Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

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Indigo Blue by Jessica Watson

Jessica Watson is well known for sailing non-stop and unassisted around the world as a 16-year-old – the youngest person to achieve this feat. She also captained the youngest crew ever in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, has been awarded an OAM and was named Young Australian of the Year in 2011.

Her memoir True Spirit (2010) gives further insight into her indomitable character and her latest literary work is a novel, Indigo Blue (Lothian, Hachette Australia). 

Where are you based, Jessica, and how do you spend your time?

These days I’m based in Melbourne, although I consider the entire east coast of Australia to be home. I’ve just finished studying an MBA and love to go sailing on the weekends.

How does writing resemble sailing?

The main way writing resembles sailing is the importance of persistence!

What is the significance of the title of your novel Indigo Blue?

Indigo Blue is the name of the little run-down yacht that the main character Alex buys, and sets about fixing up.

Could you briefly tell us about your major characters, Alex and Sam?

The main character Alex is independent and practical so she’s pretty surprised when she stumbles into an unlikely mystery.

Sam is an apprentice to the local sailmaker, he’s reserved and there’s something a little bit odd about him.

When Alex first starts at her new school in Year Twelve, her experiences are not what she hopes for. Have you had similar experiences and, if so, how did you cope?

Alex’s experiences not feeling very welcome at a new school are partly drawn from my own experience but as I spent so much of my high school years off sailing I did have to lean quite heavily on the experiences of friends and family.

John, who sold Alex her boat, is patronising at first. Has this been part of your own experience?

The character John is based on a lot of experiences I’ve had, as well as my older sister who works on boats. We’ve both come across my older guys like John who just don’t understand how much girls are capable of. But like John and as frustrating as they are, many of these guys aren’t completely terrible just a little narrow minded.

What age-group have you written your novel for?

Indigo Blue is for anyone aged 9 upwards.

Could you describe any significant response from young people when you’ve presented either of your books to them?

The responses that I’ve most enjoyed are those who say that they’ve been inspired to give sailing a go. It’s also been lovely to receive requests for a sequel.

Of all the places you’ve sailed, where would you be least surprised to find a merperson?

It’s so easy to imagine mythical sea creatures when out to sea surrounded in every direction by empty horizons, but whenever I’ve visited Lake Cootharaba I’ve always wondered what might be lurking beneath the mysterious dark tea-tree coloured waters.

As part of solving a mystery, Alex reads Captain Emanuel William Vance’s historical log and comments about him, You should have been a writer rather than a ship’s captain. What do you admire in writing?

I admire beautiful descriptions, but it’s most important to me that writing sparks curiosity and inspires a spirit of adventure.

What have you been reading recently?

Now that I’ve finished study and don’t have a never-ending list of textbooks to read I’m really enjoying having more time for novels again. I like picking up books of all kinds, but at the moment I’m particularly loving stories with a little history that give me a taste for another time and place.

Jessica Watson
(photo Kate Dyer)

Thanks very much, Jessica, and all the best with your future literary and other careers.

No problem, thanks Joy!

Jessica Watson’s website

Understory: A Life with Trees by Inga Simpson

I was fortunate to facilitate a session with Inga Simpson and Tony Birch at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2016. I had been following their literary careers by reading their writing as published and have continued to be absorbed by their exemplary work.

Inga Simpson sees the world through trees and hopes to learn the ‘language of trees’. Understory: A Life with Trees (Hachette Australia) is nature writing in the form of a sensory memoir. It traces her life in ten acres of forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland alone and with N and her two children.

The book is beautifully and aptly structured as parts of the forest. ‘Canopy’ includes chapters on the Cedar, Grey Gum, Rose Gum and Ironbark; ‘Middlestorey’ features Trunk, Limb, She-oak and Wattle; and ‘Understorey’ focuses on Sticks and leaves, Seedlings and Bunya, amongst other natural elements.

Inga Simpson lived in the forest for ten years. As ‘tree women’ and ‘word women’, she and N wanted a ‘writing life’. They referred to themselves as ‘entwives’, a term from Tolkien, and named the writing retreat they established, ‘Olvar Wood’, from Tolkien’s The Simarillion. The retreat was an oasis for writers but, along with financial and other problems, its demise is foreshadowed throughout the memoir. We celebrate and agonise with the author through the refurbishment of her lovely cottage despite ongoing leaks and mould; the acceptance of her debut novel Mr Wigg, the completion of Nest and the winning of the prestigious Eric Rolls prize.

Readers are welcomed into the forest through the author’s words: ‘these small acts of tending … [tell her] story of this place’. Also memorable are the author‘s acts of tending the forest: clearing weeds, cutting timber and replanting. She recognises and absorbs ‘Indigenous concepts of country [which] include a responsibility to care for the land’.

Once her eye becomes attuned, she discovers flame tree seedlings and young cedars that were already in plain view. She learns to take time to look for the ‘details and patterns and signs just waiting for my eye to become sufficiently attuned’. As part of this process the author develops ‘nature sight’, where living creatures such as sea turtles and sea eagles, reveal themselves to her.

Inga Simpson concedes that she may not have achieved her desire to become ‘fluent’ in ‘the language of the forest’ but she has become ‘literate’ and literate enough to share her knowledge and understanding through lyrical, unforgettable words.

Inga Simpson’s website

My review of Tony Birch’s Common People (currently shortlisted for the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards) is here.

Different Ways of Learning: ‘Found in Melbourne’ & ‘Oi Cat!’

In ground-breaking publishing, two versions of a children’s picture book will be published simultaneously in English and Chinese by a mainstream Australian publisher. Found in Melbourne is written by Joanne O’Callaghan, illustrated by Kori Song, and the Chinese edition translated by Kevin Yang. It is published by Allen & Unwin.

The two hardcover books have identical illustrations, but one has a text in English and the other in ‘Simplified Chinese’.  It is set in Melbourne and further afield with locations such as Luna Park, the State Library of Victoria, the Great Ocean Road and Puffing Billy Railway. These places and further information about them is also given at the end of the books.

Beginning or ESL readers are assisted by the simple rhyming text. For example, ‘4 Four bicycles on the path by the bay. A trip to Tasmania sailing away… 10 Ten clocks at the station where we meet for the train. Bring an umbrella, it could start to rain!’

As well as exploring Melbourne, these are counting books. Young readers have the opportunity to learn or practise numerals from 1 to 12, then the big numbers 100, 1000 and 1,000,000.

There are many interesting details such as one of Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly paintings which makes an incognito appearance in the scene set at the National Gallery of Victoria. The girl and boy protagonists have red and black hair respectively.

Part of the rationale behind the books is that Victoria recently had almost 600,000 Chinese people visit annually, the Chinese population of Melbourne is increasing and over 75,000 schoolchildren are learning Mandarin in Victoria.

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I was excited to see a new picture book by Essex-based Kes Grey, funny man creator of laugh-out-loud Billy’s Bucket and many other books. Oi Cat! (Hachette) is another picture book where Grey collaborates with illustrator Jim Field. It follows Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! 

 Like Found in Melbourne, Oi Cat! uses a rhyming text that is perfect for young readers. The rhyme, humour and anticipation will keep children reading and their vocabulary and spelling will be extended along the way, particularly by some of the animals’ names such as ‘alpaca’ (which rhymes with ‘cream cracker’), ‘armadillo’ (which rhymes with ‘pillow’), ‘dingoes’ (which rhymes with ‘flamingos’) and ‘gnats’, which cats sit on here instead of on ‘mats’. The narrative follows the dilemma of what cats could alternatively sit on and this creates playful reinforcement of the ‘-at’ *rime. There is also sly discussion about what hogs and mogs sit on: generating many ‘-og’ words such as ‘clog … cog … jog’ and a surprise and somewhat painful-looking ending. 

*rime Separate phonemes in a syllable can normally be broken into two parts. The rime is a vowel and any subsequent consonants (for example, in the word ‘cat’ the rime is /at/). Word families can be constructed using common rimes such as /at/ in ‘cat’, ‘pat’. (from the Australian Curriculum)

School in Focus – Picture Book Reviews

We’re well and truly in to the school routine now, although some mornings seem to lack that ideal, perfect-world motivation and drive. But with these following picture books at the ready, your kids will be inspired to remember their purpose and excitement for the day ahead.

Time for School, Daddy is a gorgeously humorous role reversal-type situation, in the same as essence as the previous title by Dave Hackett, Time for Bed, Daddy. Most often than not it is in fact us parents struggling to get out of bed, greeted each morning with the bombardment of children eager to get the day started. And here, this is no different. The little girl wakes a dozy, grumbling Daddy so they can get ready for school. She gives him his favourite breakfast, which always ends in a mess. She washes and dresses him in his work clothes, not without a bit of chaos. She packs him a mighty fine lunch, a tad of grooming and then it’s time to walk out the door. But who’s going to school today?
Tonnes of energy emanate from both the text and the images, with an innocently grown-up voice from the girl’s perspective as she guides her father through the hectic routine. The bright and vibrant cartoon illustrations work beautifully in a simplistic, obvious focus on the actions, which are the perfect linchpin for the irony that makes this book so witty. Time for School, Daddy is adorable, motivating fun for children from age four.

University of Queensland Press, January 2018.

The school or public library may just be the best place to get inspired, excited and transported (figuratively) during a normally busy day. So for anyone who loves to read, a chance to dive into books would be plenty of motivation to leave the house in a hurry in the morning. But for one little girl, there is one book in particular that she can’t get enough of. Lucy’s Book, written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini, is one special story that follows one special story on many adventures as it is shared by Lucy to all her friends.
Lucy and her mum visit the library every Saturday. The enchanted red book, of which we speak, is recommended by Mrs Bruce and borrowed a multitude of times from the library. Lucy loves it so much, all her friends are dazzled by its charm and it makes its way into their hands too. The book is escorted on holidays to Honeycomb Bay and China, to the zoo, and even made into a banana sandwich. But what happens when the book is no longer available for borrowing? Do you believe in destiny?
Just like the premise of this story, the lively illustrations pronounce a real community feel; one of shared values, togetherness and spirit. With influences from real people (Mrs Bruce is a friend of the author and also the image of Megan the librarian at the local school), Lucy’s Book feels like a real-life fairytale where everyone gets to be involved in the swirl of magical bookishness and where fate is a reality. Dreamy for book lovers of any age.

Lothian Children’s Books, February 2017.

Ruby Lee is a highly enthusiastic student with a big imagination. But when it comes to being chosen as classroom helper, she’s not always the most efficient. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! is a wild and animated tale of learning patience, working to your skillset and being yourself.
Award-winning author Lisa Shanahan, together with graphic illustrator Binny, provide a linguistic and visual treat with their eccentric blend of humour and design. Shanahan’s quirky names are just the beginning of the literary goodness, with dialogue that perks in all the right places, and a storyline that is so authentically realistic despite all the crazy and creative figments Ruby Lee imagines in her mind. And flawlessly, Binny’s fantastical, detailed illustrations with blocks of colour and line work add that extra depth and meaning to both Ruby Lee’s real and made-up worlds.
Preschool and early years children will adore being taken into Ruby Lee’s school life as messenger as she discovers not how to be like someone else, but where her own strengths lie. Hark, it’s me, Ruby Lee! plays out like a set of comical and whimsical scenes that will be requested to be delivered over and over again.

Lothian Children’s Books, July 2017.

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Monstrous Mayhem – Picture Books for Halloween

Forget the spook and gore this Halloween! Try obtain the element of surprise with humour, fun and interactive giggles. Combined with themes on friendship, belonging, and challenging emotions, that’s what these brilliant picture books for young kids are all about.

This first one comes highly recommended for an entertaining, inspiring and innovative book experience. The Scared Book is cleverly constructed to communicate a range of emotions and strategies with its audience…literally! Author Debra Tidball uses leading language in her role as the animated, ‘scared’ book with dramatic statements, questions and invitations to help console its fears. The truth is, the book simply cannot tell its story without the assistance of its readers to disarm those pesky monsters protruding from its spine.

From requesting interaction to scratch a tingle, to rub away goosebumps, blow away giant butterflies, then flick, trample, shake and fan the last remaining remnants, the book is able to get some relief. Whilst helping to calm it down from all the excitement, the book is in fact providing some useful strategies for its readers to deal themselves with feelings of anxiety, fear and self doubt. And successfully, the book ends with a vote of encouragement and praise that readers can be proud of.

Kim Siew’s illustrations are certainly kooky, but in the most vibrant, energetic and guileless way. Preschool aged children will no doubt be better off having experienced this highly pleasurable book, becoming intrepid saviours in relinquishing The Scared Book’s, and their own, fears over and over again.

Hachette Lothian Children’s Books, September 2017.

Ok, the title sounds scary, the concept sounds scary, but I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon is downright hilarious. And by the look of those huge saucer eyes and stunned expression, the monster on the front cover is far from menacing.

Perhaps a little too impulsive, the speckled yellow egg-shaped beast is distraught at the fact that his good friend is now gone…because he ate him. So he searches for a new friend, only to discover the creatures he greets meet him with rejection after rejection. Whether they feel he is too big, too small, too scary or too slow, the monster feels hopelessly dejected. He reflects on his impulsivity, until a new friend emerges. Could this be a match made in heaven?!

Preschool kids will crack up with the joviality of the scenes and the sharp-witted and repetitive one-liners of the text. The cartoon-style, textured and bright characters on black backgrounds bring a sense of playfulness to the book’s ‘dark’ humour. I Just Ate My Friend is the perfect, quirky book that has the power for valuable discussion on friendship, belonging, and the possible effects of instant gratification, as well as being a fun resource for role play and definite repeat reads.

Allen & Unwin, July 2017.

The dialogue between narrator and Little Monster is utterly delightful in Sean Taylor’s I Want to Be in a Scary Story. When the toothless, purple monster requests to be the star of a scary story, he gets a bit more than he bargained for. The narrator sets him up at every turn, creating far more frightening scenes than the little mite can handle. But don’t worry, young readers will find them, and Little Monster’s reactions simply hilarious. Conversing further with the narrator, the monster decides he should do the scaring…on second thoughts, maybe a ‘funny’ story would be better! Fed up with his trickery, Little Monster finds a way to give the narrator the comeuppance he deserves…and it’s frighteningly funny!

Text and illustrations coincide clearly in identifying scenes between conversation and ‘in the story’ moments with the use of plain and coloured backgrounds consecutively. Speaking parts, which are gorgeously candid, are also colour coded, furthering interaction with readers whether taking turns or reading independently. Jean Jullien’s artwork is perfectly bold yet child-friendly with its thick line work and strong statement colours, adding the element of drama without the frightening factor. Preschoolers will revel in the spooky (but much more amusing) shenanigans of sabotage in I Want to Be in a Scary Story – just in time for Halloween.

Walker Books UK, September 2017

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!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

Indie Book Awards 2015

 

BushLast night I was fortunate to attend the Indie Book Awards. It was a great evening, hosted by Hachette Australia in Sydney. These awards are organised by Leading Edge Books, who support independent bookshops (see more about them in last weekend’s AFR and in this interview with Galina Marinov). The shortlists and winners are voted by staff at Australia’s 170+ indie bookstores; widely read and discerning readers who have a strong sense of which books are the standouts and what readers should buy and appreciate.

The Indie Awards are also the first of Australia’s slew of literary awards for the year and a valuable predictor of what is going to appear on shortlists across the country. They have a strong record of picking winners in their seven-year history, including last year’s overall winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which of course went on to win the Man Booker Prize and jointly win the Prime Minster’s Literary Awards.

http-::www.boomerangbooks.com.au:Golden-Boys:Sonya-Hartnett:book_9781926428611Winner of the Fiction category, was Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin Australia), which I reviewed for the SunHerald. Sonya wasn’t able to attend because of house renovations but she sent a memorable thank-you speech that brought the parlous state under her house to life.

The Bush by Don Watson (Penguin Australia) beat a strong field in the Non-Fiction category, which included Helen Garner’s This House of Grief (Text), Where Song Began by Tim Low (Penguin) and Cadence by Emma Ayres (ABC Books HarperCollins), who graciously attended. Her book, with its strong music background, looks fascinating. The Bush also won the overall Book of the Year award.

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette Australia) was the popular winner of the Debut Fiction. This was a strongly contested category, which included Emily Bitto’s The Strays (Affirm Press). (See my review here.) http-::www.boomerangbooks.com.au:Foreign-Soil:Maxine-Beneba-Clarke:book_9780733632426

The Children’s and YA shortlist spanned a picture book, Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic); a YA novel, Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc) (see my interview with Alice here) and two completely different novels for primary aged children, The 52-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan) and Withering-by-Sea, the deserving winner by author-illustrator Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins). (See my review here.)

A distinctive aspect of the evening was the announcement of the winners by booksellers from Sydney as well as interstate. This set the tone of the Indies as an award with special synergy and respect between authors, publishers and booksellers.

Withering by Sea