Valentines Reading – Picture Books with Heart

Whether it’s about love unrequited, lost loves or welcoming new love into your heart, this collection of new children’s book releases are sure to melt your Valentines resolve.

Unrequited Love

I Love You Stick Insect by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Side-splinteringly silly, this jocularly illustrated romance features Stick (a stick insect) and his infatuation with the most beautiful stick insect he has ever laid eyes on. He immediately launches into a reverie of what ifs with his newfound love despite Butterfly’s repeated proclamations that it’s ‘just a stick’. Readers merrily hurtle along with Stick and his runaway imagination until he finally twigs his embarrassing mistake. Eye-catching candy that will tickle the funny bones of 2 – 5 year-olds.

Bloomsbury January 2018

Valensteins by Ethan Long

Valentine’s Day may seem an unlikely celebration for monsters and ghouls yet young Fran has other notions. He sets his heart on creating a pretty, pink paper heart for which he receives cutting ridicule. His vampish friends fear that Fran might be in love, that icky, gross, mushy, kiss-on-the-lips emotion that they frankly all find ‘terrifying’! Fortunately, for Fran, he turns the other bolted cheek and remains true to his real feelings. Despite its monochromatic overtones and comically Goth characters, Valensteins oozes charm and meaning, showing young readers that real love is about what you feel in your real heart. This is a lovely expression of being true to your feelings and creating meaningful relationships.

Bloomsbury January 2018

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Belief Compassion Dreams – More Picture Books that Inspire

The well of picture books possessing that alluring duality to entertain and inspire never seems to run dry. Here are a few new titles to keep you topped up.

Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie

Phil Lesnie used pencil, watercolour and a tiny bit of gouache to decorate Cummings’ story of compassion and hope. According to his note, he also spilled his coffee on it twice and left it in. Despite his refreshing flippancy, both he and Cummings have created a picture book awash with extreme visual sincerity and narrative beauty. Their story follows the flight of a migrating sandpiper whose tug for home takes the reader through crumbled war-torn landscapes, over deep river valleys, through dark stormy nights, and across flood-ravaged plains and turbulent seas until finally coming to rest near Mia’s house.

At various locations, a feather or two is lost, each causing a reaction between those who happen upon it, connecting us, the reader, with the inhabitants from lands far distant and their circumstances. The sandpiper is a curious yet brilliant choice for the allegorical conduit between that which is normal for some and catastrophic for others.

Feathers promotes themes of immigration, hope, tolerance, cultural awareness, compassion and humanity in a divinely beautiful way. Highly recommended for primary aged readers.

Scholastic Press August 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge

When a small rhino sets off across a the ocean waves in search of something more, he discovers a world of possibilities and wonders greater than he could have ever imagined and the satisfaction of eventually returning home. This is a comely tale of living your dreams to their fullest and ignoring those soothsayers who warn you otherwise. See Romi’s full review, here.

Walker Books Australia August 2017

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

I’m Australian Too focuses on multiculturalism from within our own backyards or indeed, the backyards of a dozen or more typically Aussie kids with not so typically Aussie roots. Celebrating diversity in a way that pre-schoolers will relate to, Fox uses simple verse and a conversational tone to prompt readers to investigate their own cultural heritage and to not only celebrate it but embrace those with different family histories, as well. Each introduction ends on a bouncy high note suggesting that no matter where we originate from, no matter what the circumstance of our being Australian, we are all one and better for it.

Scholastic Australia March 2017

Sarah and the Steep Slope by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

One of the most powerful and affecting picture book teams around, join forces again to present Sarah’s story of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sarah is unable to leave her home because of a slope. It blots out the sun and surrounds her house blocking every exit. Despite her best efforts, the slope will not budge, trapping Sarah, ‘all day long’. Until the slope doctor makes a suggestion and with the help of her friends, Sarah discovers a way to see past the slope and to conquer it.

Sarah and the Steep Slope is a tremendous story of courage, friendship and emotional resilience. Occasionally we, including young children, all encounter slopes like Sarah’s that effectively prevent us from seeing what is beyond and inhibit us from venturing further than we need to. Parker’s narrative gives one hope and salvation from negative thoughts and actions by illustrating the formidable healing power of friendship. Ottley reinforces this notion of self-belief with utterly lovable, whimsy-filled illustrations that bathe each page with texture and meaning without imagery clutter. Another masterpiece and my new best favourite.

Little Hare Books, imprint of HEG August 2017

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Powerfully Poignant – Historical MG reviews

Courage to CareBeing part of the human species is not always a club I’m proud to belong to. We can be pretty awful to each other sometimes even though most of us, most of the time err on the side of kindness. History allows us to mark the good times and the kind people. More frequently however, it serves as a reminder of the inglorious periods of our human existence. We cannot and should not hide from them if we want humanity to evolve, which is why these next three books make for such fundamental reading. All would complement the historical fiction shelves of young readers aged between 11 and 15. All encourage us to recognise discrimination, understand its origins, and be brave enough to fight its ugly consequences. All invite us to care in a powerfully poignant way.

One Thousand HillsOne Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

This book is devastating. Powerful and wrenching yet achingly beautiful. Roy and Zihabamwe have given one ten-year-old boy a voice among an ocean of hundreds of thousands that were silenced without reason or mercy. Written with understated force and crisp, almost child-like clarity, One Thousand Hills traces the tension fraught days leading up to one of the most despicable acts of genocide the world as ever known, the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Pascal lives in Agabande, close to Kigali, in the heart of Rwanda. His life is simple and idyllic despite the taunts of his older brother and annoying traits of his little sister, Nadine. His parents work hard, worship what is good and Godly, and provide for their family as devoutly as the rest of the villagers who reside in the verdant mountainous countryside. They are a mixed family of Hutu and Tutsis, yet they share the same brutality and sheer ‘awfulness’ of this crime against humanity, born of fear and a need to sustain power with over 800,000 other Rwandans.

This novel does not sensationalise the violence nor does it dwell on the political legitimacy and shortcomings of the world’s nations who at first refused to acknowledge the genocide and certainly did nothing to prevent or end it. Instead, readers are shown how Pascal, via his vivid and eloquent narrations to a counsellor in Brussels some five years later, survived the ordeal and how his experiences changed him.

His voice rings loud and pure yet is tragically and irreversibly altered by what he has seen and had to do to save himself and Nadine. The final picture is not a straightforward prediction of how the previously pious and life-loving Pascal will evolve. He is at the endpoint, painfully sad and despondent; we, like the counsellor are incredulous and shocked that he has emerged with any sense of hope at all.

Despairing and gut wrenching, yes, however rather than fuelling hatred and disgust, this poignant tale promotes understanding and hope ‘to prevent children having to hide or run in fear from conflicts that have nothing to do with them.’ (Paraphrased from James Roy’s dedication.)

Powerful, essential reading.

Hanna My Holocaust StoryMy Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander

This is the first title in the Holocaust series aimed at upper primary readers and at first glance, I had mixed feelings about curling up to read this one. On one hand, I find the potency and importance of this subject terribly arresting but on the other, if handled oafishly instils depression and worse, a kind of muted blasé trance – we’ve-heard-and-seen-it-all-before kind of attitude. Happy to report, Hanna exhibits none of the latter and is an excellent introduction of the Holocaust and its impact for young readers.

Peppered with edgy characters, spirited narration, and well-paced drama, Hanna is another title that skilfully addresses the atrocities of ethnic cleansing without bogging young minds previously unexposed to the grim details of WW II.

Hanna Kaminsky is a Polish Jew forced into hiding with her family, then surviving in the Warsaw Ghetto at the onset of WW II. Like Pascal, she can almost taste the rising tension of political unrest but is too absorbed by her love of gymnastics, her best friend, and her warm family life to comprehend the danger it represents.

Pascal’s refuge was an old disused water tank. Hanna’s is reading. Throughout her nerve-destroying confinement she clings to the one novel her mother allowed her to flee with, The Scarlet Pimpernel. She begins to mirror her survival on his character and adopts the mantra ‘pluck and audacity’ to make it through each moment of escalating horror. In spite of her own hardships, Hanna shows spunk and fortitude in the face of adversity, using them to help others in dire need.

Alexander’s historical notes give this story depth and dimension describing the staggering loss of life associated with the Holocaust, millions being children, but again are presented in a balanced, informative way. For there is no need to over-describe the tragedy of these events.

It’s interesting to note this title is endorsed by Courage to Care, an organisation devoted to educating and challenging young people to stand up to injustices rather than just being passive bystanders.

Inspiring and purposeful.

Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster

This did not pull me as much as the title and cover promised it might owing to continued overzealous exposition however, it is nonetheless a fascinating account of the conflict thPaper Planesat divided a nation and its people for nearly half a decade. Ashamedly, I knew very little about the Civil War that savaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s in spite of the fact that I was living and working in Europe at the time.

Paper Planes traces the plight of one family in Sarajevo through the eyes of the quite naive 12-year-old Niko and his eventual escape from the city under siege. Flecked with historic accuracies, this story does prick the emotions and beggars the belief as to how we humans are (still) able to fight our fellow man in such prehistoric ways for so little substantial reason.

Recommended for mid-grade readers, Paper Planes is another story about a terrible war and cultural genocide, the sufferers of which are often the innocents; the children and the people who never wanted it in the first place and like all war-torn tales, it is based on real historical facts and the lives of those who lived them.

Find all books here.

Scholastic Australia March 2015 – March 2016

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Forces of Nature – Picture Book Reviews

The scent of Spring is in the air. But that’s not all that’s lifting us up. From the tiny details to the wider world, our environment has so much to offer. For different reasons, these following picture books discover beauty and how the elements of nature can capture our hearts and strengthen our human kindness.  

imageHow the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.  

I patiently awaited its arrival. Now I’ve had my fix, and… it was worth the wait. This one effectively enlightened all my senses. With Bob Graham‘s natural poetic writing style, philosophical touch and emotive images, ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is another classic to soothe the soul.  

In a consecutive movement, similar to the styles of ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ and ‘Silver Buttons’, the story takes us on a journey with the sun around the globe. Starting from behind a snow-capped mountain, the sun begins to rise, giddily skidding across waters, catching glimpses in eyes, footsteps, aeroplane wings and over cities. In and out of proximity, the sun’s rays meet a vast array, from individuals, to small villages, and whole countries. Until, it barges in through Coco’s window. The sun becomes one with her family and friends, bringing with it a sense of togetherness, comfort and warmth.  

A gentle story of life, responsibility and peace, this book is adorned with Bob Graham’s characteristically whimsical and magical illustrative style, with a beautiful lolloping pace. ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is a valuable asset aimed to inspire young readers to explore global environmental and social issues, as well as one that will simply light up their world! Once again, Bob Graham…brilliant!  

imageSeagull, Danny Snell (author, illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.  

Danny Snell brings us a heartwarming story of humanity and freedom, making clear our responsibility for appreciating the natural world around us.  

Beautifully descriptive yet simple language and serene backdrops allow its readers an intimate experience as a seagull tries to free herself from a tangled fishing line. Unable to loosen it herself, Seagull initiates help from the other creatures around the beach, but to no avail. The further she tarries, the heavier her load becomes as she catches a manner of litter in the line. Finally, it is the silent observer that enables Seagull’s wings to spread, and her heart to sing once more.  

Snell has cleverly and effectively used mixed media to differentiate between the elements of natural versus man-made / fragile versus harmful with paint for the scenery and animals, and colourless scanned images for the items of rubbish. His artwork is stunningly textured with varying sky hues to represent the passing of the day and the exhaustion, and eventual freedom, of the defenceless bird.  

‘Seagull’ is a gentle and significant story for primary school aged children to be aware of environmental issues and aims to empower control, kindness and compassion for our planet and our future. Definitely one that will pull on your heartstrings.  

imageOllie and the Wind, Ronojoy Ghosh (author, illus.), Random House Australia, 2015.  

Here’s a cheeky story of one force of nature; the wind. Treating the gust as an anthropomorphic, invisible being, young Ollie interacts with it in creative ways, hoping to be reunited with the hat and scarf that were snatched from him. Upon discovering that the wind is not naughty, but in fact playful, Ollie gestures some of his favourite toys. A nighttime kite-flying romp sees Ollie and the wind form a special bond, which, by the looks of the final image, seemed to put the wind in high spirits.  

The text is full with depth and life, and is accompanied by vibrant, textured and jovial illustrations. Ghosh‘s fine line drawings, minimal colour palette of bold greens and golds with statements of red, and cartoonesque style qualify for a unique and captivating reading experience.  

‘Ollie and the Wind’ will capture more than just your heart. It will encourage preschoolers to look at the world with a fresh perspective, investigate studies of meteorology, and explore friendships on another level.

Review – iF… A non-fiction picture book with punch

iFI love science. I love theories. I love natural history. But, loving something doesn’t always equate to ‘getting it’; just ask my husband. With the escalated advance of technology allowing our newer generations the most informed and complete exposure to their existence on this planet than ever before, how do we encourage them to appreciate the big picture and understand their place within it? David J. Smith and Steve Adam’s, iF…is one new way of looking at ‘big ideas and numbers’ cleverly crafted into a picture book that won’t send you into an information overload stupor.

NorDavid J Smithth American based educator, Smith uses this picture book to scale down overwhelming statistics and concepts into run of the mill, everyday thinking for the everyday, future thinkers of Generation Z. He tames ponderous topics such as the Galaxy, the history of the Earth, and the physiology and biology of our planet, reducing the incomprehensible into facts that lie down and make sense.if the Galaxy

For instance, did you know that you spend about four slices out of your typical twelve-slice pizza-life getting ready to sleep and sleeping? Seems a big waste of cheese to me, but it is precisely these sorts of mind-bending approaches that invite readers to learn more and crucially, remember more. How handy would that be for your next session of Trivia Pursuit! It’s a bonus that many of these concepts are National Curriculum based for primary-schoolers.

steve AdamsI love the organic layout and design of this picture book. Non-fiction is dressed up and delivered in the most appealing way thanks to the artwork of award winning illustrator, Steve Adams. Adams matches Smith’s out-of-the-box thinking and information-packed text with vibrant, eye pleasing illustrations that promote a repeated look or two.

Thought provoking images together with some truly left of field, incredibly plausible downscaling allows everyone, especially school aged children six to twelve years old, to grasp the colossal enormity of the world around them and beyond.if the continents

iF…is an invaluable resource not only aiding a better understanding of the social sciences and numeracy but is also an entertaining commentary that pre-empts further studies in an imaginative way.

Don’t try to take it in all at once. There is a natural chronology beginning with the Galaxy and flowing on to humanity, however, you could just as easily pick it up and launch into discussion at any point. Take time to read the note for parents and teachers too; it explains the concept of up and down scaling in more detail and suggests activities to reinforce the use of this tool in the classroom. The awe-inspiring, Earth: The Apple of our Eye, which compares Earth to a sliced apple is mind busting.if the planets

So, we may have only existed in the last 0.2 seconds of the history of life on Earth, relatively speaking, but boy, what a full 0.2 seconds they have been. If you would like to ponder on this further, simply read iF…

New Frontier Publishing February 2015if spread

Originally published in Canada and US by Kids Can Press 2014