Twice as Sweet – Picture Books by Mem Fox

Mem Fox is a legendary and much-loved Australian author, filling our homes with love and joy for more than 30 years. Just as endearing as her beloved iconic possum tale, Mem Fox introduces us to yet another two marvellous stories of fun, rhythm, exploration, imagination and reassurance.

imageThis & That with Judy Horacek, Scholastic Australia, October 2015.

When this quintessential duo that brought us classics including Where is the Green Sheep? and Good Night Sleep Tight pair up once more, you know you’re onto a winner. Little ones will be instantly drawn in by the appealing colours and cuteness gracing the cover and opening page. They’ll just as willingly be pulled along with the stimulating, repetitive phrase, “I’ll tell you a story of this, and I’ll tell you a story of that.” But the attraction doesn’t stop there. This is an adventurous and lively story of an adult and child journeying across wondrous lands and amongst exotic creatures and people. In collaboration, Horacek‘s illustrations present a spectacular array of colour, life and energy that you can’t take your eyes away from.

When mother and baby ‘rat‘ embark on their quest in a little, green box, you’ll never be more surprised at the fun that follows. Each turn, cleverly rhyming with the word ‘that‘, thrusts this pair into a new, imaginative scene. From encountering a chimp with a magic ‘hat‘, racing boys and their ‘cat‘, crazy giraffes on a ‘mat‘, kings and queens who ‘chat‘ and speckled hens who are terribly, terribly ‘fat‘. But at bedtime, with a twist of the recurrent phrase, mother safely settles her bub after this busy day with nothing other than a goodnight ‘kiss‘.

imageMem Fox‘s expert use of language keeps her listeners engaged until the very end. Together with Judy Horacek‘s child-friendly, bold and romping drawings, this book is a pure delight. There are a multitude of opportunites for little ones to use their imaginations, to explore the hidden, and familiar, details (including the subtle visual rhyming link of the main characters, and a well-known ball of wool!), and to simply just enjoy the ride.

This & That’ will have toddlers and preschoolers jumping at the chance to jaunt with these nimble rats again and again, knowing there is always a soft place to fall when the excitement is over.

imageNellie Belle with Mike Austin, Scholastic Australia, January 2016.

Again, utilising her winning formula of repetition, questioning and interactivity, Mem Fox introduces us to another fun-loving, audacious character in ‘Nellie Belle’. With a completely different illustrative style to Judy Horacek’s, Mike Austin‘s textured digitally-rendered images are certainly no less vibrant and engaging.

The sway of the verse is reminiscent of an old childhood song, and the illustrations have that retro-feel pop to them, too!

“Is it fun in the yard, Nellie Belle, Nellie Belle? Is it fun in the yard, Nellie Belle?”

imageWhen this canine pal catches a glimpse of the outside world through the fence, the michief begins. First she buries her beloved Ted amongst the flowers, then heads out to meet and greet some new faces in the street and on the beach. Playing chasey games with the seagulls and ball games with a seal, soon her fun is dampened. Nellie Belle finds herself confronted in a deep, dark spot amongst glaring possum eyes. In an energetic scamper back through the big, wide world, this spooked pup races straight into her bed (not before retrieving Ted from the yard, of course!).

The words and pictures marry beautifully with their crisp, patterned and cheery commonalities. ‘Nellie Belle’ is a vivacious read-aloud book that is perfect for toddlers eager to become their own independent, confident beings, with that added reassurance that their piece of comfort is always within reach.

To support Australian authors and Australian book stores, such as Boomerang Books, please share this post with the hashtag #ByAustralianBuyAustralian. Read more about it here.

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!






Number 8 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #8

Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and illustrations by Judy Horacek

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…

45.6% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.


Today at Kids’ Book Capers, creator Judy Horacek and I talking about Judy’s hilarious and insightful new book, If you can’t stand the heat.

Judy, what inspired you to write this book?

If you can’t stand the heat is a collection of cartoons that I’ve done over a number of years.  Some of them will make people think, others are simply silly jokes.   I love making people laugh.

What’s it about?

It’s a collection of diverse cartoons, so it’s not about anything in particular – there are ants, aliens, furniture, penguins, reindeer, the list goes on and on.  People too.   I am very worried about the environment and climate change, and so a lot of the cartoons are about that.

That would be the biggest single topic in the book, but there are lots of things.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It has 133 cartoons in full colour, and an introduction by me where I talk about being a cartoonist.  And it’s very funny.

(I can vouch for that. Not sure if that has something to do with me being a ‘closet Elvis fan’ and his appearances throughout the book are hilarious.)

What did you enjoy most about creating this book?

I liked going through all the cartoons I had done and seeing which ones I thought would be good for this book, and then arranging them into what I thought was a good order.

What was the hardest thing about creating If you can’t stand the heat?

I always find it hard to think of the title.  Until you have the title you’re not 100% sure what cartoons should go in and what should stay out.

My favourite cartoon in the book ( I’m showing my age here…and the fact that I have a teenage son) is Folk Song Mama strumming her guitar and singing “Your undies my friend, are blowin’ in the wind…” and her  son responding with “Can’t you just ask me to get the washing off the line like other mothers?”

I can’t give any more away because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you can’t stand the heat is full of funny and insightful cartoons about issues that are so important.

If you can’t stand the heat is a great book for good readers and kids who have an interest in environmental change and what’s happening in our world. Although this book was created for adults, it engages with kids as well and my twelve-year-old really enjoyed it.

I think we shared a favourite The Hysterical Penguins on page 7.


Today we welcome cartoonist Judy Horacek to Kids’ Book Capers.

She is the creator of seven collections of cartoons for grownups and five picture books for children.

Judy’s new book, If you can’t stand the heat has just been released and as well as being an insightful commentary on so many important world issues, it’s very very funny.

Judy Horacek says she was born to become a writer.

I started making up stories and songs almost from when I learned to talk, and once I learned to actually write there was no stopping me.  I also drew pictures from a young age.

Judy loves creating something new, something that only she could think of.

I like having ideas and then working on them to make them into a book.

She says that the hardest  thing about being a writer and artist is when you can’t find the write word or pictures for something.

But then when you do find the perfect thing, it feels fantastic.

Judy’s cartoons are often concerned with things that worry her about the world – the environment, the place of women, making things fair for everyone.

My children’s books are all different, but they always have a great sense of joy and happiness about them.

Judy says that her greatest writing achievement is that she keeps on doing it and manage to make some kind of a living out of it.

She says that If you can’t stand the heat is really a book for grown-ups, especially the cartoons about things that worry me.  But I’m sure some older kids will like it too.

I have to say that my twelve-year old thoroughly enjoyed this book and seemed to have no trouble understanding the messages. Admittedly, he is a high level reader but as Judy says,

The drawings are pretty amusing even if you don’t get all of the jokes.

I’d recommend If you can’t stand the heat to good readers who care about the world we live in.