Australian Story – Stories with a love of Country

Wednesday the 25th May marks the 16th National Simultaneous Storytime event. Aimed at promoting the value of reading and enjoying stories inspired and produced by Australians this campaign sits neatly alongside the 2016 CBCA Book Week Theme – Australia! Story Country. Story telling expeditiously fosters an appreciation and understanding of our unique Australian humour, environment, and its inhabitants so it’s vital that a love of books and reading begins at a young age. This is why I love this selection of picture books relating to Country and those who call it home.

Magabala Books

Crabbing with DadThis publishing house routinely produces books that preserve and promote Indigenous Australian Culture. Paul Seden’s Crabbing with Dad, is chock-a-block with eye popping illustrations and is a feast for the senses as our protagonist and best mate, Sam go crabbing with their Dad up the creek. They encounter several other folk fishing or hunting among the mangroves and waterways and eventually pull up their own crustacean reward. I love the vitality and verve this story promotes and that spending time with the ones you love are life’s best rewards.

April 2016

The Grumpy Lighthouse KeeperFor clever repetitive phrasing and a colourful introduction to yet more of our dubious sea life, The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper will light up the faces of 3 – 5 year-olds. Inspired by the iconic Broome Lighthouse, author, Terrizita Corpus and illustrator, Maggie Prewett help our indignant lighthouse keeper to survive a stormy wet-season night as the slippery, slimy, wet creatures of the sea take refuge in his warm, dry bed. Loads of fun, if you aren’t the lighthouse keeper!

April 2016

Mad Magpie (high res)Gregg Dreise is a name to remember. Mad Magpie is the third picture book in his morality series based on the sayings and stories of his Elders and possibly the best one yet, although Kookoo Kookaburra was a huge hit in this household, too. Dreise’s picture books embrace and preserve the art of storytelling harnessing fables and wisdoms and making them accessible for today’s new generations.

His line dot authentic illustrations are pure magic and elevate the enjoyment of this tale tenfold. I found myself continuously stroking the pages so enamoured was I by the exquisite patterning and textures throughout. Guluu, the angry magpie’s tale captures the spirit of the landscape and reinforces the turn-the-other-cheek idiom. The Elders encourage Guluu to ignore those who taunt and tease him. They show him how to find ways to still his anger and remain calm so that he is able to stand proud and strong, like the life-giving river. This is an impressive tale promoting positive ways to combat bullying and enhance individuality.

May 2016

Cheeky Critters

Go Home Cheeky AnimalsAnother picture book that successfully captures the essence of place and changing of the seasons is Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley. Simple repeating narrative gears readers up for the next instalment of animals – goats, buffaloes and camels to name a few – to inundate  a small outback community and taunt the dogs that are supposed to be on the lookout for such intruders. Beasley’s paint and pencil illustrations are naïve in style and full on cheek and colour, which results in phenomenal kid appeal. Superb fun and heart.

Allen & Unwin Children’s April 2016

Barnabas the BulllyfrogBarnabas is a Bullfrog who relentlessly teases and belittles the inhabitants of the Macadamia farm in Barnabas the Bullyfrog. When springtime blooms bring on a spate of spluttery sneezing, Barnabas blames it on the bees and is intent on wiping out their busy buzziness. Nosh the Nutmobile rallies his faithful friends, uniting them in a sweet intervention that cures Barnabas’s allergies and unseemly social discrepancies. Barnabas the Bullyfrog is the forth in The Nutmobile Series created by Macadamia House publications and Little Steps Publishing. Rollicking verse (by Em Horsfield) and Glen Singleton’s quintessential Aussie themed illustrations bring Nosh, Arnold and the gang musically to life. You can’t get any more Queensland than Macca nuts and cane toads however, these tales have strong universal appeal as well; this one admirably speaking up against bullies and for the world’s prized pollinators. Well done, Nosh!

Little Steps Publishing 2015

Possums Galore

Possum GamesThey may send us batty at times with their frenetic nocturnal antics but who can deny the perennial appeal of a cute round-eyed Brushtail possum. Michelle Worthington and Sandra Temple have pieced together a delightful picture book, with lilting language and winsome illustrations. Possum Games is the story of Riley, a small possum who is shy and awkward, unsure of himself and frankly, awful at sports. However, in spite of his shortcomings and apparent inability to join in, Riley has big dreams, which thanks to a twist and a dodge of fate, spring into realisation one fateful night. Possum Games is more than a tale of finding your perfect fit. It stimulates tenacity and boosts confidence and more than ably explains the actions behind the ruckus possums make on our rooves at night. A fabulous read for pre-schoolers and young primary readers.

Wombat Books 2014

The Midnight PossumMore midnight antics are revealed in Sally Morgan’s and Jess Racklyeft’s The Midnight Possum, this time in the heart of our bushland. Possum loves the midnight hour, which brings on a tendency in him to roam. As he bounds through the treetops, he encounters an Australian potpourri of animals until he happens upon a distressed mother possum who has lost her baby. Possum’s pluck and courage save the day (and the baby Ringtail). The innate curiosity and diversity for adaption possums possess are gently portrayed in this charming picture book. Racklyeft’s acrylic painted and collage illustrations amplify the allure. A sweet addition to your Australiana collection.

Scholastic Australia 2016

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Hippity Hoppity – Easter’s on its way!

You may be surprised as I to learn that Easter is just two and a half weeks away. Well, maybe not with all those buns and eggs on the shop shelves to remind you. If filling your Easter break with more than just chocolate and egg hunts and spiritual appreciation is important to you, then perhaps these new picture book releases will appease the persnickety Peter Rabbit within (and entertain your younglings to boot!)

We're Going on an Egg Hunt Laura HugesWe’re going on an Egg Hunt, by Laura Hughes amply satisfies young tastes with easy-to-read, boldly laid out text that echoes the perennial favourite, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt verse. Being instantly recognisable means small eyes can concentrate on Hughes’ foxy little illustrations, only there is not a fox in sight, thank goodness. The Bunny Family are the ones on the hunt…for eggs naturally, and they are super excited about it, too.

As they traverse their way through woods and across farmyards, they encounter obstacles at every twist and bend. Armed with nothing more than an egg-swiping net and a barrow-load of perseverance, they figure out the best course of action until they hit the jackpot and a whole lot of trouble. Did I mention there were no foxes?! Perfect Easter action-based fun for pre-schoolers demonstrating positive rewards follow tenacious effort with dinky flaps to lift and treasures to accumulate.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books March 2016

The Wonderful Habits of RabbitsEver wondered what rabbits get up to when they are not fighting off wolves and hunting for eggs? Well, wonder no more for The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits will delight every lover of lapins and addresses all those tricky rabbit questions. Written in gently loping verse, author, Douglas Florian invites us to spend a day with a colony of rabbits (otherwise known as a fluffle) as they leap and laze The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits illos spreadabout the meadows. Actually, life with this family of cottontails stretches poetically across several seasons until it’s time to snuggle down with a goodnight kiss. Sonia Sanchez’s winsome pencil line drawings bound with colour and charm depicting the energetic spirit of bunny in the most Watership Down-dream-like way. The end papers are particularly appealing, especially for kids who love to quantify and establish ownership (of things) with plenty of rabbits to choose a favourite from. The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits is a fetching addition to your Easter reading.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

George BilbyIf Easter equals a chance to chillax with your loved ones and whip up a few dozen hot cross buns as it can for me, then you’ll appreciate George, the Bilby Chef and his insatiable quest to cook. This sweet new character hailing from the pens and paintbrushes of Jedda Robaard features in the first of a new picture book series about enterprising epicurean marsupial, George and because bilbies like George are Australia’s preferred kind of egg-delivering icon, he fits snuggly into any Easter basket. In this debut instalment, The Raspberry Surprise, George is intent on surprising his best friend, Betty Echidna on her birthday with a special sweet treat. Raspberry muffinsGeorge Bilby illos spread are his dessert of choice but locating and then harvesting said raspberries proves to be near impossible until George enlists the services of some of his very obliging and thoughtful friends. By the time Betty arrives, the cakes have been baked and readers are gently aware of the benefits of working together towards a shared goal. Robaard’s soft easy to digest illustrations compensate for a slightly longer text but one that young readers will enthuse over thanks to the lovely sense of expectation and logical explanation. Best of all; a handy Bilby Chef Recipe card is included to keep and use. I wonder what other scrumdelicious adventures George will encounter. Ideal for three-year-olds and above and budding junior Masterchefs everywhere.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

Dance Bilby DanceFor many, Easter is a time of reflection, renewed hope and of life moving forward. For most of us, dreams represent the impetus to continue. In Tricia Oktober’s latest picture book, Dance, Bilby, Dance, our favourite Easter marsupial, Bilby is no different; ‘he wishes he could dance.’ In what appears to initially be a one-man show, Bilby is surrounded by white space, alone with his desires while all those in the world around him appear to revel in what he regards is unobtainable, until one day, after closely observing his dancing shadow, his innermost yearnings leap into existence. But, has Bilby unleashed a passion too big and scary to control? Oktober’s bright expressive illustrations are king in a quietly impressive picture book that imaginatively introduces readers five years old and above to some curious critters, stirring language, and the possibilities that can lead to new friendships. I especially appreciated the gentle notion that overcoming ones fears can free one for moments of ecstatic expression and reward; an approach to life that should never be underestimated. And perhaps one of the soundest Easter messages of all.

Ford Street Publishing March 2016

Aussie Easter Hat ParadeNow it just wouldn’t be a notable time of year without a cheer-filled, colourful contribution by Colin Buchanan and Simon Williams, and if you have primary aged children you will instantly sympathise with the Easter Hat Parade tradition performed at many schools. What I love about Aussie Easter Hat Parade is the outrageous tribute to not only a swag of Aussie creatures but also the brilliant flora that constitutes their homeland (and ours). From the bright red desert pea that Billy Bullant crowns himself with to Wombat’s Gymea lily lid, each little mate adorns themselves with feathers, flowers, gum nuts and more resulting in a fantastic Easter bonnet brouhaha and the very first Aussie Easter Hat parade (just in case you were wondering how all this craziness started). Sensational fun, bewitching illustrations and a singalong CD to boot, with a neat little ending reminding us that sometimes the biggest brightest ideas can originate from the most minute situations…or ants.

Scholastic Australia March 2016

 

 

Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 3 – Perennial Christmas Crackers

So, you’re torn between traditional sensible titles and contemporary crazy reads to fill your under 12 year-olds’ stockings. Why not splash out on both and please everyone. Here are some more stocking stuffers to complement the rollicking fun ones Romi featured in her Christmas inspired picture book round up. Time to get your Santa on.

We Wish you a Ripper ChristmasAnd what a Santa we have first up. Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion shine again in We Wish You a Ripper Christmas. Sing-a-long to this Aussie bushed inspired slice of summer fun. Santa Wombat is all in a fuddle after losing his delivery list. As he streaks across a burnished outback sky in search of his all-important catalogue for kids, he encounters the bush inhabitants madly making merry in readiness for Christmas day; koalas hanging tinsel, galahs rockin’ on, dingos wrapping thongs – well of course. But will he find his list in time? Choice watercolour illustrations by Roland Harvey, link-arms, sing-a-long tunes included on a CD and a surprise ending make this the perfect picture book gift for international visitors or your own tribe in here in Oz.

Scholastic Australia 2013

What does Santa Do when it's not Christmas What does Santa do When it’s not Christmas? is the question author illustrator Heath McKenzie puzzles in his Chrimbo-themed picture book released last year. McKenzie’s meticulously detailed illustrations glitter with festive cheer long after the last gift is delivered. Readers embark on a thrilling behind the scenes tour of the North Pole like never before where we are privy to the machinations of the Christmas Tree Angel aka gift trendsetter and planner, the Sleigh Pit Crew, the tireless Elves and the grunt and muscle of the Sleigh pulling team aka Santa’s Reindeer. Bubbling with fun and enigmatic suggestions, we never really truly find out exactly what Santa gets up to but can be sure that he’s always somewhere close by. Wink wink, say no more. Highly recommended fun for lower primary schoolers.

Scholastic Australia 2014

Santa's SecretI think Mike Dumbleton and Tom Jellett may have uncovered the truth with Santa’s Secret. This splendid little picture book allows Santa one day to recover after a rather intense night of labour (2 billion pit stops no less) before he sets off on a flight to balmier climes. Forsaking fur-trimmed coat and winter jocks for a pair of boardies, straw hat and obligatory Hawaiian shirt – push pineapple if you please! – Santa lobs up at an old Aussie beach shack. He stashes the reindeer round the back, then…gets out, and cuts some cranking waves aka surfs, until the sun sets. True to his nature however, Santa doesn’t just leave with surfboard in hand, oh no. Ho ho ho! Delectable Aussie flavour ripples throughout this jaunty Christmas tale. You’ll love it and so will the kids.

Random House 2012

Christmas at Grandad's FarmI love jingling my bells at Christmas time, who doesn’t? Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson have given young readers and me all the excuse they need to ‘jingle all the way…’ with Christmas at Grandad’s Farm. Loud, bold, bouncy rhythmic verse catapults this familiar tune to new heights as we visit Grandad’s Farm for some festive fun. The whole family is there, busting for a swim in the country creek and scoffing the Christmas treats before collapsing in the obligatory heap on the couch. Good old-fashioned Aussie festive fun. Some things never change. Only a CD would make this classic better.

The Five Mile Press 2013

Queen Victoria's ChristmasSpeaking of classics, ever wondered how some of our most endearing Christmas traditions came into being? Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Queen Vitoria’s Christmas endeavours to disclose a few historical truths in this must-have Christmas classic. Portrayed from the royal canines’ point of view in loping verse and muzzle-high perspective, the mysterious behind door going ons in the palace home of Queen Vic and Al and their five children are eventually explained but more mystery ensues following the disappearance of the Christmas turkey. Jolly and droll, this is history served up with all the best bits included.

HarperCollins Australia 2012

A very Sparkly ChristmasLittle readers who revel in sparkles and flickering lights, sugar plum fairies and stars shining bright will adore this look and find book by Anna Pignataro, Princess and Fairy A Very Sparkly Christmas. Festooned with more glitter than a winter wonderland morning this follows the quest of bunny friends, Princess and Fairy. They are paw-deep in pre-noel preparations when they suddenly receive notification from the Keepers of Christmas that they are in charge of decorating the tree this year. They hop to the challenge in search of the various baubles, treasures, and delights described on their list. And let me tell you, locating these objects so cleverly secreted within Pignataro’s sweeter than sweet illustrations is no sloppy challenge. I’m sure pre-schoolers will have more success than I did and be thoroughly rewarded in glitter and good cheer for their efforts. Crafty, clever, and cute beyond measure, it’ll keep them busy for hours. It did me.

Scholastic Australia 2008

Stick around for Suggestion # 4 where I will introduce you to some hot off the press gift ideas, soon.

Check out the Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – Picture Book lists here, in the meanwhile.