Love and Life – Picture Books for Mums

Looking for beautiful books that capture your heart with themes of comfort, joy, encouragement, living life and nurturing this Mother’s Day? Here are a few that possess these qualities, and more, ensuring you’re bursting with love and light on your special day.

My Meerkat Mum, Ruth Paul (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, April 2017.

Meerkats. Utterly adorable. Quirky. Funny. Eccentric. Fiercely protective and loyal. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with them, and here is a sharp-witted, sweet tale that you will fall in love with, too.

Single words and short, punchy sentences establish the pace for the quick and tenacious characteristics of these feisty little creatures. “Up. Stretch. Left. Right. Sleepy Mum. Morning light.” The illustrations favour the same theatrics with their humorous assortment of snapshots showcasing the meerkats in each and every action. It is Mum’s duty to prepare her three pups for the busy day ahead. Ensuring they are meticulously groomed from every angle, they are ready to set out from their burrow for a lesson in hunting. But their work is not without misadventure as the young meerkats encounter a lick of danger. Luckily Meerkat Mum is there to assert her authority, security and comfort…as all good mums do!

Ruth Paul has captured the heart of motherhood through her cheeky, vivacious story of possibly one of the cutest animals in existence. My Meerkat Mum is a delightful read for mums and bubs to share, highlighting the love and ultimate dedication of a Mum who’s work is never complete. A book that preschoolers will simply adore.

Old Pig, Margaret Wild (author), Ron Brooks (illus.), Allen & Unwin, Jan 2017.

Written and illustrated by the legendary creators that are Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, this heart rending classic remains as moving as since it was first published 20 years ago. The comfort in knowing you’re taken care of long after a loved one has gone brings peace and warmth even to the most broken of hearts. This story of living, giving, optimism, appreciation and infinite love will move you to tears whilst shining a beacon of light and hope in the places you need it most.

It has been only Old Pig and Granddaughter for a long time. They are an inseparable pair, a tremendous team that work well together, but most importantly, enjoy each other’s company. As quickly as we’ve fallen for this loving duo, we are shaken with a harsh reality that Old Pig is gravely ill. And Granddaughter is left to deal with her sudden sense of loneliness, alone. But Old Pig has some final affairs to prepare. Besides the bills, Old Pig gives Granddaughter the gift of peace and a sensational love for the world around her. “Do you see how the light glitters on the leaves?” “Do you see how the clouds gather like gossips in the sky?” And Granddaughter gives her own final gift too…tissues, please!

This story that deals with life and letting go has been written by Margaret Wild with the most beautiful, sincere language in a spiritually uplifting and gentle manner. It emanates with an aura of goodness; that generosity, solicitude and serenity can fulfil one’s happiness. Brooks’ use of light and shade and autumn tones encapsulate the ride of emotions as well as capturing the beauty of a world infused with promise.

Old Pig is a delicate look at loss in a story so filled with love. It is a reassuring book for early primary years children, and in particular those who have lost, or are especially close to, a grandparent.

Under the Love Umbrella, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, Feb 2017.

No matter where one is, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they can take comfort in knowing that they are deeply and truly loved. Under the Love Umbrella is a charming analogy and reminder for our children that they always have the security of our love despite their fears, mistakes, insecurities, and even their misdemeanours.

Gorgeously poetic in its rhyming stance, Davina Bell uses sweet and mesmerising language to steal our hearts. A variety of everyday situations are captured, and are constantly brought back to the soothing words, “…love umbrella.” Whether they are experiencing unfair play, or feeling shy, moving house and strange new things, or bad dreams and big worries, the children can rely on feeling safe, considered and loved. Although it cannot be seen, love can be felt, even a long, long way away.

The simple colour palette with pops of neon orange is in similar style to this duo’s previous title, The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade. Colpoys effectively attracts readers with her joyous and warm images, encapsulating a diverse population of family types and cultural backgrounds.

Under the Love Umbrella is an encouraging, reassuring and light-hearted story filled with warmth for any parent to share with their young ones. It includes several themes that offer valuable discussion points, including the final question, “Who’s under your love umbrella?”.

Stay safe, warm and protected this Mother’s Day! Snuggle up with a good book and a loved one. X

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

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Review – The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, Margaret Wild (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Let’s face it. We’ve all experienced that yearning to find and rescue a defenceless animal, love it, spoil it, and raise it to be one of your own. Right? Well, Biff and Buff do in this story, but what happens when they realise they might have to learn to share?

imageMr Pockets and his adorable pocket dogs have returned for yet another delightful tale of friendship and love. Previously seen in The Pocket Dogs and The Pocket Dogs go on Holiday, the eccentric and warm Mr Pockets has a valuable lesson for his two loyal pooches. Brilliantly combining their undeniable talents once more, Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King capture elements of jealousy, compassion, trust, companionship, playfulness and tenderness all within its glorious 32 pages.

Biff and Buff are very comfortable with their current living (and travelling) situation with their owner, Mr Pockets and his snuggly, big coat. But one stormy night they hear a scritch-scratch at the door, and their life as they know it is about to change. A little, lost kitten is generously welcomed and she immediately fits right in. Mr Pockets takes a particular fancy to the adorable snow white ball of fluff and bathes her in love and affection. But the pocket dogs realise how much time their owner is spending with the kitty and suddenly feel dejected and second-rate. A wave of fear and jealousy sets in and causes them to endure worrying dreams and the inability to share their belongings as they once did. Some reassurance and encouragement from Mr Pockets is the comfort they need to reclaim their sense of belonging. But when Biff and Buff are ready to accept the kitten into the family, is it too late?

imageI love how Stephen Michael King utilises space, colour and loose lines to depict perspective, action and emotion. His characteristically eye-catching and whimsical pen and brush techniques are the perfect companion to the energetic and heart-melting moments of Wild‘s words. Her cleverly constructed plot is simple, but her expert use of narrative is vivid and sensuous, and the dialogue is engaging and encouraging. Both story and pictures maintain a softness and contentment of a kind family that touch us on many deep levels.

‘The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten’ is one to warm the heart and soul. Recommended for children from age three, and particularly those making new adjustments in their lives.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Baby Love Picture Books

When our little ones begin to show a curiosity for the world around them, this may include exploring nature; its particular features, elements of growth and change, as well as discovering their own individual attributes and the differences in one another. Understanding and appreciating these fascinating aspects can be facilitated through gentle and nurturing guidance, and what better resources to do that than loving parents and delightful picture books?! Here are three beautiful stories that look at unique qualities and special bonds, just right for toddlers and preschoolers.  

imageHush, Little Possum, P.Crumble (author), Wendy Binks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

To the classic tune of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ comes a beautiful Australian version of the lullaby, ‘Hush, Little Possum’. Equipped with a CD recording sung by well-known Indigenous actress/singer, Deborah Mailman, this book/music combo doesn’t get more engaging.

Mama possum is gentle, reassuring and loving, but she is also little possum’s beacon of safety with her unrelenting courage and astuteness. Keeping her precious bundle sheltered from rumbling, wet skies, and gushing floods, to noisy and dangerous structures, Mama’s instincts are unsurpassed.

Absolutely gorgeous multi-textured, earth-toned illustrations of these sweet sugar gliders reflect both the sense of security and nurturing qualities emanating from the song, but also our unique Australian features and landscapes of rusty tin sheds, expansive crop fields and eucalypt trees sustaining the forces of an outback storm. Aimed at reinforcing affectionate bonds between mums and bubs, it’s pure and authentic; ‘Hush, Little Possum’ is perfect for toddlers as a bedtime treat.  

imageOur Baby, Margaret Wild (author), Karen Blair (illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.

‘Our Baby’ maintains a unique stance, spoken by the older sister who portrays a range of babies and their families in varying shapes and forms. From typical nuclear families (like hers), to single and same-sex parents, babies with distinctive qualities (like tiny shrimp toes and dandelion hair), babies on adventures to shops and playgroup, and those performing different talents and cheeky behaviours. Each time, the girl reflects on what makes her own baby so individual, forging their special bond with one another.

With large font and an energetic, rhythmic tone, Margaret Wild‘s text is age-appropriate, warm and playful that makes for an easy, enjoyable read. Karen Blair‘s characteristically gentle and pronounced illustrations beautifully reflect the richness, diversity and idiosyncrasies of families and in particular, babies.

A special book for babies that celebrates how life is truly unique for everyone.  

imageOur Love Grows, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Following on from the completely divine ‘How I Love You’, another babylicious book by the irrefutably talented Anna Pignataro is ‘Our Love Grows’.

Once again, the maternal bond between mum and baby is explored, this time through reflections on precious past moments. Little panda, Pip ponders; ‘Mama, when will I be big?’. In comparison to their natural world around them, Mama gently guides Pip through the processes of growth and change. She reminisces about the time her little one was tiny; how the stars were just a few, his footsteps so small, his toy Birdy all new and Blanky so big. Mama explains that as nature and Pip have grown, so has her love for her curious child.

The browns, blues, greens and golds in the watercolour and pencil illustrations beautifully reflect the natural, oriental-type settings and the cycle of the seasons, and the warmth and tenderness associated with this loving relationship. Anna‘s text equally suits this affectionate tone with its rhyming and first-person language, enabling its readers and listeners to connect with the story and with one another.

Featuring soft and magical images, with a gentle and sweet storyline, ‘Our Love Grows’ is a lyrical, soothing book perfect for sharing with children from age two.

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.                                                                                   

Margaret Wild Changes Lives – Picture Book Reviews

margaret -wild-300x0Margaret Wild is a much-loved, award-winning author with over 70 titles to her name, having great success with acclaimed books including Fox, The Very Best of Friends, Harry and Hopper, Lucy Goosey, Davy and the Duckling, and The Treasure Box. Her books extend to a wide range of themes, and are characteristically known for their exploration of identity, hardship and loss. The two current titles outlined in this article differ in their exposition and intended audience, but they comparably focus on the central themes of change, finding oneself and having a positive outlook on life.  

9781742978185The Stone Lion, illustrated by Ritva Voutila. Little Hare Books, 2014.

“COMPASSION IS A FORCE MIGHTIER THAN STONE”  

Shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Awards, The Stone Lion is undoubtedly a stand out. From the magestic, embossed front cover to the delicate, subdued pastel drawings and equally sensitive plot, this is a profound and powerful story to warm the heart.

Set to be a classic, this story tells of a fierce-looking stone lion with the desire to become a breathing creature, able to sense emotion like the human visitors outside his library pedestal. The need for freedom, even if only for a short while, grows immensely, and it is upon the devastating collapse of a cold and hungry homeless girl with her baby brother in the frosty winter that the lion feels his first flicker of emotion – pity. As fervent as his appearance, so is his desire to save the poor children, and with flexed claws, stretched legs and a beat in his heart, the now powerful lion carries the baby basket, and then drags the little girl inside the library. The flexibility of his muscles may not remain permanent, but the warmth, contentment and spirit in his heart does, as does the gratitude and love that Sara and her little brother share for the lion for years to follow.

Stone Lion 1Wild‘s sophisticated and elegant use of language, beautifully complemented with Voutila‘s Depression-era, breathtaking imagery, literally sends chills up your spine and sparks a fire in your heart both at the same time.

The Stone Lion will be treasured for its undeniable beauty and depth, with themes of kindness, compassion, optimism and sense of self at its core. It is an inspirational story for primary-aged children to be empowered to change others’ lives, whether it be a mighty, or mini gesture.

1431011577357Bogtrotter, illustrated by Judith Rossell. Walker Books, 2015.

Targeted at a younger audience, preschoolers will be immediately drawn to the adorable lime-coloured creature that graces the cover of Bogtrotter. Whilst soft and muted greys and browns suit the subdued mood in The Stone Lion, more vivid greens and splashes of watercolours wash over the bog in this lively, yet sensitive story of an energetic Bogtrotter.

Imagine living in a world of monotony, without ever taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you, without realising there is a world out there full of opportunities. This certainly is reality for Bogtrotter, who spends his days awaking from his gloomy cave only to run across, up, down and around his bog, for days and years on end. But sometimes he feels bored and lonely without understanding why and how to change it. A small, lateral-thinking frog probes Bogtrotter, empowering him to alter his dull existence, even if it is as minor as picking a flower. And in that instant, the world becomes his oyster, and the possibilities are endless.
With hope and motivation in his heart, Bogtrotter replays his usual daily jog, but with a difference. He befriends a family of muskrats, swings from a tree, and makes a pink daisy chain. Delightfully, he doesn’t stop there. However, there’s still one thing missing. It is his discerning amphibian friend that leaves him with another thought to ponder, and Bogtrotter takes the biggest risk of his life. What he discovers is nothing more than remarkable.

Bogtrotter book imageWith Margaret Wild‘s simple yet multi-layered, philosophical tale and loveable characters in their mentor-student-like roles, paired with Judith Rossell‘s enticing illustrations, Bogtrotter opens up a world of new and exciting challenges for all its readers. I love the beautifully painted scene of this endearing character pining for more as he gazes into the starry night sky. This powerful moment literally shows us that the sky’s the limit.

There will definately be plenty of “Ah” moments upon exploration of this inspirational, enchanting story of self-discovery, courage and change. And perhaps adults will be more inclined to delve further into the answers to their preschooler’s favourite question – “Why?”  

Show Books

Very Hungry CaterpillarIt’s holiday time so some shows based on outstanding children’s books are currently being performed in Sydney and surrounds, as well as in other cities around Australia.

A highlight is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Penguin), a production created around four books by Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, of course, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse – my new favourite, The Very Lonely Firefly and Mister Seahorse. Literature is celebrated in the performance and the backdrop is an actual book with turning pages. The show will also be playing in Melbourne and Brisbane and will tour in 2016 if successful. Judging by the sell-out Sydney season, this will not be an issue.Blue Horse

Along with a couple of others, I am writing teacher notes about the play which will be available via a website linked to the show soon. This is a great opportunity to read and re-read Eric Carle’s stunning picture books. The production is excellent. The children (and adults) in the audience were besotted.

A second book-related show is The Gruffalo. This loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a mouse in the woods has been playing around Australia.

GruffaloAs well as reading the book itself, this is an opportune time to read other books by this creative team, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Tiddler, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Superworm and their most recent collaboration, The Scarecrows’ Wedding (Scholastic).

The Scarecrow’s Wedding is quite a sophisticated tale about a scarecrow couple, Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who wish to marry but suave Reginald Rake interrupts their plans. It will also be enjoyed by Aaron Blabey’s legion of fans.Scarecrows Wedding

Another production inspired by a picture book is Kit Williams’ Masquerade. Unfortunately this 1978 book is only available second-hand. An enterprising publisher should re-publish it. Playwright Kate Mulvany was enthralled and comforted by this book when she was a child suffering from cancer. It is playing now at the Sydney Opera House and will be in Adelaide for the Festival and elsewhere, no doubt. I can’t wait to see it soon.

RabbitsGood luck getting tickets for The Rabbits Opera, based on the book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette Australia), with music composed by the brilliant Kate Miller-Heidke and libretto by Lally Katz. The Rabbits will play in Perth and Melbourne this year. Hopefully it travels further.

Where is Rusty? by Dutch author-illustrator, Sieb Postuma (Gecko Press) is about a curious young dog lost in a department store. It has aired overseas as theatre and television and is currently available as a picture book. Its themes of hiding, searching and safety are ideal for young explorers.

Another book recently published by exciting Gecko Press, although we perhaps don’t want to think about this subject quite yet, is I don’t want to go to school! by Stephanie Blake.I Don't Want to go to School

Boldly illustrated in bright colours and with some comic panels, this is a quirky, heart-warming story about starting school. And this diverts us to the many wonderful Australian and other books on this important topic, beginning with Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker (Viking/Penguin), the classic Starting School by the Ahlbergs and my evergreen favourite, First Day by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin).

First Day

Count my Cutest Children’s Books for Christmas

What a wondrous time for the kidlets; so much sparkle, magic, excitement and curiosity in the air. Christmas time is about bringing families together, and what better way to get close to your ‘little’ loved ones than to snuggle up with some adorable books. Here we count through three delightful books that foster a love of reading, rhyming, numbers and of course, the celebration of the festive season.

count-my-christmas-kissesCute Book #1: Count my Christmas Kisses by Ruthie May and Tamsin Ainslie.
Another adorable book from the creators of ‘Count My Kisses, Little One’.

”One kiss for baby, under mistletoe. Two kisses for baby, catching falling snow.”  

Baby is lucky to be kissed one time more each page, celebrating a joyous Christmas event or tradition, all the way from one up to ten. With pretty singing voices, toasty fires, busily making paper chains and rides on a reindeer. The children enjoy jingling bells and acting in a nativity play, lighting candles and snuggling tight in bed.  

Ruthie May has beautifully written a gentle rhyming lullaby to warm the heart and settle little ones to rest after a busy day. Including absolutely gorgeous illustrations to match the words, Tamsin Ainslie’s soft watercolour tones and pencil sketches create movement and fluidity, with lovely detailed textures and patterns for extra warmth.  

A counting book full of happiness, love and Christmas cheer, ‘Count my Christmas Kisses’ is perfect for sharing with babies and young children throughout the festive holidays.  

HarperCollinsPublishers Australia October 2014.  

w548932Cute Book  #2: This Little Piggy went Singing by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland.
With a play on the traditional nursery rhyme about the little piggy who went to market, comes the fun Christmas tale, ‘This Little Piggy Went Singing’. It’s the perfect follow on from This Little Piggy Went Dancing’.

”This little piggy went singing
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had noodles
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy went toot, toot, toot all the way home.”  

The remainder of the book follows this cute rhyme about the five beloved piggies , incorporating funny, action-packed and tender Christmas moments each time.
Some piggies went shopping, delivering gifts, dining with friends, partying, riding and dancing.
Some piggies stayed home to create festive crafts, knit, play with toys, decorate the tree, read, bake and wrap presents.
Some piggies had delicious food, like meatballs, berries, candy canes, plum pudding, fruit and gingerbread cookies.
Some piggies had none.
And some piggies played on their instruments with a ratta-tat-tat, jingle, click, tra-la-la and ho-ho-ho all the way home.  

Margaret Wild so delightfully provides many variations of the song with all the fun, frivolity and excitement of the yuletide, including a universal connection with families celebrating Christmas anywhere in the world. With bold, colourful and oh-so-cute illustrations by Deborah Niland, ‘This Little Piggy went Singing’ is a classic that sure to appeal to the young, and young at heart, for many playful sing-a-long counting games.  

Allen & Unwin 2014  

the-twelve-days-of-christmasCute Book #3: The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
If you’re after a traditional festive song in a book with gorgeous, modern Australian illustrations, here you have it!

”On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partidge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree.”
 

Two children explore a nature park in the bright, sunny surrounds, discovering our beautiful wildlife and other kids playing as they progress from day one to twelve. What a ripper finding the four calling birds being laughing kookaburras, the five golden rings being cheese ring snacks and six geese laying in a native wetland scene. It’s bonzer watching eight little girls as maids milking the baby animals and ten school boys playing leap frog. With the final two days full of musical festivities, the crowd have an ace time celebrating a warm, Aussie summer Christmas together.  

Karen Erasmus’ soft watercolours, pencil lines and pastel tones perfectly suit the movement and activity of the park scenery, as well as the peace that this traditional song allows us to feel. ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a lovely book to share with family members during the holiday season.  

Hachette Children’s Books 2013  

More great picture book recommendations still to come, perfect for gifts or just because we love children’s books!

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Feathers, Scales, Fur or Skin: Tales of Friendship and Being Yourself

The Lucky Country. That’s Australia. We embrace difference. Celebrate diversity. Stand up for what we believe in. Be ourselves. Show compassion for those in need.  

The following picture books, as chosen for the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia Books of the Year shortlist, all share common themes; diversity, friendship and uniqueness.  

the+short+giraffe The Short Giraffe by Neil Flory, illustrations by Mark Cleary, is a fun, humorous story that highlights the importance of inclusion, especially when one feels like an outcast. Boba the baboon is photographing the tallest animals in the world; the giraffes. But there is a tiny problem, Geri the giraffe is the shortest giraffe ever and is not visible in the camera shot. Instead of excluding Geri, the compassionate, accepting giraffes attempt various creative ways to bring him up to their height, all however leading to disastrous, yet comical circumstances. Finally, it is a tiny caterpillar that points out the most obvious solution; to bend down to Geri’s level, and they capture the perfect photo.  

bea_cover Now, here’s a character who is not embarrassed to be different; it’s Bea, written and illustrated by Christine Sharp. This whimsical story explores diversity of the mind, rather than physical appearance. Whilst the other birds peck at the ground, flock together, build nests, chirrup and hippity hop, Bea is most unusually baking biscuits, disco dancing, travelling the world in a hot air balloon, and bussing through the country. It is until Bea meets her friend, Bernie, then we realise that having ‘unusual’ tastes are not so unusual when they are enjoyed and shared with others. ”A joyful story about being true to yourself and daring to be different.”  

Jonathan Speaking of being ‘daring’, it’s Jonathan!, written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Amanda Francey. Engaging rhythm and action in the text, and pictures to reflect the same. Jonathan! is a cute story of a boy who certainly isn’t ‘afraid’ to be his cheeky self, but in a way that he has fun changing his persona with different costumes. As he consistently attempts to scare his family members with frightening voices and ingenious outfits, his efforts prove superfluous. Jonathan unexpectedly meets and befriends a large, teeth-gnashing dinosaur who helps him triumph with his pursuit. That is, until, in a twist of fate, we are surprised by both the dinosaur’s identity and Jonathan’s reaction.  

9780670076765In Starting School by Jane Godwin and illustrations by Anna Walker, we meet more excited children who are keen to have fun and discover new things. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly are starting their first day of school. In a gentle, informative story we learn about each child and their perspectives on the routines and events that occur as they embark on a huge adventure that is primary school. Throughout the day we observe them organise their belongings, familiarising themselves with their classmates, forming bonds, exploring the school grounds, establishing rules and routines, learning new subjects, and reflecting on the busy day. Godwin makes learning fun with some funny mishaps like spilling juice, fiddling with a girl’s hair and losing a pencil case. Whilst Walker so beautifully ties in all the minute details with her watercolour and collage characters, school related belongings, food, furniture, real life pieces of work, toys and buildings. Starting School is a perfect representation of the importance of accepting others, getting along, individuality, responsibility and resilience.

davy-and-the-ducklingAnother tale of best friends is Margaret Wild‘s Davy & the Duckling, with beautiful illustrations by Julie Vivas. When Davy meets the duckling, they look deep into each other’s eyes. Already smitten, the duckling follows Davy around the farmyard and all the way back home. Davy shows true adoration and cares for the duckling like a baby. We watch as they both grow, and we see not only companionship, but empathy, support, pride and encouragement as Davy achieves special milestones. In a touching moment, an old, achy duck seems to regain some youth when it hears that Davy is to become a father. And it is so sweet to observe a role reversal to complete the story, as the duck now leads baby Molly around the farmyard and all the way back home.  

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Aussie Appeal – Picture Book Reviews

Worrisome wombats, bouncing bilbies and even talking gumnuts may not be your de rigueur when it comes to picture book characters. Yet their antics make up a substantial percentage of picture book storylines and provide vital introductions and links between Aussie kids and our rich, endemic Australian flora and fauna.

Look around and you’ll find dozens of titles touching on everything from spoonbills to fruit bats, puggles to possums and jacanas to joeys. Many are by authors you know and trust offering true works of art worthy of coveting and collecting. Here is a tiny selection of some of the more recent releases.

One Woolley Wombat ReadersPerennial author illustrator, Kerry Argent, has a tatty new First Reader series out now tailored for pre-schoolers. Small colour-popping paperbacks perfect for little hands and new readers feature old mate, Woolly Wombat, his bestie, Bandicoot and a swag of other Aussie birds and beasts in easy-to-read adventures. Beautiful introductions to counting, colour, rhythm and language conventions. Scholastic Australia March 2014

The Bush Book ClubBook club nuts along with reluctant readers will adore Margaret Wild’s and Ben Wood’s The Bush Book Club. It has a little bit of brilliance on each page; rhyme, comedy, cuteness, colour and galahs! Bilby sorely needs to slow down and smell the ink but he is too busy and bouncy to read let alone actually enjoy a book until one fateful night he discovers what it’s like for his head to be ‘full of words and stories’. A marvellous look at what it takes to appreciate the wonderment of stories and a must in the classroom and home. Modestly adorable. Omnibus Books March 2014

Possum's Big SurpriseRhyming picture books are not always easy to digest (when produced badly), but done well they glide across our palates as smoothly as birthday cake frosting. So it comes as little surprise that Possum’s Big Surprise by celebrated duo, Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft, is a feast for 4 + year-olds and above. Fun, frisky, teasing verse coupled with super-rich, eye-pleasing water-colour illustrations, an Aussie bush backdrop and a perky possum named Flossy, give kids plenty of reasons to keep page turning. Scholastic Australia May 2014

Karana EmuSlightly more serious but quietly impressionable is Karana: the Story of the Father Emu, by Brisbane and Wakka Wakka leader, Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold. In spite of the unwieldy title, this cyclical story is written in simple rhyming verse which unfolds easily leaving the reader fulfilled, enlightened and emphatic towards father Emu as he assumes the role of parent, nurturer, and chief educator for his chicks; just as father figures in many indigenous cultures do. An enjoyable tale to share with children because of its simplicity and heart but it was the emus’ eyes that clenched it for me; cute and clever! Scholastic Australia May 2014

 A Feast for Wombat features another Aboriginal author, Sally Morgan and first time picture book illustrator, Tania Ezinger.

A feast for WombatWombat is your typical underground slumber-champion with a strong predilection for his burrow. He rarely surfaces. When he does he encounters the goodtime antics of his friends, Goanna, Magpie and Dingo but is slow to join them in play until their persistence and kind-hearted surprise re-instates how much they value Wombat’s friendship.

Sounds a little trite and ordinary I know, however Morgan attempts to balance Wombat’s self-depreciating, woe-be-gone attitude with a questioning optimism that he displays by complimenting his friends’ various talents and by trying to replicate them albeit with little success.

I was pleased Wombat’s self-doubt is finally conquered and replaced with a greater sense of self-worth however felt a little muddled by the oscillating attitudes of Wombat’s friends towards him; sometimes generous and grateful, sometimes hurtfully frank. Four year-olds are unlikely to dwell on this (it is after all how true friends can be) gaining immense pleasure instead from Erzinger’s spirited acrylic based artwork. Keep an eye out for the hapless little spinifex mouse on each page too. Gorgeous! Omnibus Books April 2014

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie's Underwater AdventureWhether these titles stand up alongside such favourites as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Narelle Oliver’s Don’t Let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen! and Fox and Fine Feathers, Yvonne Morrison’s The Emu that Laid the Golden Egg or Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat to name a few, time will tell. But like the tiniest creature in the Aussie bush, there is bound to be a spot for them in your heart and on your book shelves.

 

Poignantly perfect picture books Part Two – The Stone Lion

The Stone LionWhen picture books have the ability to make your heart beat a little faster, fill your eyes with tears and send your spirits soaring. When they effortlessly harness thoughts and project feelings with poignant clarity; to say they are exceptional seems woefully insufficient. Rare are the picture books that can fit this bill, yet Margaret Wild has little trouble doing so.

The Stone Lion is her newest picture book with Ritva Voutila (mums with school aged kids may recognise her unique art from the dozens of Storylands Early Readers). The austere cover and title leave little Margaret Wilddoubt as to the subject matter but the subtle beauty of the regal, maned lion crouching upon his engraved stone pedestal (you can really feel it), spur the need to know more about him.

Wild cleverly chisels out a tale of unlikely heroes (the stone lion) and unseemly characters (homeless youths, librarians and gargoyles). There is also the subtle persuasion that hope is determined by the passing of time as shown by the illustrations of swirling leaves, fleeing birds and umbrellas adrift.The Stone Lion umbrella illo

The magnificent stone lion statue stationed outside the library dreams of a life more animated if only so he can ‘pounce and prowl and leap’. But one fateful snowy night, he is forced to re-evaluate his own desires when a baby is abandoned at his paws.

Ritva Voutilda’s beautiful, muted pastel illustrations mirror both the stone lion’s cold forlorn heart and the kernel of hope that Ritva Voutilabeats within us all. Miracles are easy to believe when they result in great change as The Stone Lion so ably demonstrates.

Using unadorned yet intensely sensitive language, Wild makes us feel something real for something which is unable to feel yet wants to in an incredible allegory about wanting more, accepting less and understanding the power of benevolence.

This is not a picture book brimming with rainbows and lollypops, and sunshine and happiness. But it does sing with a clear purity of heart that kindness is indeed its own reward. The Stone Lion is a picture book older readers will enjoy for its touching and profound celebration of humility.The Stone Lion library

It is truly exceptional.

Little Hare Books a Hardie Grant Egmont imprint April 2014

Five Faves (Picture Books) for Book Week

Here are 5 fantastic favourites you should reach out and grab onto with both hands – FAST!

Silver Buttons Silver Buttons by Bob Graham, Walker Books UK August 2013

Jodie draws a duck just as her baby brother, Jonathon, takes his first steps. An exquisite and poetic glimpse at a speck in time overflowing with life; beginnings and farewells, dramas and insignificances. Brimming with Bob Graham magic.

Banjo and Ruby Red Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Little Hero Books, August 2013 Antagonistic Ruby the chook is teasing, taunting, stubborn and disregarding. Old Border Collie, Banjo, is determined, loyal and equally as strong-willed. A sometimes smiling, sometimes heart faltering look at the love and friendship that ties two seemingly opposites together.

Omar the Strongman Omar the Strongman, by Gregory Rogers, Scholastic Australia, July 2013 A tender tale of a big man with an even bigger heart who eventually finds his perfect sense of place and value in the circus of all places. Sensitively and sublimely depicted as only Gregory Rogers can.

Davy and the Duckling Davy and the Duckling, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas, Penguin/Viking Australia, July 2013 Perfectly orchestrated story of a duckling who imprints on a boy who becomes his everything even after the boy becomes an actual human father years later. A gorgeous cyclical life tale of enduring relationships and the power of the bond of love.

The Nelly Gang The Nelly Gang, The Adventures of Nelly Nolan, by Stephen Axelsen, Walker Books Australia, August 2013 Rousing adventure yarn presented as graphic picture book, set in the 1850’s and chock full of bushrangers, gold, and unlikely heroes.

Why are these books all worth a look? Because they are supremely strong tales, gently told by phenomenal story tellers and harmoniously illustrated by renowned illustrators.

There is something for every taste. View and buy any of these picture books simply by clicking on the title.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Review – The Treasure Box

Many of my generation (sadly not all) and those of the next, fortunately have not endured the atrocities of war like those seen during the Holocaust. That we are able to feel its impact, appreciate the drama and acknowledge its implications is the unique potency of a picture book. Margret Wild and Freya Blackwood exploit this power wondrously well.The Treasure Box

The quiet unassuming cover of the Treasure Box magnetised me from the moment I was handed the book. The subdued colours, lone tree bereft of leaf and life, fragments of words adrift; all at conflict with the title, which promises something far brighter and more uplifting. I was a little unprepared for the subtle magnitude of the tale, again preoccupied by the end papers, comprising scraps of text which interestingly are taken from Sonya Hartnett’s and Morris Gleitzmann’s foreign editions of their own wartime tales of displacement and loss.

We join young Peter’s story after his home town is destroyed leaving the library in ruin. Books once housed there are transformed to nothing more substantial than bits of ash as ‘frail as butterflies.’ That is all but one; a book that by fortuitous happenstance had been taken home by Peter’s father before the bombing.

Treasure box illoPeter’s father is intent on safe-guarding the book for the stories it contains; stories that tell the history of Peter’s people, of a past ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold.’ The book is secured in an old iron box which forms part of the meagre possessions they flee with from their homeland.

Peter’s father does not survive the soul crushing exodus but instills in Peter tremendous tenacity and a promise to keep their ‘treasure safe’. Unable to continue with such a load but true to his word Peter buries the box under an ancient linden tree, to which he returns many years later. His single-handed courage and loyalty perpetuates the most valuable treasure of all – the gift of hope and love.

Margaret WildMargaret Wild’s eloquent sense of story and place transports the reader into the very heart and soul of Peter and his father. Her thoughtfully sparse narrative paradoxically permeates every inch of the page and ounce of our attention. Neither her words nor the illustrations compete for space in this book. They work in convincing unison, caressing the story along and guiding us skilfully through horrific, almost unimaginable situations like sleeping in ditches, and holding the hand of a dying father.Freya Blackwood

Freya Blackwood’s artwork is instantly recognisable, however is taken one step higher using collage and multi-layering to create a stunning subtle 3D effect. Characters literally appear to be trudging across the page, accompanied by the metaphoric charred fragments of the leaves of a million books. The story is further enriched with delicate contrasts and symbolism on each page, all in the haunting sepia coloured tones of despair and misery.

Only the intensity of the treasure box itself, shown in vibrant red throughout, never fades. By Peter’s maturity, colour and prosperity have returned to his hometown. Even the library radiates with a glorious, golden yellow – hope restored.

I happened upon this picture book late last year, in spite of its 2013 publication date. I thought it was a most serendipitous discovery, but did not fully appreciate its immense value until I uncovered its contents. Truly one to treasure.

Penguin / Viking January 2013

Vampyre picture book

A picture book about vampires? Seems like a rather odd idea. But that’s exactly what author Margaret Wild and illustrator Andrew Yeo have given us with Vampyre.

This is a gorgeous book with stunningly evocative illustrations. Muted colours and lovely acrylic texture combine to create a soft darkness — intriguing and alluring. Even if it had no words, this book would be well worth owning.

But it does have words. Lovely words. Printed in silver, they catch the light as you tilt the pages, shining out from the illustrations.

And boy, do these words shine — amazing complexity delivered with such economy and simplicity. It is what picture book authors strive for and so often fall short of.

Although the words are about vampires, the meaning is deeper. They tell a story about growing up, about individuality and about choice — about becoming who you want to be rather than what you are destined to be. Fondly remembered childhood and harsh realities mix in the mind of an unnamed teenager who simply refers to himself as ‘vampyre’ — his individuality smothered by what he is supposed to be.

I am Vampyre.
Feared.
Despised.
I live in darkness.
I long for light.

Despite the heavy weight of family and tradition, despite the pain and danger of sunlight, the young man nevertheless struggles forward “into the light”, towards hope.

Even though it is about vampires, this book is visually and verbally bloodless, with only the occasional hint of pointy teeth. This absence is a nice touch.

Despite being a picture book, Vampyre is not for little kids. It’s being promoted as 8+, but I can see it being read by even older kids, as well as adults, perhaps even studied in high school.

Margaret Wild is well known for her children’s picture books, which include Our Granny, Fox and the wonderful Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa, while Andrew Yeo is new to picture books. I look forward to seeing what Yeo will do next.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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REVIEW: Fox and The Princess and her Panther

The Princiess and Her Panther by Wendy OrrReviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]).

Fox is a beautiful book. The rich colours and textures of its illustrations are dramatic and satisfying and the hand lettering is interesting and unusual, although it may be a problem for some early readers. The story it tells is unusual and open-ended in a way that stimulates the imagination.

The story is simple and the language sometimes complex but not daunting. A dog finds a magpie with a broken wing and takes it to his cave to nurse it. Dog has only one eye. Magpie has only one useful wing. Together they help each other. Magpie flies through the air on dogs back and acts as Dog’s missing eye. Then  Fox appears. Fox entices Magpie away and runs with it to the desert where it leaves it to make its own way home. The final illustration is of Magpie jiggety-hopping away from the fiery red sun.

There are lessons here in friendship, loyalty, trust and deception, but nothing is spelled out and the vivid illustrations are a major part of the joy of the book.

Fox was first published ten years ago and has since won numerous awards. This anniversary edition is suitably sumptuous for a book which widely is regarded as an Australian classic.

The Princess and her Panther is a very different kind of picture book but children will identify with the princess and with the panther, both of whom are real children in dress-up clothes.

Fox by Margaret WildThe first illustration shows panther having whiskers painted onto her face, and the garden inside the front and back covers is ordinary and familiar. The story begins one afternoon with an imaginary trip to the desert of the garden sand-pit. Princess is confident. Panther is nervous. The paddling pool becomes a wide blue lake and the garden tree is the wood where Princess pitches her tent. As night falls, the world becomes black, and strange noises begin, Panther tries again and again to be brave. Finally, “Enough is enough”. Panther finds her courage and the frightening, spooky night creatures are banished. The book ends with the sisters and their cat sleeping happily in their tent until morning and breakfast appear.

The story is simple but dramatic and there is plenty to discover in the illustrations on each page. A good bed-time story.

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Copyright © Ann Skea 2010
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/

Boomerang at the 2010 CBCA Imagine This! Imagine That! Conference

Boomerang Books is proud to announce that this weekend, not only is a member of our Boomerang Books blogging team speaking at the sold-out 2010 Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch Conference, but we’ll be live-blogging the two-day event – with scheduled appearances by the big names in Australian children’s writing, including Libby Gleeson, Glenda Millard, Libby Hathorn, Jackie French, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Margaret Wild, Julie Vivas and Shaun Tan.

For program information, click here. Sad you can’t make it? Itching to ask a particular author a question? Well, send me an email, and I’ll not only be your eyes and ears at the Conference, but I’ll be your mouth.