I Want to Be Something – Picture Books with Inspiring Characters

Children have their whole lives ahead of them to do and be whatever they desire. Whether or not those wishes seem achievable, let’s encourage their dreams and aspirations and teach them that obstacles are an important part of the journey. Here are a couple of inspiring picture books that support the notions of following your heart and striving to reach your goals.

Eric the Postie by Matt Shanks is an adorable story about a little echidna stamping his mark on the small township of Wattleford in outback Australia. His ancestors, as seen in Eric’s own Hall of Fame-type gallery, had all achieved greatness in their own right. However, Eric’s dream is to be the best postie in town, and he has all the perfect attributes to prove it – dog protection, a really long tongue for licking envelopes, a sharp beak for opening the residents’ mail, and the ability to keep the letterboxes pest free. But when he realises he has no actual mail to deliver, Eric abounds an inventive delivery scheme that ensures a successful postal experience for everyone.

Matt Shanks’ ingenious story is heartwarming, lively and simple, and his illustrations on white backgrounds equally match the gentle, charismatic and uncomplicated nature of the book. I love his placement of the characters’ off-the-face eyes, and the endpapers are pretty special, too!

If you’re looking for a book that will get the seal the approval from your preschooler, then this one delivers! With sheer determination, tenacity and ambition, Eric the Postie addresses them all.

Scholastic Australia, July 2017.

Nothing says, ‘I’m the queen of the world!’ like the majestic stance of the small rhinoceros on her boat that graces the front cover of this book. And rightly so. In Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, this little powerhouse impresses us all with her spirited resolve as she achieves her dreams of seeing the world.

Against the belief of the other rhinoceroses, who only trust in mud wallowing, grass grazing, tree scratching and sun bathing, the small rhinoceros doggedly, yet stoically, fashions up a boat, waves goodbye and sails away into the distance. With the dreamy wording by McKinlay and Rudge’s equally dreamy watercolour, pencil and collage illustrations, we are allowed to share in the protagonist’s wonderfully dreamy and exotic adventures to “faraway lands and beyond.” The rhinoceroses are typically unimpressed with her stories on her return, but perhaps there is still hope for one inspired ‘littler’ soul.

This small character with big might is clear in her resistance to the adult’s pressures and expectations, without all the fuss. She is impressively composed, curious and adventurous, and doesn’t fall into the trap of accepting the everyday monotonous routine. So, take her example and create your own story… Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros is inspirational for all living beings, great and small.

Walker Books, August 2017.

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Anything But Catastrophic – Picture Books about Cats

Cat lovers! You won’t find disaster here. In fact, far from it. These following cat books are brilliant enough to stretch your imaginations, tickle your sweet spots and scratch at your curiosity. And they all so precisely capture the little nuances that make cats, cats.

In this sequel to The Cat Wants Custard by dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, The Cat Wants Cuddles delights us with humorous cat antics and extreme mood swings. Whether being notoriously independent, totally ambivalent or attention-deprived, Kevin is a typical tomcat.

Surly facial expressions and skittish body language emphasise the stubborn and scornful retaliation Kevin assigns to his owner’s requests for a cuddle. Managing to escape the torturous grip of patting hands, and with absolutely no regard for his flatmate, Dog, Kevin finally finds some peace and quiet. That is until a wave of jealousy rushes over him and he commands dominance over Dog for his former lap-position… but that doesn’t last long!

This book is decidedly potent with its bold, primary-based colours and energetic qualities that exude passion and wit, especially those lime-green, telling eyes. The Cat Wants Cuddles is a book that preschoolers will be snatching, cradling and squeezing with both paws.

Scholastic Australia, May 2017.

The Catawampus Cat is full of personality and individuality, and utter charm. Jason Carter Eaton writes a thoughtful and witty tale that inspires his readers to consider the world from a different perspective. Gus Gordon’s mixed media illustrations are characteristically charismatic and ooze with a sway of retro style and a hint of contemporary flair. The characters are flawlessly represented to match their quirky names and traits that Eaton so brilliantly describes.

When the catawampus, aka diagonally-angled, cat enters the town on a Tuesday morning, one by one each of the villagers see things from another point of view. Because of the askew-walking feline, lost possessions are found, relationships rekindled, creativity is sparked and new challenges are triumphed – all with thanks to the power of the tilt. Soon the whole town is lopsided, and they even mark the first Tuesday of the new year as “Catawampus Cat Day” in his honour. But all the cat wants is to be unique, so he sets off… ‘straight’ out of town!

Eccentric, memorable and thought-provoking with the most loveable and endearing character. The Catawampus Cat will be the new favourite for preschool and early years children…it’s ours!

Penguin Random House, April 2017.

Doodle Cat is back, but this time Doodle Cat is Bored. At first this drives him out of his mind, but then he finds a crayon. Experimenting with it as a soup spoon, a spade, a dance partner finally leads the cat to discover it is in fact for doodling… But he already knew that, right? Demonstrating his creative, imaginative, and sometimes crude mind through the use of the crayon is a tiring feat for the red, graphic squiggle that is Doodle Cat. And with one final engagement, he asks the audience, “What will you draw?”

Kat Patrick writes this story with bounce, energy and vitality. The sentences are simple to create an interactive yet highly amusing report from the view of the cat. Lauren Marriott’s illustrations reflect this beautifully. Her choice of fire engine red perfectly assigns Doodle Cat his prominence on the mostly plain white backgrounds. She has also introduced the front cover’s lemon yellow, which features sporadically within the pages, too.

Young children will certainly be ‘drawn’ to both the simplicity of the book but also the scope of curiosity and artistic opportunities it reinforces. Doodle Cat is Bored is bursting with ideas to quell those boredom blues.

Scribble, May 2017.

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Chook Doolan is Back

Award-winning author James Roy and talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford are back with another four sensational books in the popular series for junior readers, Chook Doolan. It is a witty and warm-hearted series suited to sensitive young souls navigating their way through challenging feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.

I reviewed two previous titles here (#3 and #4), outlining these creators’ ability to capture the heart, emotion and relatability sublimely to fit their emergent reader audience. Supportive language structures, short chapters and engaging illustrations allow children from age five to achieve success whilst absorbing every moral and humorous fibre of life within the pages.

Early primary-aged readers will relish the joy and culture shining from the pages in Let’s Do Diwali (#5). Venturing into unknown territory with a tradition he doesn’t know and a crowded event is a daunting prospect for timid Chook – aptly nicknamed for his tendency to scare easily.
When paired with the quietly-spoken Praj on a school task, Chook is presented with the opportunity to learn about Diwali. He is, however, apprehensive about attending the Hindu festival of lights, and subsequently performing well on the class talk. But by embracing the spirit of the culture by wearing a kurta, trying the Indian cuisine and engaging the happy crowd, Chook’s feelings of fear dissolve into excitement. He even feels confident at school to deliver his speech about the ‘awesome’ time he had at the Diwali festival.
This is a valuable story about understanding and welcoming other traditions, and overcoming feelings of anxiety with clearly accessible and supportive practices. Let’s Do Diwali is a jubilant celebration to revisit frequently!

On the Road (#6) is about a family trip to Aunty Liz’s home in Mount Frederick. Chook is unsure about spending time with his younger twin girl cousins. He worries about other things, too, like leaving his pets behind, and having to spend three hours in the car with his taunting older brother, Ricky. Luckily, Chook finds a mutual connection with one of the girls, Evie, through his favourite activity of chess.
This book provides a gentle encouragement that shows serendipitous moments can arise in a safe and supportive environment. A little bit of courage to interact with new or unfamiliar people can lead to some wonderful relationships.

In Un-Happy Camper (#7), Simon Henry Doolan; or Chook, expresses a range of emotions from anxiety to frustration to acceptance and relief. Finding out that his class will be attending a school camp, Chook is no more than unenthusiastic. Snakes and getting homesick are not his cup of tea. All he needs is a few gentle pushes from his mum to convince him that it will be alright. This sensitive, persuasive approach and positive attitude helps Chook through his anguish, and he thoroughly enjoys the school camp…even though they didn’t really go anywhere!
The focus on Chook’s feelings throughout his psychological journey is written effectively to help readers understand their own, sometimes mixed, emotions, and finding ways to ease those discomforts. At the same time the story is injected with humour and intuitively sharp black and white illustrations.

In Up and Away (#8), Chook has been given a school assignment to explore a job he might like to pursue as an adult. Naturally, he is drawn to the job of his father – a pilot. But, there are things about being a pilot that are scary, such as visiting new places and meeting new people. In a cleverly fun way, Chook’s dad teaches him a little about the structure and physics of a plane, which is somewhat reassuring. Whilst waiting for his dad in the Club Lounge, Chook is granted an opportunity to quash his own fears, and impart his knowledge, to help another in need.
This book beautifully showcases the fact that ‘ knowledge is power’, and stepping out of your comfort zone leads to a sense of empowerment and personal growth. Once again, relevant, entertaining and encouraging, young readers will delight in this gratifying story of developing independence.

The Chook Doolan series for junior readers, and in particular young boys developing their literacy skills, is absolutely addictive. These stories of overcoming internal struggles and developing self-confidence are highly relatable, uncomplicated and transparent, as well as pleasantly engaging. Five to eight year olds will definitely be clucking for more!

Author James Roy

Illustrator Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books Australia, June 2017.

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Review – Hurry Up Alfie by Anna Walker

hurry-up-alfieHere comes Alfie! Bursting onto the scene. So much to do, so little time. Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out.

With classics including the I Love series, I Don’t Believe in Dragons and Peggy, and her beautiful illustrations for Jane Godwin’s All Through the Year, Starting School and Today We Have No Plans, award-winning author / illustrator Anna Walker knows kids. And here is no exception with her easily-distracted, stubborn and fun-loving crocodile in her latest release, Hurry Up Alfie.
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‘Alfie’s in no hurry to get up… until he finds out he’s going to the park!’

But in typical kid fashion, Alfie’s handstands are more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?!

Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes!

The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way to meet Bert at the park; clothes, umbrella and all. However, there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!

hurry up alfie page 2As a mother two young girls, the struggle to get out of the house on time is all too familiar. Anna Walker similarly understands these daily pleasures and the joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ pre-schooler, with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.

Hurry Up Alfie is an adorably funny read that rings true for any household with young children. It’s a gorgeous story about asserting one’s independence, learning to focus on a task, self-expression and cooperating with others, but also enjoying the simple pleasures in life. If only we could all be so care-free like Alfie!  

Review by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – A House of Her Own

A House of Her OwnFive something-year-olds can be delightfully brutal and unsparing with their observations and subsequent proclamations on life. Audrey is one such five year-old. She may be younger or slightly older; but one thing’s for certain, she does look bigger than she did yesterday, which is why she announces to her father that, ‘your house is getting too small for me’. What Audrey needs is a house of her own.

A House of Her Own is the latest collaboration between the relatively new picture book pairing of Jenny Hughes and Jonathan Bentley. It’s a partnership that works a treat, gently examining the taste for independence pre-schoolers begin to develop as they become more self-aware.

A House Illo 2Audrey is a young lady with specific tastes however so finding the perfect location to build her dream dwelling takes some time. Eventually she reasons that the tallest tree in the garden is the only site that satisfies her daily ‘growing bigger’ dilemma and instructs Dad to commence construction.

Again, Audrey’s exacting requirements take some time for Dad to fulfil, but with infinite good patience, he builds her a ‘place to play, with a bath tub for snorkelling’ and ‘a blue bed, to keep secrets underneath’; features that would please the most discerning home renovator.

It isn’t until Dad packs up for the night, leaving Audrey to fend for herself in her new abode, that doubt begins to seep in, causing Audrey to question her rash quest for independence. Dad is delightfully indifferent to her growing concerns until he suggests a place she’ll feel safe and warm in, a place where she is always welcome, no matter how much bigger she becomes.

Jenny HughesAs a parent, A House of Her Own made me grin with intuitive understanding and compassion. I mean, who doesn’t want a tree house of their own. Jenny Hughes weaves typical pre-schooler indignity with humorous clarity into a tale singing with emotional insight and warmth. It’s The Block meets Play School, with characters better defined and more recognisable than found in some older-audience aimed works of fiction.Jonathan Bentley

Hughes’ delicate treatment of a comfortably repeating narrative enables the tender relationship of the occasionally irascible Audrey and her single-parenting father to really shine.

Jonathon Bentley’s watercolour and pencilled illustrations lend more than a note of whimsy to the story line. There’s a sunny backyard openness that filters from each page deep into your (childhood) heart. Each illustration explores every perspective and angle of Audrey’s project and emotional quandary, with detailed sensitivity that lures your eye to the page and keeps it there.

A House of Her Own Illo spread A House of Her Own is an anytime story that begs to be read again and again – at least my young miss thought so. It highlights the realisation that fanciful desires don’t always match with a longing for security, but also reaffirms that, making a stance in life need not isolate you from others or those who love you, something many teenagers would do well to accept. A beautiful tale brimming with affection, perfect for anyone with lofty dreams and sky-high expectations.

Little Hare Books imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont September 2014