Leaving the Nest – Back to School Picture Books

Reaching a new milestone is one that comes with excitement, pride, aspirations and sometimes, trepidation. We’ve already been through the first year of school experience (with another waiting in the wings), but even so, starting afresh has its own set of rewards and challenges. From learning a whole new routine, to meeting new friends and setting new goals. Here are a few picture books that are sure to help your kidlets relate (and ease their minds) to what’s in store for their year/s ahead.

imageMy First Day at School, Rosie Smith (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

“To all the mums and dads. It will be OK!”

Aptly dedicated to those nerve-racked, first-time school parents, experts Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley send a most encouraging message from the outset. Then, warmly greeted by a little yellow duckling the first day routine begins.

Each turn of the page introduces us to another adorable creature as s/he embarks on an independent journey to life as a student. And no matter how complex the task might seem, such as a caterpillar dressing each of its many, many legs or a pig attempting to eat from an upturned bowl on its head, they are all completely doable.

Written in first person and with minimal text, both words and illustrations work beautifully together to showcase the variety of experiences yet keeping it simple and focussed at the same time. Soothing pastel coloured backgrounds allow the characters’ personalities and humorous antics to pop and burst in this utterly joyous and memorable occasion.

‘My First Day at School’ is the perfect companion that works in partnership with parents and children to successfully accomplish what may feel like a daunting experience. Children between 3 and 6 will fall head over heels in love with this fun, exuberant and relatable story about a typical school day.

imageBe Brave, Pink Piglet!, Phil Cummings (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Setting off into unfamiliar territory, so to speak, definitely takes a lot of courage. For Pink Piglet, this is certainly true. When mother pig gives her babe the all-clear to expand on his horizons, he is less than confident. Poor Pink Piglet encounters some frighteningly large and noisy animals on his way around the farmyard. But his resilience and frolicsome nature prevail. Covered in brown worms in muck, red squished berries and green squelchy pond weed, the bedraggled-looking piglet is the scariest sight for sore eyes as he heads back home. Well, all the farm animals think so… except for his mum, of course.

The illustrations are beautifully textured and layered with a mix of oils on canvas and digital media in soft, pastel-coloured hues. The expressions and energy emanating from the pictures perfectly compliment the jolly onomatopoeia and animal sound effects.

‘Be Brave, Pink Piglet’ is a spirited read aloud story wonderfully capturing a serendipitous moment of bravery and playfulness. Another relevant read for your little school starter – your own ‘brave explorer’.

Watch Phil Cumming’s special video message to school starters here.

imageWhen I Grow Up, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

Capturing our attention from first glance is ‘When I Grow Up’ by much-loved duo, Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley (Check on Me and First Day). With its scattered assortment of occupational items on the cover and bright neon colours upon entering the book, you know this story will be full of diversity and effervescence.

It’s not only children with aspirations for a glowing future. Adults, too can take inspiration to making their dreams come true. The teacher, as the role model, opens the story with the projection that she’d like to be the school principal. Then she facilitates open minds with the question, “What do you want to be?” Throughout the story, several children stand up and with the most imaginative and optimistic of responses as they proclaim their future desires. From a hair-raising hairdresser to a whizz-bang, supersonic-robotic inventor, an alien-photographing astronaut, writer of the most epic of stories, and an all-round stage performer. But in a tidy conclusion we learn, yes, we can be a multitude of things, but most importantly we should just be ourselves.

Whether realistic or far-fetched, the concepts and language are age-appropriate with an element of humour that kids will enjoy. Visually this book is captivating as the text weaves in and around the bold and colourful illustrations. Each spread captures that enthusiasm with its pictures that fill the page and extra hidden details to explore.

‘When I Grow Up’ will take children (and adults) from age four to big places, and all it takes is the power of imagination to turn dreams into realities. It is also a useful resource for learning about different jobs and their roles.

Anything but Boring – A collection of Board Book reviews

I’m not sure how or why but I’ve still got many of the board books of my childhood and now, those from my daughter’s early learning days.Big Book of Silly

Their very construction may have something to do with standing up to the test of time. Maybe, I just can’t bear to part with them because of what they represent, an intensely intimate time of shared firsts, revelations, and discoveries.

Board books not only symbolize these never to be repeated phases of a child’s development but also crucially supply growing intellects with those first initial stepping stones towards visual and verbal literacy.

Here are some fun newbies to add to your collection.

Big Book of Silly illo spreadBig Books by Natalie Marshall. I absolutely love the look and feel of these large format board books. The Big Book of Silly allows pre-schoolers to revel in the surreal and silly, like a rhino eating three hundred jellybeans before bed for instance (however perhaps this is not as silly as it sounds to a child). As with the Big Book of Happy, it is illustrated with loud colour-filled pages of big bold characters prompting very young readers to question their own happy and silly moments. Too much fun to pass up.

The Five Mile Press May 2015

Cheeky Monkey manners Lisa Kerr is another Aussie author whose Cheeky Monkey Manners builds on her Cheeky Monkey series character and uses vibrant full-page colour to harness young attention spans.

Cheek Monkey spreadCheeky Monkey is not so much rude as ‘unknowing’ and with the help of his extremely tolerant jungle pals eventually comes to understand and use his ‘please’ and ‘thankyous’ correctly.

Repeating scenarios and a square compact size makes these books idea for introducing and enforcing manners in pre-schoolers.

The Five Mile Press May 2015

Magic Car Wash seriesAnother vibrant set of books perfectly suited for fledging imaginations is the Magic Car Wash series, a family collaboration by Rosie Smith, Bruce Whatley, and Ben Smith Whatley.

Kit the mechanic owns a car wash and small but eclectic fleet of vehicles in the town of Tyre Flats. (Don’t you love the connections?) The thing is, whenever the cars drive through the car wash, magical things happen; front and back ends mix and match resulting in some curious combinations…and adventures.

Magic Car wash illo spreadBeginner readers will get a real buzz of out these Transformers meets Cars tales. They provide the idea vehicle from which to explore concepts of fear, friendship, spatial awareness and direction, and the benefits of working together to achieve great results. I adore the simple colourful graphics, exploration of language and brilliant little twisty endings of these books. Robust (super thick glossy pages means these books will last for a long time on the book shelves of even the most active readers) yet cute enough to win over boys and girls, and hopelessly appealing, the Magic Car Wash series is another great example of board books on offer from The Five Mile Press May 2015. Titles include The Giant Mouse, The Runaway Car and Red’s First Fire.The Giant Mouse

Lastly but not least (there are still so many to fawn over) a little bit more magic…Possum Magic. Mem Fox and Julie Vivas have joined formidable forces again to develop a series of beautifully bound board books aimed at pre-schoolers and based on their perennial picture book favourite, Possum Magic. Animals led the way, now followed by, Actions, an exploration of ‘doing’ words.

Possum Magic ActionsWords that inspire action in various modes are lovingly represented by Vivas’ cheerful illustrations. Familiar yet brimming with new eye-catching detail, each spread features two different verbs demonstrated by those endearing Possum Magic bushland characters we’ve come to love.

If you like eating (lamingtons), reading (in comfortable places) and dancing (under starlit skies), you will love Possum Magic, Actions and so will little ones aged 0 – 4 years of age.Possum Magic Opposites Possum Magic Numbers

Scholastic Australia 2015

Pig Kahuna PiratesHere’s another hot off the press. Pig Kahuna Pirates! by author illustrator, Jennifer Sattler just corkscrewed its way across my desk. This chunky little board book follows in the wake of Pig Kahuna and Sattler’s previous Chick ‘n’ Pug picture book creations. Goofy, cutesy characters bounce through seemingly parochial situations yet inspire adventure and genuine expressions of love.

chick n pugThe porcine brothers, Fergus and Dink spend a day at the beach together  caught in a world of pirates and brotherly disagreement until Fergus realises the value of his baby brother. Heavily textured illustrations ably capture the emotions and the ambient beauty of the day. A great board book addition for those with siblings under 5 years old.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books July 2015

 

Doodles and Drafts – Waltzing with Bruce Whatley

 

In just a couple more months, Australia commemorates the Centenary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Dozens of new titles are already marching forward to mark the occasion with heart-rending renditions of tales about ‘bloodshed, death, ruin, and heartbreak.’ This is how singer/songwriter, Eric Bogle views the futility of war.

And the Band Played Waltzing MatildaIt’s a timely message that fortunately more and more schoolchildren are gaining a deeper respect and understanding for through historic picture books like this one, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Bogle’s iconic lyrics make your chest heave with anguish at the awful waste of life, yet rippling beneath the waves of depression, is an undercurrent of pride and admiration, perhaps borne from a determination to never ever let this happen again; and yet we do.

One wonders how so beautiful and wrenching a tale could be visually resurrected to deliver the kind of visceral impact young people will appreciate and gain from. Easy, you get a master with the surest of touches and the purest of hearts to illustrate it. You allow his colours to bleed across images that tumble across the pages, injured and torn, dirty and forlorn. You watch until your skin prickles with emotion and your eyes burn with tears.

Today, I am honoured to have that master at our draft table. Please welcome, Bruce Whatley. Here’s what he had to say.

Who is Bruce Whatley? Tell us one thing about yourself we are not likely to find on a web site.

If it wasn’t for my Mum I would not have the use of my right arm. Injured at birth, the damage to my right shoulder was such that she was told it would whither and be useless. Fortunately she refused to believe it and after nearly three years of massaging I held a spoon in my right hand for the first time. Since then I think I’ve held a brush as that’s the hand I’ve made my living with.

You’ve penned and illustrated many children’s stories. What aspect of children’s book creation do you prefer? Which do you regard yourself more proficient at and why?

When I write and illustrate it isn’t as if I write first then think ‘How am I going to illustrate this?’ It comes together like a movie in my head and I don’t really separate the text from the images. That’s why the text and images are so reliant on each other in my books, they compliment and bounce off one another to tell a more complex story.

I guess I think of myself as a better illustrator than writer because that is my background but I am enjoying writing more and more and as I get more confident am working on longer manuscripts. Doing both means if I hit the equivalent of writer’s block when illustrating I can put down the brushes and write for a while.

Can you name one title you feel exemplifies your work the best? Is it the title you are most proud of, or is that yet to come?

The book I’m working on now I am most proud of. This is the book I would give up all others to have published. It is a story I’ve written and though the illustrations use the simplest of mediums – the medium I am most comfortable with – lead pencil – they comprise extensive use of 3d programs to create a unique world and environment. This book will have no compromises. This will be the best I can do. ‘Ruben’ approx. 120 page picture book.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie FrenchRecent picture book collaborations with Jackie French have focussed on dramatic occurrences such as natural disasters. And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, is no less powerful. What attracted you to take on and to fulfil a project of this emotional magnitude?Wombat

Because they were of such emotional magnitude. Success with wombats and ugly dogs had the potential to pigeon-hole me as a particular type of storyteller. I am always looking at ways of growing as an illustrator, looking for new ways of expressing the narratives. These books also enabled me to explore what I had discovered using my left hand. That I produce far more expressive and emotional images drawing with my other hand. Matilda is by far the most emotional book I have illustrated.

Did you ever feel emotionally challenged at any point of this book’s production (because of its heartrending subject matter)? If so why?

I based my illustrations on original photographs taken in Gallipoli at the time. Even though I needed to adapt what I was looking at I wanted the images to be based on reality as much as possible. When using photos this way especially when drawing details it is a bit like those ‘spot the difference’ puzzles you get in newspapers and magazines – you flick your eyes from one to the other to spot the differences. Similarly when you are copying an image you flick from the photograph to your drawing to make sure you are getting the right shape and size etc. It’s not so much about what you are drawing you are concentrating on lines, shapes and position.

I was doing this on one of the illustrations. It wasn’t until I completed the piece I realised what I thought was a rock was the hand of a dead soldier. I lost it at that point.

Matilda illo spread 2This was symbolic to me as it highlighted that we look without seeing. We watch the old veterans march and wear their medals. Old men. But we don’t see the 19 year old that watched their mates get their legs blown off. We do forget. And we still send our children to war.

You are enviably competent in a number of illustrative mediums and styles. Describe those you used and incorporated into Matilda.

As I said I’m always looking for new ways to illustrate. Matilda was done with my left hand – which has a mind of its own!!! I can’t write with my left hand and really I have very little dexterity when I use it – but depending on your definition I draw better with my left than with my right. I used a waterproof felt tip pen for the line work then an acrylic wash over the top. Using acrylics instead of watercolours meant I could work in layers without dragging the colour from underneath.

The predominant colour scheme throughout this book is one of solemn sepia hues stained with splashes of red. What mood are you trying to convey with this palette choice?

I guess it was influenced by how we normally see this period but also I wanted to reflect the mud and despair. Bright colours suggest hope and laughter – I don’t think there was much of that.

Waltzing Matilda 4-5Your use of perspective at the start and end of this tale is both visually arresting and choking with emotional impact. Was this your intention? How do close up views influence the feel of a picture book story when compared to flowing landscape illustrations?

Faces are amazing things and I often have my characters looking directly out at the reader. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I think that last close up opens that window a bit. (Interestingly I could not have achieved that intensity with my right hand.) Being so close also means it’s in your face literally. After watching from a distance suddenly you are confronted with the reality of the consequences.

What’s on the draft table for Bruce Whatley?

Ruben is my main focus but there are more books coming out soon I’ve written with my wife Rosie and illustrated with my son Ben. And there are always wombats waiting in the wings.

Just for fun question – You illustrate with both hands. Have you or would you ever consider or attempt to illustrate with your feet?

I haven’t but would if need be. The question would be ‘Which?’ Left or right???

Bruce & RubenIndeed. A hundred thanks Bruce!

I could wax lyrical all day about And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, but urge you to experience this amazing story for yourselves. Read it. Sing it. Share it. Do not forget.

Allen & Unwin January 2015

 

A Cool Dad’s Day

Happy belated Father’s Day, dads! I hope you were spoiled and adored, as Dad should be on this very special day. In celebration of fathers everywhere, here are my picks for the best new release Father’s Day books.

My Dad’s the Coolest (Scholastic)

Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley are back in this sequel to My Mum’s the Best – this time featuring ultra cool dads of all shapes, sizes and orientation, from a strutting rooster (with tickly feathers) to a mouse-shy lion, a mud-rollicking pig and a kooky-looking penguin.

Ideal for the very young, Bruce Whatley’s divine animal friends parade across the page with typical humour and charm. Simple text makes this ideal for a bedtime read.

Dads: A Field Guide (Random House)

Justin Ractliffe’s striking, modern and totally funky book on dads is taken to great heights with Cathie Glassby’s kooky, childlike and immensely whimsical illustrations.

Dads, en masse, are totally represented in this low text book, making it ideal for tots, and I love how they are represented in totally out-there ways – from a dad who wears undies and one who wears boxers, to a dad who’s ever-smart and one a little scruffy.

Charming, colourful and fun.

What Makes My Dad Happy (Allen & Unwin)

What makes had Happy?

Well, a lot of different things, for it really depends on what dad you have.

Maybe it’s building towers or picking flowers. Maybe it’s a note, strategically placed in a coat pocket, or when he becomes a launching pad for little aeroplanes. Every dad is different and that’s what makes them special.

Loretta Broekstra’s charming illustrations make for a sweet book for the younger set.

Also in this series by Tania Cox – What Makes my Mum Happy.

 

MY MUM’S THE BEST

In keeping with this week’s Mother’s Day theme our featured book this morning is My Mum’s The Best by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley.

When you see the pictures in My Mum’s The Best, it’s easy to see why Bruce is such a favourite with the kids. His illustrations are funny and so endearing.

My Mum’s The Best takes kids on a tour of the animal kingdom. It introduces them to all kinds of Mums and the ways in which they look after their children.

I love the way the pictures and the text work together in this book. Each double page spread has a simple line of text and one of Bruce’s beautiful illustrations.

Kids will relate to Rosie’s text and to the events of school, feeding time, dancing, playtime, bedtime etc – all activities from their daily lives.

Every single page of this book was a work of pictorial and word art, but my favourite would have to be the bats hanging upside down at bedtime with baby tucked under its mother’s wing.

As the blurb on the back says,

Whether big or small, feathered or furry, mums always know how to make us feel special.

My Mum’s The Best is also a great book for discussion because it encourages kids to think about their own family lives and the things that are special about their mum.

It’s an easy read and great for play or bedtime.

My Mum’s The Best is published by Scholastic.