Picture Books to Help and Heal

When you’re feeling a little lost, a little broken, or need a helping hand, what better way to lift you up than with a few beautiful, encouraging books with a whole heap of sentiment and warmth. Here are a few newbies you’ll want to hold close to your heart.

The Whirlpool, Emily Larkin (author), Helene Magisson (illus.), Wombat Books, May 2017.

When one moment shifts into another, without warning, and your world suddenly seems like a foreign place. This emotional whirlpool, as it is described; can pluck you from a place of familiarity and warmth then spin you round until you’re left confused and displaced. The Whirlpool considerately and sensitively addresses this sentiment without needing a definite cause; there doesn’t have to be some traumatic event for us to experience those ‘bad’ or isolated days. Because we all know happiness, sadness, loneliness and love, and here they are expressed beautifully through the eyes of a young polar bear cub.

Emily Larkin’s words are poetic-like. In their very being they stir up emotions in your soul. The simple sentences are sharp and carefully crafted for dramatic impact. Helene Magisson’s breathtaking illustrations almost literally wrap you up in this sensational vortex. Specifically defining moments are highlighted through her choice of visual layout and colour. Vast scenes define both feelings of joy and desolation, and focal sequences display proudness and a tiring endurance. And with Helene’s characteristically alluring charm and symbolic nuances, the significance of the yellow scarf cleverly ties the changing moods and atmospheric conditions altogether.

The Whirlpool is, funnily enough, a gentle and hopeful tale, reassuring its primary school aged readers that experiencing a range of feelings and challenges in their life can be helpful in navigating their individual journeys. This is explained further by helpful notes at the back of the book. So, take a step back and watch a snippet of real life flash before you- this book is insightful, sincere and stunningly beautiful.

Nanna’s Button Tin, Dianne Wolfer (author), Heather Potter (illus.), Walker Books, June 2017.

The sentimentality of a little piece of plastic, primarily used to hold material together, may mean little to some, but for others, buttons hold a lifetime of memories. Nanna’s Button Tin is brimming with warm and fuzzy goodness, of special intergenerational bonds and precious reminders of the past.

For a little girl, Nanna’s button tin holds the key to healing her Teddy’s much-needed amending. And she has the added comfort of being fulfilled with stories of love as she searches for the perfect round, brown button for Teddy’s eye. The tiny yellow button reminds Nanna of the day the little girl was born. The bear-shaped button was worn on her birthday jumper when she was three. The sparkly green one signifies the connection between her grandparents. Whilst the silver angel button helped bring her back to health when she was sick. With Teddy finally fixed, the button tin and all its contents are replaced on the shelf for another day of memorable moments.

With heartfelt dialogue between the characters, and superbly detailed, realistic and warm illustrations, Nanna’s Button Tin contains a pile of love and a beautifully familiar homely feel. This book will be adored, shared and reflected upon by its preschool-aged audience, and their grandparents, many times over. Certainly one to replenish all the warmth in your heart.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex (author), Angela Perrini (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, June 2017.

Another story told through the eyes of a child is Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles. And what a vision she has! Initially, though, Ava is self conscious about her glasses and won’t wear them in class. But with Mrs Cook’s bright and imaginative attitude, things have never looked the same. Presenting a page from various fairy tales to Ava, much like watching an oversized movie screen, the teacher explains how glasses would have helped the characters avoid their problems in the story. Featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty and more, Ava soon realises that in order to perceive the world clearly, she will need to ‘see’ the world clearly.

I love the enthusiasm and energy throughout the text, inviting readers and listeners to join in and ponder these sentiments. There is that subtle coercion that adults attempt to convince children of what is best, but the tale is written so playfully and creatively that it just feels like pure entertainment. The illustrations are equally jovial, colourful and expressive, and particularly visually large and easy-on-the-eye to suit its purpose.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles is fantastically fun, full of familiar fairy tale delights. It is perfect for children from age four, and especially providing a shining light for those with vision impairments to feel confident and secure.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Love Ever After – Picture Book Reviews

If all you need is love, added with delicacy, beauty and tenderness, then these two gorgeous new titles from the home of New Frontier Publishing are for you. A classic fairy tale and a global sensation, both possessing the ability to melt your heart.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast, is another beautiful book in New Frontier’s (Alex Field) series of classic tales with a twist. The story of a young woman, regretfully sacrificed by her father to an unrelenting Beast, has been told with reverence and endearment. It also enlightens girls with a sense of power, evincing Beauty’s strength and courage in facing her fears and standing up for her rights. The story further relays a message of trust and loyalty as the relationship between the unlikely pair evolves. And finally, the ultimate commitment is made when Beauty agrees to live forever with the Beast and he is transformed into a prince. A true display of unconditional love.

Helene Magisson has unequivocally supported this sweet tale with her soft-paletted, fluid and gentle illustrations. She has created magnificent atmosphere with the muted tones of blues and oranges, beautifully depicting both the contrasts between Beauty and the Beast as well as their tendency to naturally complement each other. The subtle symbolism of the caged butterflies, eventually trading places with the wicked fairy, is clever, and most intriguing for its astute readers.

Happily Ever After: Beauty and the Beast has a modern edge whilst retaining the charming essence of the classic. A keepsake treasure for any princess-loving youngster, and especially perfect timing with all the current ‘Beauty’ hype!

I Love You, written by Xiao Mao and illustrated by Tang Yun is a special picture book specifically about three special, little words. It has a universal appeal that any preschool-aged child, around the globe, can relate to. It is fun-loving, pure, reassuring and irresistibly adorable.

‘I love’ how this book encourages a sense of humanity and togetherness, where we can all, including the animals, live in a world of peace and fondness towards one another and our environment. When the tall-necked Ms Giraffe writes words in five different languages on the board at school, Little Badger takes a particularly keen interest. As it turns out, each phrase translates into the same meaning: I Love You. With her best Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish, and English, Little Badger professes her love for everything around her, including Mum and Dad. ‘Ti amo, little tree.’ ‘Te quiero, pretty flowers.’ ‘Wo ai ni, cloud.’ ‘Ich liebe dich, rice.’ ‘Je t’aime, underpants.’ Once she is fluent she can finally rest. Now Mum and Dad can practise, too!

Wonderfully dense, textured paintings fill the pages with natural, warming tones, perfectly suiting this wholesome, meaningful story of love, appreciation and cultural integration. There is also a sense of cheekiness and humour that certainly reflects the age of the readers and the engagement when learning something new.

If any book can send good, loving vibes your way, it’s I Love You. It provides opportunities to explore dialect in one’s own community and beyond, and reinforces that universal bond between children and their carers. So let’s celebrate our world’s rich diversity, and affections, one language at a time!

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Helene Magisson’s Labour of Love: The Velveteen Rabbit

896-20150213142152-Cover_The-Velveteen-Rabbit_LR-1In a gorgeously remastered classic tale, just in time for Easter, is a story about the magic of love; The Velveteen Rabbit. With the original story (first published in 1922) by Margery Williams Bianco being untouched, this current version has an exquisite sense of charm about it thanks to its’ talented illustrator, Helene Magisson.  

Depth, emotion and beauty, with a touch of magic, all describe this story of a toy Rabbit brought into the loving arms of a young Boy. And these words also perfectly describe the divine artwork that so beautifully compliments this enchanting tale.
When once felt as inferior to the other toys, the Velveteen Rabbit is soon unsurpassable and never leaves the Boy’s side. In a touching moment between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, as he discovers that to be truly loved is to be Real, Helene Magisson has magnificently represented this significance with her gentle, serene watercolour pictures as the characters converse under the pale moonlight. And equally whimsical are the sweet expressions and playful angles that Helene has created when the Rabbit’s little sawdust heart almost bursts with love once he is claimed as Real.
Magisson’s heartwrenching image of a teary, slumped and worn little bunny so effectively captures the intense emotion of a toy due to be burnt to rid the germs from the Boy’s scarlet fever. ”…of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?”
thevelveteenrabbitfairyIn a heartwarming finale, the angelic nursery Fairy and the Rabbit fly across the shimmering, glowing sky to a place where Real is true, and his identity as a live rabbit affirmed. What a bittersweet ending when the Boy unknowingly recognises his long-lost cherished Rabbit; the very bunny that he had helped to become Real.
Throughout the book, Helene has used a consistent colour palette of soft, cool blues and greens, which act as a superb contrasting backdrop to the beige of the Rabbit’s fur, as well as honour the affectionate nature of the story. A timeless story of love, companionship and belonging, perfect as a gift for Easter for primary school aged children, and their parents.
New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.  

Entranced by the gorgeous illustrations in The Velveteen Rabbit, I wanted to learn a bit about the artist who created them. So, it is with great pleasure to introduce the talented Helene Magisson.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Helene! How did you celebrate The Velveteen Rabbit’s arrival?
I wanted this day to be very simple and be just with my family. Sharing it with my husband and children is this nice feeling when you have accomplished something that you love. I think it was a very serene day. But very important to mention here: we also shared a huge plate full of sushi.

Helene MagissonPlease tell us a bit about your illustrating journey. Did you always love to draw as a child?
For sure, I have always been very attracted to everything related to art. As far as I can remember, I think that I have always drawn! In my early career as an artist, I was a painting restorer and loved that job but there was no place for creativity. It is only when we settled down here in Australia 3 years ago, that I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. It was an old dream which I had never taken the opportunity to fulfil. So I tried, worked hard to move from art restoration to illustration and then one day, timidly, I attend the CYA conference. I was very surprised to get the first prize and to be offered my first contract with New Frontier to illustrate The Velveteen Rabbit. I could not imagine a better start.

What do you love about illustrating children’s books?
I love every step of that work from the research of the characters till the final colouring. The stories created for children can be so charming, surprising, touching. Discovering a children’s book is like a door opened to incredible worlds. And it is amazing to be a part of these worlds by illustrating them. When I first discover the story I will illustrate, there are so many images coming through my mind, it is a very exciting feeling, with no limit to the imagination. It is a work of passion and it makes me happy.

Were you familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit growing up? What do you love about this story?
I grew up in Kenya and I think it is there where I first read this story. But then I lost it a bit when my family went back to France. Unfortunately it is not a very well-known story in France (what a pity!). But it was also great to rediscover it as an adult, and then be able to understand its deeper and beautiful meaning. It is exactly what I love with that book: you just grow up with it. The kind of book you always keep with you.

The velveteen rabbit imageThe artwork in The Velveteen Rabbit is beautifully soft, elegant and whimsical. Do you have an image that was your favourite to work on? How did you decide on the cool colour palette, and what media did you use?
Thank you. I loved illustrating this beautiful dialogue between the horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a strong part in the story. I wanted it to be serene and poetic. I could not imagine it without a huge full moon and tiny mosquitoes dancing in the air. And also, I enjoyed working on the lovely little face of the Velveteen Rabbit with tears in his eyes when he discovers the fairy. This particular moment is full of emotion and is very whimsical. I wanted the whole work to be very soft, no strong or “heavy” colour, and very harmonious not to disturb the flow and the gentleness of the text. Also the rabbit had to be brown as Margery Williams Bianco described it. So I wanted to create a soft contrast all around him in that cool colour palette. And watercolour is my favourite media and I think it perfectly fits the story.

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
One of the most challenging part was this long dialogue between the 2 real rabbits and the Velveteen Rabbit. This dialogue spreads out through 5 pages. We needed to keep the action flowing and coherent but it also had to be dynamic, so I used different perspectives and close ups. Also I made the choice to show all the emotions of the Velveteen Rabbit but very subtly.  He is a toy, but I wanted to show him as a child can see him: alive, so with emotions but never too strong. As if we were hesitating… Is he real or not? That was challenging.

How long did the process take from start to finish?
The text is long (48 pages) so there are many illustrations (27) and many of them spread out on the next page to softly frame the text. They are also full of tiny details. So it took me 7 months from the sketching part till the last illustration.

How did you find your first publishing experience with New Frontier Publishing? Was it a very supportive, collaborative process?
It was fantastic to work with them. They gave me a lot of freedom in my creativity process which was very pleasant, and their feedback was always very inspirational to me. For some tricky parts, like the front cover, they were very supportive. I enjoyed every minute of this project. But most of all I am so grateful to New Frontier for giving me this great start.

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
Oh! My God! Am I obliged to answer that question? Well…It is absolutely terribly messy and a huge mystery for my husband. It is like a miracle every day for him. Of course, there are 1000 brushes, paints, pencils, pieces of paper but also plenty of children’s book everywhere, photos of everything, cards with quotes I love, something like 100 cups of tea all around, and many blades of grass, pieces of wild flowers (the one I prefer and very often include in many of my illustrations), and even a small collection of feathers I find in my garden.

What are you currently working on? What can we all look forward to seeing from Helene Magisson in the near future?
I have just finished a lovely story, elegant with a touch of humour about a Prince who wants to marry a Princess, you know, this very delicate Princess? It will be released early next year. And I am also very excited about the next project, but still want to keep it secret!  

Thank you so much, Helene! It has been absolutely delightful getting to know more about you!

Contact Helene Magisson:
Www.helenemagisson.com
www.facebook.com/pages/Helene-Magisson