Picture Books of Persistence and Problem Solving

When life throws you curve balls, when your path is not always clear, or when things are not in your control. These are the times that test your tenacity, your resilience and your perseverance. Young children are faced with a multitude of situations and obstacles everyday that require smart decision making and problem solving, and these few adorable picture books will no doubt offer some extra pointers on rising up to the challenge.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, July 2106.

We were blessed with the presence of this endearing pair in their previous tale of kindred spirits despite their obvious differences. Stephen Michael King cleverly extends on this sentiment in Snail and Turtle Rainy Days – Turtle kindly takes Snail’s creative preferences into account in his plans to help out his friend.

I just love the essences of reassurance, humour, playfulness and warmth amongst the dreariness of the scene. Just like the rain the words flow rhythmically and soothingly, as well as with great gusto as Turtle busily forges ahead with his plan to coax Snail out of his shell. Meticulously gathering, ripping, bending and chewing, and not forgetting painting of bright blobs and gentle swirls (for Snail), Turtle provides the perfect shelter to share with his favourite companion.

The partnership of the divinely vivid and layered illustrations gorgeously ties together with the purity and fervour of its characters. Children from age three will fall head over shells in love with this charming couple all over again.

imageThe Cat Wants Custard, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

When a cat wants something desperately enough, who or what can get in their way? In The Cat Wants Custard, I’ve never seen a more insistent, yet surprisingly patient despite the prickly attitude, feline on a mission.

Kevin the cat is called by his owner to come for a treat. However, none of the suggestions are much to his liking. Kevin is in the mood for something sweet, and custard is definitely on the table (not literally, it’s still in the fridge). When the cat’s impressively accurate spelling and rhyming knowledge is unfortunately ignored (or misunderstood, rather), Kevin doesn’t give up. He lays in the kitchen for hours for his big opportunity. But when his prize is finally open for the taking, the feisty, custard-craving cat comes to a shocking conclusion.

Kevin’s obnoxious and indignant stream of consciousness, relayed to his readers via thought bubbles, is totally hilarious! And paralleled is Gifford‘s lively, animated and boldly comical illustrations showing the cat’s characteristically accurate body and facial expressions. (My favourite is the death-stare!)

Children from age three will relish every funny thought of this persistent cat and particularly his cat-astrophic, not-so-sweet ending. My three year old is already asking for the ‘mashed potato’ sequel!

imageLittle Koala Lost, Blaze Kwaymullina (author), Jess Racklyeft (illus.), Omnibus Books Scholastic Australia, July 2016.

Absolutely captivating acrylic paint textures and digital collages set the scene in this endearing counting story of a displaced little koala in the Australian bush. We feel for this tiny one as he tirelessly searches for a home and encounters rejection after rejection from the animals he approaches. Two marvellous magpies claim he can’t sing, three tricky turtles state he has no shell to protect himself, four pesky pelicans tell Koala he wouldn’t be able to catch fish without a bill, and so on. But just as he about to give up hope, it is on his tenth meeting that the koala family welcome the little mite into their gum tree home.

The predictive sequential rhythm and use of alliteration in the text by Kwaymullina is beautifully supported by Racklyeft‘s palpable and inviting illustrations, both encouraging eagerness to continue to locate a satisfying resolution.

Little Koala Lost is an adorably engaging and relatable story of belonging and perseverance, with which preschoolers will root for Koala’s wellbeing every step of the way.

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Double Dipping – Terrific reads for Tweens & Teens

As children shrug off their tween years and enter the tribulation-ridden terrain of teenage hood, the art of telling stories for them becomes more exact and tenuous. Tales still need to entertain yet they must also strike such firm and resounding accord with their intended audience that for readers to abandon them would be like dissing out on themselves or at least, their friends. Two new titles in town, which address each of these age groups with terrific virtuosity flow from the pens of Michael Gerard Bauer and Tamsin Janu and deserve closer scrutiny.

Figgy and the PresidentFiggy and the President is Tamsin Janu’s second book featuring Figgy, a young African village girl with limited world reference but enormous ambition and tenacity. Figgy is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. She and her Ghanaian friends and family are so richly portrayed; it is a delight to be part of their adventures. The characters are complete enough that this tale could take place almost anywhere. That it is set in Ghana is merely an enriching added bonus. As with Figgy in the World, this story is full of warmth and originality.

Figgy in the WorldIn this current snap shot of Figgy’s life, she and her best friend, Nana dream about their future careers, speculating on their successes and mapping out the paths for their chosen occupations. Trouble is deciding on a career is not as straightforward as Figgy imagines so when she unexpectedly lands a role as an actress in a locally made film, she immediately fancies this might be the future for her.

However just as she embarks on her newfound career, Figgy’s erstwhile absent, now heavily pregnant mama appears throwing Figgy into even more confusion and uncertainty. Figgy is then forced to abandon her own misgivings when Nana is mercilessly ripped out of their lives causing her to attempt to rescue him.

Figgy and the President is a superb story of tenacity, childhood resourcefulness, and friendship that mid primary readers will cherish. It reads with an innocent fluidity that I imagine tween-aged children influenced and shaped by our (often-trivial) First World dilemmas will find entertaining and fascinating, thereby giving rise to a stronger sense of empathy and humanity. A perfect follow up to Figgy in the World but able to be read alone.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

It’s no secret that many of Michael Gerard Bauer’s books leave me quaking at the knees, usually with laughter and emotion. Surprisingly, this one is not at the top of my favourites list of his but I have a feeling it will be a hit among gaggles of school guys and gals nonetheless.

The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy and MeThe Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me is a new YA comedy that I initially found cloying (a bit like attempting to swallow a whole clotted-cream-and-jam-smothered-scone in one go) – not just because the title is so mouth-filling but partly due to the rabid use of capital letter actualisation and metaphoric description; this coming from someone with a pathological obsession to metaphoric-ise practically everything (see afore mentioned scone and cream example).  Nevertheless, like my predilection for scones and clotted cream, I could not give it up either. Discomfort is often  born from self -realisation, and whilst the way Maggie Butt thinks and reacts is a painful reminder of my own metaphoric inadequacies, figuratively speaking (and she does this a lot) her behaviour brilliantly mirrors the  psyches of many a teenager  whom I am certain will find this an outrageous and comforting connection.

‘Me’ is Maggie Butt and her teenage life is messy and mucked-up. Every time she gets close to achieving one of her ‘Three Specific and Realistic (life) Goals’ they are lampooned out of the water. There’s a drama queen quality about Maggie I found slightly unnerving at first however Bauer’s injection of sweet satire and ability to weave a generous amount of heart and soul into his storylines saved not only me, but eventually also Maggie and a few others besides.

Michael G BauerBauer seems well accustomed with the fickle affections and feelings of pre-adult youth having raised a couple, taught dozens more and presumably been one himself portraying Maggie and her school mates with a raw sincerity I found touching . His 15-year-old female voice rings alarmingly loud and true, at times almost too convincingly so it is a relief when we are eventually shown Maggie’s true emotional turmoil, her warring desires, and not-to-much-to-ask-for expectations. Sir Tiffy, Sista Lista and a dude on a motor bike all help us (and Maggie) see what really truly matters whilst completing an intricate tapestry (stolen metaphor) of characters and satellite storylines.

In true Bauer style, The Pain…is more than it initially appears. It is wry and cool. It is funny and sensitive. It is a glorious collection of intelligent and side-splitting word play. It is unquestionably a riotous encounter of the teenage kind which connects solidly with today’s reader and transports older ones (like this one) back to nights with Paul Young (figuratively speaking), controversial casual-ware (see the T-shirt incident pg. 146) and thankfully possesses an ending that I’d cross  an ocean of metaphors to experience again.

Witty, relevant, and snappy, this junior novel will appeal in spades to younger YAers, as well.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic May 2016

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Marching Forward – Remembering Bravery Reviews

Remembering, honouring, commiserating, – learning. When recently reading ANZAC titles to my maturing primary schooler, she asked, ‘Are there still wars, going on?’ I had to reply that yes, sadly there were. However, by sharing the past and gradually exposing children to the realities of it, hopefully they become better equipped to care enough to avoid and prevent future conflicts. It’s a reality I’d like to hope for. These titles perpetuate that hope while escorting young readers through the historical past.

Forward MarchForward March by Christobel Mattingley Illustrated by David Kennett Picture Book

This is a curious ANZAC picture book, more of a compilation of ANZAC Day emotions, colours and locations commiserating the loss of our war veterans and the sacrifice they made. The opening page appears sombre and cold at first; pre-dawn on ANZAC Day morn. Look closely though and you’ll notice a pale yellow light entreating hope and promise. It represents one of the many war memorials across Australia where keen crowds gather to remember not only our great-grandads, dads, sons and grandsons, but also the grandmas, mothers, daughters and aunties, all those affected by battles they never ever wished for nor properly understood.

Mattingley’s sparse yet rousing statements honour all those who left their families and land to serve abroad whilst also acknowledging those who stayed behind and kept the country ticking over, ending with the rising of the dawn, the Last Post and a pledge to never forget.

What really captivates though are Kennett’s painted and drawn illustrations clustered in muted sepia-coloured vignettes that resemble the type of photo album your grandmother might have kept. Although an eyeful to take in all at once, these spreads tell of life on the battlefields in ways that leave words gasping. Several international conflicts are depicted including the Boer War, both Great Wars and the Vietnam War giving children wider scope and deeper meaning to exactly what we are remembering when standing at the cenotaph on ANZAC Day.

Ideal for prompting discussion of past world commemorative events amongst early primary schoolers presented with respect and restraint.

Omnibus Books March 2016

Socks Sandbags and LeechesSocks, Sandbags & Leeches Letters to my Anzac Dad by Pauline Deeves Illustrated Fiction

This hardcover illustrated tribute to those who served in the First World War is uniquely different to other children’s books drawing on this theme. Significantly, it is told through the eyes of a twelve-year-old child, Ivy whose father has left to fight overseas.

Deeves executes the same breezy epistolary style used in Midnight Burial to inform readers about life back in Australia whilst great chunks of her population were, in many ways, coerced to fight overseas. Through a series of letters written over a period of four years to her father who is first posted to Gallipoli and later France, Ivy describes how she and her mother had to move house, live with their Aunt Hilda and succumb to the restrictions of life during wartime.

Ivy’s voice is delightfully informal and intimate, eliciting strong young reader appeal and interest. She mentions various modernisations and several vagaries of life over 100 years ago that our tech –imbued children of today might well find absurd. I particularly appreciated Ivy’s illustrations included in her letters.

Socks Sandbags and Leeches illos spreadDeeves flourishes fact with fiction in a way that imparts a lot of new and interesting information. Although essentially a story about Socks, Sandbags & Leeches, readers can locate various topics about Conscription, the Retreat from Gallipoli and what school was like for example from the headings listed in the Contents. Scrapbook type pages crammed with authentic sketches, prints and excerpts of the time enhance the appearance of Ivy’s collection of letters and serve to reinforce the information she is relaying to her absent father.

A fascinating storytelling approach and account of the First World War for readers nine to fifteen.

National Library of Australia NLA February 2016

Dreaming the EnemyDreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen YA novel

I have to include this new novel by master story teller, David Metzenthen, tackling the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress associated with one of our more recent political conflicts. Immersing readers into hot sweating jungle warfare and solider psyche, makes for a challenging read, not for the faint hearted. There’s a possibility it will create lasting impressions but not because of any insensitive gratuitous horror (there isn’t any) rather because it’s narrated in a somewhat disconnected way, from deep inside the head of a returned Vet and his erstwhile Viet Cong nemesis.

If you think you have difficulties getting your head around this psychological battle, spare a thought for the main character, Johnny Shoebridge. His tale of post-Vietnam traumatic anxiety is as wrenching and spellbinding as it is complicated and beautiful. Johnny has left the battlefields but has brought home a dread of living and the ghost-fighter, Khan who relentlessly dogs him. He knows he will remain forever at war if he can’t find a way to lay this phantom to rest.

Metzenthen has woven an elegant web of infinite detail, spinning tragedy and despair with hope and healing, undoable finality with incomplete futures, expanding on the truism that a solider may leave the battlefield behind but that the battle may never truly leave him.

‘Death never ended for the living.’

Wit and plenty of ribald reality checks temper Metzenthen’s breathtaking use of language and meticulous description while characters so real you can literally hear and smell them give you a great sense of tangibility. By the end of it, we come to acknowledge the awful truth we’ve suspected all along just like Khan and Johnny, that war is never really about wanting to kill or having a choice about it. Dreaming the Enemy decries this ultimate tragedy with a force so powerful it leaves your heart heaving.

Older teen readers will gain immeasurably from this stirring read as will the rest of us. Stunning and faultless.

Allen & Unwin 2016

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Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 2

Do you bite off more than you can chew? One’s tendency for this disparity amplifies at Christmas time, at least, mine does. However, it’s not just at the festive table that choice and over-indulgence can be paralysing. The lead-up to my favourite time of the year is where many choke. The solution? Planning. Break needs, wants, and to-dos down into meaningful, chewable mouthfuls, starting with my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion List. Over the next month or so, I’ll continue to add some Kids’ literary suggestions that you can fill your lists with and have plenty of time to organise before Christmas.

Here is Suggestion # 2 ( # 1 was Sam Wheeler’s mid-grade reader, Mister Cassowary)

SING-A-SONG-OF-SIXPENCE –Sing a long picture books

Flashbacks are curious things. I didn’t feel confident enough to risk the Nutbush but the rush of the wind through my hair as I slid effortlessly albeit awarkedly across a wooden floor so highly polished you’d sworn it was wet, was nothing short of confidence boosting. I am doing this! I am 14 again. I am burning up the roller-skating rink! Turns out, roller-skating is a lot like riding a bike; you don’t really lose the knack as you age, just a bit of grace.

For flashbacks of a more literary sensation, there is plenty to choose from. The offerings are endless and provide buckets of visual and audial stimuli to keep you and your little ones grooving away for hours. Here are some favourites:

Hush Little Possum Hush Little Possum is a gorgeous adaptation of the classic lullaby, Hush Little Baby. Mama sugar glider and her baby are caught in a sudden outback storm, but brave Mama does everything she can to keep her babe warm and dry. Divine illustrations by WA artist Wendy Binks introduce readers to a myriad of Australian flora and fauna while Deborah Mailman sings along in the accompanying CD. Quite special for three to five year-olds.

Juicy Juciy Gren GrassRemember Peter Combe? I do. His advice is to, ‘stay in touch with your inner child.’ Well you can with this CD release picture book featuring his favourites in, Juicy Juicy Green Grass and other fun songs. Blindingly bright, bold and bonkers enough to be loved by the very young and old. I like the Silly Postman best, I just do.

Hokey PokeyYou may have spent many long energetic hours swinging, stamping, and shaking your Hokey Pokey in playgroup and kinder sessions – I know I have, but never like this. Join an Australian cast with Sarah Hardy and Colin Buchanan (on CD) as they jump and shake their uniquely Aussie ways through this beloved children’s song (there’s tongue poking and ear flopping aplenty!) High energy and playful cues to get everyone involved and learning. Love this one.

The Farmer in the DellFollowing a string of popular tune-based picture books, the hilarious Topp Twins, and Jenny Cooper team up again for The Farmer in the Dell. Read, sing, play, live it. These renditions breathe exhilarating new life into beloved old gems. Cooper’s detailed and goofy illustrations capture the verve of each of these classic tunes based on accumulative and comic repetition. Others include, There’s a Hole in my Bucket, Do Your Ears Hang Low and She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. Oooh, I feel another flashback coming on. High Ho!

Square Eyes coverKiwi singer, songwriter, Craig Smith creates laugh out loud songs that translate superbly into fun and funky picture books. Square Eyes is his latest, illustrated by Scott Tulloch. If you thought The Wonky Donkey was full of character and sass, wait until you meet Mr Square Eyes – a panda with a serious addiction to the old goggle box. An excellent, hi-energy comical attempt to discourage kids from doing less by convincing them to do something more.

10 Clumsy EmusThere are several entertaining remakes of the evergreen song, Ten Green Bottles featuring a billabong of interesting critters designed to get kids counting, moving, and grooving. Well move over silly wombats because here come the 10 Clumsy Emus. Emu fanatic, Wendy Binks illustrates this one with fabulous effect. Laden with astonishing detail, I struggled to find the hidden numbers in every scene, but maybe that’s because I was so hilariously distracted by the emusing (ha ha) antics and expressions of our esteemed friends. No CD needed with this one. Ten out of ten, no less.

The Tortoise and the HairP. Crumble and Louis Shea are known for their perennial favourites in the, There was an Old Lady series. The Tortoise and the Hair is a jaw-splitting departure from these and although not based on a song or nursery rhythm but rather a classic fable, it conjured up all sorts of imagery and tenuous connections to the musical, Hair that I just had to include it. Saturated with satire, animal characters and hidden detail with a punchy little twist at the end, tortoise will have you rocking and rolling over and over again.

The Cow Tripped Over the MoonLovers of classic nursery rhymes will adore Tony Wilson’s recently released, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Cow is beset with a high-flying ambition; to jump over the moon but she is plagued with difficulty. Repeated attempts end in disappointment and near failure until her friends remind her, it’s now or never; she will be remembered forever – if she can just get this right. A left of field reimagining coupled with the strong quirky imagery of Laura Wood, makes this a winner.

Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot BinikiDeborah Mailman makes a tantalising reappearance in Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini. If you think little ones might find that a mouthful, just watch them cha cha cha and sing along to this 1960’s classic by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. A beguiling cast of creatures is perfectly painted by acclaimed illustrator, Kerry Argent including one very brave polka-dot wearing hippo! Suitably capturing all the fun and warmth of a day at the beach.

Silly SquidWithout straying too far from the seaside, children’s author extraordinaire, Janeen Brian, takes us through a rhyming underwater odyssey to rival Homer’s adventure with Silly Squid! Poems about the Sea. Along the way, we meet giant squid, clever octopus, lumbering whales, delicate sea stars, adorable seals and so many more sublime sea-creatures, each showcased in sweet rhyming couplets and accompanied by fun facts. Informative, visually enchanting thanks to Cheryll Johns’ luscious full-page illustrations and utterly delightful. Definitely one to treasure.

Omnibus Books and Scholastic Australia all released 2015

Check out Boomerang’s Kids Reading Guide 2015 – 2016 for more great titles to whet your Christmas appetite.

 

Three Times the Fun with Ben Wood’s Picture Books

Contrasting colour palettes, use of mixed media, energetic and always adorable themes pop from the pictures in all three of these books. But there are differences, too. In my opinion, illustrator Ben Wood knows just how to adjust his tone perfectly to suit the nature of each story.  

imageThe Bush Book Club, Margaret Wild (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2014.

Ben Wood’s enchanting pictures harmonise flawlessly with the natural writing style of Margaret Wild. Here is a wonderful story that captures the imagination of young readers on a path to self discovery.
Bilby, with the attention span of a fish, would much rather practise headstands and somersaults than sit and read quietly with the Bush Book Club animals. Perhaps he had Echidna’s ants in his pants! One night he is unintentionally locked in the clubhouse. With a bit of resourcefulness and creativity, Bilby finds things to do with all the books, even pick up one and read it! What a delightful ending to see this once reluctant reader so enthralled in a book that takes him on a heroic adventure. Who knew reading could be so much fun?!
I love how Wild’s message of reading for pleasure and connecting with books has been translated into the illustrations. Ben Wood beautifully captures the animals enjoying time alone as well as coming together to discuss their books. His complimentary, sunny colours, mixed paints and pencil techniques match the cheerful quality of the story, and his vignettes and expressive drawings gorgeously reflect the fast-paced, lively and humorous parts.
‘The Bush Book Club will be sure to have preschoolers entranced much long after the first sentence, even those with ants in their pants!  

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

I’ve reviewed this one previously in my Picture Books of Beauty article; a story of friendship between a pair that couldn’t be more different in every way. A boy named Big likes to be seen and heard, believing it’s the big things that matter most, whilst his lizard pet Small appreciates the beauty in the little things. What follows is the dramatic quest to find one another and overcome feeling lost in a chaotic world.
In these illustrations, Ben Wood has captured the essence of the story, making the characters distinctively stand out from their backdrops. The surrounding colours are soft shades with lightly sketched buildings and pale watercolours, and are contrasted by the prominence of Big’s red jacket and Small’s bright yellow body. And in the more heart-stopping and reflective moments the characters are the only visuals evident, besides the text. Wood has a definite characteristic style of animation evident in this book and ‘The Bush Book Club’, but there is also a difference in his variety of media and artistic stroke.
In the enticing ‘Small and Big’, this clever illustrator has precisely captured the sense of drama, urgency and contrasting personalities. Magnificent!  

imageUnderneath a Cow, Carol Ann Martin (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2015.

His illustrated books seem to become more expressive and striking with each new release! ‘Underneath a Cow’;, a humorous tale of animals forming bonds whilst ducking for protection from the rain underneath a lovely cow, Madge.
By the looks on their big-eyed, furrowing faces, the farm animals are clearly not happy when raindrops impede their plans. Luckily kind Madge has room down below for Lally the rabbit, Robinson the dog, Cackalina and her baby chicks, and even grumbling Spike the hedgehog. After much squabbling and some prickle-raising moments, Madge calms her sheltering posse by encouraging them to sing until the storm finally ceases and they go off on their merry ways. A touching story representing the safety found with a parenting figure, as well as the joys of being the one to provide that safe place.      
Ben Wood’s illustrations both coincide with the tenderness of the nurturing and friendship themes, as well as the comical and spirited elements that make this book so endearing. He effectively uses warming watercolour and pencil tones, even amongst the storm, and particularly dominating many of the pages with the large, cheery Madge. And with an Andrew Joyner-type feel we also find eye-catching, whimsical characters with an abundance of personality.      
This book is funny and sweet, entertaining and innovative. Preschoolers will be returning to the safety of ‘Underneath a Cow’‘ again and again.       

Visit Ben Wood’s website and facebook pages.                                                                                   

Song, Poem and Rhyme Picture Books

Children connect with songs and rhymes. This innate quality allows young readers and listeners the ability to play and experiment with sounds with ease. Not only do these lyrical stories lend themselves to a range of engaging and interactive experiences, but their audience is also given opportunities to learn the mechanics of language, sequences and meaning of the text. The following few picture books explore some well-known tunes and traditional tales in new and innovative ways that will relate to their readers, both young and old. Some great for a giggle, some for a wiggle, and one for learning about things that jiggle!

The Croc and the Platypus, Jackie Hosking (author), Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

From the lyrical talent of Jackie Hosking, with the superbly detailed and dynamic acrylic paintings by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, ‘The Croc and the Platypus’ bounds its way from outback Australia straight into our hearts.
To the age-old tune of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, here our water-loving, ‘Aussie’ pair set off, not to sea in their pea-green boat, but across the desert in their rusty Holden ute. Featuring typical Australian and Indigenous treasures and proper slang, including didgeridoo hullabaloos, sheep-shearing blokes, a cocky, lamingtons and the beauty of the Southern Cross above Uluru, the platypus and the croc embark on an extraordinary camping adventure.
‘The Croc and the Platypus’ is a charming Aussie rendition of the classic song with its romping, rollicking nature and perfectly suited sandy tones and animated characters. Primary school children will adore these unlikely mates and all that our native outback has to offer.  

8367940_ZSilly Squid! Poems about the Sea, Janeen Brian (author), Cheryll Johns (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2015.  

Following on from the ‘Silly Galah!’ poem book, award-winning Janeen Brian, together with illustrator Cheryll Johns, dive into more fact-finding fun with the wonderfully entertaining ‘Silly Squid! Poems about the Sea’.
Learning about underwater sea creatures in this book is far from boring. I love how Brian cleverly gets the reader involved. She doesn’t simply spill facts onto the page, but through a nicely cantered metre and interesting information, she encourages discussion with prompting, questioning and expression. Find out fascinating facts, like how a sea star regrows an arm, that a daddy leafy sea dragon helps the eggs to hatch, a squid is not silly because it can colour-change, and that fairy penguins don’t carry wands or grant wishes.
Discovering the world of sea life has never been more captivating with the fun poetry and vivid, bold acrylic paintings. ‘Silly Squid!’ is a valuable resource for primary aged children both in and out of the classroom.  

9781743623534The Cow Tripped Over the Moon, Tony Wilson (author), Laura Wood (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

A hilarious version of the old nursery rhyme, ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’, with a most persistent, hard-working cow and his ever-so supportive friends. ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’ takes us back on the journey of how the cow ultimately succeeded in jumping over the moon. With exuberant rhyme and comical, distinct illustrations, it takes this hapless cow seven moon attempts before he finally conquers this mighty challenge. From tripping over, to hitting a hot air balloon, slow run-ups, riding meteorites and blazing bottoms, Cow hits an all-time low. But the encouragement of his dog, cat, dish and spoon mates sparks the determination in this fiesty creature, and the rhyme ends happily ever after.
Adorably whimsical and witty with clever plays on the classic rhyme, ‘The Cow Tripped Over the Moon’ is perfect for a snuggle and a giggle before a preschooler’s bedtime.    

Some other great song books to add to your list:

10-cheeky-possums10 Cheeky Possums, Ed Allen (author), Claire Richards (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

From the crazy silly series from Scholastic and Ed Allen, including ’10 Clumsy Emus’, ’10 Spooky Bats’ ’10 Hooting Owls’, ’10 Silly Wombats’, and ’10 Funny Sheep’, is the latest in the collection; ’10 Cheeky Possums’.
Each book contains the same rhythmic style and format, taking the reader from ten animals down to one, to the tune of ’10 Green Bottles’. There are always lively scenes and funny ways that the animals disappear from sight, like being inauspiciously swept off into the distance.
Whilst some unconventional phrasing to fit the verse, this series is an entertaining and interactive concept aimed at young preschoolers and the development of number recognition and counting skills. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for exploration and manipulation in the areas of numeracy and the arts.  

little-barry-bilby-had-a-fly-upon-his-noseLittle Barry Bilby had a Fly upon his Nose, Colin Buchanan (author), Roland Harvey (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.  

By legendary author and musician Colin Buchanan, and charismatic, witty illustrations by Roland Harvey, is the gorgeously humorous and charming ‘Little Barry Bilby had a Fly upon his Nose’.
Crafted from the classic ‘Little Peter Rabbit’ song, this Aussie version takes us bouncing and itching along as a group of helpless native animals escape the invasion of their bizzy buzzy bush bug pests by jumping into the creek.
With rollicking lyrics in three verses, repetition and alliteration, preschoolers can easily gauge the rhythm and language, allowing for a most appealing and engaging song (and dance) time experience. The bonus CD adds an extra dimension to the drama, particularly for those adults who may need some help staying on key!  

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Review – Imagine a City

Imagine A CityThe sumptuous cloth cover and unfurling clouds swirling across the end pages indicate something special about Elise Hurst’s latest picture book, Imagine a City.

You’ll recognise Hurst’s illustrations from her other picture books such as The Night Garden, Flood and The Midnight Club to name a few. Imagine a City is a glorious collection of Hurst’s artwork woven together into a magical tale of surrealism that feels like a fantastic carpet ride.

Imagine a City illoTwo young children and their mother embark on a regular train ride into the city, which is where ordinary stops. All at once, their imaginations assume an Animalia magnitude with Mary Poppins possibilities as they meander through their day, stopping to admire, savour and marvel. I expect mother is on some sort of mission buImagine a City illo 2t this is happily forgotten as she joins her young wards in their jolly.

They are shadowed on every page by bunnies who surreptitiously guide them through fantastical locations and situations where ‘the fish fly through the sky’ and the world is ‘without edges’.

This is a picture book that takes little time to read yet entices you back for a closer look, challenging you to take another journey and seek out a different story. In the same vein as the wordless picture books of Shaun Tan, Imagine a City promotes out-of-the-box thinking, a sense of discovery and more than a touch of soul searching in readers of all ages.

Elise HurstCreatures of every description are featured in this whimsical world where the past is indefinable and readily defies magic. Hurst’s  spare narrative and colourless crosshatch pen and ink illustrations submerse you in fathomless detail and textures that will leave you breathless and wondering.

I recently shared this book with an older special needs reader who positively radiated from the notion that reality is simply the combined images of our own experiences and aspirations and therefore unique and different to each of us. But of course, imagination is not restricted to the imaginative alone and neither should this picture book. Imagine a City is an enriching exploration of dreams and possibilities that will mean something profoundly unique to each reader, each time they lose themselves in it.

Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia June 2014

 

Aussie Appeal – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amazing books for ANZAC Day – Picturebook reviews

Occasionally a thing that you witness, a song that you hear or a line that your read manifests itself indelibly within you, seemingly forever. Sometimes, not always, you remember the exact time and place and occasion that these erasable impressions mark your memory for the first time. Often this phenomenon occurs when you are still young in years and free in thinking. Memorable moments can be fortifying but also confronting and Along the Road to Gundagai shocking, which is why books like these, Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli, constitute essential reading for young people.

Perhaps, had I been exposed to more picture books like these that introduced history and invited discussion and explanation, I may have been less shocked by the brutality of humans at war. Who knows? It was all in the past…

As ANZAC Day approaches urging us to remember the past, it’s difficult to know what to reach for when trying to share the meaning of these particular commemorations with your children. Unless they observe or participate in ceremonies or have relatives that do so, school is often the first place youngsters encounter terms like ANZAC Cove, the Great War, and diggers.

War is messy and cruel. It is horrid and scary but it is also about bravery, ingenuity, mateship, and perseverance. Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli are picture books that capture the bitter essence of war in a way that is non-threatening but hauntingly real.

Jack O'HaganPenned by Australian musician, Jack O’Hagan in 1922 Along the Road to Gundagai has an almost anthem quality to it. It is not the first time a well-known song or verse has been purposely presented as a picture book but like others before it, the coupling of well-known lyrics with evocative images serves to anchor our appreciation and deepen our understanding of the story behind the words.

It is essentially a lament by the young men of the Great Wars; of their yearning to return to their youth which was so irrevocably spoilt by war.

Award winning Aussie illustrator, Andrew McLean, ironically ventured into the world of digital art to portray this poignant piece of history. The recollections of our narrating lad’s ‘old bush home and friends’ are all succinctly framed; captured moments matching the lyrical text, soft yet glowing.

Along the Gundagai Horses illoConversely, scenes from the scarred battle fields imbue entire pages with dark, sombre, desolation. Particularly arresting for me was the contrast of sunny skies over the Murrumbidgee and the gas-filled atmosphere of battle where even the horses wear gasmasks; the whites of their eyes betraying their confusion and terror.

All of us have a road to Gundagai we’d like to revisit. This powerful picture book rendition of an Aussie classic allows readers young and old to do just that.

GallipoliPicture books about the ANZACs of WWI abound. Many succeed thanks to the legendary intensity of the subject matter, the sensitive translation of emotions through illustrations and the poetic rendering of a brutal period of modern day history. Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood and Annie White delivers all these and more.

It is simply the story of Gallipoli. It is Dusty and Bluey’s story told through the eyes of Bluey’s great grandson. But before you say, not another ANZAC tale, look again; at the sepia-coloured end pages depicting wartime and post war snap shots of our two mates. Be swept along on their adventure, across vast oceans and scorching deserts and No Man’s Land. Feel the hunger, the terror and the relief shared by these two young men whose unbreakable friendship withstands time and war.

Kerry GreenwoodGreenwood leaves no stone unturned in the retelling of this infamously failed military campaign, however 7 year olds and above could easily master and enjoy this account themselves because it reads as fluidly as fiction. There are few dates to stumble over and enough storyline to accommodate a myriad of historical revelations including; the futile charges, trench survival, Simpson and his donkey(s), and the Roses of No Man’s Land.

White never belittles the enormity of Bluey and Dust’s situation. Her illustrations show mortar attacks and bleeding wounds in full colour yet are neither cheerless nor grim. Subdued sepia photographs are ‘stuck’ on every page like an old well-loved album guiding the reader from the past to present day remembrance.

Stirring, significant and worth sharing, especially with school-aged children.

War is certainly not joyful but it was special to sit and read these with my 8 year old and by some strange twist of intent, it was she who helped me through the more emotional bits.

Along the Road to Gundagai

Omnibus Books February 2014

Gallipoli

Scholastic Press March 2014

 

 

 

 

RAVEN LUCAS – BOOK 1, MISSING

Raven Lucas – Missing is the first book in a new 3 part mystery series by popular Australian children’s author, Christine Harris.

Raven Lucas appears to have everything. But something is missing form her life. Her father. He has disappeared, suddenly, mysteriously, with no words of goodbye. Has he simply left his family and didn’t have the courage to explain why?

Is he dead, either by his own hand or another’s?

Has he been kidnapped? But why has there been no ransom demand?

Raven is determined to find out what happened to him.

Even it if kills her. And it just might.

There is plenty at stake for Raven in this fast-paced book and the stakes just keep getting higher. Raven’s mother isn’t coping with Dad’s disappearance, and seems headed for another breakdown.

Dad’s business partner, Uncle Gerald seems intent on stepping in to save them, but Raven doesn’t trust him one bit. So it seems like it’s going to be up to her to look after Mum and little brother, Jake and keep the household together…and find Dad.

Just as well she has great friends to offer her support and help her when the going gets rough. But not everyone in this book is who they seem, and Raven makes some surprising discoveries.

There are so many twists and turns in Raven Lucas – Missing that by the end of it, Raven and the reader are left wondering if anybody can be trusted.

Raven Lucas – Missing features a strong female character, easy to read text and gadgets and technology for the Gen Z reader.

Those who like a mystery and enjoy the unexpected will be compelled to keep reading to find out where this journey will take Raven and whether she will find her Dad.

Raven Lucas – Missing is published by Omnibus Books for readers aged 9 to 13.