A Taste of Australia – Picture Book Reviews

Summer holidays in Australia is a time to explore, discover and engage in the recreation of all the wonderful features, landscapes, flora and fauna that this country has to offer. And with Australia Day just around the corner, it is also a time to reflect on the past and show appreciation and respect for the way our nation has been shaped. The following picture books include an ode to the sacred sites and traditions of the Indigenous people, as well as some humorous and unique nuances.

Beginning with the multi award-winning title that has the nation on its feet, A is for Australia (a factastic tour) by Frané Lessac is literally a national treasure, with this current edition printed in a beautiful paperback format.
Explore this geographical wealth of gems from A to Z as you travel and learn exciting facts about sights, people and animals around Australia. Each page gloriously illustrated in vibrant, scene-appropriate colours and a perfectly naive style that makes this pictorial encyclopaedia so accessible to all its readers. The text is congruously dispersed and proportioned around the spreads for easy readability.
Amazing and studiously researched facts that will entice international newcomers and excite local citizens to race towards a most pleasurable tour and cultural education of our fascinating land, Australia.

Walker Books, January 2018.

I love the ironically oblivious know-it-all in A Walk in the Bush; an interesting yet remarkably witty bushwalk through nature whilst appreciating the ones we love.
Gwyn Perkins writes this tale with an interactive dialogue spoken by Grandad to cat Iggy that so clearly imitates a typical grandparent (or parent) lovingly and knowingly sharing an experience with his little one. Her illustrations also expressively characterise these personalities and add plenty of humour with their facial expressions and body language and funny little surprises to look out for.
Who will spot the wildlife first? Can Grandad distinguish between the songs of magpies and kookaburras? What will he teach Iggy about trees, eucalyptus leaves and scribbly marks made by a caterpillar in the bark?
A Walk in the Bush is a fun, and funny, way to encourage togetherness and appreciate the enchanting facets of the Australian outdoors.

Affirm Press, July 2017.

Colour Me by Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Moira Court, is a beautiful representation of the amazingly colourful world we live in and what makes us diversely human. Forging a love and respect for the differences in people, creatures and scenery around us is an important message emanating from this story.
Told in a playful manner readers can also be encouraged to imagine their own creatively colourful world by brainstorming what they would be if they were a particular colour. For example, “If I was orange I’d be as wild as the flickering fire. And I’d dash through the bush with daring dingos.” These lyrically whimsical phrases continue with each hue in the shape of a rainbow, illustrated with vibrant silkscreen prints from hand cut stencils.
Tolerance and diversity are at the heart of this tale, with a wonderful Aussie flavour including some of our unique fauna and landscapes. A beautiful read for preschool-aged children.

Fremantle Press, July 2017.

Here’s a gorgeous story of a little girl with a brimful of excuses as to why she can’t go to the park, and a Grandpa with a bucket load of creative problem solving solutions. Sally Morgan expresses The Perfect Thing in the most authentic and evocative language, whilst illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina perfectly captures this lively spirit through her bold and dynamic varied layouts.
When the dog ate her sneakers, Grandpa finds the ‘perfect thing’ for Lily girl with his thongs that can act as whale flippers. When the cat shredded her raincoat, Grandpa suggests that Lily pretend to puff up a plastic bag like a balloon and float to the park. Finally at the park, Lily contributes her own innovative resourcefulness for a ‘perfect’ day out together.
Featuring Australian animals and characteristically artistic Indigenous traits, The Perfect Thing is a refreshing and wonderfully imaginative story for early childhood readers to share with their elders.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

This hilarious rhyming romp sets straight any misunderstandings about the official specification of our beloved national icon; the koala. Jackie French, legendary laureate behind the Diary of a Wombat series, together with talented illustrator Matt Shanks, present this clarifying tale of Koala Bare.
There’s no denying, this koala is unapologetically dead set against being called a bear. And he’s not afraid to express his view. He is not a picnic-loving teddy, nor a bamboo-eating panda, a fish-gnawing polar bear or a honey-sucking bear from a fairy tale. He certainly doesn’t wear clothes. He is BARE, and he is an individual, and that’s the way he likes it.
Koala Bare exposes the most energetically adorable watercolour illustrations and such a headstrong attitude. It is so loveable and persuasive that its young readers will be readily spreading the message to all of their friends.

Angus & Robertson, September 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Quirks, Quandaries and Quips – Picture Book Reviews  

I love coming across books that allow the freedom to ‘think outside the square‘, so to speak. Books that play ‘chasey‘ with your imagination and let you run wild. And books that at the end of a chaotic day leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in your heart. The following three picture books do all those things in their own special kind of way.

imageStanley, written and illlustrated by Colin Thompson, takes quirky to a whole new level. Thompson, a legend in the children’s book world, superbly paints a solid picture of his unique characters, both conceptually and visually. Focusing on the themes of non-judgement and individuality, his descriptive language, gangly humans and mixed media images align perfectly.

Stanley may look as if he was “built out of bricks that had been leant against and rained on and loved…, as strong as a mountain” but in truth he was “as soft as a pillow.” Adorably depicted across the page is Stanley in his muddy glory, sitting wide-eyed and innocent under the spotlight. As you will see, the thing that makes Stanley happy and his tail quiver most is his red ball (and his human, Gerald). Life with a small family (Stanley, Gerald and his mum) has its perks and responsibilities, but at times he feels lonely. One day, Stanley is disappointed after an unfortunate occurrence at the park. Then, without realising how it happened (since dogs usually don’t understand the intricacies of people’s bonding process), his house is filled with a new family. Stanley may not realise the connection between his park experience and his current living situation, but he finds himself enjoying the baking smells, extra company… and a brand new red ball. Although, he probably could have done without the tablecloth bridesmaid’s dress!

Stanley is a witty and gentle book about the complexities of human personalities and relationships and the simplicities of a dog’s life. There is also a subtle yet valuable message about taking risks with understanding people (and dogs) and looking beyond the exterior. Recommended for primary school children.

ABC Books, 2016.

imageChasing her previous excitable tale, Clementine’s Walk, Annie White‘s latest delight follows suit in the same charismatic demeanour; it’s Clementine’s Bath.

Guaranteed to whip preschoolers along on this wild romp, Clementine and her smells sure do arouse. Pongs from rubbish piles are not quite considered the bed of roses that this carefree pooch relishes, and the family won’t have a whiff of it. So now she finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Bounding off in rhyming couplets, Clementine makes her dash away from the dreaded B-A-T-H and all through the house. Hiding in an assortment of obscure places, like between pot plants, into the shed and inside the toybox, Clementine’s efforts fall flat and she, to her dismay, surrenders with a SPLASH! But perhaps there are perks to being clean and pleasant-smelling, after all.

Delightfully energetic and fast paced in all the right places, Clementine’s Bath exudes this chaotic liveliness that most dog owners know all too well. With softness, warmth and colour, this book will groom young readers into the excitement of caring for a pet.

New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

imagePreschoolers will take absolute pleasure at the quips these characters have prepared for their readers. This is a Circle by Chrissie Krebs is no more than an all-rounded, wise-cracking, rhyming pursuit in top form. With bold, vibrant colours and animated personalities much in likeness of Ben Wood’s illustrations, here is a page-turning, eye-catching and whimsical tale with an abundance of energy.

It all looks innocent enough when we are introduced to the seemingly-friendly characters and a random selection of labelled objects. But things quickly turn sour when animal turns against animal and objects are used for pure selfish gain. First the tap-dancing goat climbs the enormous box. Then the song-singing cat is cat-apulted up there due to his own reckless driving habits. A violent pant-wearing fox angers the wild-looking bear who chases him around and up to the top of the box (with the help of a pile of the randomly-selected shapes, objects and vehicles). And so now that they have successfully squabbled their way to the top, what will be their next quandary?

A highly entertaining collection of giggles and teachable moments with its clever integration of concepts and rhyming words. The text highlights those key words with bold and enlarged print, enabling young readers to identify the sounds and main elements in the story. Oh, not to mention the slick, tactile cut out circle on the front cover is a great way to hook readers in! Funny, innovative and engaging, This is a Circle will have children from age three running in circles to have this book read to them again and again.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2016.

For more concept-related books see Dimity‘s list here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

What I’m reading this Christmas: Amanda Diaz, HarperCollins Publishers

Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Amanda Diaz.

Thank you for having me!

You’re a publicist at HarperCollins Publishers and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

HarperCollins Australia (based in Sydney) is known for its children’s/YA books as well as its adult list. Which do you work on/prefer?

I’m the publicity manager for HarperCollins Children’s Books, which for me is a dream job as I absolutely love kids and YA books.

You’re a publicist – what does a publicist do? AD pic

Basically the job is about creating exposure for books in order to drive awareness and sales. That’s not a very sexy way to put it, but that’s the bare bones. It requires being very calm, patient and organised.

A publicist works to get attention for books through social media, blogs and websites, festivals, signings, conventions and school visits as well as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Media exposure can come in a number of forms – from giveaways and extracts to reviews and interviews.

How did you get this job?

While I was interning in the HarperCollins editorial department during my last semester of uni, I was in the right place at the right time to be hired for an admin assistant role in publishing operations. My dream was to work in the children’s team though, so when the publicist role came up, I went for it.

I suspect you love all the books you promote, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.

I’m very proud to have worked with Children’s Laureate Jackie French on ten books so far. All her work is so excellent, it’s a privilege to be involved in a small way. It’s also been very exciting to work on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series – especially with the recent release of the movie.

Touring with George RR Martin in November last year was also absolutely unforgettable. He is a literary rockstar and so lovely and gracious to boot.

What is different/special about HarperCollins? 

In a business-sense, we have a fantastic mix of commercial and literary stories. There’s truly something for every reader. On a personal level, I’m lucky enough to work with the best team ever at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Everyone is so smart, passionate, hilarious, open and creative. Sometimes we have to pretend not to be having as much fun as we really are, lest others think we’re not actually working.

All the truth that's in meWhat are some awards HarperCollins has won that have particular significance for you?

The Australian Centre for Youth Literature runs the annual Inky Awards – where teen judges and readers decide on their favourite local and international YA titles – and this year, the Silver Inky was won by All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. This is a book that was very special to everyone in house and to see it receive such fantastic recognition from readers was so wonderful and affirming.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry?

We have to work smarter in competing for people’s attention spans, but the key to doing this is always going to be finding really excellent stories.

If you’re in a book club, what book have you enjoyed discussing?

I’m not in a book club – I’ve tried it out a couple of times, but I always get too impatient with how long it takes for the other members to finish reading the book! But I do run our YA Twitter account – @HarperCollinsYA and love talking to our followers but the books we’re all reading.

Once Upon an AlphabetWhat are some must-reads over Christmas?

Young kids – and their parents and grandparents – will absolutely fall in love with both Once Upon an Alphabet and Count my Christmas Kisses, while cheeky youngsters will adore There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree Who Farts.

Withering-by-Sea is a fantastic middle-grade Victorian fantasy adventure that young girls will NEED. (It’s the prettiest book you’ve ever seen.)

(See my post on it here)

My YA summer favourites are A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray and Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption duology. You can’t go past these picks for action-packed reads with a dash of swoonworthy romance.

The ultimate must-read though is Jackie French’s stunning WWII epic To Love a Sunburnt Country (available 1st December). This is the best thing Jackie has ever written. You won’t be able to put it down, you’ll probably cry and you’ll certainly never forget it.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

My secret reading pleasure is definitely re-reading. You’d be embarrassed for me if I revealed how many times I’ve re-read favourite books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Pride and Prejudice.Disruption

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Amanda.

It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Withering-by-Sea