Freya Blackwood Blitzes the CBCA Awards

My Two BlankeysIn an unprecedented achievement, illustrator Freya Blackwood has won three of the five categories in the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia awards. In the past few years Freya has generally been shortlisted two or three times but this year all of her shortlisted books are winners.

Her partnership with incomparable children’s writer, Libby Gleeson resulted in two winners: The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present (Allen & Unwin) for Younger Readers and Go to Sleep, Jessie! (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) for Early Childhood. Freya won best Picture Book with Irene Kobald for My Two Blankets (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont). This is a powerful refugee story with symbolic touches. Gleeson and Blackwood have had award success with their other books, including Banjo and Ruby Red, which was a 2014 Honour Book.Go to Sleep

Freya Blackwood previously won the prestigious international Kate Greenaway Award, with Margaret Wild, for Harry and Hopper and has another gem coming later this year, Perfect, which I wrote about here.

Other 2015 winners are the amazing Claire Zorn for The Protected (UQP) in the Older Readers category, which I reviewed in the Weekend Australian here. Claire’s debut novel, The Sky So Heavy, was an Honour Book last year, so she is a rising talent, and a lovely person.

Protected

The YA Honour Books are Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc) (my Weekend Australian review here) and The Minnow by Diana Sweeney (Text Publishing) (reviewed here).

The other category that Freya Blackwood didn’t win – I haven’t ever seen a non-fiction book illustrated by her – is the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books. Text Publishing had another scoop here, winning with the impressive coffee table book, A – Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. Honour Books are the exquisite Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolley and the superlative Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) and Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker (Department of Veteran Affairs). A-Z

Honour Books in Early Childhood are Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press) and Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin). Honour Books for Younger Readers are Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House Australia) (which I’ve reviewed for Boomerang here) and Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins Publishers). Honour Books in the Picture Book category are The Stone Lion by Ritva Voutila and Margaret Wild (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont) and One Minute’s Silence by David Metzenthen and David Camilleri (Allen & Unwin). Camilleri also won the Crichton Award for debut illustrators.

Congratulations to the winners, as well as all the shortlisted authors and illustrators, and their publishers. It is great to see so many small publishers recognised in these awards.

I’ve also written about the 2015 CBCA shortlisted books for Boomerang Books here.

Books of Love – For Kids

How will you be celebrating this Saturday February 14th?  Some see it as a chance to demonstrate the most romantic of gestures, showering their special ones with gifts of affection. Others only need to show an act of kindness to prove they care. Either way, whether it’s Valentine’s Day, International Book Giving Day or Library Lovers’ Day for you, this Saturday marks a day of appreciation for those we adore (including our love for books).
Here are some heartwarming stories that beautifully incorporate tenderness, charity, compassion, friendship and giving.  

514TikhmbnL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Hooray for Hat!, Brian Won (author / illus.), Koala Books, 2014.

Hooray for Hat! is an entertaining story that explores feelings, generosity and friendship. Depicted with a black scribble above his head and a wrinkled brow, Elephant woke up feeling grumpy. But an unexpected present at the door soon changes his mood. A marvellous multi-tiered hat immediately cheers up Elephant. Here, the book makes full use of the double page spread by turning Elephant on his side and includes large, colourful text, ”HOORAY FOR HAT!” Eager to show Zebra, Elephant discovers that he, too is grumpy. ”Go Away! I’m Grumpy!” As the story continues, Elephant carries on spreading the cheer by gifting each animal with a magnificent hat, bringing them out of their terrible mood. Showing concern for Lion’s friend, Giraffe, the group plan a spectacular surprise; a very grand, loving gesture.
With gorgeously strong and colourful illustrations, repetition and boldness of the text, Hooray for Hat! is a fun read-aloud book about friendship and compassion that young children will love.  

AllMyKissesAll My Kisses, Kerry Brown (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.  

Another book about inspiring generosity is this story of a loveable piglet in All My Kisses. Abby is very kissable. She receives lots of kisses at bedtime, and likes to collect them in a special bucket. Abby is over-protective, claiming the kisses are too precious to share around. The overflowing bucket of kisses eventually turn into bleak, grey pebbles, so she discards of them in the playground. Soon Abby discovers that her pebbles are more than just that; they are a source of joy and delight for other children, with magical glowing properties at night. Abby eventually realises that sharing her kisses makes them much more valuable than keeping them to herself.
The message of spreading warmth and togetherness flows across the pages, depicted by the soft and gently painted pig characters. All My Kisses is a tender story about encouraging affection. It is a beautiful bedtime story for toddler to preschool aged children.  

61VkdeZCUsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Julia Donaldson (author), Axel Scheffler (illus.), Scholastic UK, 2014.
From the dynamic duo that brought us The Gruffalo is Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s, The Scarecrows’ Wedding. A story of love between two scarecrows, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay.
In beautiful, sophisticated rhyme, the verses tell of their journey as they plan their big wedding day. Hunting around the farm for the necessary items, the animals are more than charitable in offering to help with the dress, music, jewellery and flowers. But when Harry goes astray on his quest, the farmer replaces him with an obnoxious, greedy scarecrow called Reginald Rake. Luckily, Harry returns to save his future wife from deadly peril, Reginald abandons the scene, and the lovebirds enjoy the best wedding yet.
Scheffler’s characteristically enticing and bright illustrations, and Donaldson’s delightfully rhythmic and humorous text, proves The Scarecrows’ Wedding to be both a fun and heartwarming read that kids and adults will love to share many times over.  

517Hb7bBBAL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Spots: One bird’s search for the perfect plumage, Helen Ward (author / illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2014.

We love this story of a guinea fowl who just wants to fit in. It is a book about learning to love yourself, and spreading warmth around with something so simple… a smile.
This particular guinea fowl is missing his spots. So he orders a delivery, only to discover the spots were all wrong. As more spots arrive, he finds they are too small, too invisible, and too bright. Join-the-dots spots are not quite right, and neither are splats, dots from i’s, freckles, leopard or ladybird spots. The spots that he finally wears are certainly unique and unashamedly eccentric, and this acceptance of himself assures his happiness.
Beautifully simple text in rhyming prose, with the elements of humour and ingenuity. The illustrations are equally whimsical and expressive, and include interesting texture; both seen in the paintings and felt on the paper.
Spots is an endearing book about giving, receiving and appreciating what you’ve got, and is perfectly suited to preschool-aged children.  

the+swapThe Swap, Jan Ormerod (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Little Hare, 2013.

From the late Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner is a story of sibling love (in disguise); the award-winning The Swap. Here we have a classic case of a mother ogling over her precious baby, and an older sibling feeling the jealousy curse. Caroline Crocodile is tired of hearing how gorgeous her baby brother is, and how he takes up the room on her Mama’s lap. She just wants some smacky-smoochy love for herself. When Mama Crocodile asks Caroline to look after her brother for a little while, it is what happens next that really hooks us in. Caroline decides to take her dribbly baby into the Baby Shop, and it is one of those laugh-out-loud moments when in a surprising twist, the shopkeeper agrees to swap him for other animal babies. With all good intentions, Caroline trials one at a time, only to discover that none of them quite match the brief. With a ‘gorgeous’ ending, Caroline understands why her brother is special and accepts him just the way he is, dribbles, smells and all. She also gets the reward from Mama that she always longed for.
The warm, humorous text matches perfectly with Joyner’s illustrations, including terrific character expression, plenty of fun and interesting details in every scene, and the soft pastel colour tones and patterns that reflect a bit of a groovy, retro vibe.
Classy look, classy tale, The Swap is a true all-round classic that is irresistibly lovely for children and adults, alike.  

So which beautiful books will you be sharing with your loved ones this Saturday?  

‘Perfect’: Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker

ParachuteYesterday I was fortunate to hear about upcoming releases from Hardie Grant Egmont at their roadshow. Kate Brown, marketing manager, opened by informing us that there has been an 81.58% growth in the children’s book market since 2003. When comparing this with the 8.84% growth in adult fiction and 6.55% decline in adult non-fiction, the importance of children’s books is obvious.

One of the highlights of the event was hearing children’s publisher Margrete Lamond interview Freya Blackwood and Danny Parker about their first picture book collaboration, Perfect (from the Little Hare imprint). Even though it won’t be available until the end of September it did sound ‘perfect’, relaying a simple, idyllic outdoors childhood.

Both these creators already have a strong body of work behind them. Danny’s is not as extensive as Freya’s but includes one of my favourite picture books, Parachute, which was sublimely illustrated by Matt Ottley, and Tree, also illustrated by Ottley. Parachute was CBCA shortlisted last year.

Maudie and BearFreya Blackwood is one of my absolute favourite illustrators. She created the inimitable design, illustrations and print fragment collage in The Treasure Box, written by Margaret Wild, which was shortlisted in the Qld Literary Awards and CBCA. She has also collaborated with Libby Gleeson in a number of titles, including Banjo and Ruby Red and Look, a Book! One of my other personal favourites is Maudie and Bear, written by Jan Ormerod, where Freya experimented brilliantly with panels as doorways. This won the CBCA early childhood award.

Little Hare has a history of excellent books, including The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner and the Audrey of the Outback junior novels, written by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James.Audrey

Danny also spoke about his upcoming series called Lola’s Toy Box. It wasn’t just Danny’s entertaining talk or his juggling that grabbed my attention. This series looks very special. It’s about a human girl whose problems and issues are addressed when she goes inside the toy box and interacts with the forgotten toys in different scenarios. Danny uses intertextuality from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Where the Wild Things Are and other well-known books. Realism bookends fantasy in his plots.

Debut author, Zanni Louise spoke about her upcoming picture book Too Busy Sleeping. This is illustrated by Anna Pignatoro.  Fascinatingly, Zanni was discovered through her blog.

Another debut author, Patrick Guest, was inspired by his son’s battle with terminal illness to write That’s What Wings Are For. It looks like another special title from Little Hare.

And one of my favourite YA authors, Melissa Keil, is published by Hardie Grant Egmont. Seek out Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

Banjo

Artfully Yours – Connecting with Picture Book art

Book Week Logo 2014Today officially heralds the start of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book Week 2014. This year’s theme: Connect to Reading – Reading to Connect can be interpreted in many ways just as ones connection with art can take place on several levels. I have long purported that the humble picture book is one of our most powerful and meaningful manifestations of art. Why? Because of its ability to entertain, educate, enlighten, and enthral at a level wordless infants and the most mature members of society are able to appreciate.

There are few finer expressions of tenderness, joy, comedy, and pain than the marriage of images and words in a picture book. They represents true art, able to transport anyone, anywhere to other times and worlds with the flick of a page. This selection of picture books aptly illustrates my point. All are artful in their own ways. You will not love them all equally, just as you will not love everything you see on the walls of an art gallery, but therein lies the enigmatic beauty of the picture book.

Lisa Absolutely Loves Art Lisa Absolutely Loves Art by Sophie Norsa is a brief visit with some of our great artists and their well-known paintings through the eyes of young Lisa as she plunges into the dreamlike world of her local art gallery after her runaway cat, Picasso. Her search for him transports her through the 1800’s, capably combining impressionism and post-impressionism art forms in an on-canvas adventure, only ending once she returns to where she began.

Norsa is a young artist herself whose reproductions and interpretations of the techniques and style used by some of our most recognisable artists are artfully rendered in this unique picture book for pre-primary art lovers and artisans alike. New Frontier Publishing July 2014

Outside Outside by Libby Hathorn and Ritva Voutila is a glorious sensory celebration of what it is to be a child, carefree and at one with nature. The magic of being outdoors, of having grass beneath ones feet and clear bird-filled skies above is something not all young children are able to take for granted. Hawthorn’s poetic, repeating verse centres around the single question – ‘What’s that?’ between a curious young boy and his sister as they venture through their backyard on ‘a summery day’.

This is an unusuOutside illos spreadal picture book, lulling the reader into an almost hypnotic rhythm of straightforward explanation while steering us close to the nonsensical thanks to Voutila’s surreal illustrations: the cat looks almost human, the sky is a tapestry of patterned colour, the sun blazes stylised fleurs-de-lis. I found these digital creations rich and complementary to the text however not all young children will agree. They may find the oversized heads and features of the human characters a little too bizarre to comfortably relate to. A lavish homage to the simple things in life and being young nonetheless. Little Hare Books imprint of HGE August 2014.

Mr Chicken London Mr Chicken lands on London. The passion one feels towards art, something that monumentally moves and inspires them can be likened to love. This love need not be confined to one line or one picture; it may encompass a whole city and culture just as it did for Leigh Hobbs and Mr Chicken.

I know many adults and youngsters alike who have nibbled their nails down to the quicks in anticipation of the return of Mr Chicken since his flamboyant debut visit to Paris. Thankfully, they do not have to wait a minute longer and neither does Mr Chicken who is returning to his favourite city in the whole wide world, London.

Hobbs, creator of Old Tom, shares his love for London with Mr Chicken in an adroitly accurate, subtly comic, whirlwind tour of some of London’s most iconic landmarks.

Mr Chicken illoOur canary yellow, oversized poultry protagonist cuts a striking contrast amidst the common placed drabness of the city as one by one, he ticks off his must-sees and dos. His encounter with Her Majesty is amusing to the extreme but it is Mr Chicken’s moon lit stroll over Westminster Bridge that truly rings my bells.

A pictorial postcard of London that will resonate with both past visitors and those yet to experience the city’s many allures, not to mention 4 – 7 year olds who love talking, walking drumsticks. And, like fine art, Mr Chicken lands on London is something to savour. Allen & Unwin July 2014

Connect here with the CBCA 2014 winners and more great reasons to read.

Review – Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

banjo-and-ruby-red Banjo and Ruby Red has been shortlisted for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Early Childhood Book of the Year Award, and rightfully so. It is an emotive story that tugs on the heart strings, created by the dynamic duo, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, who also collaborated on award-winning Amy and Louis, Half a World Away, and Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House.

Banjo is an old farm dog and Ruby Red is a haughty chicken, and they never see eye to eye. Can they ever be friends?
This funny and touching story of antagonism and love is by award-winning author Libby Gleeson, with illustrations by internationally acclaimed Freya Blackwood.  

Bark. Bark. Bark.
Banjo is the best chook dog. He works hard and always successfully hustles all the squarking chooks back to roost. All except Ruby Red. She’s more interested in watching the sky, giving the old dog more exertion than he needs.

But one day, as Banjo is rounding up the chooks, he discovers that Ruby Red is nowhere to be found and he searches all over the farm. Our hearts drop when we finally find her lying still with her eyes closed.

Will Ruby Red survive?

It is through true loyalty, care and compassion that Banjo takes the chicken’s life in his own paws. He lays with her, keeping her warm for days, and we watch as a miracle unfolds before our eyes.

It is the finale that captures the most heartwarming, touching moment, so warmly depicted in the beautiful illustrations.
Bark. Bark. Bark.
Squark. Squark. Squark.
Chooks fly into the yard, peck at the ground and settle on their roosts.
Except Ruby Red.  

I love how illustrator, Freya Blackwood has integrated feelings of both still and movement, calm and chaos; from the smooth lines of dozing animals to the sequences and rougher sketching of a leaping Banjo and wildly flying chickens. She has also cleverly used text to add to the impact of the noisy animals, to draw the reader right into the scene. The soft earthy tones of the paint, mixed with the outlines and shadows of black pencil, are perfectly suited to an active chook dog rounding up lively chickens in a farm yard.

Banjo and Ruby Red is an absolutely gorgeous story about the friendship between a lovable, spirited dog and an obstinate chicken, with a touch of humour, and stunningly captivating illustrations. Definately a book to capture the hearts of readers of any age.

This book review can also be viewed at www.romisharp.wordpress.com , and on Facebook:
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner.

Review – A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown

Shy Mousey Brown is watching a sweet, bounding hare, hopping all around, welcoming in spring, totally unaware of the surly old hound, lying in wait. Shy Mousey Brown knows this hound; he’s seen him before. How can he warn the bunny of the hound’s rather sinister motives? He’s so small. He can hardly be heard.

Then – suddenly – the hound is upon the hare! He has her pinned to the ground, ready to make her his lunch. So what does Mousey Brown do? Armed with a feather, he resorts to a good old round of tickling, of course! And Mousey Brown and the hare are free to become the best of friends.

Although this is a beautifully written book – with lots of suspense and a cute ending – I did find the words and rhythm a little difficult to navigate at times. I think perhaps reading it aloud would help.

Illustrations by Jonathan Bentley are totally engaging and full of luscious movement and charm.

A Hare, A Hound and Shy Mousey Brown is published by Little Hare.

Review – What’s the Matter, Aunty May?

Our wee little man is a helpful lad. He loves to help his Aunty May clean her stunning house, teetering with priceless antiques and tidyness, by sweeping, polishing and washing up – antique cups and vases, naturellement. But alas, it seems our little one is a tad clumsy, a smidge over-eager, teensy bit of a klutz.

Whilst Aunty May plucks at a harp in le salon, our lad sets about poking holes in screen doors with long-handled brooms, soaking the cat in red ink, sucking the budgie into the vacuum cleaner and causing a book avalanche. Poor Aunty May’s world is turned upside down and by the end of the book, she – and her house – a right schemozzle.

Can a little bit of help actually be a hindrance?

Author Peter Friend has penned a hilarious tale, in rhyming text, that will make kids shiny-eyed with amusement. Illustrations by Andrew Joyner take this already rollicking story to even greater heights with his truly divine, retro-inspired illustrations that a pure eye-candy.

The looks on Aunty May’s face, the nonchalance on the face of a little boy who really means well, the scrumptious detail like the shattered-and-glued plates on the rack in the kitchen that imply rather consistent well-meant aide – this is a book resplendent with cartoonish hilarity, whilst still packing scrumptious literary punch.

With somewhat Seussy undertones, in terms of the rhyming text and outrageous happenings – floods, avalanches, Aunty May caught in the ceiling fan – What’s the Matter Aunty May? is a must for picture book lovers – and is a truly beautiful all-rounder of a production. . . something we’ve come to expect from Little Hare.

What’s the Matter, Aunty May? is published by Little Hare.

THE HOUSE OF 12 BUNNIES REVIEWED

Before reviewing The House of 12 Bunnies, I have to declare for the record that I live in a house with two bunnies, so this book was always going to have appeal for me.

But I was also drawn to the fun of a houseful of young rabbits causing chaos as they go about their business. I enjoyed their childlike actions – and the way they cover just about every piece of floor space with their toys and precious belongings.

Sophia, a cute white bunny is the star of The House of 12 Bunnies due for release by Little Hare books tomorrow.

Being completely white she is easy to distinguish from the other bunnies and can be seen peering over fences, among toys and between boxes; her little white face sometimes only just visible.

Written by mother and daughter, Caroline Stills and Sarcia Stills-Blott, The House of 12 Bunnies is an entertaining read with beautiful illustrations by Judith Rossell. She has drawn each rabbit with its own endearing personality.

Sarcia was 8 when she wrote the first draft of this story and seems to have injected a child’s sense of fun into The House of 12 Bunnies.

This picture book has so many layers and Judith Rossell’s images offer something different for the reader every time they open the book. The closer you look the more you realise how much fun these bunnies are truly having.

The storyline is something small children will relate to – losing an important  possession just before bedtime. I’m not going to give away the ending but the resolution will leave the reader content and ready for sleep.

There is also a learning component to the book with opportunities to count and add up and to identify different animals and objects.

“In the playroom there are 5 teddy bears, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 1 duck and a giraffe with stuffing coming out.”

There was so much to enjoy about this story and the gorgeous pictures, that I couldn’t choose a favourite scene, but bunny bathtime and bunnies bouncing on the bed sure brought back memories of when my kids were little. And that’s where I think The House of 12 Bunnies will have appeal for small children and adults alike.

As the blurb on the back of the book says, “When twelve messy bunnies live under the same roof, the rooms nearly bust with fun things…”

And of course there’s the fact that The House of 12 Bunnies is published by Little Hare