Three Times the Fun with Ben Wood’s Picture Books

Contrasting colour palettes, use of mixed media, energetic and always adorable themes pop from the pictures in all three of these books. But there are differences, too. In my opinion, illustrator Ben Wood knows just how to adjust his tone perfectly to suit the nature of each story.  

imageThe Bush Book Club, Margaret Wild (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2014.

Ben Wood’s enchanting pictures harmonise flawlessly with the natural writing style of Margaret Wild. Here is a wonderful story that captures the imagination of young readers on a path to self discovery.
Bilby, with the attention span of a fish, would much rather practise headstands and somersaults than sit and read quietly with the Bush Book Club animals. Perhaps he had Echidna’s ants in his pants! One night he is unintentionally locked in the clubhouse. With a bit of resourcefulness and creativity, Bilby finds things to do with all the books, even pick up one and read it! What a delightful ending to see this once reluctant reader so enthralled in a book that takes him on a heroic adventure. Who knew reading could be so much fun?!
I love how Wild’s message of reading for pleasure and connecting with books has been translated into the illustrations. Ben Wood beautifully captures the animals enjoying time alone as well as coming together to discuss their books. His complimentary, sunny colours, mixed paints and pencil techniques match the cheerful quality of the story, and his vignettes and expressive drawings gorgeously reflect the fast-paced, lively and humorous parts.
‘The Bush Book Club will be sure to have preschoolers entranced much long after the first sentence, even those with ants in their pants!  

imageSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.

I’ve reviewed this one previously in my Picture Books of Beauty article; a story of friendship between a pair that couldn’t be more different in every way. A boy named Big likes to be seen and heard, believing it’s the big things that matter most, whilst his lizard pet Small appreciates the beauty in the little things. What follows is the dramatic quest to find one another and overcome feeling lost in a chaotic world.
In these illustrations, Ben Wood has captured the essence of the story, making the characters distinctively stand out from their backdrops. The surrounding colours are soft shades with lightly sketched buildings and pale watercolours, and are contrasted by the prominence of Big’s red jacket and Small’s bright yellow body. And in the more heart-stopping and reflective moments the characters are the only visuals evident, besides the text. Wood has a definite characteristic style of animation evident in this book and ‘The Bush Book Club’, but there is also a difference in his variety of media and artistic stroke.
In the enticing ‘Small and Big’, this clever illustrator has precisely captured the sense of drama, urgency and contrasting personalities. Magnificent!  

imageUnderneath a Cow, Carol Ann Martin (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2015.

His illustrated books seem to become more expressive and striking with each new release! ‘Underneath a Cow’;, a humorous tale of animals forming bonds whilst ducking for protection from the rain underneath a lovely cow, Madge.
By the looks on their big-eyed, furrowing faces, the farm animals are clearly not happy when raindrops impede their plans. Luckily kind Madge has room down below for Lally the rabbit, Robinson the dog, Cackalina and her baby chicks, and even grumbling Spike the hedgehog. After much squabbling and some prickle-raising moments, Madge calms her sheltering posse by encouraging them to sing until the storm finally ceases and they go off on their merry ways. A touching story representing the safety found with a parenting figure, as well as the joys of being the one to provide that safe place.      
Ben Wood’s illustrations both coincide with the tenderness of the nurturing and friendship themes, as well as the comical and spirited elements that make this book so endearing. He effectively uses warming watercolour and pencil tones, even amongst the storm, and particularly dominating many of the pages with the large, cheery Madge. And with an Andrew Joyner-type feel we also find eye-catching, whimsical characters with an abundance of personality.      
This book is funny and sweet, entertaining and innovative. Preschoolers will be returning to the safety of ‘Underneath a Cow’‘ again and again.       

Visit Ben Wood’s website and facebook pages.                                                                                   

Picture Books of Beauty

Finding the extraordinary hidden in the simplest of things is like discovering a little piece of magic. Take a moment to stop and breathe in the beauty around you. You’ll find wonder in the most imaginative places! Whether you enjoy time in solitude, with a partner or a group, these few beautiful books help remind us all of the treasures in our world; nature, love and friends.  

the-red-featherThe Red Feather, Ben Kitchin (author), Owen Swan (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

With its calming and gentle illustrations using soft, muted beachy blues and yellows, and delicately written, warming story, ‘The Red Feather’ symbolises tenderness, resilience and autonomy.
When a group of young children visit the seaside, it is Claude who finds the red feather first. Wanting it for himself, he takes a light approach; patting it and wearing it in his hair…until he feels hungry and swaps it for a whole watermelon. One by one, the children delight in its flexibility, including singing, twirling, cuddling, dancing, and jumping with the small red quill. And one by one they take turns to trade it (although hesistantly) when something else is needed…until they feel lonely. Finally they discover that playing cooperatively is much more satisfying…until the red feather finds a new owner.

This simple story of resourcefulness, sharing and friendship stands out as one of beauty, just like the bright red feather that joyfully glides and swishes throughout the pale background scenery. ‘The Red Feather’ is an enchanting story to encourage preschoolers to see the value in togetherness; a single feather may look beautiful on its own, but imagine its beauty in full plumage.  

a-riverA River, Marc Martin (author, illus.), Viking Penguin, 2015.

This stunning book by Marc Martin encourages the solidarity of imagination in a world that is far greater, but no less beautiful, than a single feather. From the gorgeous, embossed front cover, to the endpapers that signify the beginning and ending of the story, with plenty of hidden clues to draw us in, it is easy to become totally entranced by this book.
A girl sits at her desk overlooking an expansive, crowded city with a single winding river flowing through it. In her little boat, she imagines floating amidst speeding cars on motorways, smoky factory buildings, patchwork fields of crops on farms, lush green valleys, gushing waterfalls, and through jungles and rainforests like the Amazon. And as the darkness sets upon her, she sails into open, and sometimes gusty seas until the raindrops on her window bring her back to the reality of her bedroom, and she notices the glimmering moonlight shining on her silver boat ready for another adventure.

Magnificently detailed, soothing landscapes on double page spreads and whimsically constructed poetic text beautifully compliment each other, effectively taking the reader on this tranquil journey with the little girl. Just divine!  

51CY7krRqaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Yak and Gnu, Juliette MacIver (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books Australia, 2015.

In another river ride adventure, Yak and Gnu are the best of friends. In rollicking rhyming text, this unsual pair sing and row along peacefully in their kayaks, believing that their ingenuity is unlike any other beast known to…beast. Until they encounter a goat in a boat. Now there are no other beasts like them, except for Goat. Carrying on their journey to the sea, Yak and Gnu are surprised and disgruntled each time they meet other sailing, rafting, floating and hovercrafting wild animals. Initially able to count these intruders of the water, the numbers appearing, and the ways they travel become more and more ridiculous and overwhelming. Concluding with an exquisite sunset, Yak and Gnu come to realise the beauty of their friendship to each other overrides any notion of originality or superiority.

Wildly bold and animated watercolour illustrations and entertaining rhythmic, read-aloud language, Yak and Gnu will have young readers in bursts of giggles from start to finish.  

Teacup-coverTeacup, Rebecca Young (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.

In one word – breathtaking. The irrefutable talent of illustrator Matt Ottley is sublimely showcased with texture and depth in this profound tale written by Rebecca Young. Her poetic text has a sophisticated tone with its ability to evoke emotive feelings and strong imagery in one’s heart and mind.
Experiencing days of serene white backdrops, calming whale sounds and the gentle, whistling sea breeze, together with times of darkness and cruelty, a young boy has no choice but to flee on a courageous journey to find a new life. Memories from home flood his heart but these reflections carry him forward. Amongst his few possessions, a simple teacup filled with earth, becomes the fruitful treasure that ties the uncertainty of the sea to the prosperous future that was just a whisper away.

‘Teacup’ is a poignant, powerful story of displacement, change and hope. It is a stunning gem aimed to promote the understanding of social issues and human rights, and also one that primary school aged children are sure to appreciate for its majestic beauty.
Read Dimity’s captivating review of ‘Teacup’ here.  

small-and-bigSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

With large, clear font, this gentle story tells of two friends that are like polar opposites; a self-assured boy called Big and his little, timid lizard-like pet, Small. Their perspectives on the world differ greatly. Big bellows in the city streets, admiring the huge buildings and long streets. Small curiously observes autumn leaves and trickles of water. He ends up following slippery snail trails, a scampering mouse and a feather, until he realises he’s lost. In his desperate attempt to find his way back to Big, Small must think ‘big’ thoughts. It takes this near tragedy for both to realise what matters most in this life…each other.

With a gorgeous array of watercolours and pencil sketches, bright colours and mixture of busy scenes and stark, lonely white pages, the illustrations and narrative effectively capture moments of joy, wonder, urgency and despair. ‘Small and Big’ is a sweet, heartwarming tale of friendship, appreciating each others’ unique differences, and a world of beauty. Primary school aged children of any size and personality will adore this ‘little book with a big heart’.

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

PERFECT PICTURE BOOKS FOR BEDTIME

I know from watching my own kids growing up that there are definitely books for different occasions.

There are books full of fun and action to start the day and there are books that are more mellow, that leave small readers feeling warm and snuggly and ready for sleep – the perfect bedtime stories.

These are the books that gently lead them into the land of nod – books like Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug. Both are tender funny stories for young readers about family and being loved.

Samuel’s Kisses

Written by Karen Collum and illustrated by Serena Geddes

Published by New Frontier publishing

Samuel loves going shopping but he notices that the people around him don’t share his happiness and sense of fun.

He decides to brighten up their lives by blowing them kisses.

This is a beautiful book depicting how a small child can find a simple solution to adult grumpiness.

There is movement and a gentle rhythm in this story as the kisses find their way around all sorts of obstacles to reach their mark.

Serena Geddes expressive and colourful illustrations show the affection and happiness that surrounds little Samuel and how he makes such a positive difference to the world around him.

This uplifting story is full of light-hearted fun but has a strong message and a satisfying ending for the reader.

the Runaway Hug

Written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Published by Scholastic

This book is a collaboration between two of Australia’s favourite picture book creators, Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.

‘Mummy’, said Lucy. ‘Can I have a hug before I go to bed? I promise I’ll give it back.’

As Lucy discovers, a hug can go a very long way. It can be shared with Mummy and Daddy, it can be shared with the twins, it can even be shared with Annie the dog. The secret to sharing a hug is for it to be given back.

This hug seems to go especially far and along the way it becomes softer, sleepier, bigger and even peanut-buttery.

But when the hug runs away, Lucy doesn’t know what to do. How will she keep her promise to Mummy?

the Runaway Hug is a gentle, charming story with a perfect ending for bedtime reading.

Freya Blackwood’s beautiful illustrations are full of action and the sort of telling detail that young readers love.

Samuel’s Kisses and the runaway Hug will leave readers feeling snug, safe and ready for sleep.

SAMUEL’S KISSES – A STORY OF COLOUR AND HOPE

I was immediately drawn to Samuel’s Kisses and it wasn’t just because I have a son called Sam.

The title and the vibrant cover illustration by Serena Geddes told me that this was going to be a happy book – something that celebrated life and captured a child’s optimism.

When I opened the cover, I wasn’t disappointed. Karen Collum’s book, Samuel’s Kisses is about a little boy who contributes one small thing to the world that makes a big impact people’s lives.

Samuel is a small boy who blows kisses to everyone he meets. His genuine, heartfelt kisses have the ability to transform people who have sadness, worry and pain.

This book gives such a positive message and not just to kids. It reflects that everyone can make a difference to the world just by sharing something as simple as a smile or in Samuel’s case, a kiss.

Samuel’s Kisses has been written for preschoolers but there are messages there that could be understood and appreciated by much older children.

Little Samuel has the power to transform his world and make readers believe that anything is possible.  I loved the ending of this book which also reflects how as parents we pass our values and beliefs on to our children.

Young readers will enjoy following the path of each kiss as it twirls and swirls up and over, under and around objects until it reaches its target with a SPLAT!

Karen Collum has used interesting, descriptive language to engage the reader and assist with vocabulary development.

The lively and upbeat mood of the book is beautifully captured by the full colour illustrations by Serena Geddes www.reeni.com.au/.

Author Karen Collum www.karencollum.com.au/ is a strong believer in teaching children to be optimistic and it shines through in her book.

Published by New Frontier, Samuel’s Kisses comes in a sturdy hard cover format that is the perfect size for small hands to flick through.

Parents, teachers, librarians and children will enjoy this charming story full of humour, colour and hope.

A PICTURE BOOK WRITTEN FROM LIFE – SAMUEL’S KISSES

Karen Collum is mother to three beautiful boys, with a baby girl joining the family later this month. She’s passionate about developing optimism in children and empowering them to make a difference in the world.

Karen is visiting Kids’ Book Capers on her blog tour to celebrate the release of her new picture book, Samuel’s Kisses based on real life experiences with her own son, Sam.

Karen, can you tell us what Samuel’s Kisses is about and what age group it’s for?

Samuel’s Kisses is aimed at the pre-school age group (ages 2-5) and captures the beauty and power of a simple act of kindness. When a toddler blows kisses to people he meets, they are transformed in the very best way possible.

What  inspired the story of Samuel’s Kisses?

When my eldest son was two, he had the most delightful habit of blowing kisses to complete strangers while I did the shopping. It always struck me how powerful those kisses were. People who had previously been frowning and cranky would suddenly begin to smile and interact with him. I thought it would make a great story one day…and it did!

You have a son called Samuel (Sam). Can you tell us how you incorporated his story into your book?

Sam is very much the inspiration for the book. Although unlike Samuel in the book, he never actually had anyone juggle or dance because of the kisses he blew, he did have people play peek-a-boo with him or blow him a kiss in return.

How does Sam feel about being involved in the creation of your book?

He is very excited. For a long time he’d ask me to read the text to him but
then ask me when it was going to become a ‘real’ book with pictures.

When I got the final version of the book to look over, I sat down on the couch with
him and read it to him properly for the first time. He was so overjoyed that
it finally had pictures! I’m holding a book launch at his Kinder and he can’t wait for me to read his book to his friends. I think he’s looking forward to being the star of the show for a few minutes.

Apart from the story, does he have any other involvement in the book?

The beautiful little blonde boy in the story is based on my Sam. I was
fortunate enough to be able to send a photo of him when he was two to the
illustrator, Serena Geddes, and she kindly used that as a starting point for
the illustrations.

Do you have any tips for other writers wanting to incorporate real
life into works of fiction?

Anyone who is a parent experiences the joy of their children doing cute things. I think the trick is to work out which of those things hold universal appeal for many people and which ones are unique to your family. Not every cute thing my kids have done would make a good book, but sometimes I have to write the story before I come to that realisation.

Can you tell us how old Sam was when you started writing this story and how old he is now?

I first wrote the story in 2008 when Sam had just turned 2. He’s now 5 1/2
(that half is very important) and is so very grown up. I’m glad I’ve been able to capture him as a toddler in the book.

Have you written or do you have plans to write any books about other family members?

I’d love to write a book for each of my kids and have got a few ideas that are in various stages of development. I have identical twins who are 2 1/2 years old and I’m working on a concept for a picture book at the moment that revolves around the joys and trials of being an identical twin.

I’m also about to have a baby girl and I’d love to write a book for her one day too,
but I think I’ll have to get to know her a little better first. I want the books to reflect the character and nature of my children. I consider it areal privilege to be able to say to Sam, “I wrote this book about you and for you” and I hope I get to do the same with my other kids.

I also have written a picture book that I’m passionate about that deals with
open-heart surgery. Sam had open-heart surgery last year to correct a
congenital heart defect and I’d love to help other children in his situation
to understand what is going to happen to them and why. I think my family
might just be my greatest source of inspiration.

Karen is visiting these great blogs on her tour to talk more about Samuel’s Kisses.

Blog tour dates:
Dec 1: Kathryn Apel http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
Dec 2: Kids’ Book Capers
Dec 3: Sheryl Gwyther http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com/
Dec 4: Serena Geddes http://www.reeni.com.au/books/
Dec 5: Rebecca Newman http://soupblog.wordpress.com/
Dec 6: Susan Stephenson http://www.thebookchook.com/
Dec 7: Katrina Germein http://www.katrinagermein.com/blog/

To read more about Karen’s work visit her website at http://www.karencollum.com.au.