Belief Compassion Dreams – More Picture Books that Inspire

The well of picture books possessing that alluring duality to entertain and inspire never seems to run dry. Here are a few new titles to keep you topped up.

Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie

Phil Lesnie used pencil, watercolour and a tiny bit of gouache to decorate Cummings’ story of compassion and hope. According to his note, he also spilled his coffee on it twice and left it in. Despite his refreshing flippancy, both he and Cummings have created a picture book awash with extreme visual sincerity and narrative beauty. Their story follows the flight of a migrating sandpiper whose tug for home takes the reader through crumbled war-torn landscapes, over deep river valleys, through dark stormy nights, and across flood-ravaged plains and turbulent seas until finally coming to rest near Mia’s house.

At various locations, a feather or two is lost, each causing a reaction between those who happen upon it, connecting us, the reader, with the inhabitants from lands far distant and their circumstances. The sandpiper is a curious yet brilliant choice for the allegorical conduit between that which is normal for some and catastrophic for others.

Feathers promotes themes of immigration, hope, tolerance, cultural awareness, compassion and humanity in a divinely beautiful way. Highly recommended for primary aged readers.

Scholastic Press August 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge

When a small rhino sets off across a the ocean waves in search of something more, he discovers a world of possibilities and wonders greater than he could have ever imagined and the satisfaction of eventually returning home. This is a comely tale of living your dreams to their fullest and ignoring those soothsayers who warn you otherwise. See Romi’s full review, here.

Walker Books Australia August 2017

I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

I’m Australian Too focuses on multiculturalism from within our own backyards or indeed, the backyards of a dozen or more typically Aussie kids with not so typically Aussie roots. Celebrating diversity in a way that pre-schoolers will relate to, Fox uses simple verse and a conversational tone to prompt readers to investigate their own cultural heritage and to not only celebrate it but embrace those with different family histories, as well. Each introduction ends on a bouncy high note suggesting that no matter where we originate from, no matter what the circumstance of our being Australian, we are all one and better for it.

Scholastic Australia March 2017

Sarah and the Steep Slope by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley

One of the most powerful and affecting picture book teams around, join forces again to present Sarah’s story of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sarah is unable to leave her home because of a slope. It blots out the sun and surrounds her house blocking every exit. Despite her best efforts, the slope will not budge, trapping Sarah, ‘all day long’. Until the slope doctor makes a suggestion and with the help of her friends, Sarah discovers a way to see past the slope and to conquer it.

Sarah and the Steep Slope is a tremendous story of courage, friendship and emotional resilience. Occasionally we, including young children, all encounter slopes like Sarah’s that effectively prevent us from seeing what is beyond and inhibit us from venturing further than we need to. Parker’s narrative gives one hope and salvation from negative thoughts and actions by illustrating the formidable healing power of friendship. Ottley reinforces this notion of self-belief with utterly lovable, whimsy-filled illustrations that bathe each page with texture and meaning without imagery clutter. Another masterpiece and my new best favourite.

Little Hare Books, imprint of HEG August 2017

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

 

Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

BUY HERE

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia is an amazing novel about schizophrenia, school, and making friends with a boy who may or may not be real. The whole story caught me by surprise with how much I loved it! It felt so realistic and relatable with how it is to be a teen, and it was also amazing have the perspective of someone who deals with delusions. I was so caught up, the 400-pages rushed by in a flash! And the ending is the kind that will definitely turn you on your head. Such excellence.

The story follows Alex who’s just trying to get through her last year of highschool so she can get into college — while keep control of her delusions and schizophrenia. There are a few mysteries going on at school which she is trying to solve. And on top of that, she meets a boy named Miles who she’s sure she’s met before…or has she?

I thought the representation of schizophrenia was extremely interesting. I’ve read other books on this topic, such as Challenger Deep and Alice and the Fly, which both summarised the vivid and devastating delusions from a completely different angle. Alex seems to maintain a “normal” life. She’s witty and has some great dialogue lines and she has many hopes and plans for the future. She has hobbies (she loves photography) and she has a job and is a history nerd. But her paranoid schizophrenia is still there. I actually really liked this representation because it shows that (a) mental health issues are a spectrum, and (b) often times someone on the outside can’t “see”…which really can underline the fact you shouldn’t judge people without knowing the whole story. But I liked how Alex had mental health struggles, but she wasn’t just those struggles. I definitely connected and rooted for Alex!

The secondary characters are also excellently written and well developed. Alex is going to this new school (she got kicked out of her last) and so she meets a motley crew, but notably: Tucker and Miles. Tucker is a really cool, sweet dude and I liked his easy-going friendship with Alex. It was really especially nice to see platonic boy-and-girl friendships featuring!

Miles is extremely interesting and complex. He’s German and skinny and a genius and often horrible and unempathetic. I loved him a lot, basically instantly, because you can tell there’s more to him than meets the eye. I think he’s also on the autism spectrum and this definitely shows in his personality and how he relates to people. I thought he was so well written and represented! I loved how he’s just this a fountain of extreme intelligence, and his character development and relationship with Alex is amazing.

I so appreciate how this book tackled so many complex topics and treated them well and with total respect.

My only negatives were I guessed the biggest plot twist at the end! However that might be just me who reads, let’s face it, an awful lot.

I definitely think Made You Up is the kind of book you want to experience. It’s so so well written and a phenomenal debut. It made me instantly realise I’ll need to read everything by this author of ever. It’s full of feels and emotions and important messages and definitely will get you thinking.

Review: Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

BUY HERE

Eliza And Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia is the ultimate book for those of us who hiss at sunlight and live on the internet. It’s brimming with internet, geek, and nerdom appreciation! And on top of that, the writing is absolutely amazing and it features protagonists’ struggling with anxiety and depression and their entirely relatable journeys. This book just felt so applicable to this day! I can do naught but appreciate it’s perfection.

The story follows Eliza who is the anonymous creator of an internet-famous webcomic series called Monstrous Sea. Online she is a mysterious and powerful creator and is loved and adored by so many. She’s made quite the profit off her business and fans adore every chapter update. Her closest friends are online and she can talk to them about anything. But in the physical life? Eliza hates leaving her room. She barely talks and has severe anxiety and depression and every day is just about getting through school so she can finish and go to college to study art. Until she meets a fanfic writer at her very school: Wallace. The two form a deep friendship based on their loves of the Monstrous Sea fandom and their connection over anxiety (Wallace has selective mutism). But Wallace doesn’t know who Eliza truly is. And she’s not sure if telling him will ruin everything.

I was already a big fan of the author’s debut, Made You Up, so I went into this story know it’d be amazing. I maybe liked the debut better, but this one just hit home with the levels of sheer geekdom over the comicseries. I think anyone who’s anxious, introverted, or loves to get lost in literature — will definitely relate to Eliza and feel understood.

 

“Eliza, your worth as a person is not dependant on the art you create or what other people think of it.”

 

I also loved the emphasis on internet friendships! Most of Eliza’s life is online and her parents are of the opinion that online-friends-aren’t-real-friends. Which is obviously ridiculous and stresses Eliza out a lot. She loves the freedom of the internet, the chance to think before she has to talk. I also couldn’t get over how awesome Max and Emmy, Eliza’s chat buddies, were. We only “met” them through internet dialogue, but they were so complex, interesting, and relatable! I also loved that there was quite an age gap between the three friends (Eliza was 17, Emmy 14, and Max in his early twenties). It just goes to show and prove that internet friendship can and will transcend barriers. The whole thing was sweet and lovely! The book totally did highlight how the internet can suck, but mostly it was positive which was such a refreshing change.

And of course I must mention how wonderful the featuring characters of Eliza and Wallace were! It was amazing to read how they both struggled with anxiety, but it displayed in different forms (with Eliza retreating from life, and Wallace not speaking in public). It goes to show what a spectrum mental health issues are. I also loved Eliza’s family, who were sweet and kind…if totally clueless about her love and dedication to her webcomic. They really did try to connect with her, even though they often made things worse. And Wallace was complex and interesting. Their relationship starts as tentative friends and then progresses so sweetly. I loved it!

Also anytime someone says “exercise” Eliza runs away. This is relatable and perfect.

It also was great that the book featured people who weren’t good at talking, but still communicated through art, writing, and notes. There’s still plenty of dialogue in the book, but the balance was perfect.

And the book is also illustrated! Many sections and pages have snippets of Eliza’s comic. And it includes emails and web-chats too, to make a very entirely pleasing and uniquely formatted novel.

 

“Do you ever have an idea for a story, a character, or even a line of dialogue or something, and suddenly it seems like the whole world is brighter? Like everything opens up, and everything makes sense?”

Eliza And Her Monsters is definitely the kind of book you need in your life! The sheer amount of GEEK AND INTERNET LOVE makes it so worth it. I love how I felt understood by it and I love how it really explained and delved into the reasons why fandoms and art and writing are so important to some people!

Review: Whisper To Me by Nick Lake

Whisper to Me by Nick Lake is an incredibly story about mental health, love and family. I CONFESS: I went into it with very low expectations because the cover didn’t grab me and I was left rather befuddled by the author’s previous book There Will Be Lies. But Whisper To Me was amazing and it’s totally underrated! I think it’s one of the best mental illness books I’ve ever read in a long time.

9781408853863The story is by Cass, who is a quiet reserved girl who’s reeling after losing her mother in an accident. She’s writing this book as a letter to a boy she hurt to try and explain what happened and why she broke his heart. The truth is she is hearing voices and is trying to cope and handle it, along with the anxiety, depression, and PTSD of witnessing her mother’s death. Not only that, but there’s a serial killer in town and Cass gets slightly caught up in finding out who it is.

Cass’ exact diagnosis isn’t given. It’s eluded that it could be bipolar or schizophrenia. But it felt so well written and so real. The author’s note says he briefly actually experienced hearing voices…and I think that really added a lot of relatability to the story because it felt honest, raw, and real.

Cass is also an incredible protagonist to read about. She’s quiet. She thinks a lot and says the wrong things. She’s really self-depreciating which I loved reading. Honestly, it’s quite hard to write about such heavy topics and still perfectly incorporate humour, but this book pulls it off with an A+. Cass does a lot of ridiculous things and you will probably get very frustrated with her at several points. But that made her realistic. The book was so brilliantly written that I felt like I understood Cass’ decisions, because we are so deep in her thought process, that even when I know they’re dumb things to do, I also understood why she made them. Cass was relatable and I so rooted for her.

It has an epic focus on relationships. Cass and her kinda-scary-ex-Navy-dad (who honestly has untreated PTSD) have to do a lot of work on their relationship. And later on Cass makes friends with Paris, a girl she met in hospital who has bipolar disorder. Paris was incredible. The book continually described her was “weird”, but she owned it and was kind and wasn’t afraid to be her wild self. I loved Cass and Paris’ friendship and how they were there for each other.

The romance is a bit of cuteness. There’s a boy (who actually is never named, because the book is written in the “to you” format)  renting the spare flat attached to Cass’ house and he was adorable. This is probably the most awkward romance ever. And to be honest it doesn’t have much chemistry. But I really wanted it to work out for them.

The letter format worked really well. It is quite the long email, honestly. This book is 500+ pages and written as an email to this boy Cass loves. It made me quite desperate to find out why she keeps saying she broke his heart. We know WHAT happened but we don’t know WHY it happened.

The ending isn’t “tidy.” I give this book all the points for being realistic. The ending is very open, be ye warned, but I felt like the story doesn’t end when the pages do and I like that!  Life is not a neat little box. Plus the writing is just a pleasure to devour. And even though the book was a small brick to read, I enjoyed every page.

It is a story that balances darkness and light. The things the Voice tells Cass to do can be brutal and horrifying and I wanted to cry with her several times. I love the character development and the message and the way it all felt so real. Definitely an excellent book about mental health.

 

[BUY HERE]

Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is equal parts beautiful, emotionally damaging, and incredible. I absolutely adored it. Because who doesn’t like a book that will nearly make you cry?? Obviously everyone loves that kind of thing. For sure. This story is gut-wrenching and precious and inspiring and hopeful and balances darkness and hope using some of the best storytelling I’ve experienced in a long time. 9781783443819

The story is about three protagonists: Dill, Lydia, and Travis. They all live in a tiny gossiping town that is smothering and suffocating them. Dill’s father was a preacher but is now in jail for being a peadophile. So basically everyone hates and distrusts him and he’s severely depressed. Lydia has a loving family but is about to leave town after highschool to pursue further education. Aka she’s leaving all her friends behind. Aka her friends that are not doing very well at all. Travis has an abusive family but he’s the sweetest most loving boy who is obsessed with a fantasy series and uses it as an escape. They all need each other. But everything is falling apart.

It’s a story of survival and friendship. Normally I don’t even like books narrated by three protagonists, because it’s confusing. But Dill, Lydia, and Travis were all so different and complex and relatable and heartbreaking that I loved them all. I can’t even choose a favourite!

 

Brief Overview Of The Characters:

  • DILL: He’s the son of a preacher who’s just been imprisoned for sexual charges and EVERYBODY knows Dill and is disgusted by him. Tiny backwards town, remember? Not very forgiving. His mother hates him, school is hell, he’s got NO FUTURE because he’s stuck in this town and his best friend Lydia is leaving for college and basically he was tragic and adorable and quiet and nearly broken and I couldn’t love him more. He does lash out irrationally with passive-aggressive arguments with Lydia. But I get it?!? When you face losing someone, sometimes you push them away first to help dull the pain.
  • LYDIA: she’s a super famous fashion blogger and only 17 #NoImNotJealousHaHaHa. She’s fashionable, super sassy, epically fabulous, definitely not skinny, and has a future of success paved out before her. I adored her relationship with her parents, too! The banter is hilarious and perfect. I love how she as flawed and flawless.
  • TRAVIS: He was the most adorable dork to ever dork in the universe. He’s obsessed with fantasy, specifically this trilogy which he can’t stop talking about. He’s big and kind and unassuming and just downright lovely. Books about lovely boys need to be more of a thing. I adore how his love of fantasy started turning him towards writing, as an escape from his abusive household, and that was beautiful written.

The writing is also absolutely fantastic. It was heavily dialogue centred and balanced hilarious humour with poignant scenes. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even laughed out loud several times actually! (My dog looked mildly displeased at the noise.) And I loved the contrast of their lives: Dill slowly fading to nothing, Lydia being rich and full of purpose, Travis finding escape in writing.

“And anyway, how is a coffee shop Christian?”
“It implies that normal coffee shops are satanic.”
“Which they totally are. It’s like, can I please just get a cup of coffee without having to kneel before Lucifer and pledge my eternal soul?”
“Here’s your latte. Will that be cash, credit, or the blood of a virgin?”

It really tackles mental illness and it does so perfectly. Depression is not an easy topic and yet The Serpent King really captures the complexity of it.

The Serpent King is definitely an extraordinary book. I am of the loud opinion that everyone should read it. Immediately. It’s definitely a coming of age story about friendship and trying to figure out your future and what you want. It has romance, but it’s not overly romantic. The writing will sweep you along and it will, almost definitely, stab you in the chest one or nine times. It was brutal and hopeful which is a perfect combination.

 

[BUY NOW]

YA Books About Schizophrenia

Lately there’s been a rise of books that deal with important topics: such as mental health. I’m so in favour of this because it a) breaks down stigmas that we might have from not understanding the mental illness, and b) shows us that people are never just “labels” and c) helps us to walk in these characters’ shoes and learn more about how they live.

I’ve read several books recently that deal with Schizophrenia, which is definitely something I didn’t know much about before reading these books. And they are such endlessly good books that I MUST SHARE. I also highly recommend them, of course.


 

22864841Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

This book is absolutely entirely fantastic. It is about Alex who is a highschool senior and struggles to tell the difference between real vs made up. She’s solving a mystery at her school and also has met a very confusing and intense boy, Miles, whom she doesn’t quite know what to do with. I particularly adored this book because it presented Alex as a pretty normal person. YES, she has delusions. But she also has hobbies and dreams and habits. There’s witty banter and relatable high school experiences. It’ll definitely break your heart just a little though at the end there.

 

9781444799514Alice and the Fly by James Rice

This one definitely gave me the shivers. It introduces us to Greg who is a very unreliable narrator and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. It really affects his life and he’s basically undiagnosed and has zero support from his family. They ignore anything “weird” he does. There’s lots of stalking in this one, but we’re so deep in Greg’s thought-process that it’s easy to understand why he does what he does. Honestly it’s a chilling book and it keeps you gripping and flipping pages. Also amazingly writing. Also slightly traumatising.

 

9780061134111Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

So clearly, after reading this, I am of the opinion that Neal Shusterman is a word GENIUS. I cannot believe how creatively and artistically he wrote this story! Apparently it’s also based upon his own son, who suffers from similar symptoms to the schizophrenic protagonist: Caden. Half of the book is real-life-narrative about Caden. And half the book is his delusions about being on a ship and the weird and nonsensical things that happen. Honestly? It takes a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve conquered those initial confusing first chapters, the book just opens up into this amazingly poignant story about failure and recovery.


OTHER SCHIZOPHRENIC BOOKS

I haven’t read these ones (that to-be-read pile truly is endless) but they look incredibly interesting and I’m keen to try them someday!

9780385738286 9780147508850 9780738719269

I Will Save You follows the story of a boy with no family who works at a beach and is haunted by a best-friend/worst-enemy. Schizo is about a boy’s downward spiral into mental illness and an obsession with his brother and a girlfriend who might not exist. A Blue So Dark is about a girl who’s keeping her artistic mother’s schizophrenia a secret and therefore is her sole carer, all the while denying her own artistic urges because she believes it’ll make her end up like her mother.

Doodles and Drafts – A not-so-BLAH Blog Tour with Karen Tyrrell

In the time I spent crewing at sea, I endured several disabling bouts of seasickness. Once established, it’s a difficult malaise to throw off. The one thing that helped (besides boxes of seasick tablets) was knowing that others were suffering as well, often far worse than I. Have you ever encountered that? Symptoms (of nausea) miraculously evaporate in the presence of one who is experiencing worse than you. It’s empowering in a uniquely weird human kind of way.

Bailey Beats the BlahA similar change of physical and mental state occurs in the young protagonist in Karen Tyrrell’s debut picture book, Bailey Beats the BLAH.

Tyrrell noted for her work on speaking up and out for mental health awareness, is keen to tackle the issues surrounding the mental well-being of our young people. Depression and its associated ills can plague children as young as six, undermining their self-esteem, confidence and emotional security.

Karen TyrrellNobody readily embraces the discord change and upheaval produces and being friendless at school can be a catalyst for such dread. Bailey experiences not only this but a myriad of other anxieties and fears accumulating in a colossal feeling of BLAH.

‘Sad days’ become his norm. Self-dislike, apathy, paranoia and discontent appear his closest companions, even after Fuzzy, his dog, tries to intervene. We eventually learn that all Bailey really wants is a friend, someone to share his solitude and banish his despair. Turns out, the new kid, Tom, is more prone to ‘seasickness’ so to speak, than Bailey. Forgetting his own discomforts or perhaps recognising the need to help Tom overcome his, Bailey allows Tom into his world. Together they find a common link and forge a salving friendship.

‘Dramatically speaking, intent is everything’* and Tyrrell’s unabashed use of force-filled verbs leaves no doubt as to the degree of sadness weighing so heavily on Bailey. The leaden seriousness of Bailey’s situation is thankfully beautifully balanced by the cartoonisque illustrations of Aaron Pocock.

Aaron Pocock at work
Aaron Pocock at work

His upbeat portrayal of Bailey has busloads of eye-popping kiddie appeal while the use of bright colours and thoughtful visual detail allows us to feel all of Bailey’s glumness and pain without being overwhelmed by it.

Bailey Beats the BLAH’s no frills approach and design ensures there is no ambiguity in its message to young readers and carers: that we can all suffer bad, sad days no matter whom or how old we are, but we need never suffer alone.

Perfect for 4 – 8 year olds, this picture book will be useful as a discussion tool in counselling and early education situations.

Digital Future Press October 2013

*The Art of Racing in the Rain-Garth Stein

Bailey Beats the Blah launch Oct 2013Embracing the cause to share important life messages through the medium of picture books, I was honoured to officially launch Bailey Beats the BLAH with Karen Tyrrell and a colourful cast of characters at the Black Cat Book Shop recently and managed to pull her aside to answer a few quick questions. Here’s what she had to say…

Q Karen, this is your first picture book. What prompted you to focus on the mental well-being of children as its topic?

When I was a teacher, parents at my school harassed me until breaking point. Luckily I recovered, becoming a mental health advocate, passionate about teaching resilience skills. After the success of my breakthrough memoirs, ME & HER: A Memoir of Madness and ME & HIM: A Guide to Recovery I wanted to create a picture book to empower kids with bounce-back-ability.

Q You’ve worked for many years as an educator of children. Is Bailey’s character, based on anyone you know personally or from you own experiences as a child?

I’ve taught many kids like Bailey. Sad, stressed-out or withdrawn kids are becoming far too common in our over-stressful and pressurized world.

Q Is Bailey a character you see tackling other kid issues in future picture book stories? What’s next for Bailey?

I’m developing MORE picture books to empower children to live happier, healthier and more functional lives.

Q What’s on the draft table for Karen Tyrell? More self-help, another picture book?

I’m working on two mental health books: A chapter book for mid-graders plus a fiction novel for teenagers. Both books encourage young people to deal with their mental health issues they encounter at home and at school.

Q If you could pass on one golden piece of advice to kids like Bailey who are suffering BLAH days, what would it be?

Don’t suffer alone. Reach out to others: your friends, your family, your teacher to help you overcome those BLAH days.

Kids, you hold within yourselves all the POWER you need to stamp out the BLAH.

Q What’s one thing on your non-writing wish list you’d like to tick off?

My dream is to return to school as an author-teacher, to share Bailey Beats the BLAH, helping children and their families to turn their BLAH into ha-ha-ha!

Thanks Karen for sharing your dreams and passion with Boomerang.

Why not join Karen as she bops around the cyberphere on tour with Bailey. Scroll down for a chance to win a great prize or two. Simply leave a comment and you are in the draw to win!

Bailey Blog Tour & Book Giveaway

3rd Nov http://www.creativekidstales.com.au/authors/pitch-ya-book/pitch-ya-book.html

4th Nov http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

5th Nov http://diannedibates.blogspot.com.au

6th Nov http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

7th Nov http://www.robinadolphs.com/blog/

8th Nov

9th Nov www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au

10th Nov

11th Nov http://squigglemum.com

12th Nov http://www.nickyjohnston.com.au/blog/

13th Nov http://nccparentsplace.wordpress.com/

14th Nov http://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com/

15th Nov http://natashatracy.com/topic/bipolar-blog/

16th Nov http://buginabook.org/category/childrens-books/

17th Nov http://www.writeawaywithme.com/blog/

18th Nov http://angelasunde.blogspot.com

Bailey Beats the Blah Book Giveaway

WIN: Copies of Bailey Beats the Blah, a signed Bailey artwork by illustrator Aaron Pocock and a picture book assessment with chief editor at Book Cover Café.

Leave a comment on any of the 16 hops on the Bailey Beats the Blah tour Nov 3rd -18th. The more comments you leave the MORE chances to WIN.

WINNERS announced on Nov 20th at www. karentyrrell.com