Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Nearly every single picture book I read holds meaningful moments for me, some sliver of specialness or hug-full of hope that can empower and illuminate. These next few examples exhibit strong messages using memorable characters in ways young children can easily interpret and appreciate. A few words about each hardly do them justice, so please look these ones up to enjoy them for yourself.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood

Subtle, sweet and oozing with that sort of sophisticated simplicity that makes you love a story when you are not even sure why. Reena and Brown Dog feel a little outside of normal, not quite the same as everyone else. Reena is deaf but not oblivious to the world around her. Brown Dog is homeless but not without a need to love and protect. Together they find their true worth and meaning and along the way, lasting friendship. Gracefully told and delicately illustrated, Reena’s Rainbow will fill your heart with colour. Highly recommended.

EK Books September 2017

La La La A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo and Jamie Kim

An eloquently told, almost wordless symphony of colour, light and sound reverberating the liberating quality of hope. It’s about making a call, daring to speak out, and enduring the quiet moments in between waiting for a response with grace and patience. As Kate proclaims, ‘it is a story about singing your song and the world answering you back…a story that needs intimate reflection’. I encourage you to do so.

Walker Books Australia October 2017

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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.

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Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steve Rowley

9781471146640Both laugh-out-loud funny and weep-into-your-hanky heartbreaking, Lily and the Octopus introduces a spectacular new voice and leaves its mark on the landscape of great fiction. For anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet, anyone who has struggled to find meaning in the face of death and feared its residual solitude, Steven Rowley’s debut is unmissable and provides a potent catharsis.

Ted is a struggling writer whose life is in somewhat of a downward spiral. It’s not careening, it’s still salvageable, but it’s on a definite decline. His dachshund, Lily, is his only salvation; the one constant in his life, who stood by him during his breakup, through good times and bad. Their bond will not be unique for dog owners; I’m guilty of occasionally conversing with my Golden Retriever as though he understands and can answer back. He can’t do the former – not with words, anyway; but sometimes I’m positive Eddy knows precisely what I’m saying…

Things take a turn for the worse when Ted discovers an “octopus” – a tumour – on Lily’s head, and realises his greatest friendship, the companionship he’s held dear for so many years, is nearing its end. The manifestation of Ted’s reaction – which fall across the emotional spectrum – form the basis of Rowley’s novel. We all struggle with mortality – our own, our loved ones – but for the emotionally-challenged Ted, it’s potentially more than he can cope with.

Much of Lily and the Octopus is biographical – Rowley admits as much in his note in the endnote of the novel – and he utilises this raw, true emotion to pummel the reader with emotional gut-punches that will leave you heartbroken.  But it’s more than a replay of real-life events; Rowley’s novel is packed with inspired digressions and forces readers to question the relatively of truth. It finds a perfect harmony between truth and fiction.

Lily and the Octopus has earned comparisons to The Life of Pi and The Art of Racing in the Rain — and deservedly so. So poignant and true, it’s a novel that will break your heart — and you’ll know it’s doing so from its opening pages —but despite it, you won’t be able to put it down, or want it to end. It is, quite, simply magical. Certainly one of the finest novels of 2016.

Order Lily and the Octopus here!

Winning Pets – Picture Books of Animals

From egotistical and obnoxious, to intelligent and in desperate need of affection (and food), our furry pals have differing needs and talents but we just love them no matter what! The following picture books are bound to surprise and delight your little ones with their humorous, sweet and heart-warming antics that only our beloved animals can offer.

imageRemarkably Rexy, Craig Smith (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2015.

Rex is the proudest, most majestic and self-absorbed cat in town. For years he’s owned the streets – well, Serengeti Street. His incessantly groomed appearance, captivating dance steps and poses have been the biggest attraction amongst the kids passing by. That is, until Pretty Pamela steals his thunder with her elegant prancing. What follows for Rex is just like a series of unfortunate events that leaves him looking a bit less than perfect. Has he come to the realisation that maybe the fuss isn’t worth all the effort?

Craig Smith‘s watercolour and pen illustrations are characteristically warm and hilariously energetic. And in his debut as an author, he also successfully brings us a charming and skittish story. There’s something very visceral and real about this vain yet likeable cat, and the other irritable animals, that makes this book so relatable.

‘Remarkably Rexy’ is a fun, delightfully comical and engaging story that preschoolers will be giving prominence to over and over again.

imageOur Dog Knows Words, Peter Gouldthorpe (author), Lucy Gouldthorpe (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Some pets are brilliant and shine in their own way. From cats to dogs, in ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ this clever family pet can definitely impress. From simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘shake hands’, ‘stay’ and ‘come’, to more complex tricks like ‘roll over’ and ‘scratch’, this playpul pup always obeys. Well, maybe not always! I love how this dog is such a loved and integral part of this household. From bed jumping to car rides, cat chasing and beach time frolics, this pup is having a ball.

This is a beautifully simple, and ‘waggish’ story of a word- and fun-loving canine companion. The equally endearing and uncomplicated line drawings and coloured patterns make ‘Our Dog Knows Words’ a clear, light-hearted book. It’s also terrific for encouraging young children to value and appreciate our faithful furry friends.

imageWombat Wins, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.

Speaking of champions, two in the children’s literature field are the superlative Jackie French and the prolific illustrator, Bruce Whatley. They have teamed up again for the next winning wombat book in the series; it’s ‘Wombat Wins’.

While Mothball is up to her usual cheeky capers of wanting (and demanding) carrots, she also happens to be competing with a group of small, athletic humans to be the first to reach her prize. This determined, robust character takes us through an energetic, fast-paced and amusing romp. I love how she speeds across the uncluttered landscape pages in her characteristically melodramatic style. The simple, punchy language is the perfect match for this fiesty but adorable creature.

Preschool aged children will no doubt be racing to savour ‘Wombat Wins’ as much as humanely (or wombately) possible. It really is a winner!

imageI Need a Hug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

From winning wombats to winning hearts, Aaron Blabey once again seduces us with his charming story and its theatrical satire. Although not your common type of pet, this sweet little hedgehog starving for a cuddle is certainly irresistible. Unfortunately, this is not true for Lou the rabbit, Ken the moose and Moe the bear who don’t fair kindly to this poor, prickly creature. But when hedgehog feels all hope is lost, the story closes in a satisfying way…with a bit of a twist!

Blabey presents this story with his typically expressive rhyming couplets, farcical scenes, tongue-in-cheek humour and intense-looking characters. Always a winning combination throughout his books.

‘I Need a Hug’ oozes tenderness and kindness. It shows us literally (check the endpapers) that negative feelings can be turned into positive ones by perhaps taking a risk and offering a gesture of peace. Even towards the most unlikely of friends. It’s an adorable book of learning compassion and receptiveness in a cute and funny way, as well as being the perfect bedtime story when you can steal a few extra hugs and kisses!

And for more reviews on amazing animals check out Dimity‘s recent line up of picture books here.

Love Thy Pets – Picture Book Reviews

Why do animals feature so heavily in picture books? 1. They are so relatable. 2. They provide a sense of comfort and nurturing. 3. They reinforce positive emotions and behaviours such as empathy. Whether these animals are represented as their true natures or anthropomorphically, children (and adults) feel connected to these cute characters and regard them with affection. The notion of being responsible for one, and all the playfulness that they have to offer is one that appeals to many. Here are a few heartwarming and imaginative picture books about pets that capture the love between the most unlikely of friends.

imageBig Pet Day, Lisa Shanahan (author), Gus Gordon (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2014.
Shortlisted in 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards (5 – 8 years).

What an exciting day at school! ‘Big Pet Day’ is a tale of mammoth exuberance as Lily’s class celebrate the individual qualities and talents of their pets. Much to her dismay, Mrs Dalton’s classroom quickly becomes a disorganised chaotic mess. The principal, Mr Fisher, will be judging the best pet later that day, so keeping everyone under control is of the utmost importance. There is a runaway ferrett, a pooping pony, and a cordial-drinking puppy. Lily’s pet dragon is very well-behaved though, but she is the only one who knows how special he is. In a hilarious finale, involving a squealing, hermit crab-fearing Mr Fisher, it is Lily’s dragon who is now ‘seen’ as the most deserving gold trophy winner.

The text by Lisa Shanahan is absolutely comical, with many personalities evident – the cheekiest would have to be Mrs Dalton! There is a lot to discover, with the various children and the shenanigans of their pets, and illustrator Gus Gordon covers all these aspects expertly with charm and humour. I love the page with the kids looking exactly like their pet counterparts! Gorgeous! His use of scanned images, adorable hand-drawn characters and fine details (like Mrs Dalton’s book titled ‘Pet Management’) allow for hours of perusal and plenty of giggles.

‘Big Pet Day’ is perfect for primary school aged children (and their teachers), with scope for open discussions on pets (real and imagined), classroom management, friendship and loyalty. This book is both entertaining and heartwarming. It’s a winner!

imageMe and Moo, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

Here’s another delightful story that explores the imaginative relationship between a child and his best friend, in this case, it’s ‘Me and Moo’. This pair are inseparable and it is clear from the outset that they have formed an instant bond by the corresponding t-shirts they wear (‘I’m with Moo’ and ‘I’m with Me’). Just like introducing any new member to the family, there are adjustments to be made. Once raising Moo to be a walking, flower-eating, disguise-wearing little calf, it is soon Moo who is doing the raising when he no longer fits underneath the bed. Mum and Dad set the rules, and the boy narrator dutifully takes his responsibilities seriously. He even discovers that his friends own talented, fun-loving pets, too. The animal antics don’t stop there with one final surprise that is sure to have readers hanging out for the next instalment.

Whimsical and hysterical, the text and pictures are dynamic and completely compatible, just like Me and Moo. The illustrations by Eckstrom are animated and strong, yet maintain a soft and soothing feel that exudes warmth, humour and frivolity all at the same time.

‘Me and Moo’ is a gentle and charming tale of unlikely friendships and responsible pet ownership that will have preschoolers demanding for more.

imageWhat Pet Should I Get?, Dr. Suess (author, illus.), Random House Children’s Books US, 2015.

Only just being released, I haven’t got my paws on this one as yet. From what I can gather, this book seems quite the controversial one. Having been written in the 1950s, (discovered shortly after he died in 1991) it is likely to include outdated cultural ideologies, but then again, haven’t those Suess classics stood the test of time?

It is a story about a pair of children facing the dilemma of choosing just one pet to keep. Whilst it is said to maintain some of the legend’s imaginative spirit with its whimsical poetry and a wacky, gangly-looking creature to spark our curiosity, amongst the realness of dogs, cats and goldfish there are also important, modern day questions raised in line of animal rights and seeking a life-long pet companion, and imposing such rules and decision making processes on children of this age.

When you get a chance to sneak a peek at ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ I’d love to hear your thoughts on this ‘hidden treasure’.

Little Piggies

This Little Piggy‘Tis funny the things you learn from books. The quirky, the apparently useless but interesting trivia that stays with you long past the time you’ve finished reading them. Equally odd are the books that you wouldn’t have realised there was a market for, but that find yourself completely suckered into buying as soon as you see them. Thereby, of course, becoming part of that particular book’s buying market.

That happened to me on Friday with Jane Croft’s This Little Piggy: A celebration of the world’s most irresistible pet.

It’s a small, square book about micro pigs, which are the next big thing in so-cute-you-want-to-squeeze-them must-have pets. Often smaller than cats, dogs, and even chooks (although one of the book’s big warnings is that there’s absolutely no guarantee Babe will stay pint-sized and you might end up with a hefty heifer of a pig careering around your backyard and through your house), micro pigs are apparently smarter and cleaner than dogs. They also apparently come with in-built, highly developed fridge-raiding skills, with the author recounting the various fridge-locking devices of which her pigs have made short shrift.

Among the pig-themed facts I picked up from this impulse buy was just how large a part pigs have been in humans’ lives. No, I’m not talking about the amount of bacon omnivores consume, but that pigs have been around on every continent except for Antarctica for about 40 million years, that they’re smarter even than chimps, and that they have proved masterful adapters, which included them being the first animals ever to be successfully domesticated. As the book puts it: ‘Pigs have successfully adapted to forest, swamp, savannah, and now sofa.’

Oh, and they also have about 15,000 taste buds, which exceeds those possessed by any other animal, including humans, and have such acute smelling senses they can sniff out things underground. Like truffles.

The mini pig incarnation is the result of some clever cross-breeding (at least, I hope it is—I don’t want to know if there are some nasty genetic modifications at play). Judging from the glossy pictures full of little trotters so adorable that even Anne Geddes would be jealous, micro pigs are so weak-at-the-knees cute that the words universally emitted from anyone who sees said book are, ‘Awwww, I want one’.

Which I now do, however impractical (and subsequently useless trivia-related) it may be.