There’s no place like home – Aussie flavoured picture books

During my short sabbatical from all things digital over the festive season, I visited some exotic, mesmerising places, supped on mouth-watering local fare, and immersed myself in numerous colourful cultural experiences. It was invigorating and fun but like always after a hard stint abroad, it is great to be home, because for me, there is no place like home. Therefore, to kick off the New Year and in readiness for our annual Aussie Day celebrations, here are a few picture books to stir up your patriotism.

shearing-timeShearing Time by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

Nothing shouts Australia louder than sheep, blowies, and working dogs on bikes. I envy the ability the picture book team of Paterson and McGrath has at capturing the essence of the Aussie outback with such bold open sky appeal.

Colourful and engaging, Shearing Time begins during the school holidays with one farm girl’s exclamation, ‘I love shearing time!’ She goes on to explain why, inviting readers to share her shearing experiences from sunrise to sunset. Every aspect including herding cantankerous sheep, the arrival of the rowdy seasonal shearers, the racket and rumble of shearing time right up to the feeding of workers is ably depicted giving youngsters a realistic, close-up look of how wool is procured from paddock to jumper. The glossary of well-loved shearing terms is especially useful.

A great focus on rural life and one of our most significant primary industries for 4 – 8 year-olds.

Big Sky Publishing March 2017

gus-dog-goes-to-workGus Dog Goes to Work by Rachel Flynn & Craig Smith

Here is another picture book duo whose combination of imaginative images and engaging text I adore. Once again, there are strong visual and verbal connections with regional Australian life. Chock-a-block full of colloquial language and ribald observation, Gus Dog Goes to Work is an excellent read-aloud picture book allowing carers to inject plenty of iconic Aussie swagger in their rendering of it. Gus is your typical sheepdog who exists only to work and please his owner, Tom.  When he awakes one morning to find Tom and his Ute missing however, Gus decides to venture out on his own to work. His meanderings steer him a little off track and into some stinky, hilarious, quintessentially doggy dilemmas until finally he and Tom are reunited.

Dog lovers aged five and above will get a massive kick out of this entertaining expose of country life from a pooch’s point-view. Bursting with more Aussie flavour than a barbie full of beef sangers, Gus comes highly recommended.

Working Title Press February 2017

fabishFabish the horse that braved a bushfire by Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean

This is a gem of a book that evokes considerable emotion; warm tears spring forth unbidden each time I read it. Based on the true story of the vicious bushfires that ripped through the Victorian bush in February 2009, this picture book introduces us to ex-thoroughbred racer, Fabish and his retired role as mentor to the younger flighty yearlings.

McMullin faithfully recreates the mood and atmosphere of that scorching summer’s day when fire menaced the region. Fabish’s trainer, Alan Evett released the yearlings and Fabish fatalistically to find their own way while he huddled with the remaining stock in the stone stables. Outside a firestorm blazed out of control. He never thought he would see Fabish and the yearlings again.

The next morning dawned charred and desolate. Not a single living thing remained and yet miraculously, through the choking smoky haze Fabish appeared leading his yearlings home. McLean’s raw rustic palette coupled with McMullin’s poignant interpretation of the tale is a beautiful tribute to human resilience, loyalty, the power of nature and a truly unforgettable horse.

Strongly recommended for 6 – 9 year-olds

Allen & Unwin July 2016

sparkSpark by Adam Wallace & Andrew Plant

I grew up in the Adelaide foothills and witnessed the horrors of several summer infernos like Ash Wednesday but never experienced one first hand as author Adam Wallace did. Spark is a fascinating picture book depicting Australia’s most recent and devastating bushfire event, Black Saturday but ostensibly describing the catastrophic destructiveness and formidable beauty of any firestorm. And, along with Plant, he does so indescribably well.

Wallace succeeds with what no other has attempted before, to give fire a voice.  From the uniquely omnipotent point-of-view of a tiny spark, Wallace characterises the burgeoning flame with an almost child-like persona, suggesting a helpless naivety that encourages an instant empathy. Together, with the growing flame, we are borne along with a capricious and irascible wind, intent it seems after at first befriending the flame, to cause as much upset as possible until all control is lost.

Exhilarating and wild, terrifying and violent, Spark rips through your emotions with a mere sprinkling of words but with the force of an atomic bomb. Soul serrating language is not the only draw card. Plant’s monochrome illustrations will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Textural and scented with the acrid bitterness of the aftermath of pure destruction, Spark ends on the same quiet unassuming note as it begins; with teardrops from above, a flash of light and glimmer of green hope, simply brilliant.

A potent and compelling picture book useful for prompting discussions on natural disasters, Australian history,  and looking at things unconventionally for older primary aged readers.

Ford Street Publishing imprint of Hybrid Publishing October 2016

Stick around for the next swag-load of Aussie titles coming soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Treasured Books We Call Home

Home. A place of comfort, security, familiarity, belonging, warmth, and love. Our precious children and creatures of nature deserve this soft spot to fall, but what happens when these aspects are in question? Here are five beautiful books that address courage and hope in reuniting with the safest place in the world.

imageHome in the Rain, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

Highly acclaimed and legendary creator, Bob Graham, returns with yet another philosophical journey of inspiration and enlightenment. In similar vein to Graham’s Silver Buttons and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Home in the Rain emphasises a snippet of a family’s life within the bigger picture of the outside world. The language is poetic-like, the message, tender, in amongst the dreariness of the exterior scene. Graham’s illustrations tell the tale of family bonding and protection in this haphazard situation with a striking juxtaposition of smoothness versus rough, and warming tones versus dull.

As Francie and her Mum brave the car trip back home from Grandma’s house in the pouring rain, as the animals shelter and the fishermen get soaked, the little girl has only her family on her mind. She ponders the name of her soon-to-be baby sister. It is by the oily rainbow puddles of the petrol station that this light of hope falls upon this loving family and a beautiful moment in time is born.

Home in the Rain is a thought-provoking, sentimental story of observation and anticipation, where the most important revelations occur in the most unlikely of places. A book with universal themes and the comfort of home. Recommended for ages four and up.

imageWhen We Go Camping, Sally Sutton (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books, October 2016.

A home away from home. Award-winning New Zealand author, Sally Sutton, takes us on a rollicking, rhythmic trip to the great outdoors. Equally matching the exuberant verse is Cat Chapman’s ink and watercolour light-filled landscapes and spirited characters that fill the pages to their entirity.

A family day out camping becomes a sing-a-long adventure of all the fun and excitement, and nuisances, that coexist in this type of setting. From setting up tent, to racing friends, fishing for dinner and shooing away flies, bathing in the sea, using a long-drop to pee, and dreaming through the night, every turn carries forward the last with a whimsical one-liner to cap it off. “When we go camping, we sleep through the night, Sleep through the night, sleep through the night. And dream of adventures we’ll have when it’s light. Hushetty shushetty snore-io.”

When We Go Camping is a joyous treat for camp-lovers and for those adventurous preschoolers to understand there will always be a sense of safety even being away from home, as long as your family and friends are there with you.

imagePandora, Victoria Turnbull (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2016. First published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, UK.

Absolutely exquisite. From its gorgeous silk cover to its mesmerising illustrations and smoothness of the words in the same silky nature, this memorable fable will be forever captured in your hearts. It’s How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham) meets The Duck and the Darklings (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), with a splash of Adelaide’s Secret World (Elise Hurst); a story of loneliness, compassion, connection and life.

Pandora lives alone in a derelict land of broken things. In amongst the trash she has made herself a sweet, comfortable home, desperately eager to restore whatever treasures she can find. But it is when an injured bird arrives quite by accident that Pandora realises what her heart has yearned for all this time. Her charity fortuitously germinates the most unexpected and beautiful life, colour, warmth and music to Pandora’s world.

Pandora opens up endless possibilities to uncovering the magic and beauty of our natural surroundings, as well as providing us hope and wisdom in generating change for the better. A truly haunting and visually arresting book that early primary children will long to read and cherish for all time.

imagePattan’s Pumpkin; An Indian Flood Story, Chitra Soundar (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, September 2016. First published by Otter-Barry Books, UK.

Translated by storyteller, Chitra Soundar, is the flood story told by the Irular tribe, descendants of Pattan. Expressively written, and vibrantly illustrated with illuminating colours and a stunningly raw style by award-winning Frané Lessac, Pattan’s Pumpkin is certainly a feast for the senses.

Just like in the traditional tale, Noah’s Ark, the saviour passionately commits his energies into uprooting and rescuing the animals on his farm from a dangerous flood in the valley of the Sahyadri mountain. It is his good fortune that an ailing flower grows into an enormous pumpkin; the vessel in which he and his wife safely and generously nurture and carry all the creatures from the darkness to the light of the plains.

Pattan’s Pumpkin is a joyous retelling of a classic Indian tale. It signifies growth, heroism, and a respectful and spiritual harmony with fellow beings in one community.

imageTime Now to Dream, Timothy Knapman (author), Helen Oxenbury (illus.), Walker Books UK, November 2016.

Popular and critically-acclaimed illustrator, Helen Oxenbury (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt), together with children’s writer, Timothy Knapman, have produced this heartwarming adventure of family, home and belonging.

A secret lullaby unfolds as two children, brother and sister, set off to explore the mysterious sounds coming from the forest. Although the hidden dangers and the words of the song are unclear, it is obvious that with the gorgeously soft and serene watercolours, there is a definite purity and gentleness about this tale. The little boy is convinced there is a Wicked Wolf lurking in the woods, and wants to go home, but his sister assures him (and us) that “everything is going to be all right” and we continue forward. A surprising (or not) discovery ties it all together with the anticipated lullaby we can finally understand, settling all the babies in the story into their snuggly beds.

Unequivocally alluring and lovingly reassuring, Time Now to Dream is full of life, warmth and imagination. It will remind young readers that home is really where the heart is.

The Natural History of Narelle Oliver

Narelle Oliver is a creator, a world-wind who shared life and our wonderful natural world in incomparable ways. Her picture books of narrative non-fiction are informed and exquisitely constructed, often using her signature hand-coloured linocuts.

I had to catch my breath when I recently opened our copy of The Hunt  (adapted for the international market as Twilight Hunt). Narelle has featured camouflage and hidden creatures in this and a number of her picture books. In The Hunt I also found the bookplate reminding me that we gave this book to our now 24 year-old teacher son on his fifth birthday. Bilby

Camouflage also appears in Baby Bilby, where do you sleep? Like many other people, this is the book I always buy for babies but it is so much more than the typical baby book with its age-appropriate information about desert animals and peepholes displaying the animals and their tracks.

I remember my first reading of Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart when it was published. The content is original – discovering the unexpected life in the desert alongside the explorations of Charles Sturt but the exceptional multilayered composition is what sets it apart for me.

The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay is a fable about wanting to be the best. It is fascinating that the spoonbill appears here first amongst the birds who compete to have the best beak. Narelle went on to create her award-winning book Don’t let a Spoonbill in the kitchen! which once again features the spoonbill with its wide, swishing beak. Home

Home is Brisbane’s iconic picture book about the peregrine falcons who nest on the ledge of a high-rise building in the city after their bush home has been destroyed by fire. The illustrative style in this book is seminal because of the ‘altered photography’ – a combination of collage, photos, linocut rubbings, pastel, pencil and watercolour. Home won the NSW Premier’s Children’s Literary Award (Patricia Wrightson award) in 2007 and its artwork has become a permanent exhibition on the walls of Brisbane Square Library. http://www.narelleoliver.com/Projects.aspx?page=projects&id=8

Narelle would travel around Australia and further afield running popular workshops for children. She has left a wonderful legacy of other books and collaborations. She also illustrated the cover of UQP’s re-issue of Ruth Park’s children’s classic My Sister Sif in her inimitable mermaid style.

I was privileged to be in conversation with Narelle in a retrospective of her work at the launch of her brilliant Fox and Fine Feathers by Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.

http://www.narelleoliver.com/resources/magpiemagazineinterview.pdf Fox

Fox was an Honour book in the 2010 CBCA awards. Apart from its evocative, suspenseful story and peerless linocuts, it is distinguished by lyrical writing, panels and frame-breaking. The unconventionally shaped panels when the Nightjar tricks Fox masterfully suggest a jigsaw puzzle. I bought a limited edition hand-coloured print of the Coachwood Forest (a double-page spread in the book), which I love because of the sense that I’m about to walk into the picture and into the forest. When our home was badly flooded in the 2011 Brisbane floods, Narelle offered to replace this artwork but fortunately we had saved it. We have it with us now and, alongside her books, it is a constant reminder of Narelle’s talent, kindness and generosity.

Narelle Oliver 1960-2016