Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

Amongst the themes of bedtime routines and playful antics are ones of sentimentality, unconditional love and guidance. Each striking in their own visual and lyrical ways, the following picture books perfectly set the tone for engaging and soothing shared reading experiences before the lights go out.

imageCounting Through the Day, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, June 2016.

Here’s to making every little one count. Because this book gives us the warm fuzzies just like our own special ones do. Each number from one to millions is dedicated its own page with gorgeously combined pencil, watercolour and fabric collage illustrations. And to add to the gentle and soothing tone, a beautiful lyrical rhythm unfolds with every turn. The rhyming couplets take us through a fun and reassuring day with teddy, pets, favourite toys and loving parents and grandparents to share and protect the little girl.

Counting Through the Day is a comforting vision of a peaceful routine and the beauty of nature. It presents a seamless integration of time from morning to night, and number awareness from one to twelve and larger figures including twenty, hundreds, thousands and millions.

With immeasurable sweetness to devour, toddlers and preschoolers will lap up every precious moment shared reading this book with their loved ones.

imageI Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You, Kate Ritchie (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), Penguin Random House Australia, March 2016.

From the get-go, this book brings a sentimental light and a sparkling twinkle to every mother’s eye. The endpapers are laced with precious milestones from early pregnancy scans to growing bellies and baby shower invitations, and completed with snippets of the baby’s development. Ritchie tells a poetic love story to her little one about her every thought, hope and dream that soon becomes a wonderful reality when baby enters the world. The calming watercolours in pastel yellows, greens and pinks deliver this affectionate tale as parents prepare for their bundle of joy to arrive. The illustrations exquisitely give meaning to the words, with mum’s imagination presented in delicate thought bubbles.

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You is a book that both parents and their babies will treasure, enlightening bonds as they share their own loving stories of the journey into being.

imageQuick as a Wink, Fairy Pink, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Working Title Press, August 2016.

What better way to soothe young ones at the end of the day than with a sprinkle of mischief and a dusting of spirit from five little flutter fairies in all their lighthearted glory as they set off to bed! As Fairy Blue, Green, Gold and Red fairy-step their way from teeth brushing, bathing, dressing, and reading into fairy-dreamland, one cheeky flutter fairy is playing a sneaky hiding game around the house. Enchantingly engaging us, amongst the rollicking rhythm, with the repetitive phrase is “But someone’s playing hide and seek. Can you see her? Take a peek. Quick as a wink, find Fairy Pink!” After all the frolicsome fun, I wonder who falls asleep first?!

Clearly defined, bright colours and varied page spreads allow readers to identify each fairy and their actions. The illustrations further provide an interactive experience to complement the text with their adorably energetic line drawings and hidden details, such as locating the whereabouts of the naughty pink fairy.

Quick as a Wink, Fairy Pink is suitably the most fairy-licious read to get your little ones to hop, wriggle and flutter their way to bed every night. My three year old daughter highly recommends it!

imageNoisy Nights, Fleur McDonald (author), Annie White (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, August 2016.

It’s quite a predicament when one is unable to sleep with a terribly noisy racket outside your window! This is the case for poor Farmer Hayden. His menagerie of animals, plus a clattering train, are chirping, moo-ing, maa-ing, nickering and howling through the night. And no matter how loud he shouts, the volume is far too high to even hear him. So what’s a sleep-deprived farmer to do? Count sheep, of course!

A story of continuous laughter, and a touch of empathy, with its whimsical illustrations, Noisy Nights is loveable and entertaining. Preschoolers will certainly appreciate the silence after this read to ease them into a peaceful slumber.

imageDream Little One, Dream, Sally Morgan (author), Ambelin Kwaymullina (illus.), Viking Penguin Random House Australia, May 2016.

Vibrantly painted with line, pattern and bold colours, and told in a lyrically gentle tone, this title by much-loved Indigenous team sets such a joyous and endearing mood. A collection of popular Australian animal parents guide their babies to develop strength, skill and safety through nature’s most beautiful occurrences. Bushes bloom and roos bound, seas sigh and dolphins glide, insects buzz a story of the earth and snakes slide into the peace of a loveable land.

The visuals and the visual literacy blend flawlessly, and are both stunning to see and listen to. Dream Little One, Dream will transport preschool-aged children to another world where only the most transcendent of dreams can take flight.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

It’s Time to Celebrate!

As we approach the end of 2015, we take time to reflect on the year that was – all the joyous, heart-rending, life-changing and memorable moments. And in light of these occasions, we’re all a little stronger, a little smarter and a little wiser, so let’s celebrate! The following few picture books will give you that extra little reason to take pride in your achievements, and of course, to PARTY!

imageBring a Duck, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

If there ever was a book about celebrations it’s ‘Bring a Duck’! When Bear finds a party invitation from Pig in his letterbox, he is ‘tickled pink’! But he is also stumped – ‘Bring your own duck?’ – whatever could Pig have planned? With a cascade of ducks of all sorts, shapes, sizes, outfits and personalities, the party is a flapping success! Young readers will relish the fun of the duck-themed games, events and magic tricks, including duck hunts and stunts and pulling a duck out of a hat. And when it’s Bear turn to host an elephant party, we are immediately inspired to dream up the most imaginative of parties for ourselves!

Simply charming and exuberant illustrations team up with the fast-paced, rhyming text that hold our excitement and engagement all the way through.

With humour, delight, playfulness and creativity, ‘Bring a Duck’ is a quacking sensation that is sure to invite sentiments of harmony, togetherness, imagination and fun.

imagePickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds: The Birthday Party Cake, Alison Reynolds (author), Mikki Butterley (illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

From one birthday party to the next. It’s a joyous occasion for Pickle and Bree as they plan a party for their Panda friend, Jason. Or is it? This new, gorgeous series, including ‘The Decorating Disaster’, aims to gently guide its readers to appropriate social etiquette and positive behaviour. So, when Pickle is disgruntled as his bear plans are overhauled by the over-zealous and strong-willed Bree, what’s needed is a fresh perspective. Listening to others, being open to new ideas and accepting differences are just some of the valuable lessons Pickle and Bree learn from their experience. These points are neatly tied together at the end with a list of Good Deeds to acknowledge and reinforce what makes each of us special.

But despite the disagreements, we are enchanted by the party-goers’ funny antics, adorable expressions and energy that exude from the pages. The pastel colours and textures are homely and inviting, and the text encouraging and supportive. Therefore, successfully fulfilling its intention.

‘The Birthday Party Cake’ delicately and sensitively deals with common issues concerning relationships, emotions and tolerance. This enables its readers to value their own and others’ opinions and feelings. A fun, thought-provoking and relevant story for all children from age four.

imageScarlett, Starlet, Emma Quay (author, illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

From honouring the birthday boy or girl to taking centre stage yourself, Scarlett, Starlet certainly enjoys the spotlight! Scarlett loves to dance. And when she does she is the brightest sparkle in her mummy’s and daddy’s eyes. She spreads rhythm all over the place, and even her puppy Jazzy Jo-Jo loves to tap along. A spectacular stage performance sees Scarlett shine like never before. But in the end she doesn’t need the spotlight, or even her mummy and daddy’s affirmations to know that she is, and always has been, a star!

The simple language with its tapping onomatopoeia, repetitive phrases and age-appropriate dialogue beautifully tie in with the basic colour palette of bright red and yellow, which signify strength, power and luminosity just like Scarlett.

‘Scarlett, Starlet’ is delightfully charming; the perfect book for young preschoolers longing to make their mark on the world of entertainment. They will undoubtedly take pleasure in reliving Scarlett’s shining moment over and over again.

imageA, You’re Adorable, Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman (words), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Justine Clarke (audio), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

There’s no better way to commemorate special people and events in your life than with a song story and bonus CD to swing along to! The well-known, lyrical, alphabetical ode to someone wonderful is gorgeous in this new edition that celebrates the love and pride in those who mean the most.
‘I, you’re the one I idolise. J, we’re like Jack and Jill. K, you’re so kissable. L is the love-light in your eyes.’

With soft and dreamy illustrations that put all the warmth and tenderness in your heart, as well as the added elements of spirit, charm and curiosity. The soulful, Jazzy-tunes of Justine Clarke on the CD ignite that little extra spark to enlighten all the senses.

‘A, You’re Adorable’ is a sweet, melodic book that reinforces alphabet knowledge and feelings of adoration and affection towards our loved ones. Definitely something to appreciate as we look back on the year that was, and the aspirations we anticipate to satisfy in the year ahead.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more bookish excitement in 2016!

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

It’s No Mystery That Lesley Gibbes Loves All Things Scary: Review and Interview

With Halloween fast approaching, what book would be more fitting than the sensationally mysterious, Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King?!

9781921504631Review: Scary Night
Ready to be horrified? It’s time to hide! Let out a scream, it’s Scary Night!
Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King bring us a spooktacular tale of three brave friends that set upon a journey in the dead of night. Join them for a mysterious adventure!  

Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel. Any guesses as to where they are tip-toeing to under the pale moonlight?  

The animal friends wander far over dark, rolling hills, traipse through the whispering woods and even dare to cross a snapping crocodile-infested creek. Shivering and squeezing each other tight, they continue on their way. Frightening grizzly bears, ghouls in the cemetery and a black bat cave. Is this enough to forfeit this treacherous expedition? No way! They may be scared out of their wits, but nothing will avert these determined characters.  

Despite their absolutely terrifying experience, the friends finally make it to their destination completely unscathed.  

1407287658567.jpg-620x349But where did they end up? Read the book and you will get a BIG surprise!  

Scary Night is beautifully written in poetic prose. Lesley Gibbes so effectively draws the reader in with her interactive, humorous question and answer play and repetitive phrases. She has also provided plenty of opportunity for teachable moments, including phonic awareness, prepositional language and rhyming words. And Stephen Michael King’s expressive, Suess-like illustrations are bold and engaging, with his use of cool, moody colours and white accents of the bright full moon and the characters large, white terrified eyes. Just perfect to create the thrill of the night-time scene.  

Scary Night, a story of courage and friendship, contains all the goodness of fun, adventure, suspense, and just a little bit of bite to keep its young readers entertained many times over. This read-aloud book is a real treat!  

Lesley+GibbesInterview: Lesley Gibbes
Today I shiver (with delight) to conjure some spellbinding details behind Scary Night and what makes Lesley Gibbes tick.  

What was the inspiration behind the story?
As I child I loved exploring. My family home at Whale Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches was bushy and led onto a cliff top reserve. It was a great place to explore and go on exciting and sometimes scary journeys. So I wanted a story that had an exciting journey for my SCARY NIGHT characters. I also love scary! So setting the story at night when anything can happen was a must. My own children had a role to play too. The refrain ‘It’s a mystery!’ was all theirs. They had loads of fun answering my questions like ‘Where are your socks?’ with the answer ‘It’s a mystery!’, so I absolutely had to use this phrase. But there’s another less creative and more academic side to the construction of SCARY NIGHT. You see I’m a primary teacher and I wanted certain elements in the text to encourage and support reading. So you’ll find rhyme to support reading, refrains for repetition, question and answers to encourage participation and loads of opportunities for parents and teachers to ham it up for dramatic play. So all up SCARY NIGHT was quite a compilation of thoughts, ideas and inspirations.  

Scary Night is a whimsical rhyming tale. Do you often write in poem or do you have a variety of writing styles?
I love writing in rhyme and as primary teacher I understand the important role rhyme plays in the teaching of reading. But I do write in a variety of styles. I have three new picture books due for release next year and they showcase a variety of writing styles. ‘Bring A Duck!’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro is another rhyme/prose combination. It’s a riotous story about a duck themed birthday party. There’s no rhyme in the bedtime story ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart or ‘White Fin’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson. White Fin is for primary aged children and is a story about the visiting whales in Sydney harbour. I also love writing novels and have a chapter series coming out soon.  

Are they your ideas to include the little illustrative details like spider webs and ghostly shadows in the images, or did you leave this up to your illustrator?
Stephen has such a creative mind I didn’t want to get in his way. All the quirky, interesting details are part of Stephen’s wonderful imagination. My own ideas would pale in comparison.  

What was it like to work with Stephen Michael King?
Stephen’s work is so magical I was in heaven as I watched the illustrations progress. Stephen did have a surprise for me though. He wanted to take the illustrations for SCARY NIGHT digital. Stephen started with hand drawn ink and watercolour then he created a unique look for SCARY NIGHT by working with the illustrations on the computer. So his soft water colour became bold blocks of colour, perfect for SCARY NIGHT.  
Is there anything that you’re really afraid of?
Being made to eat raw eggs! There, I said it. Yuck!  

438311-48df15a6-fb4a-11e3-8cc4-c8f5cb031907Do you have any traditions or plans for Halloween?
My children are very excited because at long last they are old enough to go on their first trick-or-treat romp around the neighbourhood. Costumes have been bought, lolly bags have been chosen and SCARY NIGHT has been pulled from the shelf ready for a night time reading to get us in the mood. I can’t wait!  

What’s the next writing project that you’re working on?
At the moment I’m writing book four of my FIZZ chapter book series for children 6-9 years old.  The series is being illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Allen & Unwin. It’s due for release in 2016. Fizz is a feisty dog who, more than anything, wants to be a police dog. But there’s one small problem. Police dogs are big and buff and Fizz is small, white and fluffy. Well you can see the problem! The books are loads of fun and full of laughs. I can’t wait to see Stephen’s illustrations.

Thank you so much for answering my questions! I really appreciate your participation, Lesley!  
My pleasure. Happy reading everyone!  

For more infomation about Lesley Gibbes:
http://www.lesleygibbes.com
http://www.facebook.com/lesley-gibbes-australian-childrens-author

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