Review – Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

Sometimes, you just need some good food, good spirit, or a good book to make your day, or week, or holiday season. Well, how about all three rolled into one? Sally Murphy’s Sage Cookson early reader series certainly satisfies. Here’s the latest book, ‘Ring of Truth’.

imageA bright, eager to please young Sage is the luckiest daughter of world famous TV star chefs, enjoying an exciting life of adventure, travel and delicious culinary delights. Content to take a back seat from the limelight, Sage Cookson is off on another enlightening trip with her parents to watch the filming in the beautiful Harmon Island. There they meet two sisters who will feature on the show; pastry chefs of the most scrumptious pastries, pies and bread. But the success of the segment, and Sage’s good-natured reputation, hang in the balance when one of the sister’s treasured emerald ring goes missing. Can Sage clear her name? Will they go on with the show? There is one ‘pie’-ticular piece of evidence that will reveal the truth.

Within the ten short chapters is a plot that is straightforward and easy for early readers to grasp. Charmingly, the peppering of feeling and warmth throughout adds that extra flavour of drama and emotive goodness. Murphy cleverly integrates themes of friendship, sincerity and modesty within the exhilaration that unfolds in the final scenes. And decorated at each chapter heading are the rich, black and white pencil shadings of illustrator Celeste Hulme, tantalising our senses for what’s ahead.

imageInfused with zest and a sense of refreshment, Ring of Truth satisfies its readers with honesty, passion and aplomb. This series is a treat for all chefs in the making from age seven.

Check out Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, and Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise, out January 2017.

New Frontier Publishing, September 2016.

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Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

As we mark the first day of December, the Christmas countdown has officially begun. A time for snuggles, a time for giggles, a time for togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering and making new memories. Here are a few glorious picture books that have all the joy, laughter and magic of Christmas covered.

imageThere is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, Chrissie Krebs (author, illus.), Random House Australia, October 2016.

Argh! It’s like The Dreadful Fluff in disguise! Yes, there is a dreadful, terrorising mutant refusing to depart the comfort of Santa’s beard. Created by tired and grotty Santa’s leftover crumbs of bubble gum, candy canes, French fries and mince pies, the hideous, squatting blob threatens to ruin Christmas. It devours toys from the workshop and snaps up the elves’ trap. Santa attempts to remove it but to no avail. At last, it is the skilled, king fu-fighting reindeer that save the day. All is well with Santa until he treats himself after a training session with a sticky ice cream.

Chrissie Krebs has written this story with the great gusto and rollicking rhyme that it deserves. I love the depiction of Mrs Claus, too – homely and caring, but let’s face it, everyone’s patience has its limits! With its slapstick comedy, unfaltering rhyming couplets and vibrantly bright and energetic illustrations, this book makes for a highly engaging and fun read-aloud experience.

There is Something Weird in Santa’s Beard will take your preschoolers on a belly-rolling, chin-tickling journey as Santa overcomes the most terrible experience imaginable. But you can count on poor, messy Santa reliving it over and over again, as he did in our household!

imageI Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, John Rox (author), Simon Williams (illus.), Scholastic Australia, October 2016.

Here lies the renewal of the classic 1950 song originally written by John Rox, and performed by a young Gayla Peevey in 1953, which resulted in the Oklahoma City zoo acquiring a baby hippo named Matilda.

The story subtly portrays a sweet innocence, yet the narrator is firm with complete conviction on why s/he should have a hippopotamus for Christmas. Written in first person with its irregular upper and lower case handwriting as the main text, this is a fun, lyrical narrative (with bonus CD by Indigenous singer Miranda Tapsell) perfectly capturing the magic of childhood and Christmas for its preschool listeners.

Simon Williams gorgeously ties in this magical essence with his own interpretation of the humour and playfulness through his whimsical illustrations. Pairing a ginger kitten as narrator with its ‘Hippo Hero’ is an inspiring move portraying a wonderful unlikely friendship. The kitten makes promises to feed and care for it, and is excited by the hope of being surprised by its presence on Christmas morning. No crocodile or rhino would do, “I only like hippopotamuses. And hippopotamuses like me too!”

Adorably energetic, bouncy and joyful, children from age three will be adamant that they want I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas for Christmas.

imageThe Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore (text), Helene Magisson (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, November 2016.

With illustrations that are soft with warmth, deep with texture and rich with love, this newest edition of The Night Before Christmas is truly one to treasure.

With the timeless poem by Clement Clarke Moore, talented illustrator Helene Magisson works her magic to create a stunning gift for any family celebrating Christmas. As Santa and his eight reindeer journey through the snow-speckled sky to below the snow-crested rooftop, we are soothed by the pale watercolour tones that beautifully contrast the outdoor shades of blues with the indoor hues of reds. I also love the little whimsical subtleties like Santa’s cheeky expressions, the playful cat and the koala toy for our Australian readers.

With a special story and exquisite illustrations that represent togetherness, comfort and the undeniable joy that is Christmas, The Night Before Christmas is a beautiful keepsake for children between four and six years old.

You can find more fantastic gifts in the Kids Reading Guide 2016.

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Sweet Dreams, Little Ones – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doodles and Drafts – Mark Carthew

Mark CarthewQuiet achievers are those I admire most. Mark Carthew is one of those quiet achievers, except when he’s strumming out a tune on his guitar and reading one of his crazy verse orientated picture books aloud. With more projects on the draft table than you can wobble a pencil at, I thought it was high time we got to know one of Australia’s most consistent and talented children’s authors.

His recent release, Marvin and Marigold  The Big Sneeze with Simon Prescott, exemplifies all that we’ve come to expect of a Mark Carthew picture book: clear, engaging story, lyrical text, and kid friendly pictures guaranteed to spark repeated readings. The Big Sneeze is the first in this mouse inspired cute critter series, ably introducing Marigold to her new neighbour, Marvin, who’s in a pretty woeful way with the flu to begin with. Their friendship begins in a rather slow, fractured way until with a dash of empathy and a slathering of kindness, Marigold comes to accept the true mouse behind all the sneezes, snorts and snuffles. A little classic in the making (which are what The Gobbling Tree and The Moose is Loose! are to me). Let’s find out how he does it.

Welcome to the Draft Table, Mark!

Q: Who is Mark Carthew? Describe your writerly-self.

I am passionate about words, pictures and music… and how each of these things resonates in its own special way to make images. The rhythm of language and the power of alliterative words and phrases shared out loud is something reflected in my stories, verse and songs.

MARK-CARTHEW-FOOTER-2-LOWRES-72DPIQ: A hefty percentage of your children’s titles are picture books. What draws you to creating this genre of children’s literature?

Working with and seeing wonderfully talented illustrators bring your ideas to life is one of the great pleasures of being children’s picture book / illustrated text author. Each book is literally a birth; a special creation and much anticipated result of both vision and passion. Illustrator’s weave their own skills and magic into this creative process, making the genre a unique blend of two imaginations. I also enjoy working with editors, publishers and designers — and they need to get due credit; as they can bring significant (emotionally detached) insights and ideas to picture book projects.

Q: What style of writing do you identify most strongly with; children’s, poetry, song writing? Which style excites you the most to create?

Hard question, as many of my works involve combinations of all three! My picture books, anthologies and plays regularly revolve around narratives with a strong sense of the poetic, alliterative and rhythmic; and more often than not they have a musical or song element that dovetails naturally.

Marvin and Marigold_Cover_frontQ: Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, is the first in a new series of picture books featuring two new fun characters. Please tell us a bit about it. Why mice? Was this your original intention or is it a product of your collaboration with illustrator, Simon Prescott?

At a meeting in Frenchs Forest Sydney, my Publisher at New Frontier Sophia Whitfield, suggested she would be interested in me developing a manuscript around two animal characters. Reflecting on this while returning on the Manly Ferry, some verses started to flow; and the Marvin & Marigold series began that very day. Some of the key alliterative and rhyming stanzas based around their names, ‘mice’ and ‘mouse houses’ were written on the way back to Circular Quay. New Frontier had just set up a UK office in London and it was Sophia who made the UK connection to Simon Prescott, based on his whimsical style and expertise in illustrating mice.

Q: How did the concept of Marvin and Marigold come to being? What do you hope to portray in your stories about them?

Children’s publishers in Australia and around the world have had great success with picture books concerning cute and endearing animal characters; interestingly quite often with titles featuring ‘two names’.  As mentioned, New Frontier was keen to see if I could pen something original and engaging along similar lines with potential for a series.

While still involving word play and strong rhyme; these narratives also explore some deeper thinking around familiar life scenarios, situations and personal challenges — as well as important themes such as family, relationships, kindness and empathy. A series with two next door neighbours and friends, a boy and a girl, provides the perfect vehicle.      

Q: You mentioned that you ‘enjoy making books that encourage play with language, words and images’. Do you find it easier to ‘tell stories in song’ when developing a picture book as opposed to writing in prose? Describe the process for us.

My creativity seems to flow when I write in a lyrical, rhyming style and I think my love of verse texts, poetry and song writing has influenced my desire to share stories in sympathetic mediums. Poetic stanzas often bounce around in my head like a ‘third eye’ or voice. However, I am also very keen to extend my writing into a more prose based, graphic narrative style for the older primary readership and I have a couple of projects on the draft table in that regard.

The Gobbling Tree with awardQ: Your picture books in particular have strong appeal for lower primary and pre-primary aged readers, providing plenty of predictive reading possibilities and moments of fun to crow over again and again. What is the attraction for writing for this age group?

 Younger audiences respond naturally to call and response, alliteration and the use of strong rhyming, onomatopoeic phrases that are part of my writing style. That natural early childhood interest in shared language and interaction excites me as a writer and allows me the privilege and space to enjoy the fun of word play mixed with drama, music, movement and spoken words.

 Q: What’s on the draft table for Mark?

 2017 will be a big year with three picture books as well as various other poetry and writing projects in production or development.

My long long term illustrator friend Mike Spoor (UK) and I will be releasing a speciality art style picture book Six Little Ducks (with song), a project which evolved from our 2013 Australian tour. The second book in the Marvin and Marigold series, Marvin & Marigold: A Christmas Surprise will be released in the lead-up to Christmas 2017 and The Great Zoo Hullabaloo illustrated by Anil Tortop (Qld) will be out in April 2017. That project was developed during my May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship and is in essence the sequel to The Moose is Loose!— but with a different publisher, illustrator and a new twist!

The Five Little OwlsWith the assistance of Karen Small from Small but Mighty Productions, I am planning to produce a 10th Anniversary Edition of my CBCA Honour Book and anthology, Can you keep a Secret? Timeless rhymes to share and treasure. I hope to do that in both eBook & hard copy.

I am also working on some new poetry anthologies and a graphic novel / crossover text for older primary readers.

Q: When not scribbling stories for children, who / what do you like to read?

I enjoy magical realism, folkloric and action / fantasy novels… and reading other writer’s illustrated books!

Q: Just for fun question (there’s always one): If you had to choose to be one of your picture book characters for a week, whom would you choose and why?

 The Zoo HullabalooMmmm… most of my current characters are animals, so that is a tricky question! I’d probably be Jack in my upcoming title – The Great Zoo Hullabaloo. He’s a zookeeper who enjoys being around animals, as well as playing the drums!

PS: Mark has lots of information, activities and free material on his wonderful website — www.markcarthew.com.au

Thanks, Mark!

Marvin and Marigold The Big Sneeze is available, here.

New Frontier Publishing

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Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.

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Review – Noisy Nights – on tour with Fleur McDonald

Noisy NightsIf you like novels of the rolling outback variety with plenty of page-turning drama, a sprinkle of bucolic romance and a good dose of dust and hardship, then you are likely familiar with one of Australia’s leading rural writers, Fleur McDonald. Her litany of outback, female orientated sagas constitute engrossing adult reads. However, not content with being a bestselling author of adult fiction, McDonald has now set her sights on the fickle world of writing for children. Noisy Nights is the first picture book penned by McDonald and illustrated by Annie White depicting farmyard fun for pre-schoolers.

The premise is simple; Farmer Hayden is desperate for a good night’s sleep. Little wonder after working hard on his property all day long. Tucked under his cosy doona, beneath a darken sky and shining stars, everything appears ideal for sound slumber, except it is ‘so noisy outside his window.’

Apparently, the animals of Farmer Hayden’s farm are very vocal night. Now anyone who has ever spent a night in the country or even just camped in his or her own back yard will agree nights are not so silent. The cold stillness of a night bereft of the noisy pollution of city living seems to magnify each and every sound made by unseen creatures, as is the case for poor old Farmer Hayden.

Night after night, dogs bark, cows moo, horses nicker, and crickets chirp. Frequent pleas for quiet fall on deaf ears until defeated and fatigued, Farmer Hayden submits to his insomnia and spends the next night sitting outside on the veranda. He’d rather watch the noisy choir rather than suffer the torture of listening to them.

As predicted, thFleur McDonalde dogs bark, the cows moo, the crickets chirp and so on but the sheep dance to a different song this night, or rather, they jump to it. Finally, mesmerised by them, something amazing happens. Could this be the beginning of no more noisy nights?

McDonald pulls off her first attempt at writing for children with uncomplicated honesty. Predictive, repetitive text creates many opportune moments for young readers to not only bolster their vocabulary base but for them to indulge in interactive story telling with whomever they are reading with, as well. The narrative is enjoyable and supports common barnyard and animal connections as well as the old familiar maxim that ‘counting sheep to get to sleep’ really does work.NoisyNightsBlog Tour[1]

In addition, White’s well-loved illustrations emphasise the farmyard fun making this common dilemma instantly recognisable for even the most citified child.

Noisy Nights is soft-hued and gentle in its appearance and content making it a beautiful picture book to curl up with when your little one is ready for a good night’s sleep.

For more reviews and information about Fleur McDonald, visit her other Blog Tour stops.

Noisy Nights is available for purchase now, here.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

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Double Dipping – Save our Trees!

With National Tree Day just around the corner (28th to 31st July) what better way to celebrate the importance of sustaining and enriching our environment than by honouring earth’s life source, the tree.

Here are two picture books that appeal to the younger end of the market. There are many more, that showcase the magnificence of trees and nature: Jeannie Baker’s marvellous works, Tree by Danny Parker and Margaret Wild’s Tanglewood, for instance. Hunt them down and enjoy, but for goodness sake, leave those trees standing!

Barnaby and the Lost Treasure of BunnyvilleBarnaby and the Lost Treasure of Bunnyville by Robert Vescio Illustrated by Cheri Hughes

Barnaby is a gardener who loves to rove and gather. With his assorted stash of seeds, he dreams of transforming his home, Bunnyville into a verdant wonderland of fruit and veg. The major of Bunnyville, however has other ideas. He believes bunnies are designed for one thing and one thing only, to dig. Faced with this opposition, Barnaby devises a way to turn the mayor’s stony greed into positive action.

Barnaby illos spreadWhen a treasure map promising to reveal the lost treasure of Bunnyville turns up, the mayor enlists every paw and claw of Bunnyville to find it. Enthusiastic excavation ensues but the only ‘treasure’ unearthed is an rusty old key by Barnaby. While the rest of the township concedes defeat, Barnaby utilises the myriad of holes created by the hunt and with some luck and patience, Bunnyville is transformed into a lush productive garden.  The townsfolk are delighted, the mayor impressed by what Barnaby reveals is indeed the ‘lost treasure of Bunnyville’. The concept of 2 and 5 a day as never looked so delicious!

Robert VesicoThis ambrosial little tale about bunnies and treasure hunting neatly encapsulates Vescio’s subtle plea for perseverance and preservation in a way that will appeal to under 6-year-olds. It gently emphasises that ‘a tree is a treasure’ and that from little things, big things, important things really do grow – into ‘growing treasures’.  A playful and useful way to introduce young readers into food production and conservation. (I love Hughes pumpkin bright illustrations and amazing seed-studded end pages, too!)Take it with you as you head out to plant something this weekend!

Big Sky Publishing July 2016

The Gobbling TreeThe Gobbling Tree by Mark Carthew Illustrated by Susy Boyer

An oldie but a goodie, this classic picture book by Mark Carthew and Susy Boyer depicts what happens to the seeds we plant and the consequences of our interaction with them.

The gobbling tree situated on a rise in the local park is never named but becomes the focal point of concern for the neighbourhood kids when one by one they lose a precious plaything to its arboreal clutches. Kites, cricket bats, balls, sticks, boots, even Jacob’s ladder (Ha Ha) are gobbled up as each attempt to get their objects back results in more lost items. Soon most of the town’s treasures are stuck within the tree’s grasp including, Simon! It’s not until nature shimmies to her own dance that normality is restored…until the next cricket match that is.

Mark CarthewAnyone who has ever had a Frisbee stuck in a tree and failed to dislodge it with a variety of other thrown items will relate to this hilarious lyrical misadventure. (I’m putting my hand high up, here!) Carthew’s ability to bring song into story is well loved and in this case, worthy of receiving the Speech Pathology Book of the Year 2009 Award. Boyer’s drawings capture the colour and comedy of the situation beautifully. This favourite never grows old and underlines my deep-rooted respect for trees evermore.

New Frontier Publishing first published 2008

So whether you intend to plant a tiny parsley seed or the beginnings of something large and magnificent, encourage your children to honour nature this weekend, indeed every weekend. They can enjoy books like these as they wait for their treasures to grow.

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A Pair of Bear Books – Picture Book Reviews

I’ve found the perfect ‘snuggle-up-and-settle-down-for-bed’ books! My three and a half year old just adores them and although they’ve been on repeat every night, the fun surprises at the end never lose their novelty. Tuck in for a good night’s sleep with these two adorable ‘bear’ books to help with the bedtime routine.

imageWhere is Bear?, Jonathan Bentley (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

A ginormous bear is obscured from visibility as a little boy searches around the house for his Bear. But only to the untrained eye, that is! Preschoolers will take HUGE delight in pointing out the ‘hidden’ bear that follows the seemingly-unaware boy on his mission.

With a clever integration of prepositional language, the boy looks in drawers, on the shelf, in the bathroom, on the table, under the sofa, in the car and so on. And even more cleverly, this encourages our young readers to shout out exactly where they can see the bear hiding. Continually asking ‘Where is Bear?’ combined with the bear’s concealment in the pictures makes for a hilarious, interactive reading and language experience. But wait until you reach the finale…it’ll literally have you in flabbergasting fits of disbelief!

Jonathan Bentley does an awesome job with this simple, engaging text that keeps its readers’ eyes and ears peeled at all times. The vibrant, frolicsome illustrations further enhance the enjoyment with their watercolour and pencil textures and detail that the most discerning viewers will appreciate.

Where is Bear?’ touches on themes of loyalty and friendship, but mostly appeals to children from age three because of its fun, humorous and surprising antics that so often go hand in hand with the bedtime routine. Highly recommended.

imageTake Ted Instead, Cassandra Webb (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2016.

More secret hiding places to delay the inevitable bedtime in this gorgeously funny story by author Cassandra Webb and illustrator Amanda Francey.

In Take Ted Instead’, a small boy refuses his mum’s consistent requests to go to bed. The persistent child attempts to mask his whereabouts whilst making his own demands to ‘take RED instead’ (the dog). At each page turn, he finds living and non-living things to be taken instead, each rhyming with mum’s label of ‘sleepy head’. From his cat FRED to his big brother JEDD and the elderly neighbour NED, there’s no giving in. Finally, a gentle persuasive nudge from mum convinces the boy to go with TED. But what surprises are found in the bed when they get there?!

Webb’s repetitive and humorous phrasing perfectly suits the tenacious and cheeky nature of our main character, as well as being wonderfully engaging for its young audience. Francey’s soft, colourful palette is beautifully gentle yet her joyous illustrations are an ideal accompaniment to the bubbly energy of the text.

Full of familiarity, wittiness and spirit,Take Ted Instead’ makes for a fun and relevant read aloud experience for preschoolers and adults, alike. Now you have plenty of reasons to snuggle into bed at night!

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Quirks, Quandaries and Quips – Picture Book Reviews  

I love coming across books that allow the freedom to ‘think outside the square‘, so to speak. Books that play ‘chasey‘ with your imagination and let you run wild. And books that at the end of a chaotic day leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling in your heart. The following three picture books do all those things in their own special kind of way.

imageStanley, written and illlustrated by Colin Thompson, takes quirky to a whole new level. Thompson, a legend in the children’s book world, superbly paints a solid picture of his unique characters, both conceptually and visually. Focusing on the themes of non-judgement and individuality, his descriptive language, gangly humans and mixed media images align perfectly.

Stanley may look as if he was “built out of bricks that had been leant against and rained on and loved…, as strong as a mountain” but in truth he was “as soft as a pillow.” Adorably depicted across the page is Stanley in his muddy glory, sitting wide-eyed and innocent under the spotlight. As you will see, the thing that makes Stanley happy and his tail quiver most is his red ball (and his human, Gerald). Life with a small family (Stanley, Gerald and his mum) has its perks and responsibilities, but at times he feels lonely. One day, Stanley is disappointed after an unfortunate occurrence at the park. Then, without realising how it happened (since dogs usually don’t understand the intricacies of people’s bonding process), his house is filled with a new family. Stanley may not realise the connection between his park experience and his current living situation, but he finds himself enjoying the baking smells, extra company… and a brand new red ball. Although, he probably could have done without the tablecloth bridesmaid’s dress!

Stanley is a witty and gentle book about the complexities of human personalities and relationships and the simplicities of a dog’s life. There is also a subtle yet valuable message about taking risks with understanding people (and dogs) and looking beyond the exterior. Recommended for primary school children.

ABC Books, 2016.

imageChasing her previous excitable tale, Clementine’s Walk, Annie White‘s latest delight follows suit in the same charismatic demeanour; it’s Clementine’s Bath.

Guaranteed to whip preschoolers along on this wild romp, Clementine and her smells sure do arouse. Pongs from rubbish piles are not quite considered the bed of roses that this carefree pooch relishes, and the family won’t have a whiff of it. So now she finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Bounding off in rhyming couplets, Clementine makes her dash away from the dreaded B-A-T-H and all through the house. Hiding in an assortment of obscure places, like between pot plants, into the shed and inside the toybox, Clementine’s efforts fall flat and she, to her dismay, surrenders with a SPLASH! But perhaps there are perks to being clean and pleasant-smelling, after all.

Delightfully energetic and fast paced in all the right places, Clementine’s Bath exudes this chaotic liveliness that most dog owners know all too well. With softness, warmth and colour, this book will groom young readers into the excitement of caring for a pet.

New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

imagePreschoolers will take absolute pleasure at the quips these characters have prepared for their readers. This is a Circle by Chrissie Krebs is no more than an all-rounded, wise-cracking, rhyming pursuit in top form. With bold, vibrant colours and animated personalities much in likeness of Ben Wood’s illustrations, here is a page-turning, eye-catching and whimsical tale with an abundance of energy.

It all looks innocent enough when we are introduced to the seemingly-friendly characters and a random selection of labelled objects. But things quickly turn sour when animal turns against animal and objects are used for pure selfish gain. First the tap-dancing goat climbs the enormous box. Then the song-singing cat is cat-apulted up there due to his own reckless driving habits. A violent pant-wearing fox angers the wild-looking bear who chases him around and up to the top of the box (with the help of a pile of the randomly-selected shapes, objects and vehicles). And so now that they have successfully squabbled their way to the top, what will be their next quandary?

A highly entertaining collection of giggles and teachable moments with its clever integration of concepts and rhyming words. The text highlights those key words with bold and enlarged print, enabling young readers to identify the sounds and main elements in the story. Oh, not to mention the slick, tactile cut out circle on the front cover is a great way to hook readers in! Funny, innovative and engaging, This is a Circle will have children from age three running in circles to have this book read to them again and again.

Penguin Random House Australia, 2016.

For more concept-related books see Dimity‘s list here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Mother’s Day is Child’s Play – Picture Book Reviews

Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate the efforts of mothers and mother figures in our lives. Affirming one’s love and appreciation is the best way to the deepest part of her heart, and this can be shown in many ways. One special way to create and savour those deliciously tender moments is to share stories. A kiss, a cuddle, sharing of fond memories, or making new ones, can all develop from the source of a beautiful book, or a few. Start here with these gorgeous picture books specially for mums and grandmas.

imageMummies are Lovely, Meredith Costain (author), Polona Lovsin (illus.), Scholastic Koala Books, 2016.

Combining once again is the superb duo that brought us Daddies are Awesome/Great! is Meredith Costain and Polona Lovsin with Mummies are Lovely.

Beautifully lyrical yet simple canter leads the path to your heart as this delightful read shows cat mothers in a string of sentimental moments. Furry feline mums and kittens grace each page spread with their adorably realistic and energetic prominence. Readers, being both young children and adults, will appreciate all the amazingly loving attributes that mothers so willingly pour over their young. Soothing their troubles, cheering their mood, fearlessly and fiercely protecting them. And there’s no better way to end a busy, active day than to settle down with a tender, squeezy hug and the affirmations of this unconditional love.

Mummies are Lovely, with its all-round playful sweetness that is sure to generate all kinds of warm and fuzzies, is a purr-fectly soothing way to embrace your mother-child relationship this Mother’s Day.

imageGrandma Wombat, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2016.

Mums aren’t the only significant female figures in a child’s life. Those fortunate enough to spend time with their grandmas will certainly reap the benefits of their care. And of course, to Grandma, their little angel can never do wrong.

That is certainly the case in this adorable sequel to the ‘Wombat’ series by the unequivocal talents of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. A witty story of untold truths relating to cheeky child behaviour and grandparent bias, Grandma Wombat is simply delicious.

Prim and proper (as far as wombats go) is the matriarch, Grandma Wombat. Her babysitting duties are divinely simple and pleasurable (besides the rude disturbances by bounding kangaroos). Just the like the crisp language, her daily schedule is uncomplicated and (usually) straightforward. Whilst Grandma naps, she is blissfully unaware of the happenings behind the scenes. Let’s just say, between heedless bounding kangaroos and high flying stunts, baby grandson bids more of a wild adventure than Grandma Wombat would even care to dream of!

With its suitably boisterous and whimsical illustrations, Grandma Wombat certainly packs a punch in the humour department but also treasures the endearing qualities of a special bond and a grandparent’s love. Delightful to share with preschool-aged children at any time of the day.

imageOnesie Mumsie!, Alice Rex (author), Amanda Francey (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

The joys of the bedtime routine are gorgeously represented in this frisky tale, suitably fashioning the precious relationship between a little girl and her mumsie. Mum plays along with all the ‘onesie’ characters that her daughter becomes as she, not so inadvertingly, delays the inevitable. The ever-so-patient parent sneaks opportunities of affection between the drama and the outfits; a nibble on the crocodile, a tickle of the tiger, swinging of the penguin, and a squeezy cuddle with the bear. And when it’s finally time to tuck in for the night, who is waiting with a ‘tall’ surprise?!

Rex’s narrative flows smoothly and repetitively for a pleasurable read for little ones to follow and try to predict what animal comes next. Amanda Francey’s exuberant illustrations spill imagination and spirit, with the added lightly-shaded softness for those tender moments.

imageOnesie Mumsie is a charming book to wear out your little ones at the end of your fun-filled Mother’s Day. It is also the perfect companion to Francey’s latest book, Take Ted Instead (text by Cassandra Webb), reviewed amongst others by Dimity here.

Happy Mother’s (and Grandmother’s) Day to all the cheery, thoughtful, playful, and biased mums and grandmas!  

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

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It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

Double the Size, Double the Fun – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re looking for picture books exploring friendships of massive proportions, then these two latest delights are for you. Perfect for melting any sized heart! 

imageBlue Whale Blues, Peter Carnavas (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.  

On first glance, I noticed something different about Peter Carnavas‘ most recent creation compared to his previous works. His books including ‘The Boy on the Page’, ‘Jessica’s Box’ and ‘Oliver and George’ are well-known for their adorable hand-painted characters and animated scenes.
In ‘Blue Whale Blues’, the illustrations are still adorable and animated, but with an extra element; texture. Each character on each page has been individually crafted and cut out, with additional bits of fabric and textured and patterned papers to create an eye-catching, sensory collage effect. The washes of blues dominating the mixture of double-page spreads and bubble-shaped vignettes most suitably compliment the mood. And just to top off that sensory experience, Carnavas and New Frontier have cleverly integrated an interactive MP3 audiobook to listen to and read along. Just brilliant!

It is poor Whale’s wallowing in his own grief that captures our attention from the outset. He struggles to understand simple, everyday objects and their functions, such as upside-down bikes (“It’s NOT a bike!”, I hear the audience shout), and the use of a helmet (no, it’s not really a helmet!). Lost in his ocean of pity, Whale sings himself a ‘blues’ tune every time he gets stuck. But thank goodness for his trusty, easy-going pal, Penguin. He knows just how to help (or does he?). Although Penguin and Whale don’t quite succeed in their ‘big’ plan, at least they can have a good ol’ laugh at themselves, even when things continue to go awry.

‘Blue Whale Blues’ will inspire fits of laughter, moments of close bonding, and a cheery sing-and-read-along experience. With strong characters; big in stature and big in heart, this hugely engaging tale of friendship, problem solving and optimism is bound to sweep preschoolers off their feet time and time again.  

Be sure to check out Peter’s book launch if you’re in the West End area of Queensland.  

imageAs Big as You, Sara Acton (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Sara Acton, much-loved author illustrator known for her gorgeous watercolour and line works of art, including picture books such as ‘Daddy Cuddle’, ‘Poppy Cat’, and ‘Bridie’s Boots’.
Her most recent creation is ‘As Big as You’, which, unlike the title suggests, defies gravity on a number of levels. First, the book’s rotation has been turned on its side, allowing for maximum impact to reflect its huge illustration proportions. Second, this story of one of the largest creatures on earth is so wonderfully light-hearted and whimsical to lift even the heaviest of spirits. And third, there is a part in the story that sees an elephant literally whizzing and zipping through the air like a weightless, deflating balloon! How extraordinary!

We are introduced to Claude, massively dominating the double-page, portrait-oriented spread, who is the father-figure to the little one crouched at the bottom of the page, Finlay. Finlay faithfully looks up to Claude, attempting the same triumphant feats as his elder, only to discover they are abysmal in comparison. So with every ounce of his might, Finlay tries his hand at greatness and climbs a tall tree. (Then comes the part where he resembles an out-of-control balloon). But reuniting with Claude is the reassurance and comfort that he needs to know that there is no hurry to grow up. Tickles, fat raspberries on tummies and a safe place to belong are suitably the best.

‘As Big as You’ is lively and interactive, with absolutely relatable characters. It beautifully captures the magic of childhood and the essence of perspective, loving relationships and independence, and reminds young readers to relish these playful and innocent moments.

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’.

Far out Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

I bet your dad is not like other dads. It might be nice to remember this on Father’s Day – yes it’s just around the corner, but with fab picture books like these celebrating the quirks and qualities of fatherhood available now, why wait.

My Amazing Dad My Amazing Dad by the very amazing Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Tom Jellett team is a robustly illustrated, no nonsense close –up look at all of the pluses and minuses that are the sum total of fathers everywhere. And by ‘no nonsense’, I mean, hilarious. This picture book is rather like a collective expose of truths. Kwaymullina might well have spied on my own husband to gain these insights; the narrative rings so true!

For two children, a boy and a girl, their dad is not the best plumber, baker or time keep in the world but he can turn everyday normal into extraordinary exciting, simply by being himself and loving them; a trait unique to dads around the world. You’ll be laughing and nodding in agreement all the way to the end.

Little Hare Books – imprint of HE 2015

Time for Bed DaddyTime for Bed, Daddy by author illustrator Dave (Cartoon Dave) Hackett, is not as benign a bedtime story as the title suggests. For one, Daddy is behaving like petulant child and is painfully reluctant to perform the designated bed-time rituals required of him; having a bath, brushing teeth, changing into his jarmies and so on. It’s enough to test the patience of a saint let alone one little girl determined to get the job done.

Hackett’s turnaround tale and brilliant cartoon-esque illustrations are seriously kid friendly and provide plenty of comic spoof for parents as well. A rip-roaring read creatively flipping the cajoling and convincing routine that takes place at bedtime. Good to whip out when things are not quite going your way – or your child’s way! Pure enjoyment!

UQP August 2015

Fearless with DadDads can make you feel invincible. It’s possibly the best gift they pass onto their offspring. Fearless with Dad by Cori Brooks and Giuseppe Poli, is a beautiful affirmation of this notion.

A little boy’s world abounds with a strong sense of optimism and adventure based on the can-do relationship he shares with his father. Together they ‘travel to the moon and back’, ‘can do anything and be anything’ simply because of their instilled shared belief in themselves.

Poli’s illustrations are as stirringly positive as the evocative text. I was especially struck by the contrasting balance between pages with lots of white space denoting realisation and those of full glorious colour depicting actualisation of all the boy’s wondrous feats.

Fearless with Dad is a picture book about self-awareness, resilience, and endless possibilities with love at its core.

New Frontier Publishing July 2015

The very Noisy BearNot all dads are space heroes or saints, however. In fact, some can be downright cranky – like a bear. If you know one like this, why not offer him this little bit of fun, or perhaps slip it under his bedroom door on Father’s Day then run like crazy.

Nick Bland’s Bear is back, this time as The Very Noisy Bear. His old mates Moose, Zebra, Lion and Sheep and their rather loud jungle music, prematurely awaken bear one day. Some fathers will be familiar with this experience. Rather than risk raising Bear’s ire, they invite him to join them. Bear swaps his pillow for drums, then guitar, then the trumpet but playing instruments with any aplomb is not really Bear’s forte. The band mates decide to capitalise on Bear’s ‘awfully strong lungs’ in order for him to save face and them their sanity.

Perfect for reading aloud and sharing with sensitively souled, outwardly vexed fathers searching for their true inner voices.

Scholastic Press July 2015

My Pop is a PirateAnd just because nannas and dads shouldn’t have all the fun, make way for the laugh-out-loud second picture book by Damon Young and Peter Carnavas, My Pop is a Pirate.

As left of field as Young’s former exploration of grandparenthood, My Nanna is a Ninja; Pirate Pop celebrates a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather and his swash-buckling standout differences from other pops.

He may be peg-legged, one-eye and prone to shark attacks but he shares the same love and devotion for his granddaughter as any other pop.

Carnavas’s pop portrayals are sensationally silly; echoing the refreshing absurdity of Young’s playful rhyming text.

Ninja Nanna even makes a furtive cameo appearance. Rollicking good fun and a perfect gift to get grandad grinning.

UQP March 2015Cranky Bear

Happy Father’s Day dads!

Cartoon Dave and Cori Brooke will be launching their books this month at Where the Wild Things Are in Brisbane. For info, dates and bookings visit their site.

 

 

 

Lest we forget – ANZAC children’s book reviews

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaA couple of months ago I revisited an iconic song by Eric Bogle, finding new breath in Bruce Whatley’s picture book, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Bogle found the words and Whatley the images that profoundly capture all the raw emotion, loss and resilience that epitomises the Great War of 100 years ago.

This collection of titles does the same. All commemorate actual events of WWI. Many embrace the incredible ANZAC legacy. Each is a significant work of art and testimony to real-life heroes who gave their youth, their souls, and tragically, their lives in the quest to protect sovereignty and country.ANZAC Ted Hero Plain as Day

‘Not everyone wins medals, some heroes never do’, but this small collection deserves your attention as absolutely as those we’ll be commemorating during the 100th year Anniversary of World War One (and the Centenary of the Landing of Gallipoli this year). Because they should be remembered.

Ride Ricardo RideAs the war first erupted in Europe, so we begin with the picture book, Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. A young Italian boy’s love for riding his bike under the clear quiet skies of his village is shattered when the shadows of war appear. Devries’ splendid illustrations saturate the pages of Cummings haunting tale of human endurance. Evoking eloquence and beauty out of destruction and despair.

Omnibus Books March 2015

1915Mid-primary reader series, Australia’s Great War landed last year with Sophie Masson’s, 1914 and is followed this year by Sally Murphy’s, 1915. Each honour events specific to that time in history in spirited, easy to read novels that unite an absorbing mosaic of factual occurrences with engaging fictional characters typical of that era. Thoroughly engrossing with further releases due each year until 1918, this series provides an awesome framework for primary students to become intimately acquainted with the machinations and characters of the First World War.

Scholastic Press 1914 – 1918

the-last-anzacOur oldest living ANZAC, Alec Campbell may no longer be able to march but the true-life story of his meeting with a young boy a year before his death is perceptively depicted in Gordon Winch’s picture book, The Last ANZAC. Alec ‘the kid’ Campbell’s encounter with James, is faithfully portrayed with the help of Harriet Bailey’s expressive illustrations, alternating back and forth from the deserts of Cairo and trenches of Gallipoli to present day suburbia. Ideal for the expanding minds of 5 – 7 year-old history scholars. Visit Romi’s full review, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

ANZAC Ted and Belinda ANZAC Ted is the debut picture book of author illustrator, Belinda Landsberry and encompasses two of my great loves: teddy bears and beautiful picture books for kids.

Landsberry uses gorgeous water coloured illustrations to complement a gently rhyming tale of a little boy’s beloved toy. But, Ted is a teddy bear of rather diminished appeal having survived the ANZAC campaign with the little boy’s digger grandfather. Worn, torn, and scary looking, he may score zero cute and cuddly points in the Toy Show at school but he is and was the unsung hero and much cherished mascot of the Gallipoli diggers who more than earns a place in this little boy’s heart. ANZAC Ted gets my vote too. Perfect for reading aloud with someone you cherish or soaking up the atmospheric sepia illustrations alone.

EK Books 2014

The ANZAC PuppyThe Anzacs of course included the New Zealander’s so it is only fitting that popular Kiwi author, Peter Millet and illustrator Trish Bowles are able to share their remarkable picture book story based on another real life war hero, Freda.

The ANZAC Puppy is a tender rendition of the interwoven lives of Lucy, WWI solider, Sam and Freda, a harlequin Great Dane puppy who grew into a loyal and much loved good-luck mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 5th Battalion. Sam’s tale brought tears to my eyes and will warm the cockles of your heart. It parallels ANZAC Ted in many ways thanks to the stirring sensitivity the creators use to express these tales of nostalgia. My primary-schooler is always a bit dubious about reading ‘another wartime story’. Thankfully, picture books like ANZAC Ted and The ANZAC Puppy have assured her that not all conflict ends in tears and heartache.

Scholastic NZ Mach 2014

My GallipoliThe majority of these Anzac tales will suit primary aged readers. My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford is an exceptional picture book with more sweeping appeal.

This phenomenal, clothbound presentation marries fictional characters with direct accounts in an epistolary chronological description of the months immediately before the first landing at ANZAC Cove to the Allied retreat in 1915, then onto to present day commemoration ceremonies.

Starke is genius at capturing the moment even if it did take place a hundred years ago. She masterfully connects the reader to all those touched by the doomed campaign to capture the Dardanelles: the diggers, their families, the Turkish countrymen, the nurses, the COs and, the war correspondents. First person recollections plunge us into their places of battle and pain with powerful precision. Hannaford’s  fine charcoal, watercolour, and gauche portraits anchor their thoughts with tangible identities.

My Gallipoli reaffirms the futility of war but also underlines the courage, the tenacity and the hope that were crucial to the survival of thousands of men (and women) at that time.Each page, each Gallipoli recollection is a complete superb story unto itself.

My Gallipoli is a picture book of substantial implications for students of history and art and a glorious record of our inglorious past. My pick for in depth and animated Centenary discussion.

Working Tile Press March 2015

 

 

Review – The Last Anzac by Gordon Winch and Harriet Bailey

The Last Anzac, Gordon Winch (author), Harriet Bailey (Illus.), New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. For this significant Anzac Centenary, a myriad of children’s books have been released to teach our young ones about the physical, emotional and historical impact of war, and to celebrate our war veterans; our heroes.

the-last-anzacOne such picture book that does just that is ‘The Last Anzac’, written by Gordon Winch and illustrated by Harriet Bailey. And this one is certainly special. It is based on the real life experience of a young boy’s meeting with Alec Campbell in 2001, who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Having being enlisted at the tender age of 16, at the time of the interview Alec was the last living Anzac at the ripe age of 102. Amazing!

The last anzac pic endpaperEndpapers with original letters, photos and stamped envelopes set the scene for the historical journey we are about to encounter. Alternating between past and present, we are told of the day that the young boy, James, and his father stepped off the plane in Tasmania to visit and interview the last Anzac, Alec Campbell.
He, too, was young and small, nicknamed ‘The Kid’ at the time of the Great War (1914 – 1918). Alec was a noble and brave teenager, having endured treacherous experiences in Anzac Cove. In comparison, whilst in the comfort of Alec’s present home, James nibbles on biscuits as he asks the veteran questions about his responsibilities, fears, safety, living conditions and health during the war.

The story retells Alec’s six weeks worth of dodging bombs and escaping firing gun bullets, eating tinned bully beef and hard biscuits, and the celebratory treat of oranges when leaving Gallipoli. An image of young and old hands touching war medals portrays the sheer dedication of this man in his short service, but also a reminder for children (and adults) to respect and honour all the soldiers who fought for our country long before they were born.
Alec was sent back to Australia after suddenly falling ill; now a Gallipoli veteran – at the age of seventeen. As boy and veteran bid farewell, it is this serendipitous moment that James realises he is in the presence of a true hero.
(Alec lived to the age of 103, passing the year after James’ interview.)

The last anzac picHaving had done extensive research on the subject, New Zealander, Harriet Bailey has illustrated this book with precision and sensitivity; appropriate for the given era. There are enough details to depict the harshness and trepidity of the wartime, but without any graphic or shocking images. The same is felt about the gentle nature of Gordon Winch’s text; the story provides basic information that is suitable for younger children to understand and digest. The juxtaposition between the 1915 retelling and the 2001 meeting is cleverly highlighted in the pictures with bold, earthy tones of khaki and burnt orange for the past, and softer, pastille shades for the present.

‘The Last Anzac’ is a beautifully written true account of this exceptional and humble soldier, Alec Campbell during World War 1. Its non-confronting and meaningful approach, and significant historical value make this resource engaging and suitable for early primary students.
Teaching notes are available at http://www.newfrontier.com.au/depot/item/898-20150317102244-The-Last-Anzac.pdf

0 aleccampbell

———-LEST WE FORGET———-

Double Dipping – Bedtime dramas abound

Putting the kids to bed is a rite of passage that not every parent survives in tact. Bedtime can be fraught with misadventure and procrastination. A five-minute goodnight kiss can draw out into a production of Oscar winning proportions. If you have kids under seven-years-old, chances are you’ve experienced a night or two like this.

Perhaps a soothing tale of similarity will help salve those jangled nerves and settle your nearest and dearest. Here are two picture books that make me smile with thankful, ‘it’s not just us’ realisation.

Onsie Mumsie Onsie Mumsie by Alice Rex and Amanda Francey is a gorgeous little parade through a small girl’s imaginative bedtime routine suitable for pre-schoolers.

It’s bedtime but whose exactly. Our cute protagonist refuses to succumb to slumber until she invites all creatures great and small to bed first. Tigers, penguins, even crocodile onsies are dutifully donned then cast aside as it seems no one is quite ready for bed. Time ticks away until she is finally out-onsied and outwitted by Mumsie.

Amanda Francey
Amanda Francey

 Alice Rex’s bouncy text is undeniably read-aloud, share together material but it’s Amanda Francey’s adorable illustrations, full of soft pretty detail that really capture the heart.

Perfect for sharing those intimate bedtime moments, Onsie Mumsie is the essential companion for those (little girls in particular) who have ever owned or worn an Onsie. It would make a lovely addition to those Mother’s Day gift packs too!

Available here.

New Frontier Publishing April 2015

Alfie's Lost SharkieAnother beautifully crafted Mother’s Day gift to think about is, Alfie’s Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker.

We first met Alfie and his cat, Steve McQueen last year in Hurry Up Alfie. It’s easy to see what makes Alfie such a hit with early primary school readers. Even my nine-year-old relegates Alfie to the ‘must be kept and read repeatedly’ shelf.

Alfie is the mirror image of your typical six to seven-year-old. He is creative, dog-minded, and nonplussed about the world outside of his own universe. No amount of coercion or cajoling will hurry him into action, or in this case, convince him to go to bed.

Alfie’s excuse for delaying theAlfie illo spread inevitable this time; he cannot locate his favourite bedtime companion, Sharkie. He embarks on an exaggerated, pro-longed search for Sharkie as his mother attempts to guide him through the necessary pre-bedtime rituals.

 Walker’s dreamy multi-textured illustrations leave the reader with a keen sense of familiarity. Even the very young will instantly appreciate Alfie’s mischief filled world and his argument in spite of the fact that Alfie sports a rather long green snout and spikey tail.

Anna Walker
Anna Walker

However, it’s Walker’s sparse, snappy and well-thought out dialogue between Alfie and his mum that enriches Alfie’s personality enough to entice youngsters to want to re-live the moments with him, again and again. The ultimate sign of a winning, endearing picture book.

You’ll find Sharkie, here.

Scholastic Press March 2015

I’ll be posting more reviews for fantastic Mother’s Day picture books that you’ll be glad to get your hands on in the weeks to come.

 

 

 

Helene Magisson’s Labour of Love: The Velveteen Rabbit

896-20150213142152-Cover_The-Velveteen-Rabbit_LR-1In a gorgeously remastered classic tale, just in time for Easter, is a story about the magic of love; The Velveteen Rabbit. With the original story (first published in 1922) by Margery Williams Bianco being untouched, this current version has an exquisite sense of charm about it thanks to its’ talented illustrator, Helene Magisson.  

Depth, emotion and beauty, with a touch of magic, all describe this story of a toy Rabbit brought into the loving arms of a young Boy. And these words also perfectly describe the divine artwork that so beautifully compliments this enchanting tale.
When once felt as inferior to the other toys, the Velveteen Rabbit is soon unsurpassable and never leaves the Boy’s side. In a touching moment between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, as he discovers that to be truly loved is to be Real, Helene Magisson has magnificently represented this significance with her gentle, serene watercolour pictures as the characters converse under the pale moonlight. And equally whimsical are the sweet expressions and playful angles that Helene has created when the Rabbit’s little sawdust heart almost bursts with love once he is claimed as Real.
Magisson’s heartwrenching image of a teary, slumped and worn little bunny so effectively captures the intense emotion of a toy due to be burnt to rid the germs from the Boy’s scarlet fever. ”…of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?”
thevelveteenrabbitfairyIn a heartwarming finale, the angelic nursery Fairy and the Rabbit fly across the shimmering, glowing sky to a place where Real is true, and his identity as a live rabbit affirmed. What a bittersweet ending when the Boy unknowingly recognises his long-lost cherished Rabbit; the very bunny that he had helped to become Real.
Throughout the book, Helene has used a consistent colour palette of soft, cool blues and greens, which act as a superb contrasting backdrop to the beige of the Rabbit’s fur, as well as honour the affectionate nature of the story. A timeless story of love, companionship and belonging, perfect as a gift for Easter for primary school aged children, and their parents.
New Frontier Publishing, March 2015.  

Entranced by the gorgeous illustrations in The Velveteen Rabbit, I wanted to learn a bit about the artist who created them. So, it is with great pleasure to introduce the talented Helene Magisson.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Helene! How did you celebrate The Velveteen Rabbit’s arrival?
I wanted this day to be very simple and be just with my family. Sharing it with my husband and children is this nice feeling when you have accomplished something that you love. I think it was a very serene day. But very important to mention here: we also shared a huge plate full of sushi.

Helene MagissonPlease tell us a bit about your illustrating journey. Did you always love to draw as a child?
For sure, I have always been very attracted to everything related to art. As far as I can remember, I think that I have always drawn! In my early career as an artist, I was a painting restorer and loved that job but there was no place for creativity. It is only when we settled down here in Australia 3 years ago, that I decided to be a children’s book illustrator. It was an old dream which I had never taken the opportunity to fulfil. So I tried, worked hard to move from art restoration to illustration and then one day, timidly, I attend the CYA conference. I was very surprised to get the first prize and to be offered my first contract with New Frontier to illustrate The Velveteen Rabbit. I could not imagine a better start.

What do you love about illustrating children’s books?
I love every step of that work from the research of the characters till the final colouring. The stories created for children can be so charming, surprising, touching. Discovering a children’s book is like a door opened to incredible worlds. And it is amazing to be a part of these worlds by illustrating them. When I first discover the story I will illustrate, there are so many images coming through my mind, it is a very exciting feeling, with no limit to the imagination. It is a work of passion and it makes me happy.

Were you familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit growing up? What do you love about this story?
I grew up in Kenya and I think it is there where I first read this story. But then I lost it a bit when my family went back to France. Unfortunately it is not a very well-known story in France (what a pity!). But it was also great to rediscover it as an adult, and then be able to understand its deeper and beautiful meaning. It is exactly what I love with that book: you just grow up with it. The kind of book you always keep with you.

The velveteen rabbit imageThe artwork in The Velveteen Rabbit is beautifully soft, elegant and whimsical. Do you have an image that was your favourite to work on? How did you decide on the cool colour palette, and what media did you use?
Thank you. I loved illustrating this beautiful dialogue between the horse and the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a strong part in the story. I wanted it to be serene and poetic. I could not imagine it without a huge full moon and tiny mosquitoes dancing in the air. And also, I enjoyed working on the lovely little face of the Velveteen Rabbit with tears in his eyes when he discovers the fairy. This particular moment is full of emotion and is very whimsical. I wanted the whole work to be very soft, no strong or “heavy” colour, and very harmonious not to disturb the flow and the gentleness of the text. Also the rabbit had to be brown as Margery Williams Bianco described it. So I wanted to create a soft contrast all around him in that cool colour palette. And watercolour is my favourite media and I think it perfectly fits the story.

What were the most challenging aspects of creating the illustrations for this book?
One of the most challenging part was this long dialogue between the 2 real rabbits and the Velveteen Rabbit. This dialogue spreads out through 5 pages. We needed to keep the action flowing and coherent but it also had to be dynamic, so I used different perspectives and close ups. Also I made the choice to show all the emotions of the Velveteen Rabbit but very subtly.  He is a toy, but I wanted to show him as a child can see him: alive, so with emotions but never too strong. As if we were hesitating… Is he real or not? That was challenging.

How long did the process take from start to finish?
The text is long (48 pages) so there are many illustrations (27) and many of them spread out on the next page to softly frame the text. They are also full of tiny details. So it took me 7 months from the sketching part till the last illustration.

How did you find your first publishing experience with New Frontier Publishing? Was it a very supportive, collaborative process?
It was fantastic to work with them. They gave me a lot of freedom in my creativity process which was very pleasant, and their feedback was always very inspirational to me. For some tricky parts, like the front cover, they were very supportive. I enjoyed every minute of this project. But most of all I am so grateful to New Frontier for giving me this great start.

What does your art space look like? Creative clutter or meticulously organised?
Oh! My God! Am I obliged to answer that question? Well…It is absolutely terribly messy and a huge mystery for my husband. It is like a miracle every day for him. Of course, there are 1000 brushes, paints, pencils, pieces of paper but also plenty of children’s book everywhere, photos of everything, cards with quotes I love, something like 100 cups of tea all around, and many blades of grass, pieces of wild flowers (the one I prefer and very often include in many of my illustrations), and even a small collection of feathers I find in my garden.

What are you currently working on? What can we all look forward to seeing from Helene Magisson in the near future?
I have just finished a lovely story, elegant with a touch of humour about a Prince who wants to marry a Princess, you know, this very delicate Princess? It will be released early next year. And I am also very excited about the next project, but still want to keep it secret!  

Thank you so much, Helene! It has been absolutely delightful getting to know more about you!

Contact Helene Magisson:
Www.helenemagisson.com
www.facebook.com/pages/Helene-Magisson

Review – iF… A non-fiction picture book with punch

iFI love science. I love theories. I love natural history. But, loving something doesn’t always equate to ‘getting it’; just ask my husband. With the escalated advance of technology allowing our newer generations the most informed and complete exposure to their existence on this planet than ever before, how do we encourage them to appreciate the big picture and understand their place within it? David J. Smith and Steve Adam’s, iF…is one new way of looking at ‘big ideas and numbers’ cleverly crafted into a picture book that won’t send you into an information overload stupor.

NorDavid J Smithth American based educator, Smith uses this picture book to scale down overwhelming statistics and concepts into run of the mill, everyday thinking for the everyday, future thinkers of Generation Z. He tames ponderous topics such as the Galaxy, the history of the Earth, and the physiology and biology of our planet, reducing the incomprehensible into facts that lie down and make sense.if the Galaxy

For instance, did you know that you spend about four slices out of your typical twelve-slice pizza-life getting ready to sleep and sleeping? Seems a big waste of cheese to me, but it is precisely these sorts of mind-bending approaches that invite readers to learn more and crucially, remember more. How handy would that be for your next session of Trivia Pursuit! It’s a bonus that many of these concepts are National Curriculum based for primary-schoolers.

steve AdamsI love the organic layout and design of this picture book. Non-fiction is dressed up and delivered in the most appealing way thanks to the artwork of award winning illustrator, Steve Adams. Adams matches Smith’s out-of-the-box thinking and information-packed text with vibrant, eye pleasing illustrations that promote a repeated look or two.

Thought provoking images together with some truly left of field, incredibly plausible downscaling allows everyone, especially school aged children six to twelve years old, to grasp the colossal enormity of the world around them and beyond.if the continents

iF…is an invaluable resource not only aiding a better understanding of the social sciences and numeracy but is also an entertaining commentary that pre-empts further studies in an imaginative way.

Don’t try to take it in all at once. There is a natural chronology beginning with the Galaxy and flowing on to humanity, however, you could just as easily pick it up and launch into discussion at any point. Take time to read the note for parents and teachers too; it explains the concept of up and down scaling in more detail and suggests activities to reinforce the use of this tool in the classroom. The awe-inspiring, Earth: The Apple of our Eye, which compares Earth to a sliced apple is mind busting.if the planets

So, we may have only existed in the last 0.2 seconds of the history of life on Earth, relatively speaking, but boy, what a full 0.2 seconds they have been. If you would like to ponder on this further, simply read iF…

New Frontier Publishing February 2015if spread

Originally published in Canada and US by Kids Can Press 2014

 

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!

Doodles and Drafts – Drawing Boxes with Peter Carnavas

Every once in a while something special sneaks into your life, so unassuming you are barely aware of its presence. However, its ability to change and influence is a forceful undercurrent with powerful impact.Jessica's Box CPA edition

It might be meeting a new friend for the first time. It could be finding a dog to call your own. For me, it’s often the serendipitous joy I gain from opening a picture book. Peter Carnavas’ picture books deliver that exact kind of special.

 Jessica’s Box, first published in 2008 by New Frontier Publishing, is a beautiful example of how such magic endures. Jessica’s first day of school is full of trepidation and new connections; however, her attempts to win friends with offerings from her large brown box repeatedly fall flat. You must read this book to discover that special ‘something moment’ Jessica finds hidden in her box.

What makes this edition so endearing is that it has been embraced and especially commissioned by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Retaining all of the original text, Carnavas has redrawn the illustration to show Jessica in a wheelchair. Text and illustrations are subtle and spare and harmoniously integrated keeping the focus on Jessica’s struggle with self-worth rather than her disability.

Peter is here at the doodle table today to shed some more light on this touching picture book.

Welcome back to Boomerang Books Peter!

Peter Carnavas 3Who is Peter Carnavas? Tell us something about yourself we can’t find on a website.

Peter Carnavas is that quiet kid you went to school with, the one always drawing little pictures on his schoolbooks. Whenever he had to speak in front of the class, he would mumble and look down and his teacher would tell him he had to use more expression. Now his job is to draw little pictures and speak in front of schoolchildren (he uses more expression now). Pete starting school

Your published writing career began about six years ago, around the same time Jessica first entered our lives. Describe how this happened.

After teaching for a few years, I was itching to do something creative, as my hobbies were always creative things like drawing and writing and music. I had made some little books for my nieces and nephew, and decided to pursue children’s writing. I completed a picture book course with Virginia Lowe, sent my dummy book to a publisher, then forgot all about it. After I moved house a few times, got married and became a father, I received the news that I was about to get my first book contract.

Was this the first picture book manuscript you had ever produced? What inspired its (original) creation?

The Man Who Carried a BasketYes, Jessica’s Box was the first picture I had prepared to submit for publication. It mainly started from a little book I had made my wife, called The Man Who Carried a Basket, about a man looking for love by showing off possessions (albeit simple possessions), instead of valuing himself. It was autobiographical, I guess. A little while later, I turned the character into a schoolgirl wanting to make friends. It seemed to make sense.

Whose idea was it to re-release this edition of Jessica’s Box?

I have to give all of the credit to my publisher, Peter Whitfield, of New Frontier. Peter and his family have been connected with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance for many years. He simply emailed me with the idea of depicting Jessica in a wheelchair, leaving the text untouched. I thought it was a wonderful idea.

What makes Jessica’s Box CPA edition special in your eyes?

The thing that makes it special is the fact that the disability is not central to the story. The text is completely unchanged from the original, so the point we’re making is that children with disabilities have the same regular concerns and anxieties as all children – wanting to make friends, trying to fit in. You only notice Jessica is in a wheelchair in some of the illustrations.

Sarah's Heavy HeartDo you think Jessica’s Box could lend itself to theatrical interpretation in the way Sarah’s Heavy Heart and One Tree in the City have been via Artslink? On what levels do you feel this could positively influence children?

I definitely think it would work well as a play. I had the pleasure of watching a Year One class from Graceville State School perform it for me a few years ago. It was great, especially the yoga mum character. The book contains such a simple but powerful message, to enjoy being ourselves instead of advertising what we own.

Had you ever considered including a disabled character in your stories before?

I have thought about it a few times. I watched a documentary about children with selective mutism, which fascinated me. I’m usually attracted to characters who are quiet but strong in some way, so this one would suit me well.

Did you ever need a box at school to make friends?

I always managed to have a few friends at school, though I’m not really sure how. Drawing funny pictures probably helped.

A Special edition release of your work is pretty exciting. Name three other things about your job you really love.

I have such a joyful job and I never take anything for granted.

  1. I love getting to meet authors I admire. I try to play it cool but inside I’m doing backflips with excitement when I meet some of these wonderful people.  
  2. Spending time with children in schools is always fun. I always feel like it’s the best bits of teaching – I turn up, read books, draw pictures, inspire kids and make them laugh (hopefully), then ride off into the sunset without any report cards to write.
  3. Drawing pictures in my little studio is probably my favourite part of it all. Pencil in hand, music playing, cup of tea beside me… it’s all I need.

Apart from the sunset, what is on the horizon for Peter Carnavas?

What's in My Lunch Box 1More books are coming out soon. I’ve illustrated Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding, the third in the series written by Alex Field. I’ve written a fun book called What’s in My Lunchbox?, beautifully illustrated by Kat Chadwick. Most exciting for me is the chance to spend the next few months at home, illustrating my next book, probably with scissors and glue. That’s right – I’m entering the dangerous world of collage, though I don’t know if I’ll make it out the other side alive.

I’m sure you will. Thanks Pete!

You’re welcome!

While Peter cuts and pastes, many of you will be turning your attention to cutting and pasting of a different-Christmas-paper-wrapping kind, so I’ll take this opportunity to THANK YOU all for reading with me, laughing with me and staying with us this year.

Like our namesake, we’d love to see you return in 2015! There’ll be more books to discover, great people to meet and scintillating literary facts to learn – guaranteed. Till then, have yourselves a very merry little Christmas.

Happy reading, Dimity

 

Alex Field’s ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ is a Real Treat

1330-20120419211614-sophiaAlex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex Field, together with the ingenuity of illustrator Peter Carnavas, bring back the haughty but loveable duck in this Christmas tale about love and goodwill.

You may have already read Dimity Powell‘s fabulous review! Here’s some further promotion of this endearing book!

Mr Collins makes his debut appearance by pouncing on an innocent Maria, intended as a delicious ‘mousy’ feast. As punishment, Mr Darcy snatches her away and leaves poor Mr Collins out in the cold. It is Mr Darcy’s charitable friends that, after enjoying their pudding-bake time together on Stir-up Sunday, show concern for the cat’s wellbeing. Sweet Lizzy’s compassionate nature is finally rewarded on Christmas Day when she gets her wish under the mistletoe.

In true, delectable style, Peter Carnavas creates expression, a sense of warmth and focus with the perfect variation of colour, plain backgrounds and page layouts.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding is a fun and charming story about friendship and kindness, is a seasonable reminder that Christmas is a time of giving, with a beautiful sentiment of family traditions.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014.  

856-20141023120845-Cover_Mr-Darcy-and-the-Christmas-Pudding_R Alex Field shares her Yuletide joys and her inspiration behind ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’ in this engaging interview. Thank you, Alex!  

Your books in the Mr Darcy series are all based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters. What do you love about Austen’s stories?
The first Austen book I read as a teenager was Northanger Abbey. It is her one title that has a dark, gothic twist, something all teenagers gravitate towards. From there I was hooked. I read every one of her books and go back to them often. It is her characters I adore. In two lines she tells us everything we need to know about Mr Collins. “Mr. Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth — and it was soon done — done while Mrs. Bennet was stirring the fire.” I was very keen to include Mr Collins in one of the Mr Darcy picture books. At last he makes an appearance in Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding!  

How did this inspiration turn into the development of your own picture books?
One of my friends named her family duck Mr Darcy. Sadly, much to the distress of the children, he died soon after he arrived in the family garden. I started thinking about the possibility of creating a character for children based on Pride and Prejudice. Romantically I thought I could put this character on the page and the children in the family, who had lost their beloved duck, would see he lived on in a book. Of course by the time the book was published the children were all too old for picture books!  

What challenges have you found referencing Pride and Prejudice in your Mr Darcy books when considering suitability for children?
The language was a little tricky. I wanted to ensure that Mr Darcy’s pompous manner came across in the story. He is a very polite duck.
The challenge I set myself for Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding was to create a Christmas scene true to the Regency era. This meant doing away with the usual trappings of Christmas such as a Christmas tree and Santa. However the Christmas pudding was around in Regency times as was mistletoe so both these make an appearance.  

Congratulations on your latest book ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’! How did you celebrate its’ release?
Thank you! I was in London at the time visiting my daughter who is currently studying there. We went to Selfridges, looked at the gorgeous Paddington Bear windows and indulged ourselves in the Food Hall. As Paddington was a favourite growing up I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of marmalade.  

What did you find the most rewarding part of creating ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
I enjoyed the research leading up to writing the book. It was fascinating to discover more about the Christmas traditions we all take for granted today.  

The story includes the characters coming together to celebrate the tradition of Stir-up Sunday. How is this event meaningful to you?
My sister and I always used to celebrate Stir-up Sunday with our nan. She lived in the countryside in Hampshire, very close to Jane Austen’s home. Every year we made the puddings with Nan and she then used to give them out to all the family to share on Christmas Day.  

mr darcy and the christmas pudding_page The illustrations have been consistently adorable throughout the Mr Darcy series by the talented Peter Carnavas. How do you find working with him? With ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’, how much of the illustrative detail did you specify and how much is left to Peter’s imagination?
I love working with Peter. Early on when he was creating Mr Darcy he watched the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth lots of times to ensure he got the hat right. When he was creating Mr Collins he sent me a few rough sketches before finalising the character. Most of it is left up to Peter. He is a genius.  

Besides understanding the meaning of Stir-up Sunday, what special message do you want your readers to gain from reading ‘Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding’?
When I was doing my research I discovered that charity was at the heart of a Regency Christmas. I hope this comes across in the book. I still think it is an important part of Christmas.  

What can all your ‘Mr Darcy’ fans look forward to seeing from him (and you) in the near future?
I have a few ideas for upcoming books in the series. Jane Austen has given me a wonderful array of characters to work with.
For the moment I am going to enjoy the festive season with my children. This weekend we begin making the puddings!  
(Stir-up Sunday falls on November 23rd).

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Alex! Wishing you and your family a safe and enjoyable Christmas!
My pleasure. I wish you and all your readers a Happy Christmas.  

Follow Alex Field via her facebook page:  
www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Field

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner

Ready to Play: Peter Carnavas bears all on ‘Oliver and George’

peter carnavas picturePeter Carnavas is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator, some of his titles including The Children Who Loved Books, Last Tree in the City, The Great Expedition, The Boy on the Page, The Important Things and Jonathan!.  

Peter’s books consistently provide both children and adults with heartwarming, humorous and thought-provoking experiences that leave a lasting impression. His illustrations always showcase his talent in portraying beautiful expression and sensitivity. He also balances a perfect mix between detail and playfulness, and spreads that make a simple yet dramatic statement.  

oliverToday I present you with Peter’s latest adorable read-aloud story, Oliver and George, and I am lucky enough to have had the talented author / illustrator himself answer some behind-the-scenes questions!  

Short Review: Oliver and George

I love how we are introduced to the characters. Immediately, they capture our attention.
Oliver sure is ready to play. He’s dressed in a multitude of outfits; he’s a swashbuckling, sword- and hook-bearing pirate with a rollerskate on one foot and a flipper on the other, with a box for a hat and a superhero suit and cape. Then there’s George. George is a serious, spectacle-wearing bear. He’s busy… reading.           
Oliver can’t wait for George to finish his book.
”’In a minute,’ said George.”
Oliver tries to be patient, but that doesn’t last very long. So he throws a paper plane at George, and breaks his chair, and tips porridge on his head, until George got so mad that he… didn’t do anything.
Oliver continues to pester George until at last he gets some attention. But is it the attention he wanted? And are both Oliver and George finally ready to play?
With adorable illustrations showcasing the parent-child-like relationship between the characters, simple yet effective page layouts with white backgrounds and sizeable text, Peter Carnavas’ Oliver and George is a delightful, cheeky and charming story about patience (and sometimes losing it) for young readers to giggle through from start to finish.  

10626774_765837733476621_2094984753388497762_nHow did the idea for Oliver and George come about?
I was on the plane to Perth, scribbling away in my sketchbook.  I had been thinking about a bear character for a while – I guess almost every children’s author has done it – and finally thought of creating a bear character that really didn’t behave the way in which the reader expected or wanted.  I think I had the wonderful No Bears (Meg McKinlay/Leila Rudge) floating around my head as inspiration.  I decided to add the cheeky Oliver character and, together with George, the two of them form a bit of a sibling relationship or, more likely, a parent-child relationship – the child bugging the parent to play, but the parent is always too busy.    

Are these characters based on anyone you know?
No, I didn’t base them on anybody.  However, since I’ve made the book, I’ve noticed members of my family behaving very much like Oliver and George.  We bug each other for attention, or tell each other, “In a minute”, when asked to do something.  

Have you ever broken someone’s chair?
I have!  When I was ten, I remember drawing a picture that didn’t meet my expectations and I kicked one of our dining chairs out of frustration.  I was a quiet kid but very occasionally I snapped – much like George.  Dad made me pay for the chair out of my pocket money.  
I also punched a boy in Grade One for snatching a book from me. My teacher smacked me and I never punched anyone again (apart from my brother).

So, you are more like George than Oliver?
I realise I am quite like George the bear.  Tolerant… until somebody snatches a book from me.  

How long did it take you to write and illustrate Oliver and George?
It didn’t take me too long to write the first draft but then I rewrote it many times, swapping ideas with my editor, changing the bear to a crocodile at one stage (didn’t last), and playing around with the ending a lot. I received some advice from some teacher-librarians about the ending, which helped a lot. So it’s hard to put a timeline on the writing process – it tends to happen in-between everything else. The illustrations probably took a few months, over the summer.

What’s your favourite animal to illustrate? Why?
It changes all the time.  At the moment I love drawing whales and penguins.  My favourite part of drawing any animal is dressing them up a little and giving them human expressions with the slightest details – small eyebrows and things like that.  

What can us Peter Carnavas fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
You mean there’s more than one of you?!  I’ve written a really fun book called What’s In My Lunchbox?, illustrated by Kat Chadwick.  It’s a fun, read-aloud book aimed at a young audience, much like Oliver and George. It will be out in early 2015.  
I look forward to its release!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Pete!
You’re welcome!  

Peter Carnavas, with the help of Pat Flynn, will be launching his new book, Oliver and George, on October 25th at Maleny Library, Queensland.
See http://www.newfrontier.com.au/events/oliver-and-george-book-launch/850.html for more details.
http://www.petercarnavas.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Peter-Carnavas-AuthorIllustrator

Article by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Don’t Forget Dad! – Picture Books for Father

A picture book may not be every dad’s ideal Fathers’ Day gift, especially if he is really counting on more socks and jocks. But think about it, what better vehicle than a picture book to share some real short but sweet moments of physical and emotional connection between a father and his offspring.

Tossing a footy around together is cool too. Whipping up a Book Week costume is a definite contender (the male’s job in our realm). However, very little compares to a snuggly story-time session. It’s gorgeous to behold and enriching for the participants (granddaddies included).

My Dad is a BearConcentrating on the littlies this time is Nicola Connelly’s and Annie White’s My Dad is a Bear. Charlie has something to share, his dad is a bear, or at least his dad displays the same traits as a bear: ‘he is tall and round like a bear’, he ‘has big paws like a bear’, and ‘he even sleeps like a bear’.

In just twenty-eight pages, Charlie manages to describe what I’d wager is the vast majority of ‘typical fathers’. However, it is not just senseless physiological satire. Connelly thoughtfully includes a few more active pursuits like fishing and climbing to enhance Charlie’s metaphoric revelations and thus broaden the typical father figure image. All are adeptly aided by the bearily beautiful illustrations of Annie White.

Like Kisses for Daddy, I love how there is not a single human in sight which makes the twist ending all the sweeter. Pre-readers will gain much through the shared interactive reading this book promotes while beginner readers should have little trouble mastering the straightforward sentence structure and similes. New Frontier Publishing August 2014

Another bear book bowling off the New Frontier shelves is Peter Carnavas’s, Oliver and George. Like his previous picture book, Jonathan!, Oliver and George will find its mark with younger readers aged 2 – 6 years.

Oliver, a box-hat wearing, skDSC03037-001ydiving, sword-wielding young boy is ready to play. He has his playmate sights set firmly on George (represented be a glasses-toting brown bear). To Oliver’s dismay, George is too busy to play. He is engrossed in his book and no amount of cajoling or niggling by Oliver annoys him enough to turn away from it, not even a bowl of porridge tipped over his head!

Oliver is crestfallen, but like all young children bent on their egocentric missions, he quickly recovers and tries again to gain George’s attention, this time resorting to the most arresting action he can think of to thwart George’s enjoyment of his book.

Although George and Oliver’s subtly implied father and son relationship may seem obvious, Carnavas’s anthropomorphic use of a teddy bearish ‘older other’ cleverly intimates many typical child / parent situations: parent, carer, or teacher.

Oliver’s lament is familiar; his obsessive desire to be with George overrides all else, until he is finally rewarded with George’s attention then promptly forgets his former fever. This scenario of precious determination and contrariness is so typical of kids; it makes my heart dance.

Peter Carnavas 2Carnavas never over complicates his tales, nor are they ever overtly visually overblown. Yet they deliver maximum impact with a mere sprinkling of words and a few ingenious strokes of the brush. Oliver and George is no exception.

It will be interesting watching how children react to this witty portrayal of themselves. Utterly beguiling and a subtle reminder for us bigger people to spend more ‘now’ time with our little people. Due out September 2014.

Stayed tuned for more beaut Fathers’ Day reads you can share with your child. Till then,

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Artfully Yours – Connecting with Picture Book art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Dipping – Living with Dodos and Alice – Picture book reviews

In a world of dwindling attention spans and narrowing fields of vision, it may be argued that the gaps between past and present are so expansive there is no reason to traverse them anymore let alone acknowledge past discoveries or other people’s situations.

New Frontier Publishing ignores this argument, offering two new courageous storylines within two beautifully presented picture books both worthy of much discussion and fawning over.

Adorable AliceThe first is Adorable Alice by Cassandra Webb and Michaela Blassnig. At first glance this picture book feels and looks too pink and perfect to be promising then I noticed Alice, plucky and bright, striding confidently across the cover into her story. So I followed her.

Like many young children, Alice lives in the here and now moments of life. She likes doing ‘something different every day’. What makes the week in question so special is her self-appointed mission of sensory-deprivation. Almost without conscience thought, Alice explores her home each day in a different way; with her eyes closed, her arms tied, her nose blocked and so on. Deprivation of one sense sharpens her others, which she discovers increases her understanding and enjoyment of the world around her, in spite of her familiarity with it.

Evocative narrative descriptions reinforce comfortable associations so that the reader is able to link the sound of grandma chopping with the smell of peaches for instance. Spatial awareness is enhanced for the reader as Alice makes her way to Grandpa by ‘listening, feeling and smelling’.

The coupling of Blassnig’s bright and bouncy illustrations with Webb’s sensory-laden sentence structure introduces young readers to their five senses and the importance of empathy in a sympathetically simple and tactile way.

May 2014

Edward and the Great DiscoveryFollowing New Frontier Publishing’s penchant for picture books with little pre-amble but plenty of thought provoking action and consequence is the stimulating, Edward and the Great Discovery. This is Rebecca McRitchie’s and Celeste Hulme’s first foray into picture books and it seems they have hit pay dirt. It could have something to do with my Indiana Jones obsession or my fascination with Dodos or maybe it is just the kid in me still hoping to make that marvellous discovery in my own backyard someday, but I was thoroughly entranced by Edward’s tale.

Despite an impressive family pedigree of archaeology, Edward has never discovered a single thing of greatness. Until one night, after filling his backyard with craters chance bestows him with not only a wondrous scientific discovery but also a deeper understanding of true friendship.

McRitche writes with understated sincerity giving children just enough hope and daring to intrigue them whilst at the same time gently exposing them to the wonders of natural history. It is a story that is both exciting and touching.

Hulme’s expressive illustrations , pleasantly reminiscent of Terry Whidborne’s work, feature spade-loads of sensitive detail; cushions for Edward’s bird to land on, real red-knit scarf to share warmth and love with, minute gems hidden deep within reality.Edward and his Egg

It is these kinds of treasures that children adore discovering in picture books for themselves and is why this proposed picture book series is a priceless find for expanding the attention spans of 4 – 6 + year-olds. I for one cannot wait to see what new adventures Edward uses his extensive kit on. Then again, I’ve always been drawn to archaeologists…

June 2014

Review – The Boy on the Page

A children’s book reviewer’s recent proclamation to ‘only review good books from now on’ got me wondering. What constitutes a good children’s book?

Is it something that causes your mouth to twitch into happy crescent-moon-shapes with each page turn? Is it a bubble bath for your heart, leaving you awash with warm joy? Or does it seize hold of your senses so tightly you forget to breathe? Perhaps it alters your understanding in some inexplicably magic way so that you feel you are living in a world infinitely more meaningful than the one you were in before you opened it?

The Boy on the PageEnter The Boy on the Page and discover a book that does all this and more.

This is an exceptionally good picture book. Employing flawless intent with exquisite subtlety, author illustrator, Peter Carnavas, ushers us along one small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. It’s a rather weighty concept for young readers but Carnavas’ signature, sparse narrative style allows the reader to drift across the pages with minimal effort and maximum reward. I find the text as alluring and intense as the scent of summer jasmine. It is pure pleasure to inhale this boy’s story.

The boy, whom my seven year old declared to be Peter himself, lands one day on a page, previously unadorned and bereft of colour and life. Gradually, ‘things start to grow…’ and so does the boy. He experiences a myriad of miraculous life moments. He plants trees, rides horse, even plays the accordion. He climbs mountains, saves lives and puts out fires.

He finds love and repeatedly encounters the enormity of the world around him in the most unassuming of places. Yet one thought plagues him; why he landed on the page in the first place. In order to find the answer, he makes a dramatic decision; to try something he’s never tried before. How far he leaps, where he lands and what he discovers is all part of the spellbinding magic of this beautiful tale.

Peter Carnavas Peter Carnavas’ adroit use of white space and heart-melting water colour illustrations convey compassion and humility in a way young readers can easily comprehend and love and dare we hope, emulate. Gentle suggestions bubble to life through all that surrounds the boy; all those he ever loved and cared for. Is it pure whimsy or for higher purpose that we exist? What does happens next? Or are we simply here because, as assured to me by Miss 7, ‘we were made and that’s it.’

She may be right. Joyfully, like most young of mind and of heart, the Boy on the Page is dripping with sincerity without undue sentimentality and is utterly enchanting to experience. Share it with someone you love to read with or simply savour this ‘good read’ on your own.

Suitable for readers 5 – 10 years and those seeking transcendent meanings in life… Oh and we love little pig’s presence too!

View more of Peter Carnavas’ work here.

Queenslanders will have a first-hand opportunity to meet Peter Carnavas when he launches The Boy on the Page this weekend at the Avid Reader Book shop, Brisbane. Sunday 20th October at 10.00 am.The Boy on the Page launch Avid Reader

New Frontier Publishing September 2013

 

Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Candice Lemon-Scott

Silver the Silly Sorcerer Book CoverThat instantaneous feeling of satisfaction and inability to stop reading that occurs when breezing over the first few pages of a new book is often a sign of good things to come. Kids are even more decisive, deducing from line one, what is going to work for them and what is not. That’s why the Little Rocket Series excels from the get go. With edgy compelling reads like Candice Lemon-Scott’s latest release, Silver the Silly Sorcerer.

Just when you thought you’d read all there was to read about wizardry and witchcraft and applauded the 700th Harry Potter look-a-like off the Book Week Parade stage, along comes Silver; struggling child sorcerer who simply seeks to be as sensational a sorcerer as his idol, Merlin.

Sadly Silver is less than spectacular as sorcerers go. He continuously fudges his spells and lives in the shadow of his much brighter sister, Star. After failing his Eggs test, Silver is sent to work as a magician with a travelling circus.

Cirus tentCircus life is harder and more humiliating than Silver ever anticipated. He yearns for home and dreads having to perform magic for the has-been, hard to please Ringmaster. Without the companionship and street smarts of his slick talking pet snake, Slither, Silver’s circus days would be even bleaker than the busted lights of the main-ring.

Miraculously, his clumsy magical failures become the talk of the Big Top. Silver’s silly tricks and slip ups transform him into the star of the circus until he realises he has to truly master the art of transformation and magic if he is to rescue his teacher, escape the circus and rise to Tadpole level. Will he and Slither endure the extremes of showbiz?

Humming with hysterical originality and Lemon-Scott’s hilarious imaginative wordplay, Silver the Silly Sorcerer is a sure fire bet to impress readers 7 years and above plus anyone who is thrilled by bunnies bursting from magic hats like I am. Short, captivating chapters are teeming with Janet Wolf’s full colour illustrations, so vibrant, you can almost smell the popcorn and sawdust. Top marks!

Candice Lemon-And to mark the magical appearance of this marvellous new Little Rockets title, Candice Lemon-Scott joins me at the draft table. Welcome Candice. Please, park your broom* and take a seat…

Q When did you first discover the urge to write for children? What motivates you to continue writing?

I lived in Sydney for a short while. When I first moved I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) and I had yet to find a job. It was at that time that a children’s story idea just popped into my head one day and I started to spend a couple of hours each day writing it until I found work. It wasn’t anywhere near publishable but it inspired me to keep writing. Finding the motivation to write is easy – I love writing and it’s the best feeling to create an imaginary world where anything you want to happen does.

Q You’ve written a number of chapter books for children and this is your second title in the Little Rocket Series. What appeals to you most about this series of books? What makes them special?

I really love the Little Rockets Series because they’re perfect for kids starting to learn to read independently. They have beautiful brightly coloured illustrations which makes them a fantastic transition from picture book to chapter book. I also love the style of the series because it suits the type of story I like to write – action-packed and humorous and written for the 7 plus age group. There are also some fun things attached like the book-based activities on the Little Rockets website.

Q I am a sucker for magic tricks. How did you conjure up the idea for Silver the Silly Sorcerer? Were you magically inspired?

There was a little bit of magic involved. It began with a case of the dreaded writer’s block. Then one day I found this old story writing computer program. In the program you could mix up three parts of a sentence that were computer generated to create an opening line. I chose, ‘the sorcerer was stuck in a pile of muddy muck.’ It all went from there with the writer’s block magically disappearing as the story evolved.

Q What is your favourite magic trick, most memorable illusion or circus act?

I loved all magic when I was a kid. I remember I was so excited when I was given a magic box as a present. My favourite trick was the one where the seemingly never-ending magical scarf was pulled out of the magician’s hat – simple but fun. That’s probably why the scarf trick makes an appearance in my story.

Q Kids love quirky characters. What inspired your character choice in this book?

From my opening line I figured that this sorcerer must be pretty silly to end up stuck in the mud, which is really how Silver came to life. When I was thinking about how he could get out of the mud Slither the Snake just magically appeared to save the day.

Q Slither, Silver’s pet snake, is a useful and faithful companion. Is he based on any previous pets you had as a kid or perhaps any that you now have?

Gosh, no, I had really regular pets growing up– dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, but there was never a moment in my childhood where I was without one, which shows what an important role pets have played in my life. My eldest daughter is also crazy about reptiles, and now has her own pet blue-tongue lizard, so I’ve learned a great deal about snakes (but not the magical kind).

Q I found Silver a real hoot to read. Was it as much fun to write? Does writing humorously come naturally to you or is it a conscious thing you have work on to include in your writing?

Thanks! It was heaps of fun to write. I guess that’s probably why my kids’ stories have humour injected into them – it’s enjoyable to write it. I think the humour just comes as I write – I certainly don’t plan it out by thinking, ‘Is this funny?’ or ‘How could I make kids laugh in this scene?’ That said, I think the subject matter has to lend itself to humour for it to work.

Candice's books

Q Last year you released your first adult novel, Unloched. How does writing for primary aged children differ from other adult-aged genres you’ve published? Which do you feel more comfortable writing and why?

Technically, it’s totally different in terms of language, themes, structure, writing style etc. But to me writing for kids is no different to writing for adults in that it’s always about getting in the head of the character who the story is about. So, in this way, I don’t find one more comfortable than the other to write. If I’m writing about a ten year old boy then I’m in the head of a kid of that age but if I’m writing about a young woman then I’m thinking the way she would think. It’s a bit like role-playing for me – I’m imagining myself in someone else’s shoes, or in someone else’s cloak in the case of Silver.

Q A great kids’ story can be read faster than it takes to pull a rabbit out of a hat (unless you are Silver of course). How long does it take you to write them? Does it vary from book to book?

Usually it takes me a few months to write a chapter book. It’s more in coming up with the story idea that varies in the time it takes to create a story. Some ideas come to me in minutes – and I can see in my mind straight away what could happen in the story. Others start with a bit of a thought but can take months or longer for me to find out what the story is.

Q Tell us what fills your days apart from writing.

I have a book exchange where I sell new and second-hand books and where people can swap over the books they no longer read for something new or different. So, my life is completely about books, books and more books. I love it – I get to talk about books when I’m not writing and put any reading down to ‘work.’ Oh, and being a mum keeps me happily busy as well.

Q What’s on the draft table for Candice?

I’m currently writing a series of futuristic space adventure stories for kids aged 8 and up, the first of which will also be put out with New Frontier next year. The stories follow a group of kids (and a cyborg) who end up solving all kinds of spacey mysteries.

Q Just for fun question: If you were a better sorceress than Silver, what one magic trick would you like to perform and why?

I would like to master the art of escape, like Houdini. His tricks always fascinated me as a child – I would love to be able to get myself out of any situation like he could. That would be a pretty clever trick to perform, I think.

Thanks Candice! 

*Note Candice does not actually own a flying broom stick but should the opportunity arise to operate one, I’m sure she would park it sensibly.

Silly the Silver Sorcerer is part of the New Frontier Publishing’s Little Rocket Series.

Released this month, you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Alice and the Airy Fairy

Alice and the Airy FairyThe rapidly expanding Little Rocket Series more than satisfies the insatiable reading appetites of confident readers, dishing up enticing junior fiction that most notably snags the fickle attention spans of boys. Alice and the Airy Fairy, the latest in the series, has a decidedly more girly flavour.

Packed with pretty pink girl appeal, the Airy Fairy is more than a whimsical tale about fairies. It’s a story steeped in sensitivity, family relationships and the power of believing.

Alice’s second cousin, Mary, is coming to stay with them. Mary is a little eccentric and a touch mystical. She plays the flute in the middle of the night and prefers to sleep out in her ‘old blue campervan’. All of which Alice’s Dad sums up as being an ‘airy fairy’.

Alice is entranced by Mary’s presence and being a great believer in fairies herself, tries very hard to get Mary to divulge more of her ‘fairy-ness’. But the deeper she and her best friend Zoe, delve, the more inconsistencies they discover, including the revelation that all is not well in Mary’s world. She is sadder than a fairy ought to be for one; evident in her wrenching paintings, her droopy wings and her pensive music. And she can’t even remember where she left her magic wand.

BlobsAs the lines between fairy-dom and reality become as increasingly blurred and misshapen as one of Mary’s blue blob paintings, Alice and Zoe attempt to get to the bottom of Mary’s malaise and missing wand. The wand is eventually found but no amount of magical incantations issued by them is able to release its magic.

Frustrated but not defeated, Alice convinces her father to transport a selection of Mary’s abstract paintings to the Art Gallery where she was due to exhibit them. Mary is unable to do so herself because of an unplanned visit to the hospital.

In a comical turn of events, Mary’s paintings prove so popular the gallery curator asks for more to sell, which Dad dubiously concedes to. Only the first set of paintings weren’t actually Mary’s. They were the mistakenly delivered, genius brushstrokes of Bonnie, Alice’s baby sister.

But it’s not art that saves the day or even stubborn magic. It’s Alice’s unshakeable belief in Mary that finally enables her to refocus on where her true worth and value lies.

I love how Alice’s naively bejewelled determination is able to cut through diversity and adult opinion to help someone she genuinely believes in.

Margaret ClarkVeteran children’s writer Margaret Clark has created an enchanting story that encourages young readers to question everyday norms. She sprinkles just enough speculation throughout each short, easy to read chapter to ensure Alice and the Airy Fairy is as easy to love as fairy dust but is still one hundred per cent plausible, while sending a gentle reminder for us to be kind to and aware of each other.

Emma Stuart Emma Stuart’s touching illustrations add even more colour and joy to an already joyful read. And in case you are ever in the need of one; there are even instructions on how to make a magic wand. Fantabulous!

Whether you’re into fairies and Kombis (and who isn’t?) or not, Alice and the Airy Fairy is sure to charm the wings off you, especially if you are 7 – 10 years old.

Little Rockets by New Frontier Publishing July 2013

 

Review – All Aboard the Nutmobile!

Australia is well-known for its myriad of contrasts and tempestuous weather. Devastating bushfires, consuming floods, and cyclonic furies can weary even the staunchest of spirits. But, seldom ones to lie down in defeat, Aussies love to rise above a challenge; plucking inspiration, hope, and incredible optimism from the deepest of floods waters.

All Aboard the NutmobileThis is precisely how the team of Macadamia House reacted following the Queensland 2010/2011 floods. They rebuilt their farm and salvaged their business. And from this rescued kernel of a nut, grew the idea for their first picture book.

All Aboard the Nutmobile is a rollicking little adventure depicting the first encounter, Nosh the Nutmobile has with the inhabitants of Macadamia House. They’ve never seen a Nutmobile before and regard him with a mixture of awe and reservation. They are not particularly enamoured by his strange nutty, dome-shaped appearance and don’t care to make friends with him, preferring to argue and speculate amongst themselves as to what he really is. That is until, the weather turns foul.

Driving rains and ensuing floods threaten not only their sporting pursuits but soon their lives as well. Fortunately Nosh and his young driver Max, come to their rescue. And like all floods, the muddy waters eventually subside and it becomes clear that Nosh really is a very useful Nutmobile who’s earned his rightful place at the Home of the Nut.

Like the hundreds of Queenslanders who endured the floods, this creation is a valiant effort on behalf of the Macadamia House team. Launched late last year to coincide with the Year of the Farmer and the National Year of Reading, Nosh is the first in the Nutmobile series. The characters are straight out of the Fraser Coast hinterland; Boris, the maroon wearing cane toad is my personal favourite. (Although I am far less captivated by cane toads in real life)

The nutmobile spreadKids from three to eight will adore Glen Singleton’s bold, bouncy, and wonderfully Australiana inspired illustrations. You already know his work if you’ve ever been to one of Queensland’ theme parks and used their maps to find your way round. The Twelve Days of Christmas and Santa Koala are other well-known favourites.

Glen Singleton and Em HorsfieldNewcomer to the writing scene but not the world of nuts is Em Horsfield. Her simple rhyming verse chugs along as surely and cheerfully as Nosh himself. And she knows her subject inside out, residing and working on a macadamia farm herself. Sweet.

All Aboard the Nutmobile not only entertains with its colourful cast of Aussie characters and oodles of charm, it humorously introduces young readers to various real life situations and outcomes and provides a platform for discussion of events that have affected many of them either dramatically first hand or from afar.

The Harvest Race Nutmobile 2Watch out for the next instalment of Nosh, in The Harvest Race, August 2013 coinciding with harvest season. The third in the series should be released in time to fill your Christmas stockings. Perfect.

NutmobileYes I’m a fan of the delicious Queensland nut and the iconic Nutmobile (I’ve chugged around in one once or twice) but I admire good old Aussie benevolence and tenacity even more so. This picture book encapsulates both in bucket loads.

Little Steps Publishing, an imprint of New Frontier Publishing 2012

 

Review – Ferret on the Loose

Stand in the kids’ section of any library and you’ll soon discover what under 10 year old readers gravitate towards; pacey, riveting chapter books, starring jump-off-the-page characters with the odd quirky picture thrown in to keep it all real.

Ferret on the LooseThis is precisely what New Frontier Publishing is delivering with their dynamite Little Rocket Series. Like Aussie Mates and the (now ceased) Aussie Nibbles collections, Little Rockets junior fiction is aimed at that Golden Age of reading where kids are still willing and able to suspend belief for action and fun and downright silliness. This series certainly ticks all those boxes. The books have a generous physical feel and look about them which will stand up to many years of being loved. Ferret on the Loose is the latest to hit the shelves.

Take a club-full of feisty ferrets and over-anxious owners, a determined founding father, Mr Olfart, (yes you read correctly) and a best friend who doesn’t mind rodents in the slightest and you’ve got one crazy recipe for fun.

FerretTen year old Lucy and her pet ferret Flash are seasoned competitors in the annual Fastest Fearless Ferret Race. Only trouble is, Flash doesn’t always quite live up to his name. Not that he isn’t fast, he is. But he is unpredictable and given to distraction. No amount of coaxing and cajoling with chocolate can entice him down that clear plastic racing tube to fame and fortune, and the gold trophy that Lucy longs to see her name engraved on sooner than later.

Tragically, Flash’s training goes from bad to worse when he is confined to barracks after nearly concussing himself and then mysteriously disappearing. Lucy is distraught. Her ferret-racing nemesis, Elisha Muggins, is conspicuously smug. And come the day of the big race, Flash is still missing. It is not until the winners are announced that Lucy realises the winner is in fact, her Flash, in disguise!

You’ll have to read this zippy little tale yourself to find out who the real ferret-napping culprit is. Benjamin Johnston’s animated coloured illustrations and Heather Gallagher’s comic use of names and situations will keep you and readers aged 7 and beyond amused along the way.

New Frontier PublishingThings I learnt from Ferret on the Loose: Wanting to win above all else is not wise. And letting a ferret loose on a moving tread-mill is even less wise.

New Frontier Publishing Little Rocket Series May 2013

 

Review – Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck

The first time I met the acquaintance of Mr Darcy, I was much enamoured by his unassuming good looks, impeccable manners and sophisticated demeanour. If his reserved gentility left both Lizzy and me a little wanting and him rather lonely in the beginning, then it was only a question of time and persistence on behalf of Lizzy’s friends, to eventually secure his friendship and affection.

He is after all the stuff of classic novels. Imagine how I swooned with delight when Mr Darcy re-entered my world, this time with a new tribulation to overcome.

Mr Darcy the Dancing DuckMr Darcy the Dancing Duck is the second release by the impressive new picture book teaming of Alex Field and Peter Carnavas. Loosely observing the characters and circumstances of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this delightful tale reintroduces us to Mr Darcy, a duck contentedly residing in Pemberley Park until it dawns on him that spring is in the air and therefore ‘it’s dancing season again.’

Mr Darcy cordially greets his erstwhile friends; merry Maria, dignified Mr Bingley and the comely Caroline but as always feels a little awkward and shy around Lizzy and her sisters. His hurried refusal to dance with Lizzy intimates a weakness in our dashing hero – he cannot dance.

He is very much disheartened by his inability; so much so, he can no longer even acknowledge the presence of his friends. Fortunately they recognise his inadequacy and quickly give him a ‘helping hand’. Before long, Mr Darcy is dancing rather splendidly and even taking a few turns about the makeshift maypole. But will he be able to demonstrate his new found talent in front of those he is so eager to impress without making a fool of himself? Amidst a blaze of colour and twirling of ribbons, he does. Mr Darcy and Lizzy couldn’t be happier, dancing together in Pemberley Park. Ahh.

Alex Field (Sophia Whitfield)You need not be an Austen addict to appreciate the subtle references to the characters of Pemberley Park or to fall in abject adoration of Mr Darcy, a duck of ineffable character and appeal as I did. The crisp, clever narrative of Alex Field (pen name for one Sophia Whitfield) effectively draws the reader into Mr Darcy’s world and his largely self-imposed, perplexing social situations. It is not difficult to care about this be-speckled little duck. Younger readers will adore his bright bow tie and the way he tries to contain his hapless clumsiness. Older ones, like me, will be attracted to the very attributes and humour that make all Mr Darcys so alluring; restrained humility, beguiling vulnerability and brooding charm.

Peter CarnavasAnd who isn’t spellbound by the illustrations of Peter Carnavas? Free of any human form, Carnavas’ marvellous paintings encapsulate all the sensitivity, sophistication and elegance of the era in the most charismatically cheerful, contemporary way.

It may be 200 years on, but thanks to the passion and talent of authors and illustrators like Field and Carnavas, the celebration of love and friendship and top hats lives on.

Pride and Prejudice CoverAnd as Professor Todd mentions on the celebration of 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, “I don’t think she (Jane Austen) wanted to write a book that is simply borrowed from the library and then taken back or a paperback that’s thrown away. She wanted to write books that people valued, kept and read.”

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck and its predecessor, Mr Darcy, are two such books. Value them, keep them and read them, often.

Perfect for primary aged children and Pride and Prejudice officiados.

New Frontier Publishing April 2013

 

 

 

TROPICAL TROUBLE

Tropical Trouble is the third book in the Totally Twins series written by Aleesah Darlison and illustrated by Serena Geddes.

Persephone and Portia Pinchgut are going on holidays to Fiji with Grandma. The only problem is they have been forced to take their annoying 7 year-old neighbour, Dillon Pickleton with them.

Things don’t start out well when they land in Fiji and the twin’s luggage is missing. And that means buying new clothes in Fiji that aren’t to Perse’s fashion taste at all.

Almost as soon as they arrive at the Coconut Cover Resort, the outgoing Portia makes friends with Rushani and Gigi, two girls their age. But Persephone, being the shy twin feels left out again.

I love the way author, Aleesah Darlison gets into the head of Portia and Perse and even though they are twins, they are clearly, very different.

The story is told through Perse’s eyes as she writes down everything that happens in her ‘Fabulous Diary’. Once again, Perse’s voice is very strong and her humour and self-honesty endear her to the reader. She admits her own faults and this makes her real and allows the reader to empathise with her.

We also empathise with Perse because we can see that she cares about others, and she’s the one who looks after Dillon, who is feeling homesick. It’s also Perse’s kind nature that attracts the interest of Ashton whose parents manage the resort where they are staying.

The relationship between the twins is realistic and even though they have their differences, there is clearly a strong bond between them.

Travel writing Grandma who has taken them to Fiji is a great character who never takes sides.

The Pinchguts are a quirky but loveable family and I like the way author, Aleesah Darlison has created such authentic relationships between the various members.

Tropical Trouble is another entertaining and engrossing book in the Totally Twins series written by Aleesah.

Complimenting the text are the hilarious illustrations of Serena Geddes who accurately captures these characters and their personalities with simplicity and wit.

The Totally Twins series is published by New Frontier Publishing and there are more titles coming in 2012.

 

Review – Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Solider by Tracey Hawkins

Nancy Bentley, the eldest of seven children, was born in 1914 and was raised in Smith O’Brien’s cottage in the ex-penal colony of Port Arthur. In 1920, when Nancy was just 6 years old, the HMAS Sydney docked briefly in Port Arthur harbour. Playing outside and listening to the navy band with her siblings, Nancy was bitten by a whip snake. Knowing she would never survive the journey to Sorrell for treatment, Nancy’s family knew their only hope was to seek help from the HMAS Sydney.

Rowing her to the warship in a small rowboat, Nancy’s father begged the captain to take his daughter onboard and treat her – which he gladly did – but therein lie a curious problem. Under the king’s orders, it was forbidden for females to be aboard a naval ship, so in order to keep Nancy under the watchful eye of the ship’s surgeon, the captain announced he would have no other choice but to enlist Nancy in the Royal Australian Navy . . . as Macot Bentley 000001 – Australia’s first female soldier.

This gorgeous book by Canberra author Tracey Hawkins gave me goosebumps all the way through. Warmly told, the story of this lovely little girl highlights the rich tapestry of historical events that make our country so unique.

Beautifully-designed and featuring truly lovely watercolour illustrations by Jacqui Grantford, the book comes complete with a facsimile of Nancy’s Certificate of Service and an author’s biography note detailing her story. This heartwarming tale is one children all over Australia will feel proud to know.

Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Solider is published by New Frontier.

HOLIDAY READING – TWO TALES FROM NEW FRONTIER

LAST TREE IN THE CITY

Last Tree in the City is Peter Carnavas at his best. It’s a poignant tale about a boy finding beauty in his overcrowded and colourless city environment.

Every day, Edward rides to the end of his street to visit the last tree left in the city. Here he sits and pretends that his world is a completely different place.

Edward would forget the concrete and the cars. He would forget the city altogether.

Edward is devastated when the inevitable happens and that tree is chopped down to make room for even more buildings. For a time he is rendered powerless.

Without the tree, Edward’s days were empty. He had nowhere to go

But one day, Edward gets back on his bike and pedals towards new hope.

As usual, Peter Carnavas’s illustrations are full of colour, gentle humour and powerful emotions.

The illustrations and the text work in perfect harmony, but for me, the power in this story is in the tale itself, in the ability of one child to change the world just by doing something small.

Last Tree in the City is a book that will bring enjoyment and meaning to young readers of all ages.

ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT

WHAT CAN YOU SEE?

This book from New Frontier is a variation on an old favourite.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is a song that would be familiar to most children.

In this lift-the-flap book, Angie Lionetto-Civa has transformed this song into a tale of surprise and adventure.

Two boys journey down the river and come across an assortment of animals. Young readers will enjoy ‘searching and finding’ them. The animals hop into the boat and help them find other animals, who are soon added to their overcrowded boat.

As the boat becomes fuller, there’s a sense of anticipation that something is going to happen.

The reader goes on an adventure too, discovering the animals at the same time as the young boys in the story. The repetition and rhyme are something young children will be comfortable with.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat rises to a climax with the appearance of a crocodile and I’m not going to spoil the story by saying what happens next.

Serena Geddes’ playful illustrations help create the atmosphere of merriment as the boys row “merrily, merrily, merrily”.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is a colourful, vibrant interactive story that will be enjoyed by young readers.

VALUE ADDING TO PICTURE BOOKS

I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be an increasing trend to attach giveaways and merchandise to picture books. Harvey the Boy who Couldn’t Fart (Walker Books) came with it’s very own fart machine and I have seen books sold with stuffed toys, jewellery and other paraphernalia.

From a marketing point of view, this probably works otherwise publishers wouldn’t do it. I’m not sure if I like this trend or not, but then I guess I’ve never been the sort of person who buys something because of the free steak knives, or onion peelers.

To me, a well written and illustrated picture book will stand on it’s own. It doesn’t need anything else except strong words, vivid illustrations and a great story.

But there are exceptions to every rule. Some stories come with accessories that perfectly complement the kind of books that they are. New Frontier recently released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice based on the  poem by Goethe and the famous piece of classical music composed by Paul Abraham Dukas.

Written by Tom Skinner and illustrated by Annie White. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice picture book comes with it’s own CD and seeing as the book introduces young children to classical music, it seems to be a perfect fit.

It is a timeless coming of age story where the main character Rizwan battles temptation and laziness in order to learn patience. The CD fits with the story and offers the added benefit of familiarising children with classical music.

Another picture book that combines words, illustration and music in a seamless way is Never Smile at a Crocodile written by Jack Lawrence & Frank Churchill.

Published by Scholastic, Never Smile at a Crocodile is also based on a timeless story. It is beautifully illustrated by  Shane Devries and comes with an instrumental version of the story on CD.

For me, music and audio storytelling seem to be the exceptions to the ‘freebie’ rule. With picture books like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Never Smile at a Crocodile, the CDs not only add value to the books, they add a whole new experience for the reader.

I’d be interested in your comments. Have you noticed the trend to include freebies with picture books? What do you think of it?

SAMUEL’S KISSES – A STORY OF COLOUR AND HOPE

I was immediately drawn to Samuel’s Kisses and it wasn’t just because I have a son called Sam.

The title and the vibrant cover illustration by Serena Geddes told me that this was going to be a happy book – something that celebrated life and captured a child’s optimism.

When I opened the cover, I wasn’t disappointed. Karen Collum’s book, Samuel’s Kisses is about a little boy who contributes one small thing to the world that makes a big impact people’s lives.

Samuel is a small boy who blows kisses to everyone he meets. His genuine, heartfelt kisses have the ability to transform people who have sadness, worry and pain.

This book gives such a positive message and not just to kids. It reflects that everyone can make a difference to the world just by sharing something as simple as a smile or in Samuel’s case, a kiss.

Samuel’s Kisses has been written for preschoolers but there are messages there that could be understood and appreciated by much older children.

Little Samuel has the power to transform his world and make readers believe that anything is possible.  I loved the ending of this book which also reflects how as parents we pass our values and beliefs on to our children.

Young readers will enjoy following the path of each kiss as it twirls and swirls up and over, under and around objects until it reaches its target with a SPLAT!

Karen Collum has used interesting, descriptive language to engage the reader and assist with vocabulary development.

The lively and upbeat mood of the book is beautifully captured by the full colour illustrations by Serena Geddes www.reeni.com.au/.

Author Karen Collum www.karencollum.com.au/ is a strong believer in teaching children to be optimistic and it shines through in her book.

Published by New Frontier, Samuel’s Kisses comes in a sturdy hard cover format that is the perfect size for small hands to flick through.

Parents, teachers, librarians and children will enjoy this charming story full of humour, colour and hope.

A PICTURE BOOK WRITTEN FROM LIFE – SAMUEL’S KISSES

Karen Collum is mother to three beautiful boys, with a baby girl joining the family later this month. She’s passionate about developing optimism in children and empowering them to make a difference in the world.

Karen is visiting Kids’ Book Capers on her blog tour to celebrate the release of her new picture book, Samuel’s Kisses based on real life experiences with her own son, Sam.

Karen, can you tell us what Samuel’s Kisses is about and what age group it’s for?

Samuel’s Kisses is aimed at the pre-school age group (ages 2-5) and captures the beauty and power of a simple act of kindness. When a toddler blows kisses to people he meets, they are transformed in the very best way possible.

What  inspired the story of Samuel’s Kisses?

When my eldest son was two, he had the most delightful habit of blowing kisses to complete strangers while I did the shopping. It always struck me how powerful those kisses were. People who had previously been frowning and cranky would suddenly begin to smile and interact with him. I thought it would make a great story one day…and it did!

You have a son called Samuel (Sam). Can you tell us how you incorporated his story into your book?

Sam is very much the inspiration for the book. Although unlike Samuel in the book, he never actually had anyone juggle or dance because of the kisses he blew, he did have people play peek-a-boo with him or blow him a kiss in return.

How does Sam feel about being involved in the creation of your book?

He is very excited. For a long time he’d ask me to read the text to him but
then ask me when it was going to become a ‘real’ book with pictures.

When I got the final version of the book to look over, I sat down on the couch with
him and read it to him properly for the first time. He was so overjoyed that
it finally had pictures! I’m holding a book launch at his Kinder and he can’t wait for me to read his book to his friends. I think he’s looking forward to being the star of the show for a few minutes.

Apart from the story, does he have any other involvement in the book?

The beautiful little blonde boy in the story is based on my Sam. I was
fortunate enough to be able to send a photo of him when he was two to the
illustrator, Serena Geddes, and she kindly used that as a starting point for
the illustrations.

Do you have any tips for other writers wanting to incorporate real
life into works of fiction?

Anyone who is a parent experiences the joy of their children doing cute things. I think the trick is to work out which of those things hold universal appeal for many people and which ones are unique to your family. Not every cute thing my kids have done would make a good book, but sometimes I have to write the story before I come to that realisation.

Can you tell us how old Sam was when you started writing this story and how old he is now?

I first wrote the story in 2008 when Sam had just turned 2. He’s now 5 1/2
(that half is very important) and is so very grown up. I’m glad I’ve been able to capture him as a toddler in the book.

Have you written or do you have plans to write any books about other family members?

I’d love to write a book for each of my kids and have got a few ideas that are in various stages of development. I have identical twins who are 2 1/2 years old and I’m working on a concept for a picture book at the moment that revolves around the joys and trials of being an identical twin.

I’m also about to have a baby girl and I’d love to write a book for her one day too,
but I think I’ll have to get to know her a little better first. I want the books to reflect the character and nature of my children. I consider it areal privilege to be able to say to Sam, “I wrote this book about you and for you” and I hope I get to do the same with my other kids.

I also have written a picture book that I’m passionate about that deals with
open-heart surgery. Sam had open-heart surgery last year to correct a
congenital heart defect and I’d love to help other children in his situation
to understand what is going to happen to them and why. I think my family
might just be my greatest source of inspiration.

Karen is visiting these great blogs on her tour to talk more about Samuel’s Kisses.

Blog tour dates:
Dec 1: Kathryn Apel http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
Dec 2: Kids’ Book Capers
Dec 3: Sheryl Gwyther http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com/
Dec 4: Serena Geddes http://www.reeni.com.au/books/
Dec 5: Rebecca Newman http://soupblog.wordpress.com/
Dec 6: Susan Stephenson http://www.thebookchook.com/
Dec 7: Katrina Germein http://www.katrinagermein.com/blog/

To read more about Karen’s work visit her website at http://www.karencollum.com.au.

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – NEW BOOKS WITH HEART FROM NEW FRONTIER

In my mailbox recently I received two new picture books from New Frontier Publishing; The Important Things by Peter Carnavas and I Spy Mum written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart.

In their own way, each book shows the importance of a parent in a child’s life, and they both struck a chord with me.

The Important Things is about the absent father. In I Spy Mum, the child experiences the pure joy of being reunited with his ‘lost’ mother. I know as a parent that this is a feeling that works both ways.

I think one of the things I liked most about both these books was the powerful feelings conveyed in stories that were so simply told.

THE IMPORTANT THINGS

Written & Illustrated by Peter Carnavas

The Important Things tells the story of Christopher, a little boy trying to come to terms with the absence of his father. He does this by cherishing the things that remind him of his dad – the memories.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it showed how divergent an adult and a child’s thinking can be in these situations. It’s a story about a child and a Mum finding their way back to each other through understanding.

The Important Things is a book that can be shared between a parent and a child on many levels. Each word has been carefully chosen and every colourful illustration speaks another thousand words.

I can see The Important Things becoming an important book for many children. It is the work of writer, illustrator and teacher, Peter Carnavas. His first book Jessica’s Box has been shortlisted for three awards. It was closely followed by Sarah’s Heavy Heart which has already been translated into six other languages.

I SPY MUM

Written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Chantal Stewart

I Spy Mum is written in a much more playful tone, but it’s still a book that conveys a child’s feelings for a parent. I Spy Mum is a beautiful rhyming picture book for under five’s.

A little boy sees lots of other Mums, but he knows they are not his. He spies a ‘baking mum’, and a ‘singing mum’ and a ‘ding-a-linging mum, but can’t find his own. Children will love the surprises of the search and the fun of the other mums he discovers.

Even though not being able to find your mum is a traumatic event for a young child, this book is so full of fun and humour that children will be engaged all the way to the happy ending.

I Spy Mum is the sister book to I Spy Dad which has been shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Award 2010. It is written by well loved award winning author Janeen Brian. Janeen is a South Australian based author who has written over 70 books for children.

Illustrator, Chantal Stewart has illustrated  a number of books for children including Tilly’s Treasure by Sue Walker, and Clancy’s Long, Long Walk by Libby Gleeson.

The Important Things and I Spy Mum are just two of the beautiful new releases from New Frontier Publishing this year. If their 2010 catalogue is anything to go by, there are still many more to come.