Striking Out – Picture books that challenge

There are times in every small person’s life, when they are faced with taking the plunge, striding into the unknown, and just striking out into that adventure called life. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s downright wrenching, but who says it can’t be fun. Here are a cluster of recently released picture books that will enlighten and inspire in those darker and daring times.

CrustsCrusts by Danny Parker Illustrated by Matt Ottley

I adore the sinuous artistry of this incredible picture book team. A picture book with their names on the cover promises great subtlety and infinite pleasure. Crusts is no exception. One third graphic, two thirds regular, this picture book grabs the most frustrating habit a maker-of-lunchbox-lunches has to contend with – the uneaten crust and flips it on its head.

Jacob is your typical crust-eating refusal expert. His mum is your typical eat-your-crusts enforcer. Neither is willing to give any ground, which is unfortunate because in a galaxy far far away, a tiny planet is crumbling into nonexistence and has had to jettison three explorers to Earth in an attempt to locate and transport planet-saving crusts back to them. At first, it seems the mission is doomed to fail as Jacob squirrels away crusts by the bin load and scribbles away at plans the explorers feel are useless to their cause. Turns out, there is more to Jacob’s distaste in crumbs and ingenuity than meets the eye.

Parker’s narrative is always spot on, poetic and soulful. Ottley’s fanciful illustrations strike the perfect balance between droll fantasy and tragic normality. Crusts is a crowd pleaser even for those unwilling to swallow one physically. It accentuates the values of tenacity, humanity, selflessness, and kindness and comes highly recommended for lovers of invention and space travel.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE August 2016

Zelda's Big AdventureZelda’s Big Adventure by Marie Alafaci Illustrated by Shane McG0wan

I love the plucky audacity and determination shown by Zelda the chook. Zelda has a dream, ‘to be the first chook in space.’ However, the road to the Milky Way is long and arduous and none of her coop-mates is willing to lift a primary wing feather to help her achieve her ambitions.

Undaunted, she strikes out alone and finally launches herself into chook history. When she eventually comes home, her fickle-feathered friends agree Zelda’s tenacity and drive are by far the best examples of how to get anywhere interesting they’ve ever encountered. With her appetite for space exploration sated, Zelda concedes adventures are always more fun when shared with friends. This is a fun, easy to read, easy to share picture book encouraging perseverance and courage. Great for pre-schoolers and early primary readers and chook lovers like me.

Allen & Unwin 2016

Up up and AwayUp, Up and Away by Tom McLaughlin

Like his previous titles, The Story Machine and The Cloudspotter, Up, Up and Away warms the very cockles of your heart and is guaranteed to cheer you. Unlike Zelda who travelled far into space to find her first planet, Orson, a boy who loves to make things, prefers the challenge of making his own. And he does.

At first, the new planet is slow to find its position in Orson’s universe but slowly with a lot of tending loving care from Orson, his planet grows up and even develops its own gravitational pull. That is when Orson realises, that he must let his beloved planet find its true place among the stars. Under five year olds will relate to this on a number of levels; pets growing up, butterflies dying, outgrown shoes and so on. Adults will be reminded that one day their own tiny planets will eventually have to orbit elsewhere, too.

This whimsical picture book describes the sometimes unavoidable necessity of letting go of things you love the most in order to set them free. McLaughlin elevates this difficult life lesson to a place of beautiful reason and logic in spite of the nonsensical notion of mixing up a planet from scratch from ‘a cup full of rocks and a dash of water’.

Powerful and smart, Up, Up and Away is about accepting and recognising challenges and change.

Bloomsbury August 2016

OutOut by Angela May George Illustrated by Owen Swan

Sometimes taking on new challenges is not always a matter of choice. Out is a stunning debut picture book by George, which tackles the unrelenting struggles of refugees and their emigration attempts. We never learn the real name of the young asylum seeker in this story, but she is recognisable as a girl with much heart and soul and deep pools of courage. Together with her mother, they endure a treacherous journey from their homeland to Australia. Life is very different, and it takes a while for them to assimilate to the music, dancing, and language. Everything is a new challenge for she and her mother and yet throughout their ordeals, she always retains the thinnest, most fragile tendrils of hope, as depicted by a bright yellow ribbon she carries everywhere.

Written with frank solemnity Out resonates with positivity and a belief that good will always prevail. Swan’s gentle muted illustrations convey emotion and compassion and allow the characters of the story to stand out when they are surrounded by so many others that are in exactly the same boat as they, as it were.

Persuasive and compelling, Out will suit readers four and above and help them realise the strength of the human spirit whilst appreciating the various paths they can take (or must make at times) to reach their goals.

Scholastic Press June 2016

 

 

 

Picture Books of Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review – Teacup

TeacupI want to frame this picture book and hang it on my wall. To label Teacup as having bucket-loads of appeal for audiences familiar with and sympathetic to displacement, migration, social disruption and family change strips away the myriad of other sophisticated, elegant qualities this book deserves to be described by. It is simply sublime.

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley is a timeless story of a boy fleeing his home to ‘find another’. We know not where from nor why but immediately warm to his story after learning that amongst the meagre possessions he takes with him is a teacup which holds some earth from where he used to play.

Teacup illo spreadUnlike any other creature on earth, the need to retain ones past in order to make ones way better into the future is strongest in we mere humans, especially in times of dramatic change. Therefore, the boy sets off across seas sometimes kind and friendly, other times wild and testing. Along the way he has time to contemplate all that he has left behind; his home, his sense of place, his beloved family and the naivety of childhood. The clouds that swirl above him may not be permanent but his memories remain secure as does his hope, until one day that hope takes root in the form of a sapling apple tree.

This symbolic tree of life sustains him until the day his is able to build his life anew; older, wiser, a better receptacle for change, just like his teacup.

RY-001The beauty of this story is its incredible scope. It could be describing loss or the dislocation of refugees. Others will interpret it as a story of a search for love and belonging. Whatever journey Teacup takes you on, Young’s eloquent use of words and symbolic imagery massage your emotions to the point of quiet reverence. The narrative bobs gently upon these thematic eddies, always moving forward, into the unknown.

Matt OttleyEven more arresting than the text are Ottley’s illustrations. More like a collection of fine art, they are jaw-drop beautiful, each a breathtaking portrait of the boy’s journey. Dense in texture and meaning, Ottley’s illustrations reflect sky and sea, at once both soothing and uplifting.

Teacup is a picture book to treasure for its undiluted beauty and the subtle way it transcends moralising on human rights and condition, thus making it an important and exquisite reading experience for youngsters aged four and above.

Potential award winner.

Scholastic Press April 2014

‘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

Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!