourish and grow…across the oceans.

Jack and Mia is an ideal book to share with young readers who may be experiencing their own emotional lows caused by separation of a loved one, either family member away for work or friend who’s had to move even just to a new school. A great class room and bedside book and possibly one of the most sensitive and well penned by Vescio to date. Now, here’s more from Robert:

‘I wrote Jack and Mia to show how friendships (rich in imagination) can survive distance by finding creative ways to stay connected.

Jack and Mia do everything together. They stick together like paper and glue. Then, one day, Mia’s family moves away – not to another suburb but to another country on the other side of the world.

This is a story that will resonate with children who are about to move or have moved and miss their friends. Unlike other picture books about this subject, Jack and Mia illustrates how today kids are finding it easier to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live far away.

“Growing up, I had friends that moved half the world away – common for working parents and military families – and the only way to connect with them was to write or call,” said Robert. “Today, technology is changing the way we stay connected. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.”

Skype hangouts have become a common occurrence in today’s society. It’s as easy as grabbing a coffee with your computer screen. In fact, Skype has become so popular that people use ‘Skyping’ as a verb to connect with people.

Of course, social media has also revolutionised how people talk. Facebook connects over 1 billion worldwide every day.

But, of course, not everyone embraces high tech gadgets. Some people prefer the human touch – a hug, for instance. Jack and Mia is all about how kids can use their imaginations to play together, even when they’re an ocean apart.

Jack and Mia (illustrated by Claire Richards and published by Wombat Books) is a warm and entertaining tale about the power of a child’s imagination and to keep a friendship long and strong, regardless of distance.’

Thanks Robert!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleRobert Vescio  picture books include, Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville (Big Sky Publishing), Marlo Can Fly (Wombat Books) listed on the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge for 2015, No Matter Who We’re With (IP Kidz). He has more picture books due out in 2016 and 2017.

Wombat Books October 2016

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Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

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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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Lily the Elf – New Releases

imageSo utterly adorable and perfect for exploring deep emotions, friendships, problem solving, confidence and adventure are award-winning Anna Branford‘s Lily the Elf series for emergent readers. All with five short, steadily-paced chapters, enlarged font and sweet, detailed illustrations by Lisa Coutts throughout, these books are irresistibly readable.

I read the latest two books with my six year old daughter, alternating pages as we like to do. She participated with confidence, both understanding the concepts as she read and enjoying the active listening role as well. The books also effectively engaged her interaction as chapter endings left us with opportunities for discussion.

imageIn ‘The Sleepover’, Lily’s cousin, Fern, is invited to stay for the night. It has been a long time since they have seen each other, but Lily is excited nevertheless. She helps prepare a delicious meal, some fun games, a special bed for Fern and her favourite bedtime stories. The anticipation is almost too much to bear, but when Fern finally arrives, Lily’s expectations for a fun evening are soon dashed. Fern dismisses all of Lily’s efforts, leaving her confused and disappointed. But despite Fern’s scornful attitude, Lily manages to cut to the core of the issue and gently reassures Fern, slowly but surely, that she is safe and welcome.

The themes of empathy and kindness are evidently clear but written beautifully to reflect associated feelings of misplacement, uncertainty and disillusionment. Intertwined are playfulness and familiarity to make this story relatable and relevant to its early readers.

imageIn ‘The Jumble Sale’ Lily’s elf neighbourhood is holding a Jumble Sale Day to sell their no-longer-needed belongings. Lily yearns to buy a dress-up mermaid’s tail with her elf coins. But when Dad and Granny begin to clear out some of their own old dress ups, Lily is cross, but not as devastated as the notion of selling her baby cot with the precious hanging cloud. The day turns from bad to worse when she discovers the mermaid’s tail is too expensive, and her cot is the only option for a couple expecting their first baby. With a little thought and a lot of courage, Lily’s generosity, resilience and willingness to part with the special treasures ultimately lead to the satisfying ending she hoped for…in more ways than one!

I love how this story focuses on sentimentality and how simple possessions can evoke such strong feelings deep within us. It also reminds us that we are still able to cherish our memories forever, and allow others to create their own memories with those passed-on treasures.

Totally age-appropriate with supportive reading structures, simple language and whimsical illustrations, children from age five will just adore this special, spirited and good-natured series with a whole lot of heart.

Walker Books, August 2016.  

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A Pair of Bear Books – Picture Book Reviews

I’ve found the perfect ‘snuggle-up-and-settle-down-for-bed’ books! My three and a half year old just adores them and although they’ve been on repeat every night, the fun surprises at the end never lose their novelty. Tuck in for a good night’s sleep with these two adorable ‘bear’ books to help with the bedtime routine.

imageWhere is Bear?, Jonathan Bentley (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

A ginormous bear is obscured from visibility as a little boy searches around the house for his Bear. But only to the untrained eye, that is! Preschoolers will take HUGE delight in pointing out the ‘hidden’ bear that follows the seemingly-unaware boy on his mission.

With a clever integration of prepositional language, the boy looks in drawers, on the shelf, in the bathroom, on the table, under the sofa, in the car and so on. And even more cleverly, this encourages our young readers to shout out exactly where they can see the bear hiding. Continually asking ‘Where is Bear?’ combined with the bear’s concealment in the pictures makes for a hilarious, interactive reading and language experience. But wait until you reach the finale…it’ll literally have you in flabbergasting fits of disbelief!

Jonathan Bentley does an awesome job with this simple, engaging text that keeps its readers’ eyes and ears peeled at all times. The vibrant, frolicsome illustrations further enhance the enjoyment with their watercolour and pencil textures and detail that the most discerning viewers will appreciate.

Where is Bear?’ touches on themes of loyalty and friendship, but mostly appeals to children from age three because of its fun, humorous and surprising antics that so often go hand in hand with the bedtime routine. Highly recommended.

imageTake Ted Instead, Cassandra Webb (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2016.

More secret hiding places to delay the inevitable bedtime in this gorgeously funny story by author Cassandra Webb and illustrator Amanda Francey.

In Take Ted Instead’, a small boy refuses his mum’s consistent requests to go to bed. The persistent child attempts to mask his whereabouts whilst making his own demands to ‘take RED instead’ (the dog). At each page turn, he finds living and non-living things to be taken instead, each rhyming with mum’s label of ‘sleepy head’. From his cat FRED to his big brother JEDD and the elderly neighbour NED, there’s no giving in. Finally, a gentle persuasive nudge from mum convinces the boy to go with TED. But what surprises are found in the bed when they get there?!

Webb’s repetitive and humorous phrasing perfectly suits the tenacious and cheeky nature of our main character, as well as being wonderfully engaging for its young audience. Francey’s soft, colourful palette is beautifully gentle yet her joyous illustrations are an ideal accompaniment to the bubbly energy of the text.

Full of familiarity, wittiness and spirit,Take Ted Instead’ makes for a fun and relevant read aloud experience for preschoolers and adults, alike. Now you have plenty of reasons to snuggle into bed at night!

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Raised in a World of Picture Book Goodness

It is so important, particularly today, that our future generations are brought up as genuinely kind and caring people with peace and prosperity in heart and mind. It is our duty to continue to empower and raise our children as strong, tolerant and protective members of our society and environment. I love these following picture books for their beautiful messages of compassion, fervour, accepting differences, and making differences.

imageTogether Always, written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo, is a sweet, profound and mesmorising book of everlasting friendship and overcoming differences in opinion without comprising values.

Pig and Goat ‘always‘ do everything together, no matter what fruit hangs from the trees in the orchard. They laze about in the sun and the stream, tell tales and hum tunes when the other is down. One BIG night Goat decides he feels the need to take Pig and go exploring over the hills. But when Pig misses his home, they forfeit their ‘sticking together always‘ pact and part ways. To soothe themselves to sleep or to comfort themselves when they feel lonely, Pig and Goat find ways to remember each other. They know that although they are physically apart, they are, in fact, ‘always‘ in each other’s hearts.

Gorgeously textured pencil and watercolours in splats and strokes magnificently outline the characters, showing both the elements of togetherness and individuality. This is further carried through when the mix of cool and warm tones are subtly separated when the friends are apart from one another.

Together Always is a deep and meaningful story with plenty of playful moments. It would perfectly suit preschoolers and beyond who might be grappling with complex friendships or missing a mate who has moved out of their immediate everyday world.

Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont, March 2016.

imageIf you’ve heard of the movie ‘Oddball‘ then you’ll know and appreciate the persistence and virtue of the characters in the story. Poignant and uplifting, Chooks in Dinner Suits is based on the real life events of farmer, Swampy Marsh and his tireless, ongoing work with his canine pals to save a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island. Gorgeously written in a factual yet frolicsome narrative by Diane Jackson Hill, with visually arresting scenery and playfulness by Craig Smith, this book is an eye-opening, captivating and warming experience to touch every heart and soul.

When settlers establish themselves in a town besides the small island off Warrnambool, soon humans, dogs and foxes make a devastating impact on the land and the penguin population. Swampy Marsh takes notice and pleads with the townsfolk to help reinforce his plan to protect the area, to no avail. But when penguin numbers dwindle to not even a handful, the people agree and Swampy recruits his two best Maremma dogs to act as the loyal, sensible and fiercely protective guardians that they are. Needless to say, the waddle on Middle Island flourishes, and just like with all happy endings, we are graciously gifted with a sense of relief and calm.

imageA story of hope, triumph and passion, guts and determination, Chooks in Dinner Suits is sure to ignite the spark in its early years readers to also advocate and fight for the future of our environment and its amazing wildlife.

More information about the island, the work of the Maremmas and the growth of the Little Penguin colony can be found at the back of the book, and you can also visit www.warrnamboolpenguins.com.au to read about the project.

Museum Victoria, June 2016.

imageEntrancingly adorable, eclectic and whimsical mixed media illustrations go hand in hand with this special story of courage and helping others in need. From the legendary storyteller that is Sally Morgan, collaborating with talented artist Jess Racklyeft, Midnight Possum is a book to treasure.

We all know that possums enjoy adventure and mischief in the dark of night. But what happens when there’s trouble? How do they escape those sticky situations? For one stealthy Possum, no problem is too much effort when he comes across Mother Possum calling for help. One of the twin babies is missing, but it doesn’t take long before Possum grunts, scrabbles and heaves his way down the dusty chimney in ‘mission impossible’ style. There he finds the tiny mite frightened as he clings to a brick ledge. Some ‘risky business’ later, the pair sneak out the pet flap in the back door and return to safety…and dinner!

Highly interactive, engaging and humorous with its fluid narrative, questioning, fun sound effects and cheeky illustrations, Midnight Possum ticks all the boxes. Children from age three will be hanging out to read this active book of bravery over and over, at all times of the night!

Scholastic Australia, April 2016.

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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.

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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.

Animals behaving badly – Picture book reviews

Archie illos spreadThey say animals have been done to death in picture books. Why then does nearly every second illustrated story I pick up feature talking, singing, skydiving critters of every shape and body-covering-skin type? Because kids adore them, that’s why. The funky demeanours of our animal friends serve not only to relay real-life stories and situations in non-threatening, easy to assimilate ways for young readers, they also ultimately create characters of irrepressible entertainment. This next selection of recently released picture books ably illustrates this point.

Cheeky monotremes, mammals, and avians

Echidna Jim went for a SwimEchidna Jim went for a Swim bristles with fun and frivolity until you realise things are shaping up to end very badly for poor old Jim who just wants to enjoy a day at the beach with his mates. The archenemy of inflatables is of course anything spiky, but Jim is not about to let that ruin his fun. Phil Cummings is known for his poignant, super sensitive picture books. Echidna Jim represents a more quirky, unconventional style for him that nonetheless embraces difference and friendship. I loved Laura Wood’s interpretation of the moon-jumping cow in, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Her portrayal of surfing dingoes and soggy cockatoos is just as beguiling. Great for tots over three.

Scholastic Press February 2016

ChipWestern Australian author illustrator, Kylie Howarth was raised on an emu farm so presumably understands the fevered machinations of our feather-minded friends. Chip is like most other gulls…he adores fish and chips; can’t get enough of them in fact. Sadly, his obsession leads to total prohibition of all fried foodstuffs from Joe’s Chips Van until one day Chip cooks up an idea involving the rest of his seaside-clan. Together, with a little perseverance and a lot of verve, they convince Joe of their potential sales benefit to him and thus earn a place at his table. This is a deceptively simple book featuring cuter than cute seagull pictures, an extra surprise element within, and the commendable message that human food is perhaps not the best for our wild native buddies no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Fun reading for pre-schoolers with the potential to lead to real-life discussions.

The File Mile Press March 2016

Archie no ordinary slothHeath McKenzie is no stranger when it comes to capturing animal antics between the pages of picture books. Archie no ordinary sloth, is his latest creation featuring one of my favourites in the jungle, the ebullient sloth. Well, at least Archie is which is what immediately alienates him from the rest of his inactive tribe. Lonely and unable to accept his unsloth-like incongruities, Archie flees and happens upon a group of outcasts whose appearances and attitudes help him turn his own around. They convince him to return to his friends whom he discovers, are in grave danger. Will extra-ordinary Archie save the day? A charismatic little picture book full of McKenzie’s zest-filled drawings, lovable characters, and comical prose perfect for focusing on the usefulness of being different.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Big Bad Bears

Bear Make DenNot since Goldilocks and the Three Bears have I wanted to doss up under the same roof as a bear so much. Bear Make Den is the combined effort of Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner and is gloriously illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In a subtle uproarious salute to the home handy man, Godwin and Wagner reveal Bear’s Ikea-inspired side as he blunders through a bout of home renovations. As his den fills with furniture and other home-making necessities such as art and ovens for cake baking, it slow dawns on Bear that there is little point in having a great home if you’ve no one to share it with. EBear Make Den cake illo spreadlementary, bear-like prose roars into life within Joyner’s intelligently drawn pictures. Bear is someone I’d love to share cake with. Bear Make Den  is a splendid book to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early primary readers a like because of the scope of its vocabulary, visual story, and suggestion about ‘the value of relationships in making us happy’.

Allen & Unwin January 2016

A Beginners Guide to Bear SpottingIf you’re going to keep hanging around bears, you would be wise to swat up on Michelle Robinson’s and David Roberts’ Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. This big, hulking bear of a picture book is laugh-out-loud funny and constitutes a primary- schooler’s essential guide to surviving a walk through bear country. It patiently takes readers through a series of serious definitions whilst trying to focus young attention spans on the various dangers and attributes of the Black and the Brown bear, which as it turns out, are confusingly similar. By the end, we are none the wiser as to whether bears are truly sweet cuddly teddies in disguise or not, but sufficed to say, we were warned. In spite of the drop-bear being the most fearsome Ursus we Aussies have to contend with, Bear Spotting is still a convincing and very comical read. Robinson’s text is as wry and witty as it was in There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes, while Robert’s drop-dead brilliant illustrations read like a box-office smash. Highly recommended.

A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting illo spread jpgBloomsbury children’s Publishing Australia March 2016

 

It’s a Dog’s Life – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous ways.  

imageBob the Railway Dog, Corinne Fenton (author), Andrew McLean (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Based on a true, moving story, Corinne Fenton uses a beautiful, poetic tone to tell of the history of the progress of railway tracks across vast Australian landscapes dating back to 1884.

Bound to be rabbit hunters in outback South Australia, a cargo of homeless dogs enter the station. It is Guard Will Ferry who spots a smiling, irresistible pup amongst them – Bob. Bob becomes the Guard’s travelling companion, covering areas from wheat fields through to mining towns, all the way from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. For years he’d spring on and out many a train; his experiences expanded along with the tracks being laid. Bob was a part of it all. He befriended many, and even attended a range of special events like the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in New South Wales. Bob was a wanderer. He had spirit and gusto. He was the railway dog that everyone knew and loved, and his photograph remains at the Adelaide Station still to this day.

A fascinating, delightfully written retell of an important part of Australia’s importing / exporting and travel network development, with the focal element being the adorable four-legged adventurer that brings life and excitement to this momentous tale. Matching the lively nature of the story are the watercolour, charcoal and black pencil illustrations with their fine details, movement and energy. Andrew McLean uses suitably muted colours with an almost sepia-tone representing this era with class and perfection.

‘Bob the Railway Dog’ features a strong, loveable character with extraordinary audacity. It is a great addition to any home or early years classroom with a wonderful Australian historical and social background.  

imageDog and the Lost Leg, Carlee Yardley (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

With its charming sewn cotton and fabric characters, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a story with plenty of humour, interactivity and warmth.

It is always difficult to cope with the loss of something you’ve become quite attached to, particularly when it happens to be one of your legs! When Fox notices that Dog’s problem is caused by his missing leg, they embark on a mission to find it. Meeting other animals at their places of work, each one tries to help by offering a leg from the lost-and-found. Unfortunately, a motorbike boot from Bruno’s shop doesn’t quite fit, nor does a clawed foot from Harriet’s fruit market, and an assortment of tails from Pete the Peacock’s barber shop is definitely not right. A few giggles and some tears later, they finally approach Pip at her fabric shop. The leg that she sews looks a bit out of place, but it is perfect and puts the jiggle back in Dog’s tail.

A simple storyline with simple-looking yet adorable pictures (although I’m sure they would have been a lot of work to create) contains the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud moments and those of compassion from its preschool-aged readers. I can just hear those excitable shouts of “NO!” from the audience as they are questioned, “Is that Dog’s leg?”.

This book is an animated, engaging story of the case of a missing leg. With elements of problem solving, creativity, acceptance and wit, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a testament to the power of friendship and charity between diverse characters.  

imageThe Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend, Felicity Gardner (author), David West (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Here is another adorably funny book about dogs but with the inverse view of taking care of your best pet friend; the human.

Contrary to most picture books, this one is written for dogs. As an explanatory, informative text, the canine narrator describes all the important things there are to be known about ‘Best Friends’. But it is the way the pictures and words work together that capture humour and depth, and truly provide an eye-opening experience into the dog’s perspective. For example, apparently it’s alright to sit on the Best Friend’s face while they sleep because it is the dog’s job to wake them up if they sleep too long. Helpful gestures include taking out the rubbish, gardening, bringing in the washing and cleaning the toilet! All depicted with those cheeky, rascally behaviours that humans get annoyed about. But those astute pooches have perfect manipulation skills – the slight head tilt and the puppy dog eyes – works every time! And, dogs, even when the Best Friends do things that make no sense (such as strange haircuts and outfits), it’s your loyalty, protection, affection and love that will always get them on side.  

With vivacious, colourful illustrations that feature a mixture of media including watercolour, pencil and scanned newspapers and fabrics, this book captures a real sense of warmth, familiarity and truth. It contains the best elements about welcoming and loving a pet in your family, complete with all their accompanying antics.

‘A Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend’ fosters an appreciation for our pets in a heartwarming, refreshing and ‘waggish’ way, sure to be adored by anyone from age three.

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Picture Books for Halloween

Rather than terrifying the boots off you, these two gentle yet energetic picture books caper around the Halloween spirit whilst addressing themes of responsibility, friendship and teamwork at the same time. A perfect opportunity to share some magic, cheeky giggles and affection with your little ones.  

imageThe Witch’s Britches, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Raining magical underwear! Giant ice cream cones! Dancing squirrels! Sounds like the perfect concoction for a quirky, spellbinding Halloween story. Here is yet another marvel by classic funny-man, author P.Crumble and the talents of illustrator, Lucinda Gifford.

Chanted in rhyming couplets, the tale tells of the magic that comes from, not a wand, but in fact, britches! The undergarments of pixies, goblins and witches all have spell-casting abilities, but with two rules – don’t lose them, and keep them clean! Young witch Ethel goes to her biggest effort to retain their odour-free, magical freshness. Until one windy day Ethel faces a catastrophe as her britches are stolen by a gust of wind, and cause phenomenal havoc all over the town. Unsuspecting mortals are surprised by their sudden abilities to fly, encounters with abnormally-large babies and dog bones, and unforeseen visits to outer space. The whole park has turned into an exploding, edible and fantastical circus scene! But with the stamp of her foot, Ethel sets the town straight…and finds the perfect way to keep her britches in line, too.

More kooky than spooky, ‘The Witch’s Britches’ is a tale full to the brim with humour, fantasy and adventure. The watercolour and pencil illustrations are bold, vibrant and energetic, with plenty of details to take the reader on the imaginative journey with this diligent little witch.

Lots of fun for preschoolers this Halloween with a simple lesson in being responsible for your belongings!    

imageEmu’s Halloween, Anne Mangan (author), David Cornish (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.  

Emu wants to organise the scariest Halloween party anyone has ever seen. But she doesn’t know how. Luckily her eavesdropping Aussie animal friends have the perfect plan. The hilarious scenes begin as they all roll up to Emu’s place, dressed in the spookiest of outfits the outback has ever seen – a zombie Kangaroo, a floating Tassie Devil angel, the scruffiest Frankenstein Koala, a Red-Back Spider (need I say more?), a ghostly Cockatoo and a frightening Dracula Echindna. But will Emu appreciate their efforts? Of course! That is just the beginning!

A wonderfully creative array of Halloween crafts, decorations, games and nibbles are beautifully integrated to allow readers the tools for setting up a themed party of their own. From paper ghosts to skeletons made from sticks, how to make a witches’ brew, sandwitches and bobbing for apples, the animals celebrate in frighteningly spooktacular style.

Written in rollicking, exuberant rhyme, with illustrations that clearly match the story’s energy and the warmth of this gregarious group. A mixture of pencil and Photoshop, scanned paper and cloth textures add depth, softness and familiarity to the adorable characters and their fun antics.

‘Emu’s Halloween’ is a brilliant read-aloud book for kids (and adults) of all ages that not only outlines the perfect scary Halloween party, but is also is a beautiful reminder of friendship, togetherness, creativity and spirit that can be celebrated at any time of the year.  

Review – Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars

Molly and PimSometimes, it takes a little while for things to change from what they were to something different. Imagine a new seedling nudging its head up through the earth for the first time, no longer a seed, not yet a tree. This miraculous transformation of being represents the way I felt reading Martine Murray’s new mid-grade fiction, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. It took a little while for me to see the light emerge within this tale but when it did, it shone. I mean, who doesn’t love climbing trees? Aren’t we all a little attracted to the enigmatic silent types? And who hasn’t wanted to give it to their overbearing neighbours once and a while? These are some of the conundrums that claim Molly’s consideration, too.

Molly is an ordinary girl living a strange existence. She shares her strange life with a border collie named, Maude, an indifferent feline known as, Claudine and her Mama, who’s penchant for potions and picking herbs makes Molly cringe. She wishes for a life more run-of-the mill like her best friend, Ellen’s. Ellen’s mum puts food in packets in Ellen’s lunchbox and never picks herbs barefooted before breakfast. Ellen lives in a normal suburban brick home that in no way resembles the gypsy caravan that is Molly’s abode, at least that’s how she perceives the house she lives in.

Molly and Pim Claude collie illoThen there’s, Pim, the slightly left of field boy at school, whose aloofness and indifference intrigues Molly to the point of distraction. Molly is a little frightened and yet, truth be told, oddly compelled by his abstract ways but is unable to decide if he is friend or foe.

There is no time to find out because Molly and her mama are preparing for battle against ‘the world’s nastiest neighbours’, the ghastly Grimshaws from next door. In an effort to restore harmony, Molly’s mama suggests they grow a tree, a magnificent towering oak tree that will block out the beastly Grimshaws with its beauty. How does one grow an oak tree overnight, though? With the help of mama’s magic potions of course. Shockingly mama’s potion has devastating outcomes. A tree appears but is it all that it appears?

Following the loss of her mama, Molly must not only fend and feed herself and her small menagerie, often with hilarious results, but she must also come to terms with her own jagged dance of life. Through the pain of separation, the vacuum of loneliness, and the desperation of time running out, Molly discovers the beauty in the way her stars align and lets unfurl an inner power she barely knew existed.

This story is a series of beautiful realisations and discoveries as Molly climbs ever higher through her tree of life. You feel her mama’s presence fiercely in every inch of this story, which is both heartbreaking and reassuring. As Molly’s resources and resolve are tested, she finds solace in what was always her normal. Bolstered by Pim’s alliance and Ellen’s unyielding friendship, Ellen learns how it feels being part of the millions of stars that make up the world, her world and what power can issue forth from such awareness. With realisation comes heart and from within heart, courage is forged; ‘imagine if you were never scared of falling, how much higher you might climb’.

Martine Murray Murray uses generous doses of whimsy and magic to tell Molly’s tale of self-discovery and acceptance. The results are spellbinding. Weird but very wonderful, Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars will sweep young readers away. The line-drawn illustrations and inclusion of Molly’s notebook on herbs are the end are fetching additions to a book that grows with you and allows you to reflect on its fantasticalness long after the last page is turned. Molly certainly lit up my world.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars can be found in Boomerang’s exciting Kids’ Reading Guide 2015-2016.

The Text Publishing Company June 2015

Taking Action – Fun Books to Get Kids Moving

The beauty of children’s books is that they lend themselves to so many further experiences beyond the reading of the words. These three books contain just the right mix of language and animation to have you and your little ones practicing a few moves of your own.  

imagePuddles are for Jumping, Kylie Dunstan (author, illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

The first thing you’ll notice upon picking up this book are the awesome illustrations. Each spread is entirely created with bright, cut and pasted paper characters and scenes in primary colours, suiting its wet weather theme and straightforward storyline.

Kylie Dunstan cleverly takes her early primary-aged audience on this rainy adventure through the park, market, the neighbourhood and back home again to bed, simply by stating the actions in the words and demonstrating them in the pictures. Written in present tense, the short sentences are relatable and encourage young readers to focus on how different objects can be utilised in the most enjoyable way possible.

“Bottoms are for wriggling, Sisters are for laughing!” /
“Beds are for BOUNCING, Books are for sharing”.

‘Puddles are for Jumping’ is both visually and actively entertaining. This truly playful and joyous book is perfect for promoting experiences in the creative arts and movement areas, as well as supporting themes of friendship and citizenship.  

imageConga Dance, Amanda Tarlau (author), Jane Chapman (illus.), Koala Books, 2015.

Another book to get you on your feet is ‘Conga Dance’. As the title suggests, this euphoric story sashays from start to end with a toe-tapping, bounding, shaking and strutting line up of Aussie animals, progressively joining in the dance. I love how the language matches each of the characters’ traits and encourages dramatic play.

“Wombat’s next, whiskers shaking” /
“Cockatoo struts and squawks with laughter.”

Emu leads the rhythmic chant with six lively friends following on, until…someone gets in the way!
To match the rollicking, rhyming verse, the watercolour illustrations are gorgeously textured, soft and expressive, perfectly representing the warm and jovial atmosphere of these adorable, fun-loving creatures in the Australian bush.

‘Conga Dance’ exudes warmth, excitement and a totally care-free attitude that will have preschoolers shuffling, bopping and giggling along in repeated succession.  

imageOnce I Heard a Little Wombat, Renée Treml (author, illus.), Random House, 2015.

Inspired by the classic 19th century nursery rhyme ‘Once I Saw a Little Bird’ is Renée Treml‘s adorable Australian version, ‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’.

This particularly sweet board book for toddlers is a beautiful read aloud story that will no doubt have your little one joining in the action. Cleverly interactive, the tale talks in first person, immediately connecting the reader with the audience. And it’s only at the very end that the mystery of the narrator is revealed. Great for fostering prediction skills!  

Energetic rhyme and repetitive verbs in clumps of three hook the listener in for the ride as an array of animals display their typical behavioural characteristics. Sugar gliders bump and jump, bilbies scratch, snatch and hop, and puggles splish, splash and plop. Attempts are made to convince each one to stay and play, but the little creatures have their own agendas. Until a little stomping wombat comes around and is ready to play and romp, and then it is time for the pair to stop and flop together for a nap. But who is this mystery animal friend? Read it to find out!

In her characteristically unique and stunning style, Renée Treml‘s artwork is soothing, yet playful with her adorable black and white scratch-art fauna, each assigned a different pastel-coloured background.

‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’ is a delightful board book of perfect size and shape for little hands. With its exhibition of charming Australian animals and their habitats this lively romp has great learning potential, and is the perfect excuse for repeated read-alongs and role play action for all its early childhood readers.

Double the Size, Double the Fun – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re looking for picture books exploring friendships of massive proportions, then these two latest delights are for you. Perfect for melting any sized heart! 

imageBlue Whale Blues, Peter Carnavas (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.  

On first glance, I noticed something different about Peter Carnavas‘ most recent creation compared to his previous works. His books including ‘The Boy on the Page’, ‘Jessica’s Box’ and ‘Oliver and George’ are well-known for their adorable hand-painted characters and animated scenes.
In ‘Blue Whale Blues’, the illustrations are still adorable and animated, but with an extra element; texture. Each character on each page has been individually crafted and cut out, with additional bits of fabric and textured and patterned papers to create an eye-catching, sensory collage effect. The washes of blues dominating the mixture of double-page spreads and bubble-shaped vignettes most suitably compliment the mood. And just to top off that sensory experience, Carnavas and New Frontier have cleverly integrated an interactive MP3 audiobook to listen to and read along. Just brilliant!

It is poor Whale’s wallowing in his own grief that captures our attention from the outset. He struggles to understand simple, everyday objects and their functions, such as upside-down bikes (“It’s NOT a bike!”, I hear the audience shout), and the use of a helmet (no, it’s not really a helmet!). Lost in his ocean of pity, Whale sings himself a ‘blues’ tune every time he gets stuck. But thank goodness for his trusty, easy-going pal, Penguin. He knows just how to help (or does he?). Although Penguin and Whale don’t quite succeed in their ‘big’ plan, at least they can have a good ol’ laugh at themselves, even when things continue to go awry.

‘Blue Whale Blues’ will inspire fits of laughter, moments of close bonding, and a cheery sing-and-read-along experience. With strong characters; big in stature and big in heart, this hugely engaging tale of friendship, problem solving and optimism is bound to sweep preschoolers off their feet time and time again.  

Be sure to check out Peter’s book launch if you’re in the West End area of Queensland.  

imageAs Big as You, Sara Acton (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Sara Acton, much-loved author illustrator known for her gorgeous watercolour and line works of art, including picture books such as ‘Daddy Cuddle’, ‘Poppy Cat’, and ‘Bridie’s Boots’.
Her most recent creation is ‘As Big as You’, which, unlike the title suggests, defies gravity on a number of levels. First, the book’s rotation has been turned on its side, allowing for maximum impact to reflect its huge illustration proportions. Second, this story of one of the largest creatures on earth is so wonderfully light-hearted and whimsical to lift even the heaviest of spirits. And third, there is a part in the story that sees an elephant literally whizzing and zipping through the air like a weightless, deflating balloon! How extraordinary!

We are introduced to Claude, massively dominating the double-page, portrait-oriented spread, who is the father-figure to the little one crouched at the bottom of the page, Finlay. Finlay faithfully looks up to Claude, attempting the same triumphant feats as his elder, only to discover they are abysmal in comparison. So with every ounce of his might, Finlay tries his hand at greatness and climbs a tall tree. (Then comes the part where he resembles an out-of-control balloon). But reuniting with Claude is the reassurance and comfort that he needs to know that there is no hurry to grow up. Tickles, fat raspberries on tummies and a safe place to belong are suitably the best.

‘As Big as You’ is lively and interactive, with absolutely relatable characters. It beautifully captures the magic of childhood and the essence of perspective, loving relationships and independence, and reminds young readers to relish these playful and innocent moments.

Picture Books of Beauty

Finding the extraordinary hidden in the simplest of things is like discovering a little piece of magic. Take a moment to stop and breathe in the beauty around you. You’ll find wonder in the most imaginative places! Whether you enjoy time in solitude, with a partner or a group, these few beautiful books help remind us all of the treasures in our world; nature, love and friends.  

the-red-featherThe Red Feather, Ben Kitchin (author), Owen Swan (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

With its calming and gentle illustrations using soft, muted beachy blues and yellows, and delicately written, warming story, ‘The Red Feather’ symbolises tenderness, resilience and autonomy.
When a group of young children visit the seaside, it is Claude who finds the red feather first. Wanting it for himself, he takes a light approach; patting it and wearing it in his hair…until he feels hungry and swaps it for a whole watermelon. One by one, the children delight in its flexibility, including singing, twirling, cuddling, dancing, and jumping with the small red quill. And one by one they take turns to trade it (although hesistantly) when something else is needed…until they feel lonely. Finally they discover that playing cooperatively is much more satisfying…until the red feather finds a new owner.

This simple story of resourcefulness, sharing and friendship stands out as one of beauty, just like the bright red feather that joyfully glides and swishes throughout the pale background scenery. ‘The Red Feather’ is an enchanting story to encourage preschoolers to see the value in togetherness; a single feather may look beautiful on its own, but imagine its beauty in full plumage.  

a-riverA River, Marc Martin (author, illus.), Viking Penguin, 2015.

This stunning book by Marc Martin encourages the solidarity of imagination in a world that is far greater, but no less beautiful, than a single feather. From the gorgeous, embossed front cover, to the endpapers that signify the beginning and ending of the story, with plenty of hidden clues to draw us in, it is easy to become totally entranced by this book.
A girl sits at her desk overlooking an expansive, crowded city with a single winding river flowing through it. In her little boat, she imagines floating amidst speeding cars on motorways, smoky factory buildings, patchwork fields of crops on farms, lush green valleys, gushing waterfalls, and through jungles and rainforests like the Amazon. And as the darkness sets upon her, she sails into open, and sometimes gusty seas until the raindrops on her window bring her back to the reality of her bedroom, and she notices the glimmering moonlight shining on her silver boat ready for another adventure.

Magnificently detailed, soothing landscapes on double page spreads and whimsically constructed poetic text beautifully compliment each other, effectively taking the reader on this tranquil journey with the little girl. Just divine!  

51CY7krRqaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Yak and Gnu, Juliette MacIver (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books Australia, 2015.

In another river ride adventure, Yak and Gnu are the best of friends. In rollicking rhyming text, this unsual pair sing and row along peacefully in their kayaks, believing that their ingenuity is unlike any other beast known to…beast. Until they encounter a goat in a boat. Now there are no other beasts like them, except for Goat. Carrying on their journey to the sea, Yak and Gnu are surprised and disgruntled each time they meet other sailing, rafting, floating and hovercrafting wild animals. Initially able to count these intruders of the water, the numbers appearing, and the ways they travel become more and more ridiculous and overwhelming. Concluding with an exquisite sunset, Yak and Gnu come to realise the beauty of their friendship to each other overrides any notion of originality or superiority.

Wildly bold and animated watercolour illustrations and entertaining rhythmic, read-aloud language, Yak and Gnu will have young readers in bursts of giggles from start to finish.  

Teacup-coverTeacup, Rebecca Young (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.

In one word – breathtaking. The irrefutable talent of illustrator Matt Ottley is sublimely showcased with texture and depth in this profound tale written by Rebecca Young. Her poetic text has a sophisticated tone with its ability to evoke emotive feelings and strong imagery in one’s heart and mind.
Experiencing days of serene white backdrops, calming whale sounds and the gentle, whistling sea breeze, together with times of darkness and cruelty, a young boy has no choice but to flee on a courageous journey to find a new life. Memories from home flood his heart but these reflections carry him forward. Amongst his few possessions, a simple teacup filled with earth, becomes the fruitful treasure that ties the uncertainty of the sea to the prosperous future that was just a whisper away.

‘Teacup’ is a poignant, powerful story of displacement, change and hope. It is a stunning gem aimed to promote the understanding of social issues and human rights, and also one that primary school aged children are sure to appreciate for its majestic beauty.
Read Dimity’s captivating review of ‘Teacup’ here.  

small-and-bigSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

With large, clear font, this gentle story tells of two friends that are like polar opposites; a self-assured boy called Big and his little, timid lizard-like pet, Small. Their perspectives on the world differ greatly. Big bellows in the city streets, admiring the huge buildings and long streets. Small curiously observes autumn leaves and trickles of water. He ends up following slippery snail trails, a scampering mouse and a feather, until he realises he’s lost. In his desperate attempt to find his way back to Big, Small must think ‘big’ thoughts. It takes this near tragedy for both to realise what matters most in this life…each other.

With a gorgeous array of watercolours and pencil sketches, bright colours and mixture of busy scenes and stark, lonely white pages, the illustrations and narrative effectively capture moments of joy, wonder, urgency and despair. ‘Small and Big’ is a sweet, heartwarming tale of friendship, appreciating each others’ unique differences, and a world of beauty. Primary school aged children of any size and personality will adore this ‘little book with a big heart’.

Love Thy Pets – Picture Book Reviews

Why do animals feature so heavily in picture books? 1. They are so relatable. 2. They provide a sense of comfort and nurturing. 3. They reinforce positive emotions and behaviours such as empathy. Whether these animals are represented as their true natures or anthropomorphically, children (and adults) feel connected to these cute characters and regard them with affection. The notion of being responsible for one, and all the playfulness that they have to offer is one that appeals to many. Here are a few heartwarming and imaginative picture books about pets that capture the love between the most unlikely of friends.

imageBig Pet Day, Lisa Shanahan (author), Gus Gordon (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2014.
Shortlisted in 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (5 – 8 years).

What an exciting day at school! ‘Big Pet Day’ is a tale of mammoth exuberance as Lily’s class celebrate the individual qualities and talents of their pets. Much to her dismay, Mrs Dalton’s classroom quickly becomes a disorganised chaotic mess. The principal, Mr Fisher, will be judging the best pet later that day, so keeping everyone under control is of the utmost importance. There is a runaway ferrett, a pooping pony, and a cordial-drinking puppy. Lily’s pet dragon is very well-behaved though, but she is the only one who knows how special he is. In a hilarious finale, involving a squealing, hermit crab-fearing Mr Fisher, it is Lily’s dragon who is now ‘seen’ as the most deserving gold trophy winner.

The text by Lisa Shanahan is absolutely comical, with many personalities evident – the cheekiest would have to be Mrs Dalton! There is a lot to discover, with the various children and the shenanigans of their pets, and illustrator Gus Gordon covers all these aspects expertly with charm and humour. I love the page with the kids looking exactly like their pet counterparts! Gorgeous! His use of scanned images, adorable hand-drawn characters and fine details (like Mrs Dalton’s book titled ‘Pet Management’) allow for hours of perusal and plenty of giggles.

‘Big Pet Day’ is perfect for primary school aged children (and their teachers), with scope for open discussions on pets (real and imagined), classroom management, friendship and loyalty. This book is both entertaining and heartwarming. It’s a winner!

imageMe and Moo, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

Here’s another delightful story that explores the imaginative relationship between a child and his best friend, in this case, it’s ‘Me and Moo’. This pair are inseparable and it is clear from the outset that they have formed an instant bond by the corresponding t-shirts they wear (‘I’m with Moo’ and ‘I’m with Me’). Just like introducing any new member to the family, there are adjustments to be made. Once raising Moo to be a walking, flower-eating, disguise-wearing little calf, it is soon Moo who is doing the raising when he no longer fits underneath the bed. Mum and Dad set the rules, and the boy narrator dutifully takes his responsibilities seriously. He even discovers that his friends own talented, fun-loving pets, too. The animal antics don’t stop there with one final surprise that is sure to have readers hanging out for the next instalment.

Whimsical and hysterical, the text and pictures are dynamic and completely compatible, just like Me and Moo. The illustrations by Eckstrom are animated and strong, yet maintain a soft and soothing feel that exudes warmth, humour and frivolity all at the same time.

‘Me and Moo’ is a gentle and charming tale of unlikely friendships and responsible pet ownership that will have preschoolers demanding for more.

imageWhat Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Suess (author, illus.), Random House Children’s Books US, 2015.

Only just being released, I haven’t got my paws on this one as yet. From what I can gather, this book seems quite the controversial one. Having been written in the 1950s, (discovered shortly after he died in 1991) it is likely to include outdated cultural ideologies, but then again, haven’t those Suess classics stood the test of time?

It is a story about a pair of children facing the dilemma of choosing just one pet to keep. Whilst it is said to maintain some of the legend’s imaginative spirit with its whimsical poetry and a wacky, gangly-looking creature to spark our curiosity, amongst the realness of dogs, cats and goldfish there are also important, modern day questions raised in line of animal rights and seeking a life-long pet companion, and imposing such rules and decision making processes on children of this age.

When you get a chance to sneak a peek at ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ I’d love to hear your thoughts on this ‘hidden treasure’.

Georgie Donaghey in the Spotlight; ‘Lulu’ Makes her Debut

Georgie DonagheyIt’s not enough to just want something and hope that it will be delivered  to you on a silver platter. Unfortunately for most of us, life isn’t that simple. What we try to teach our kids is that you absolutely can achieve your aspirations, your goals, your dreams, but it takes work, persistence and determination. In this same fashion, this is all too true for first time picture book author, Georgie Donaghey. Her dedication to her writing, the foundation of the successful Creative Kids Tales for emerging authors, and the establishment of The Author’s Shelf, are all what make her journey to publication so inspiring.

Her new book, ‘Lulu’, gorgeously illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn, published by Dragon Tales Publishing, is simply scrumptious! Lulu; a sweet, ice-fishing polar bear, has a dream. A dream to dance. With courage and resolve, Lulu abounds success, but in the end she discovers that all the popularity in the world doesn’t compare to the comfort and affection of family and friends. And she enjoys the best of both worlds.

Read Dimity’s fab full review of the divine Lulu here.

Now, let’s take a peek into the creative mind of Georgie Donaghey.

Georgie & CharlotteCongratulations on the latest release of your first picture book, ‘Lulu’! How did you be celebrate its launch?  

With lots of family and writer friends at Sutherland Shire Library. Over 100 people attended.  It was like a dream.  Susanne Gervay launched Lulu, and I was joined by Deborah Abela, Emma Cameron, Di Bates, Bill Condon and lots of other well-wishers. I wanted to make sure my first launch was extra special so went a little crazy making polar bear cupcakes, chocolates, a Lulu slice (just like LCM’s), goody bags, craft activities such as colouring sheets, polar bear masks.  I read Lulu to the kids on an iceberg made from white faux fur and cushions.    

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

I am one of those crazy authors where their characters speak to them.  Lulu actually began in the playground of my daughter’s school.  I was tapping away on my iPad while waiting to do my first author talk to my daughter’s class, and the opening line popped into my head.  ‘Polar Bear’s life was quite cosy and nice, with mountains of fish and even more ice.’  Lulu’s name came during the publishing stage.  

How does ‘Lulu’ resonate with you?  

Lulu followed her dream no matter what obstacles were in her way.  I, like many other authors, have received too many rejections to count.  Instead of being discouraged I wear them like a badge of honor and continue to believe and follow my dreams.    

‘Lulu’ has a beautiful underlying theme of ambitiousness and following one’s dreams. What special message would you like Lulu’s readers to take away from the story?  

If you work hard and believe in your dreams, anything is possible.  

Lulu‘Lulu’ is written with a graceful poetic rhythm, perfectly suiting your charming polar bear dancer. Do you often write in rhyme, and is this your preferred style of writing?  

I’m not fond of rhyme only because you have to be spot on with it.  You can’t fool kids, the rhyme has to flow.  To publish a poorly written book is a disaster so I tried to fight the rhyme and just write Lulu as a story but clearly the rhyme won.  Would I do it again?  Well Lulu has a brother who has a story to tell and I am also working on another rhyming manuscript about an octopus.  Fingers crossed.    

What were your most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating ‘Lulu’?  

Challenging would be of course getting the rhyme just right.  I experienced both highs and lows from conception to launch.  You need a thick skin, and a lot of patience in this industry to deal with rejections and obstacles you face along the way.    

Lulu twinkledI love illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn‘s soft, pastel-looking textures and delicate shades of blues and pinks. What was it like collaborating with her? How much creative license did you allow Ann-Marie in the design process?  

As with most publishers the illustrator was appointed by the publisher.  There was no collaboration between Ann-Marie and I.  I think there was only one brief chat with Kaylene and then Ann-Marie just did her own thing.  Needless to say I am very happy with how Lulu turned out.  Ann-Marie is also a Director of Dragon Tales Publishing.  

How would you describe your first publishing experience with Dragon Tales Publishing?  

An experience to remember.  

Your literary websites ‘Creative Kids Tales’ and ‘The Author’s Shelf’ are fantastic resources for emerging authors and illustrators, and have brought their readers and listeners a plethora of inspirational information and entertainment over the past 4 years. What has been your most valuable piece of advice given or favourite experience with a visiting author?  

Thanks for the lovely comments.  Gosh! How long is a piece of string?  I loved chatting with all my guests on The Author’s Shelf and took something away from each interview.  Probably the stand-outs would have to be Posie Graeme-Evans (creator of McLeod’s Daughters, Hi5 and many other great Aussie dramas), Jackie French.  In fact Jackie and I had such a good time on air she came back for a second show.  
Tony Flowers & Nick Falk were fun to interview together.  Tony joined me in the studio and illustrated in between answering questions with Nick.  Andy Griffiths was a delight, and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) was lots of fun too.  
For Creative Kids Tales I have interviewed 38 guests including Mem Fox, Graeme Base, Jacqueline Harvey, Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell, Leigh Hobbs, Nick Bland, Paul Jennings and many other household names.  That number is growing with guests lined up well into 2016.  
I have received lots of valuable tips over the last few years.  The best way to share them is via my Top Tips page http://www.creativekidstales.com.au/tips/top-tips.  One of the pages on CKT I am most proud of is the testimonials page.  Beautiful words from beautiful people …………  

Can you tell us a bit about your experience speaking at the 10th CYA Conference? What an exciting honour!  

I thought hosting a fortnightly radio show was nerve-racking and then chairing a panel at last year’s Kids & YA Festival at the NSW Writers’ Centre was enough to give me butterflies on my butterflies.  I have been to a few CYA’s now and have proudly worn the hat of chief tweeter.  Again this year I juggled tweeting and posting on Facebook for the duration of the conference.  Standing at that microphone and delivering my speech to 160 attendees was fun and nerve-racking.  My four minutes flew by, and I had many comments from attendees saying my journey resonated with them.  They were comforted by the fact our journeys were similar, and they were inspired to continue chasing their dreams.    

What’s next for Georgie Donaghey? What other projects do you have on the go?

I’m always setting the bar higher.  I have a lot of things planned for Creative Kids Tales, and The Author’s Shelf is beginning to take shape into something new and very exciting.  It’s a bit hush hush at the moment.  I’m writing, editing and submitting.  Fingers crossed I can announce my next book soon.    

Thank you for your insights into your publishing journey, Georgie! Looking forward to seeing more from you!

Thanks, Romi, it’s been a lot of fun.

Click on the links to get in touch with Georgie Donaghey at Creative Kids Tales and on Facebook.

Review – Lulu

LuluAt first glance, life on the icy floes may seem appealing. (Unless you reside in SE Queensland as I do with no real concept of what cold is until you have to live through ‘an unseasonably cold winter’ with little more than a cotton tee-shirt and a pair of bed socks). In Lulu’s world, there is more ice than you can shake an Eskimo at and ‘mountains of fish’ to sate the largest appetite. What more could a young polar bear desire? Yet like many of us closeted in the everyday cosiness of the familiar, Lulu harbours dreams and a hankering to fulfil them.

Lulu’s name ribbons across the sweetly simple cover of Georgie Donaghey’s debut picture book, Lulu. Along with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn, Donaghey has created a tale that will strike at least two chords with many young readers aged three and above: the need to chase one’s desires no matter how ambitious and dancing.

Lulu illoExpounding these themes, Donaghey uses carefully nurtured verse to draw the reader along with Lulu who sets off alone in pursuit of her dream of performing on the big stage. It’s not really a case of running away, rather running to somewhere. Pirouetting on the snow for her Arctic friends just doesn’t cut it for her anymore and in true grass-is-greener style, or in this case, the lights-are-brighter-than-the-aurora-borealis style, Lulu eventually conquers her ambitions, finds her place on stage and performs for many seasons in the big city.

It’s a life filled with glamour and fame, highbrow audiences and gratifying reviews but sadly not with true friends. Turns out, the ice is greener after all and eventually the call of home lures Lulu back.

Donaghey does well to point out to young readers that it’s okay to have dreams and great aspirations. We don’t always attain our goals, but sometimes, if we want them hard enough, dreams do come true. Lulu was lucky enough to experience the realisation of her strongest desires but also to realise that her most steadfast believers, her friends would always be there waiting for her no matter how far away her dreams took her. This conveys a positive message of security for children, stressing the importance of being self-assured.

Ann-marie Finn Finns’ considered colour choices for the illustrations are uncomplicated revealing mood, time and place with minimal clutter. White space replicates the vast pristine landscape of Lulu’s home with subtle colour shifts and blends from polar blues and whites to snowflake- pretty sunset yellows used to maximum effect on what could have been a monochromatic environment to illustrate. Little blips of pink provide contrast and encourage little eyes to focus on Lulu, the true star of the show.Lulu illo spread

With its soft matt cover (in this paperback edition), comfortable rhythm, and pleasing artwork it is hard not to be warmed by this story set on the ice.

Georgie DonagheyPop over to Romi’s interview with Lulu author, Georgie Donaghey now for more interesting insight into the creation of this plucky little polar bear and the fiercely determined creator behind her.

Lulu is now available, here.

Dragon Tales Publishing June 2015

Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Gregg Dreise

As one strolls about this wondrous planet, one encounters a variety of individuals who may astound, influence, enrich, or even, deplete you. Not everyone we meet ends up a friend. Life is often an ongoing cycle of trials and consequences. How we survive and interpret the progression of life builds character and shapes us as individuals. Some like Maliyan, the Eagle look, listen, and learn. Others like Wagun, the wombah thigaraa, a silly bird disdain the words of the wise often to their ultimate detriment.

Silly Birds Silly Birds by author illustrator Gregg Dreise, is an indigenous new picture book that focuses on the oft heard yet frequently ignored adage that it is ‘hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys’. At once dramatic and charming, this light-hearted yet meaningful narrative fostered from family yarns and a love of sharing (Dreamtime) morals reminds young readers that respect for each other, the environment in which they dwell and above all else, themselves is the true measure of power. Beautifully illustrated by Gregg, Silly Birds evokes the vivid spirit of the Dreamtime, depicting both the soaring majesty of Maliyan and the Elders and the reckless scorn of poor misguided Wagun, the silly turkey, with understated sensitivity.

Gregg Dreise is one of those individuals who fills the room the moment he cracks a smile. Recently, I had the immense pleasure of meeting and learning more about the impassioned creator and educator behind Silly Birds and today share his incredible art and deep respect and admiration for family at the Draft Table.

Gregg DreiseWho is Gregg Dreise? Describe your writerly / illustrating self. Which role describes you best?

I am proud. I am proud of my family, of where they have come from and where they are heading too. I am proud of my father Rod, a mechanic (I follow in his footprints building old cars all pre 1940s). He taught me that you can do anything that you put your mind too – if you give it a go and practice. I am proud of my mother Lyla, she has always had the gift of storytelling (especially through ballads). I am proud of my relatives; our families have ongoing stories of talented family musicians, artists, dancers, and athletes. I am proud of my brothers, sisters, and brother/sister in-laws. Almost all of us have worked hard to finish university (some even with Masters Degrees and Doctorates). I am proud of my children; they know to listen, learn lots and try their hardest. They are showing great signs of keeping family traditions alive with storytelling and art. They usually help open my book launches with traditional dance. I am proud to be a part of my dad’s family tree originating in Germany. And my mum’s family tree, originating from the Gamilaroi (Grandad / Knox) and Yuwalayaay (Grandma / Simpson) people. I am a proud cancer survivor. I am proud to be a teacher, I love to educate and entertain at the same time.  I am an entertainer. Writing, oral storytelling, painting, playing musical instruments…. they all take me (and hopefully my audience) to the days before television and computers. I love to take an opportunity to captivate and teach morals at the same time.

Is Silly Birds your first picture book? How does it make you feel seeing it out on the shelves? What is it that pleases you most about it?

Silly Birds is my first published book. I sent a manuscript off almost ten years prior, it was accepted, and then I got cancer inside my spinal cord. (The diagnosis was 6 months to live, luckily, the recovery was years.) Sadly, that manuscript/contract/and the lady who worked for Scholastic no longer works there. So that book never made it to the shelves.  It is so exciting when you see the first ones in shops. I don’t think that excitement has ever wavered. I love the morals. I think my artwork is very unique too.

The inspiration for this story came from your Uncle, Reg Knox. What appealed to you about his story and made you want to celebrate it?

Definitely the morals. When I was younger, I used to listen to and later did a couple of murals and school talks with Uncle Reg. He has always known how to tell a yarn. Sadly, age is catching up to him. Gladly, he has done so much. He is an inspiration. He has artwork in The Vatican, and an award from the Queen. National NAIDOC Elder of the Year, and more. He doesn’t brag about these things, but someone should share this with the world to celebrate. He has an exhibition (Muliyan-Go Reg Knox Retrospective) at the Logan Gallery in November. I hope this helps to bring back great memories that he has lost.

Silly Birds broaches the topics of family relationships, cultural differences, unlikely friendships, and social imbalance. What is the main idea you are trying to share with young readers?

Silly birds IlloChoose your friends wisely. Friends should be fun, but they shouldn’t change you into someone you never wanted to be. If other friends and family are reaching out trying to help you see what you are missing – look, listen and respect their guidance.

Maliyan endures a rite of passage and a fair bit of internal conflict before he emerges stronger and wiser. He regains the respect of his Elders and the younger, formerly ‘silly birds’ but his friendship with Wagun cannot be saved. Why is it important to show this eventual division of loyalties? Is this a key aspect of Dreamtime stories, to show the differences between right and wrong?

It is definitely an aspect of Dreamtime stories; they don’t ‘all’ live happily ever after. It is an analogy of life; that we don’t always remain friends with all of the people from the past. Sometimes we grow and move on. Wagun only creates the division with his stubbornness. Silliness can develop into maturity, however stubbornness can develop into loneliness.

I love your illustrated traditional line and dot paintings accompanying this story. How do you think this style enhances the integrity of your tale? What sort of symbolism did you infuse?

Silly birds Maliyan illoI really wanted the paintings to have texture to them. Like old paintings. I love it when I see people rub their hands over the cover – like they are going to feel the blobs of paint. (My Miss 9 actually did! Dimity) I knew that the artwork couldn’t be totally traditional. Too much symbolism would confuse my target audience (young children). Therefore, skies and horizons were added, but I kept the earth connected to spirits. Even some smart children have noticed that the Rainbow Spirit in the earth leaves when the billabong is being disrespected.

Had you considered a less traditional style of illustration for this book? Would you ever incorporate other illustrative styles and techniques into subsequent Dreamtime tellings?

The one definite thing I know about these stories is that if I can’t illustrate them, then someone from my tribe should. I wouldn’t publish Dreamtime morality tales with less tradition. I am currently writing a chapter book for upper Primary students, and the illustrations for the edges of the pages are designed like comic books. Keep an eye out for “The Adventures of Captain Wombah” coming out in hopefully the not so distant future. I am also writing an inspirational picture book, about being proud of my culture. I have been working with my niece (an art student) to illustrate that. She does beautiful portraits of young indigenous faces.

We are all surrounded by turkeys from time to time. Are you ever tempted to be one yourself? Do you think Wagun and turkeys like him could ever change, eventually?

Like lots of authors, there are bits of your characters in you. I was once a teenage boy. I was loud, tried to be funny, and looked for an audience. Yes, there are bits of Wagun in me. My next book Kookoo Kookaburra, is all about a story teller that took things too far. I am sure in my attempts to entertain as a teenager, I crossed the line and was very much a turkey. Luckily, I have always tried surround myself with motivated and proud people. As they say “no-one is perfect”. Support, guidance and honesty, can go a long way. I do act wombah (crazy) every time I do a live show!

What’s on the storyboard for Gregg Dreise?

Kookoo Kookaburra Silly Birds is a part of hopefully a bird trilogy. Silly Birds 2014; Kookoo Kookaburra 2015; Mad Magpie 2016??? The Adventures of Captain Wombah is almost ready to send to the publishers. I have finished two other picture books that I am in the process of sending off, “Dreamtime Dance” and “My Culture, My Spirit & Me. Plus there is a top secret chapter book for adult fiction slowly coming to life. I am about to record the song/animation for Kookoo Kookaburra – Look out for it on Youtube soon. I would love to find the time to record an album of my own soft rock music. A friend and I are looking to form a band (we both lack time), it has been years since I was out and about gigging. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day.

Just for fun question. If you were given a chance to go back and reinvent yourself, what would you change and why?

I would change something that a lot of my family doesn’t have. We have talent, but we don’t have self-promotion. Over the years, I have seen talented people who can’t sell or promote themselves – their talent goes sadly unnoticed. I have also met ‘very’ driven people (with less talent) make it. Please support new talent. Go to a young local art exhibition – Don’t wait for a big name tour. Go see an up and coming band for $10 over a famous one for $500+

When you find a great one – tell everyone you know about it. It just might start a career for someone, before they give up on their dreams.

Thanks Gregg!

Discover the delightful, Silly Birds, here.

Kookoo Kookaburra is just released and available, here.

Magabala Books June 2014

 

Review – One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich

9780987380951Inspired by a true story, One Step at a Time exposes the unfortunate reality of the global landmine crisis through the prism of a friendship between a young boy and an elephant. Writer Jane Jolly and artist Sally Heinrich handle this subject with such deftness and clarity to ensure young readers grasp the predicament facing an estimated 70 countries around the world.

According to a 2003 edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, over 110 million mines had been spread throughout the world in an estimated 70 countries in the preceding 65 years. These indiscriminate weapons cost around $1 to produce, but around $1,000 to find and destroy, and the vast majority of incidents occur in regions with limited resources and substandard medical infrastructures. These are man-made devices afflicting dastardly mortality rates. The landmine crisis is real, and needs to be talked about.

Of course, the information above is as an ethereal backdrop to the story rather than its focus. One Step at a Time is actually a very uplifting tale. It begins with Mali, a young elephant exploring the border of Thailand and Burma, merrily going about her day, until one misplaced footstep sets off a landmine. Sally Heinrich portrays the devastation of the blast with a powerful two-page spread of black smoke and an enormous BOOM! printed in fiery red. When the smoke clears, poor Mali is clearly injured; unable to stand, utterly helpless. All because she trod on a bad patch of grass.

Thankfully a young boy, Luk, finds Mali, and supports her during her long recovery. They’re kindred spirits: both are victims of landmines, and both are fitted with prosthetic legs. Luk explains to Mali the arduous physiotherapy involved when adjusting to walking with prosthesis, but ensures she’ll be able to do so, and very soon she’ll be able to carry on as before, gaily exploring the jungle. Only from now on, she’ll have a companion: young Luk.

Ultimately a story about friendship and about overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, One Step at Time handles the subject of landmines with a soft touch. Working in wonderful harmony, Jolly and Heinrich have created an endearing tale for young readers that is both poignant and enlightening.  Children wanting to learn more will gain valuable insight from the page of facts at the book’s end, while there is plenty of information on the web about the inspiration for Mali, Mosha the elephant, who thrives with her prosthetic leg.

Simon McDonald

www.writtenbysime.com

Buy the book here…

Review – Thelma the Unicorn

We’re all familiar with the theme of acceptance and being content with whom and what we are. It’s been relayed a thousand ways, right. But have you ever discovered self-worth with the aid of a carrot? Thelma has.

Thelma the Unicorn Aaron Blabey’s dazzling new picture book, Thelma the Unicorn not only deals with this theme in a fresh, clean, pink unicorny way but it has a sparkly front cover to boot; guaranteeing extra eye-appeal.

Thelma is a little ordinary pony who yearns for loftier heights. She dreams of being a prancing, pampered unicorn, the sort that never goes unnoticed. She believes this will elevate her into special-dom.

Her best mate, Otis tries to convince her otherwise. ‘You’re perfect as you are,’ he insists. But Thelma isn’t having a bar of it. When she spots a carrot on the ground, ideas of grandeur and transformation take serious hold and after a truck incident involving pink paint and glitter, she reinvents herself as, Thelma the Unicorn.

A shimmering star is born Thelm illo spreadas she sashays before a world that quickly becomes obsessed with her glamour. Intoxicated with her newfound fame, Thelma laps up the attention.

However, with great recognition often comes diminished privacy as Thelma soon discovers. Adoration rapidly turns into possession and Thelma’s life just as wildly slides out of her control. Until that is when one night she can no longer stand the isolation of fame and makes yet another life-altering decision.

Aaron BlabeyI truly love Blabey’s rendition of this tried and tested theme. The lilting rhyming text lopes along at a much more satisfying pace than Pig the Pug did for me (apologies to any Pug fanatics). It is a real pleasure to read.

I have always been a fan of Blabey’s bulbous-eyed human depictions as well, but really enjoyed the simple, long-lashed beauty of Thelma and Otis, who sit harmoniously alongside his quirky human character illustrations.

Tongue in cheek humour pops up regularly in the text and illustrations throughout Thelma’s foray into fame-dom, which helps to point out to young readers that all things that glitter are not necessarily that attractive in the long run and it’s okay being who you are even without a horn stuck on your head. Thelma the Unicorn is the perfect kind of ‘special’ to share with three-year-olds and above.

Feel good and funny.

Out this month and available, here.

Scholastic Press February 2015

 

Review – Big Hug Books

For many oThe Playground is like the Junglef you, by now your little ones will be well and truly back into the school routine. Apart from the usual school-related requirements, you may have also restocked your return-to-school library, determined to share the educational and emotional journey your child is embarking on, perhaps for the first time. You will find some of those terrific school-ready titles here.

But what if the ensuing days might not exactly pan out as expected for your little ones, or even for you for that matter? What happens when your child’s feelings are derailed by a minor incident that they allow to escalate into a damaging problem and subsequently feel powerless to overcome? How can you help them get back on track smoothly?

Like manyShona Innes, I find some of the answers in books, picture books. Newcomer to writing for children but experienced child whisperer and clinical and forensic psychologist, Shona Innes together with The Five Mile Press has released a series of books under the banner, Big Hug Books.

Big Hug Books are essentially that; picture books that wrap young children and their carers up in issue specific stories that enable readers to understand and embrace problem situations and learn solutions to overcome them. And we all know how benefThe Internet is like a Puddleicial a great hug can be.

There are four in the series so far with two new January releases, The Playground is like the Jungle and The Internet is like a Puddle. Innes uses age appropriate analogies to illustrate the many positive attributes of each situation a child encounters then progresses to the less positive things that could occur between friends, within relationships, during periods of loss, and living in our modern world. Her expressive text, while a little laboured and repetitive at times does adequately reiterate and reinforce the choices available to all young people and the reasons why they should react in certain ways.

The puddle metaphor used to establish how deep and unassuming Internet use can be in The Internet is like a Puddle, is particularly clever and useful. It is a topic we should all be aux fait with considering the tender age that our offspring are exposed to such digital media these days.

Irisz AgocsIrisz Agocs’ playful watercolour illustrations provide the much needed focus and fun to keep youngsters riveted to the main theme of each book. Animal characters depict children in a consistently comical yet sensitive way.

Easy to read footnotes at the end of each story gives parents, teachers and carers time to take in what they have read and arm them with more insight into each particular topic of discussion. Conveniently, this eliminates the need to some degree that every (new) parent feels to read and memorise every how-to-parent book available on earth.

While titles in the Big Hug Books series will not remedy every problematic situation you and your child will encounter, they do tackle the more common ones in a format that promotes acknowledging, seeking and solving the dilemma together, parent and child. In my eyes that is as valuable as any hug.Big Hug illo spread

Suitable for older pre-schoolers and primary aged children.

The Five Mile Press January 2015

 

Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
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Mission Accomplished! Renee Price Launches ‘Digby’s Moon Mission’

New and local indie author, Renee Price, has recently released the growingly popular Digby’s Moon Mission, just in time for Christmas. Fostering children’s natural curiosity and their young imaginations are key elements to creating a successful picture book, and ones that Renee elicits in her picture book.

Bza6SorCYAAMLHqDigby Fixit is a curious boy with a keen interest in a ‘banana-thin’ moon. With his dishevelled appearance and abundance of energy, Digby enlists the help of his friends; creating havoc in his poor mum’s kitchen, to embark on a mission to solve the mystery of the slivered moon. It takes a whole week to concoct the clever plan with a delicious array of gourmet meals, which most surprisingly, are catapulted into the vast atmosphere that is space.
Day after night, Digby measures the moon’s illumination, from starving to full to exploding, until it is a perfectly plump ball bursting with light. But it is also bursting with food! How will the moon react?  

Renee Price’s text delightfully integrates a mix of fun, age-appropriate vocabulary and dialogue with whimsical rhyming prose. Illustrations by Anil Tortop are colourful, humorous and expressive; perfectly suiting the action and wit in the storyline. The smoothness and softness of the drawings and colour palette are also a fine fit with the lush feel of the pages. Digby’s Moon Mission is a ‘super-duper’, charming and imaginative story; exploring teamwork, diversity and plenty of teachable concepts. Children from two years old will enjoy this adventure all the way to the moon and back again, and again, and again!  

renee price head shotI’m excited to talk to Renee Price about her journey to publishing her new book.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Digby’s Moon Mission!
Thank you, Romi! Wow. “The release of your first picture book.” I think it’s still sinking in! J  

Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
My eldest child. He is always enlightening me with his take on the world. One night, we were looking up at the sky and he noticed that the moon was only a “little” moon. We talked about why the moon may appear this way, and his theories had me fascinated. So, I wrote them down and turned them into a book. I have a long list of notes taken from our wonderful conversations.  

Digby’s Moon Mission contains a beautiful mixture of whimsical phrasing and rollicking rhyme. Is this your preferred style of writing?
Well, it certainly is now after hearing you describe it like that. Thank you! I originally wrote the entire story in rhyme. (I’m a huge fan of Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson). Although the story worked and the characters and themes were great, the rhyme and rhythm wasn’t (kind of ironic, being a musician!). With the help of my awesome editor, it was re-worked to contain both prose and rhyme. I didn’t want to lose the rhyme element completely, so we structured the story in a way that it felt like it has stylistic sections – like verses and a chorus, perhaps!    

What are the main teaching elements and / or message you would like your readers to gain from reading Digby’s Moon Mission?
I’d like readers to be able to take a variety of messages and themes away with them after reading the story. The importance of working together, diversity, and nurturing one’s imagination are big ones for me. Then there’s the food and science (phases of the moon) elements, the days of the week, plus the introduction of rhyming words.  

What was your favourite part of the story to create?
The ending. I’m such a kid at heart, and humour is how I roll so yes, definitely the ending.  

digby-18-19 The illustrations by Anil Tortop are so humorous, and just adorable. How did you find working with Anil? How much input did you have in the design process?
Anil is brilliant! She is also kind, witty, open-minded and incredibly fun to work with. I remember opening the file of her first sketches and crying because she nailed every single illustration. It’s like she’d stepped into my mind and made detailed notes of how I’d envisaged the story to be shown in picture. I had a lot of input into the design process, but I didn’t really need to ‘input’ much. Anil and Ozan (book designer – Tadaa Book) are both so creative, clever and professional, that most of the time, I was just giving the “A-OK!”  

You funded the publication of this book yourself through a crowdfunding campaign. How did you find organising this process and gaining all the support? What were the biggest challenges?
Crowdfunding was such an amazing experience. It was a creation in itself and I enjoyed every part of the process from uploading my campaign video and profile, to promoting my project far and wide. I was (still am!) completely blown away with the support I received. Everyone really rallied for Digby and I am endlessly grateful to everyone that showed their support. The biggest challenge would definitely be marketing the campaign. Not only promoting it, but how it is promoted. I always ensured positivity in my approach and never wanted to come across ‘over-bearing’ or that I was pestering people for pledges (although it felt like it at times!)  

You’ve recently celebrated your first book launch! What did you have planned for your supporters?
I did! It was a wonderful day. The launch was held as part of a local children’s/family market here, in Newcastle, so there were lots of lovely families stopping by to say hello and learn more about Digby. I had my stall set up with a kids’ activity station where children made Digby placemats, there were two book readings throughout the day and signings too, and I held a raffle for book purchasers where the prize was a gorgeous framed illustration from Digby’s Moon Mission, signed by Anil.  

How have you found people’s responses to Digby’s Moon Mission so far? Have you had any funny or memorable reactions from children (or adults)?
The response has been incredible! It is extremely humbling to hear that children are requesting Digby to be read over and over (sorry parents!). I’ve had three mothers tell me their children can recite the story from memory (one young boy ‘read’ the entire story to his grandmother at a family dinner!) Parents have told me that they love the ‘unexpected’ plot and the best physical reaction I’ve seen from children (and adults) is the final page of the book… it gets lots of giggles. I won’t spoil the ending though!  

Have you always wanted to be a children’s picture book author? What do you love about writing stories for children?
I’ve always wanted to write, but the desire to write for children came about when my youngest brother was born. I’m the eldest of five, so when he entered the world, I was in my final year of school and through my involvement with him, the desire to create, educate and foster children’s development grew. After I enrolled at uni to study early childhood teaching, I began writing stories and songs for children with the hope of one day, being a published author (or the next Justine Clarke!). Since becoming a parent, my writing has become my joy and motivator because I’m writing for them. I love that there are no limits to story-writing. Take an idea, and let it soar. Be the child!  

digby-cover01What’s in store for ‘Digby’ fans in 2015? What can we see from author, Renee Price, in the near future?
I have so many plans. Let’s hope some of them shine through! I’m working on the sequel to Digby’s Moon Mission, which is exciting! I have a couple of other non-Digby stories in the works, and I have written a Digby Fixit theme song so, I’ll try and find somewhere for that to fit… TV series, perhaps?  

Besides celebrating your new book, do you have plans for the holiday season?
Yes, I do. I plan for family time, and loads of it!  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renee! I hope you and your family have a very special Christmas, and Congratulations again!
It is my absolute pleasure. Thank you, Romi! Many happy returns to you and yours, too!

Digby’s Moon Mission is published with Renee’s brand name, Create It Kids, and can be found at:
Website: www.createitkids.com.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DigbyFixit 
Email: [email protected]  

Review and interview by Romi Sharp
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Doodles and Drafts – A bewitching encounter with Angela Sunde

Hold on to your brooSM.cover.119KBmsticks because today we have someone special visiting. She’s a bit of a drafter and doodler, a fellow resident of the magical Gold Coast and a wickedly wonderful conjurer of stories. Snap Magic is her latest light-hearted, fairy tale inspired fantasy novel about friendship and young girls approaching the precipitous edge of puberty.

She has a predilection for kissing princes, sipping champagne and pumpkin soup, and looks ridiculously cool in witches’ britches.

So grab a goblet of pumpkin juice, sit back and meet Angela Sunde, author of just released Snap Magic and its predecessor, Pond Magic.

Who is Angela Sunde? Describe your writerly / illustrator-self.ASunde.1d.WEB

I aim to be professional in all that I do. If I don’t feel my work is up to industry standard, then it is shelved and I move on to the next project. I am not too precious about my writing and receive feedback and critique with interest and a positive motivation to improve. I am constantly setting myself challenges that are just beyond my comfort zone and experiences. This means I may sometimes undertake more than I should, and then I’m working into the wee hours of the night. I enjoy volunteer work, which supports children’s access to reading, and other writers and illustrators on their creative journey. As an experienced teacher I enjoy mentoring and being mentored.

How do you wish to be perceived by your reading audience; as primarily an author; mostly an illustrator or a happy combination of both?

Angela Sunde ArtMy readers consider me primarily to be an author and engage with me thus. Illustrating is a passion of mine from childhood. I am always returning to it and the urge cannot be ignored. I enjoy small projects, especially illustrating children, and offer ‘Picture Book Children’s Portrait’ commissions. Clients can have their child illustrated as a picture book character to frame. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also working on the storyboard for a new picture book manuscript I just love; it’s very personal to me. Five years in the future I would like to be considered a combination of author/illustrator.

In a past life you were a high school linguistics teacher. How did this shape or influence your writing career? Have you always written? When did you begin drawing?

I taught German from Year 5 to Year 12 for decades. My broad understanding of how we develop language, whether it be our first or our second, has enabled me to write with a clarity, simplicity and efficiency of words. One reviewer of my first book, Pond Magic, called it ‘deceptively uncomplicated writing.’ I wrote poetry and songs when I was young, but I drew from the moment I could hold a crayon. I think it was a picture of my dad on the tractor and trailer, driving through the orchard with a load of fruit on the back.

Snap Magic features Lily Padd, a character we met in your first book, Pond Magic. Can kids read Snap Magic without having read the first one?

Pond Magic 2Yes, nothing is given away. Snap Magic is a stand-alone sequel. Rainier has gone back to France and Lily and her best friend, Maureen, have a new set of problems to face, although the ultra-annoying Rick Bastek is still there.

How long had the idea of Snap Magic been brewing for? What finally ignited its creation?

It hadn’t really brewed. It ignited suddenly when I decided to use a short story I had written called Snap as the springboard for a new Lily Padd story. Snap had been shortlisted for the Charlotte Duncan Award in 2009 and I’d been itching to place it somewhere. Then it was just a matter of brainstorming a plot.

What was the hardest thing to get right in Snap Magic? What aspect of the story’s creation did you most enjoy?

I can’t actually remember anything being too difficult. It’s based on my own experiences in intermediate school in New Zealand. It’s a mid-grade school system where all the students are between ten and twelve – perfect tweens. I did base the mean girl, Ellen, on someone I knew in high school, so I most enjoyed making life difficult for that character. Mwa ha ha… (*evil author laugh.)

I found Maureen particularly endearing. Is she based on a childhood friendship you may have had or one you wished you had? Was there any particular message you set out to convey in Snap Magic to girls of this age?

Maureen is partly me and partly my best friend – strong-willed and determined. She won’t let anyone push her around and she’s staunchly loyal to Lily. That’s how we were.

Messages find their way into books naturally. They can’t be forced. If you are true to the characters, their motivations and goals, the message will float to the top. In Snap Magic Lily learns that trust in others must be carefully placed. Can she trust Ellen? Can she tell Maureen her secret? The other message is that bullying has consequences for the perpetrators, very bad consequences… Mwa ha ha…

Is Lily Padd likely to be involved in any more magical adventures?

I’m thinking, will she ever be quiet in my head? I write Lily’s stories for my own enjoyment and there is a full length novel in progress.

What is your favourite colour? What does this choice reflect about you?

As a child it was yellow. Years ago I went through a low period with my health. I asked my husband to paint our family room yellow and I felt happier straight away. I also find blue so soothing. But I almost never wear either colour. I like to wear red and black because they give me confidence.

Did you ever dress-up and go trick-or-treating as a kid? With your own children? Now? If so, what is your favourite Halloween character and why?

No, I didn’t. But we did throw my daughter a Harry Potter party when the first book came out. Her teacher had read it to the entire class and we had a bunch of very excited little witches sitting on the ‘sorting chair’ desperately hoping the ‘sorting hat’ would call out Gryffindor! The hat’s voice was on a hidden recording made by a radio announcer friend of my sister’s with a very deep and scary voice. Of course he called Gryffindor! Every time.

What’s on the drawing board and or draft table for Angela?

I’m flying down to Sydney at the end of the month for a week’s residency at Pinerolo Children’s Book Cottage as Illustrator in Residence to work on a storyboard for a picture book that is very dear to me. And next year will see me in New Zealand researching a historical fiction novel based on my grandparents’ migrant experiences.

Just for fun question: If you possessed magical powers, which trick or spell would you relish using every day? Why?

Flying. The closest I’ve come to it would be snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, just that feeling of weightlessness, of floating above looking down, so calming. Of course I am scared of heights.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog today. I really enjoyed the questions!

Thank you Angela. It’s been spookily sensational!

Delve into more enticing facts, articles and reviews about Angela and her books here as she brooms about her Snap Magic Blog Tour. Just click on this banner for full dates and details. Snap Magic Banner

Red Pedal Press October 2014

 

 

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.  

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Blog Blast! Review – Tottie and Dot

PHold on to your marshmallows because new girls on the block, Tottie and Dot, have invited us all to their megatabulous Blog Blast party. Today with the help of co-hosts, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling, we celebrate the explosive launch of picture book, Tottie and Dot. And what a feast for the senses it is.

Tottie and Dot live side by side at numbers 36 and 38, in a retro-chic, bubble gum coloured world. Beneath skies of teal blue, they share a harmonious aqua and cerise hued friendship of marshmallow tea and apricot sandwiches, ‘side by side’. Even their pet pussycats frolic in neighbourly tranquillity.

tottie-and-dot-3-originalTheir slightly stepford-wives existence seems almost too peaceful to be perfect, although I stress this is more a reference to their spectacular domiciliary set up. There is nothing submissive or docile about these two bright characters. However, social calm is suddenly thrust into the spotlight of competition when Tottie has a radical change of heart and paints her house mauve.

Her benign act of home improvement sets off a chain of competitive one-up-man-ship attempts between her and Dot, until what begins as subtle rivalry between two friends escalates into riotous mayhem. Each is determined not to be outdone by the other.

Dishevelled and in disarray, Tottie and Dot collapse amongst the mess of their jealously realising that there is much more at stake than art deco garden ornaments and strings of butterflies. Their treasured friendship is on the line.

Tania McCartney 2 Tottie and Dot is the latest picture book deliciousness doled up by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling. As with their previous bestseller, An Aussie Year, Tottie and Dot effortlessly teams McCartney’s delectable dream-like story line with Snerling’s candy-luscious illustrations. Sweetly simple statements are anchored on full double page spreads with divinely drawn detail, right down to the tiny-tarred paw prints and gumball pebbled paths.Tina-Snerling-360px

Kids aged four and above will get a real sherbet flavoured blast from this picture book. It’s extreme in colour and action yet beneath the sugar coating, the idea that Tottie and Dot blog blast webfriendship is all-important fizzes away satisfyingly. Treat yourself to it soon.

But wait, the party’s not over yet! For more fun, insights on the book, reviews and interviews with its creators, check out this schedule or just click on the poster.It’s all happening TODAY and today only!

#tottieanddot

Tottie and Dot is available here now.

EK Books September 2014

 

 

Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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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.

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Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.

 

 

 

Review – The Duck and the Darklings

The Duck and the DarklingsFrom beneath a mountain of brightly coloured picture books all screaming for review, I spied the oddly unassuming cover of The Duck and the Darklings. Odd because apart from Peterboy’s candle-hat, this was one sombre looking picture book. Even the title sounded desolate, quirky. Surely though something fantastical had to be dwelling between those black covers because this was the new creation of two of Australia’s most revered story tellers, Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.

The Duck and the Darklings is less of a blasé five minute read and more of a whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope. It opens bleakly in the land of Dark and is about a small child named, Peterboy and his Grandpa, who share everything. Their home, though ‘built with care and lit with love’ is not a joy-filled place and is populated by others who depressingly are trapped by their own decayed memories.

But buried deep within Grandpa are ‘scraps of wonderfulness’ and ‘symphonies of stories’ past; tinder that Peterboy hopes to ignite and so rekindle the fire in his Grandfather’s eyes. He searches the ‘finding fields’ for something to make Grandpa’s inner light burn bright again but instead finds a wounded duck and takes her home.

Grandpa reluctantly repairs Idaduck and fosters a ‘forbidden fondness’ for her. But, just as Grandpa warned, it isn’t long before Idaduck gets the urge to be gone on the wind.

Peterboy is determined to make Idaduck’s departure memorable and enlists the Darkling children and Grandpa to help him light Idaduck’s way. It is a farewell and dawn that will never be ‘disremembered’ in the land of Dark.

This picture book sent tremors through nearly every one of my heartstrings. As I navigated my way through Peterboy’s and Idaduck’s story for the first time, it felt that Glenda Millard was deliberately tailoring each piece of prose for Stephen Michael King to work his illustrative genius on. Turns out, that was the case.

Glenda MillardMillard delivers unforgettable word images and unique refrains that defy banality and fill every page with pure poetry. Sorry drops; rusty latch key of his magnificent remembery; crumbs and crusts of comfort; and speckled surprises are just a few of my favourites amongst many of the fine examples of Millard’s exemplary way with words.

The Duck and the Darklings appears something of a departure from the norm for Stephan Michael King as well, at first. A noticeable lack of colour, definition and tea pots marks the first two thirds of his illustrations. Splats, smears and stains define the imperfectness and soulnessness of the land of Dark. The world Peterboy inhabits, bereft of light and cheer and hope, reminded me of the slum cities of some third world countries and of the dark depths of one’s own despair.

SMKBut gradually, almost imperceptibly, the landscape lightens as we eventually rise from the dark of night and the bruised ‘wounds man had made’ with his indifference, heal. A new day dawns, happily, in true trademark Stephen Michael King style.

The Duck and the Darklings is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Beneath an opaque veil of futility and the poignant reality of the inevitability of life, glows an inextinguishable brilliance.

Millard and King reassure us that even though physically all may be lost, deep down inside, hope beats. It hangs on like life itself and can be strengthened and restored to full splendour; ‘quack, waddle and wing.’ Truly inspirational.

Share this triumphant story with children 5 years and beyond and any adult who’ll listen.

Then, listen to this – not certain if the book motivated my mindset for this song or the reverse. Either way both are something special.

Allen & Unwin March 2014