Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 5 – New beaut picture books

Okay, it’s only a couple more sleeps until December, which means we’re dipping into dangerous waters now. Christmas wish lists should be full and those letters to Santa should be in the post – pronto! If you are after a new Christmassy picture book to line your stockings with, try some of these fun ones on for size.

 Santa Baby Santa Baby by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Ada Grey promises to be the ‘most magical Christmas picture book of the year’ and it does have a touch of special about it. Reminiscent of the movie Arthur Christmas and the evergreen, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Baby tells the quest of Santa’s small progeny and his best mate, Roo who are upsettingly too young to accompany Dad on his worldwide mission on Christmas Eve. Grounded and miserable the two friends discover two abandoned presents and set out on a mercy mission to deliver the gifts themselves.

In spite of several distractions, they almost reach their target when they recklessly decide to undertake a ‘midnight loop-the-loop’, a sleighing manoeuvre hitherto only attempted by accomplished flyers, read Santa Claus. Their execution is, as you guessed, less than successful but just as it is all about to end in tears, Santa scoots up and rescues the rescuers. Santa Baby then realises that being Father Christmas is not as easy as sucking on a candy cane and that the two remaining presenThe Night Before Christmasts were actually for him and Roo and hold the answers to their dreams come true.

The child-friendly verse and super cute real knitted beanies and scarves illustrator Ada Grey dresses Santa Baby and Roo in adds to this merry feel-good story about the merit of patience and persistence. Magic for under-fives.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015Christmas at Grandma's Beach House

Swapping snowballs for sand dunes, head to Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House by the winning picture book team of Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson. Following their 2013 release of Christmas on Grandad’s Farm (reviewed here), this gorgeous new Christmas holiday expose adopts the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol and is bursting with more Aussie flavour than a kangaroo sausage on a hot barbie. This sing-a-long picture book will have you counting down the days to your next seaside escape and fruit mince pie. From the very first page Dawson’s illustrations, plunge us into the briny seaside environment of Grandma’s beach house. Nearly all of us must have some childhood memory of visiting such a relative’s place; I do, right down to the ‘holiday’ tree jammed in the corner, seagrass matting, and shell mobile!

Claire Saxby Saxby guides us through family introductions and new friendships with the days of Christmas countdown as we picnic on the beach, body surf and frolic under a very Aussie sun. Grandma’s beachside locale is soon swelling with a radiant assortment of kids and buzzy holidaymakers.

Chock-a-block with thongs, seagulls and sunhats, it doesn’t get any more Aussie or better than this. High on my list of sing-a-long picture books to jingle my bells to because I love a good excuse to belt out a carol, even if I don’t need a reason.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

Don’t go far, there’s a couple more hot-off Santa’s-press picture books on the way. Meantime, check out other titles for kids from the Boomerang Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.




Review – Fly-In Fly-Out Dad

A year ago, I made a rare flight to Rockhampton. It was a mid-week, evening departure on one of those regional planes no bigger than a Lego model. What struck me most about the flight however as I waited in the boarding lounge, was the sheer number of men and women arriving into Brisbane that night from various regional centres, all still attired in their high-vis work shirts and dusty boots and smelling ‘like diesel and machines’ – the FIFO workforce.

Fly in Fly Out Dad Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a picture book by Sally Murphy and Janine Dawson that addresses this regular migration of parents (and non-parents) to occupations in remote centres, often for weeks at a time. What is the norm for an increasing number of families is unknown by many children and seldom seen in books. Representations like this picture book and Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad and My FIFO Daddy by Aimee O’Brien, both published late last year, are therefore gold when it comes to surviving this somewhat specialised way of family life.

The FIFO/DIDO employment system exists because the benefits of assisted commuting of employees to mining destinations for example outweighs the costs of relocating families and establishing new communities at the site of employment. This has many benefits for the families involved but several drawbacks too namely the anxieties it can generate within the younger members of a family, most notably, according to studies, in boys.

In Fly-In Fly-Out Dad, our little boy hero loves his dad and seems to accept the idiosyncrasies associated with his job, his funny smells and long absences. Nevertheless, he lives in eternal hope that maybe, one day, Dad will stay and not leave them for weeks on end.

The boy’s family life is a stable, comfortable haven for him, mum, and his baby sister. Having dad at home cements this feeling of security. With Dad around, completeness buoys the boy but also reinforces his desire to have dad around permanently. It’s a simmering anxiety that never fully dissipates.

Through his father’s animated anecdotes and descriptions of life working the mines, he assumes super human qualities in the eyes of his son, which in turn allows the boy to gain a clearer picture of his father. In return, the boy shares ‘all the living’ he has done since he last saw his father.

Anyone who has had a loved one work away for extended periods, be their relationship one of parent and child or as a couple will immediately appreciate how intense this period of initial reunion can be. There is so much want and need to share, to compensate for lost time together that the exchanges don’t always go smoothly.

Sally MurphyThankfully, our little lad’s dad relishes his time at home, dividing it generously between fatherly obligations, his pregnant wife, and adventures with his eldest son. No moment is wasted.

Murphy’s award winning way with words ensures this narrative is relevant and light-hearted yet intrinsically sensitive to the FIFO dynamic. The measured repetition of certain key phrases adds weight and emotion whilst also providing clear expectations within a cyclical time frame. The boy is still deeply dismayed that his father has to leave again but bravely shows stoicism in front of his parents. Dad reminds him to embark on more adventures while he’s away so that his departure ends on a note that rings loudly of resilience and acceptance.

Janine Dawson Dawson’s water coloured depicted family possess a real sense of charm and individuality. I love her portrayal of Super-Dad both in his home environment and in the dongas surrounded by burly workers dining on dainty chocolate brownies and vanilla slices. (The canteen scene is a standout favourite). This clever use of visual comedy illustrates the gender diversity of these careers as well.

More than just a staid explanation of what a work away parent does, Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a beautiful picture book celebrating the super-hero in every father and an entertaining assurance that the temporary absence of a parent need not make a family any less loving or united.

A brilliant kindergarten to early primary classroom catalyst for discussion about this very real family dynamic.

The Five Mile Press July 2015

Review – Night Watch

Night WatchWho hasn’t watched an African wildlife documentary and not been enthralled by the lives of the majestic beasts that roam within? I may be easily amused but their appearances and antics still impress me, as does Phil Cummings’ and Janine Dawson’s latest offering, Night Watch.

Our African stars are Giraffe, Elephant, Hippo, and Baboon. They are neighbours, living side by side around the lake, getting on with their everyday lives but rarely exchanging more than a passing nod or ‘gruff grunt’ with each other; a modern predicament in today’s high density living society.

One day though, danger comes ‘prowling…creeping…stalking…sneaking’; Lion is on the hunt.

The animals rally nervously together and thanks to an ingenious idea of Baboon’s (being smarter than he looks) they hatch a shrewd plan and form a vigilant night watch. Lion is out-witted and frightened senseless by their deviousness. From then on, it’s business as usual, each resuming their insular coexistence by the lake, but no longer afraid of the night or what it could bring.

Phil CummingsThis likeable picture book touches on the importance of cooperation, teamwork, survival (of the cleverest) and the value of friendship with bucket-loads of charm and wit.

Phil Cummings pleasing rhythmic text pulses with humour and sound and stands up to repeated readings. But it is Janine Dawson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations which convincingly convey the verve of the African savannah for me. They radiate the naivety, ingenuity and vulnerability of the characters with a sunny vibrancy sure to charm the pants of young readers.Janine Dawson

Working Title Press suggests this picture book provides plenty of potential for imaginative interaction, activities and kinetic play for children from 3 – 6 years of age. I am inclined to agree. But of course, if you are partial to safaris through the wilds of Africa, it’s worth a look too. Because you never know when you’ll need to outsmart a marauding lion do you?

Working Title Press April 2013




Today, Julie Nickerson is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about her new Aussie Nibble about the delightful Pippa from Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail.

Pippa’s new adventure, Pippa the Perfect Flower Girl is about Pippa’s very important job as flower girl at Aunty Sophie’s wedding and of course Pippa wants everything to be perfect – but does it turn out that way?

Meet Pippa’s Creator

Julie Nickerson always wanted to write a children’s book, but she didn’t know where to start.

Once I had kids, children’s books filled our home and the desire to write became stronger. Eventually I realized that starting to write is easy – you just need a pen and a piece of paper. I then attended many writing classes and seminars and learnt all I could about the publishing industry. Getting a book published may not be easy, but writing is – you just need to pick up that pen. If you’re a real writer, you won’t be able to put it down.

Julie can you tell us the best and the hardest parts about being a writer?

This is the first job I’ve had where I get to be creative all day, and that’s a lot of fun.

Writing is a very solitary task and sometimes it gets lonely spending all day in your own head. But once your characters come to life, it’s not so lonely.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on another Pippa story as well as a junior novel set in Japan.

Do you have any tips for new writers?

Read! Especially the types of books you’d like to write. Reading is a great way to learn how other authors construct their stories. Plus, reading is fun.

Do your books have any consistent themes/symbols/locations. If so, what are they?

My stories always have some level of humour in them. Laughing is good for you, and if I’m writing a story that makes me laugh, then hopefully it will make other people laugh as well.

Anything else of interest you might like to tell our blog readers?

I talk to myself when I write. No, I’m not crazy, but I like to hear how the words sound together; seeing them on the page isn’t enough. This is why I’d never go to a coffee shop to write like some writers do.

I’m so pleased you said that, Julie. Not many writers admit to talking to themselves, but I’m sure most of us do.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had already written one Pippa book (Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail) and enjoyed working with her character so much that I wanted to write another story about her. I was delighted when my publisher said they’d like to see more of Pippa as well!

Why will kids like it?

Pippa wants everything to be perfect, but as is often the case in real life, things sometimes don’t go according to plan. But Pippa is a resourceful young girl and finds interesting ways to solve her problems. Janine Dawson’s wonderful illustrations add to the humour of the story.

Can you tell me about Pippa and what you like about her?

I like that Pippa is resourceful and looks for solutions for her problems. I dislike that she lives in a house with a cook and I don’t. In my house, the cook is usually me and I don’t find my own cooking very interesting. Either do my children.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

I think Janine’s illustrations make this book very appealing to young readers. She has added so many little details that add to the story but don’t appear in the words. For example, if you look closely at the picture of the wedding, you’ll notice a very special wedding guest. Hint: I want its tail.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Because Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail was already published, I had a clearer image in my head of the characters and the surroundings so I was able to really imagine how the book might look. Imagining Janine’s illustrations made me smile as I wrote it. Also, I’ve never been a flowergirl so I had to imagine what it would be like. I wanted to skip around the room, pretending to throw flower petals. But I’m not going to tell you if I actually did or not …

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

The first idea I had for this story was Pippa playing a game of hide-and-seek, with Pippa going missing when she finds a perfect hiding place. But it wasn’t very interesting and I needed to add another layer to the story. It took me a long time, but I eventually came up with the idea of there being a wedding, with Pippa being the flowergirl. Having the flowergirl going missing just before the wedding raised the stakes and gave me a lot of room to play with different ideas. It was lots of fun to write after that.

A Review of Pippa the Perfect Flower Girl

In Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl, Pippa is once again, ‘perfectly endearing’.

It’s Aunty Sophie’s wedding and Pippa has been asked to be the flower girl and of course she plans to do it perfectly. But typically for Pippa, nothing goes according to plan. While playing a game of hide and seek, she falls asleep and almost misses the wedding altogether.

She manages to get her dress and hair under control but in her rush to get ready, she has forgotten her basket of red rose petals – the ones she practiced scattering all morning.

Pippa loves Aunt Sophie. How could she possibly be Aunt Sophie’s perfect flowergirl without a basket of petals?

Pippa is devastated, but with her customary resourcefulness, she bounces back and finds the ‘perfect solution’ to her problem.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is a simple story, but it has a strong plot arc and presents experiences and feelings that young readers will easily connect with. There’s rising tension as Pippa races against time to solve her predicament.

I love the optimism of this story. And I admired Pippa’s resilience and the way she doesn’t stop till she finds a solution. She doesn’t dwell on her own predicament but her focus is on making everything perfect for the Auntie she loves.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is a tightly written story and Pippa’s character is strongly drawn so that readers empathise with her and care about what happens to her.

Janine Dawson’s lively illustrations complement the text and bring out the feisty, fun side to Pippa’s character.

Pippa the Perfect Flowergirl is another great Aussie Nibble from Puffin Books, aged for readers 6+. I look forward to seeing what Pippa gets up to next.