All creatures great and small – animal inspired picture books

Animal antics, you can’t beat them. Creatures great and small, they make us laugh, cry, and ponder. As characters in picture books, they are culturally neutral, globally recognisable conduits for expressing a range of emotions that small children (and adults) are readily able to relate to. In short, their appeal is universal. Today we get up close and personal with a few new animal orientated picture books bound to stir up the David Attenborough in you.

mopokeMopoke by Philip Bunting

Hot new author illustrator, Philip Bunting has produced a veritable winner. Mopoke’s cultivated, impossibly restrained colour palette and fierce economy of words positively exudes brilliance. It’s the genius absence of colour and preamble that snaps readers into full alert, squaring their attention on the one and only character, a small southern boobook owl, aka Mopoke (although there is an incongruous cameo appearance by a certain nocturnal marsupial, as well).

Mopoke is quiet and unassuming, clearly one who relishes peace and tranquillity. The Australian bush at night, however is rife with annoyances forcing Mopoke to assume various airs of tolerance until finally, he makes a dramatic move.

Covertly comical and clever, one could interpret this picture book as a subtle poke, pardon the pun, at our social media addictions and the intrusive way they interrupt our daily lives. Of course, none of this will matter to readers under seven or so. They will simply be enthralled by Mopoke’s milk chocolate coloured marvellousness. An experience to be savoured.

Omnibus Books February 2017

my-friend-tertiusMy Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton and Owen Swan

Until I’d open the sepia hued covers of My Friend Tertius, I had no clue this zoo/war time story even existed. Fenton has, however not just written an historical, fact based picture book. She has encased the true-life story of a British Intelligence covert living in pre-war Hong Kong with that of Tertius, a small-orphaned gibbon into a kind of love story.

Told from Arthur Cooper’s point of view, Tertius soon becomes an inextricable part of Cooper’s life. Together they work and savour the steamy tropical pastimes of Singapore and Hong Kong until the onset of World War II finally forces Cooper to evacuate to Australia. He is loath to leave his best mate behind, though so smuggles him into the country before having to surrender him to the Melbourne Zoo.

This is a story of turbulent times, separation, and unconventional friendships that somehow endure. Despite Tertius’ imperfect circumstances, one cannot help but feel a certain warmth for his relationship with Cooper. A fascinating picture book for older readers revealing yet more amazing wartime alliances thoughtfully illustrated by Swan.

Allen & Unwin February 2017

one-keen-koalaOne Keen Koala by Margaret Wild and Bruce Whatley

Not since One Woolly Wombat have I come across an animal counting book that is so full of bounce and spirit, I thought I might have to a lie down after reading it. Wild’s wondrous way with words is so pleasing to read, you’ll wish this continues beyond the count of 12 happy possums. Light, breezy, and bristling with Australiana, her verse escorts young readers from numbers one to twelve whilst gently stimulating them with the notion that new beginnings are indeed enjoyable. The appeal for new pre-schoolers or primary schoolers is therefore ten out of ten.

Whatley’s illustrations are soft and unobtrusive albeit awfully cute and fun. He even manages to inject new life into an old favourite, the perennial wombat.

One Keen Koala is a counting / back to school book that almost makes me want to troop back off to Kindy. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2017

Stay posted for another instalment of animal inspired reads, soon.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

A Little Piece of Australiana – Picture Book Reviews

Paying acknowledgement to our ‘great southern land’ today on Australia Day with a few true blue Aussie picture books, their dinky-di characters and beaut landscapes. There is a lot to love about this unique nation. What does Australia mean to you?

imageRow, Row, Row Your Boat, Scholastic Australia (text), Matt Shanks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Putting a spin on the old classic nursery rhyme, with the gorgeous integration of some of our favourite wildlife animals, is the Aussie version ofRow, Row, Row Your Boat. Charmly illustrated by Matthew Shanks, this short and sweet story takes its enthusiastic preschool readers on a river ride adventure full of excitement and surprise.

Life is certainly a dream rowing your boat gently down the serene, native-laced stream. With each stroke, we are greeted by another animal doing their characteristically natural thing in their landscape. A sleeping koala, a squeaking bandicoot, a sword-wielding piratey platypus, and a laughing kookaburra all feature in the fun rhyme. But it is the entertaining illustrations that really tell the story. Look out for the inconspicuous crocodile throughout, as well as the funny story taking place in (and out of) the boat!

Row, Row, Row Your Boat is an endearing and energetic Aussie-flavoured book that will have its audience captured from start to finish, over and over again.

imageDon’t Call Me Bear, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s a little piece of Australiana that us locals all know about…right?! For poor Warren, it seems like a serious case of mistaken identity. You see, Warren is a koala, not a ‘bear’, and he goes to every length to justify himself.

True to the authentic Blabey-style, here is a sarcastic and cringe-worthy yet surreptitiously loveable rhyming tale that is full of energy and laugh-out-loud moments. Warren explains how it all started with the stupidity of Captain Cook and his pioneers claiming to have found a ‘bear’, but in fact, he is a member of the common marsupial family (see the very scientific chart). Actual bears from around the globe are examined, and when Warren thinks he’s finally broken through, it is his own Aussie counterparts who still don’t quite ‘get it’.

Don’t Call Me Bear is a colourful book of a colourful character, and through its quirkiness and craziness, could be a great opener for studies on history of The First Fleet and the biology of Australian animals. ‘Bear-iffic’ for children from age four.

imageWhy is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?, John Field (author and lyrics), David Legge (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Written and performed on the bonus CD by John Field, and with digitally mastered illustrations by David Legge is the farcical performance of an emu on a mission; Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe?.

Listening to the music certainly makes for a lively experience, but reading the story aloud is just as exuberant. With each rollicking verse, another group of creatures join the parade as they follow and wonder “why was that emu wearing one red shoe?”. Soon enough the media become involved, and after a bustling train ride and some questionable speculations, the answer is finally disclosed, and it’s really not as complicated as made out in this huge hullabaloo.

The textural and life-like quality of the mixed media illustrations perfectly suit the energy and movement of the fast pace and the feel that this is a live, broadcast event. Why is that Emu Wearing One Red Shoe is an action-packed comedy that will have preschoolers hopping and bouncing and jiving from head to shoe.

imageColours of Australia, Bronwyn Bancroft (author, illus.), Little Hare Books, 2016.

Colouring our sensory world with all the shades of the rainbow is the beautifully transcendening Colours of Australia.

Bronwyn Bancroft, member of the Bundjalung Nation, spoils us with her outstanding talents as she leads us through a bright, texturally and lyrically entrancing venture across the land. From white diamonds spilling across the sky, to an explosion of red sunrise and vivid dances, orange ochre shapes protruding from ancient foundations, orbs of sun light and green velvet cloaks of hills, and finally, blue fingers of sky drawing the day to an indigo close.

Bancroft brilliantly incorporates the beauty of trademark landscapes and features of Australia’s stunning earth, with her equally poetic-style narrative and mesmerising Indigenous-quality illustrations, that all literally dance off the pages. Colours of Australia; wonderfully whimsical and evocative to connect readers with our astonishing country, and to reinforce sustainability and the highest respect to the Aboriginal people and their culture.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

See Dimity‘s lists of great Australian books here and here.

Bugs, Trains and Dragon Tales – Picture Books for Starting School

Starting school for a new year is definitely a big transition for most kids (and parents). Learning new routines, new skills, ways of managing change and making new friendships are all a part of the progression towards a happy and healthy school life. The following few picture books deal with these themes, friendship in particular, and will have your little ones starting the year with fresh and open eyes (and hearts).

imageMolly and Mae, Danny Parker (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare Books, October 2016.

Friendships are not always straightforward. Just like a train journey, there are bumps, bends, fun moments and impatient moments. Divinely structured text by Danny Parker, together with brilliant illustrator, Freya Blackwood, magically represent the adventure of ‘friendship’ via two girls travelling side by side through a countryside train ride.

Beginning on the platform, Molly and Mae giggle and play as they wait for the train to arrive. Beautifully rendered warming and cooling tones perfectly contrast with one another to create the backdrop for the long, scenic landscape pages as we travel through each moment, and emotion, of the trip. From excitement to boredom, frustration to solitary dreariness, forgiveness and absolution, the illustrations perfectly portray the bond between Molly and Mae, which inevitably reaches the distance.

Gorgeously rich and evocative in every sense, Molly and Mae is an enchanting voyage of the ups, downs, ins and outs of relationships; sweet, thought-provoking and heartwarming all at the same time. A wonderful book for children from age four.

imageMy Friend Ernest, Emma Allen (author), Hannah Sommerville (illus.), HarperCollinsPublishers, February 2016.

Another story exploring the complexities of friendship is My Friend Ernest. Oscar tries to be brave when he begins at his new school, with knight helmet and sword in full attire. But he is challenged at every turn when a kid with freckles, dressed as a dragon, bares his teeth and tramples on Oscar’s sandcastle. The battle between knight and dragon is finally surrendered when both boys admit they’re not as brave as they had planned for. Finding common ground is the ultimate solution and the boys share imaginative role play experiences together as new friends.

With gentle narrative written from Oscar’s point of view, and equally soft colours and textures in the illustrations, My Friend Ernest is an encouraging tale of overcoming initial discrepancies and building confidence when forming new friendships. Perfect for early years students in any new situation.

imageTwig, Aura Parker (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, November 2016.

There is no camouflage when it comes to the gorgeousness of this book. Its messages of teamwork, compassion and friendship are clear, as is the sweetness of the whimsical illustrations in every minute little detail.

Finding the new girl, stick insect Heidi amongst the tall trees and scuttling of hundreds of tiny insect feet is no easy task, but a fun one for its readers, nonetheless. However, for Heidi, being invisible to her classmates makes for a lonely, dispiriting starting-school experience. Finally being discovered by others proves to be equally about self discovery and expression, and a beautifully-weaved gift from her new friends helps Heidi to bloom in full vibrancy.

Twig; an enchanting and gentle book for preschoolers and school starters to explore their own self identity and confidence when approaching new experiences, as well as an engaging and eye-catching story of hidden, ‘creepy-crawly’ gems and counting fun.

imageThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea, Julia Hubery (author), Lucia Masciullo (illus.), Little Hare Books, September 2016.

Talk about dedication! This young farmer would do anything for his princess, going as far as the farthest lands to prove he can be the bravest, most heroic knight that his princess desires. But Henry Hoplingsea soon realises that this life of swords and slaying is not what his own heart desires, for his passion still lies in a simple life with his love. And fortunately for Henry, his princess has had a change of heart, too. Maybe there’s still some room for a ‘spark’ of excitement!

The Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea is a sweet and romantic tale of making sacrifices for the ones you care about, following one’s heart and appreciating what you have. Rich and meaningful, full of warmth and energy, both in the text and illustrations, this book is an insightful example for early years children of tenaciousness and relationships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Christmas Crackers – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Marvellous midgrade reads – Reviewing Aussie Talent

Midgrade readers have to fulfil a variety of whims. They should appeal to the increasingly insatiable literary appetites of confident mid-primary aged readers. They must soar with excitement and be able to crack readers up at the mere mention of impending doom for any adults foolhardy enough to wander through the storyline. And they should be wickedly close enough to real life to qualify the use of magic and make believe. Here are three new titles that tick all the ‘midgrade must have’ boxes.

Marge in Charge with Isla FisherMarge in Charge by Isla Fisher Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemus

This new novel spills from the pen of noted actor, writer and comedian, Isla Fisher. Words flow with funny fluidity and the help of some very entertaining illustrations. Rather than being told in chapters, there are three separate Marge orientated stories all hinging on the premise of Marge babysitting Jemima and Jake.  None of their previously bland babysitters can match the zany ingenuity of marvellous Marge. Marge is not your average babysitter; she makes mess and turns the rules inside out and upside down.

Young readers will love the out of control antics Jemima and younger brother,Jake are coaxed into by the indiscernibly aged Marge. It is enough to make any parent cringe with terror but will raise whoops of delight for those under ten years old. Fisher’s style is comforting and chortle worthy with injections of humour only the experiences of a mother of three could have inspired.

Riotous hilarity tempered by sound parenting advice (mostly from the worrying mind of 7-year-old Jemima), all mixed up with a plucky mucky 4-year-old and lots and lots of lovely rainbow coloured hair. Marge is the complete package. Fresh fun entertainment (at least for six + year olds).

Piccadilly Press imprint Allen & Unwin July 2016

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling BeeThe Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela

India Wimple is a girl with a dream and like many of us these days, that dream stems from reality TV. Every week, she and her family glue themselves in front of The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee TV show and as we are currently deep into the latest series of The Great Australian Spelling Bee (of which I am also hooked) the telling of India’s tale could not have come at a better time!

Unlike 11-year-old India, my spelling abilities have diminished drastically over the years. India however is in the prime of her time and yearns to be the next spelling bee champion. All she has to do is sign up for the show and spell. But of course there are many ‘precarious’ and ‘calamitous’ situations she and her family have to contend with before she gets close to standing behind the spelling podium; a cantankerous old van, a haughty little spoilt girl intent on winning, concerns for an ailing brother and an inherent shyness that threatens to choke her each time she gets up on stage to name but a few.

Deb AbelaAbela deftly weaves a contemporary idea into a topical story line with enough quirky characters with admirable whims to have readers on the edge of their seats by the time India eventually makes it in front of the TV cameras. And like those mini spelling marvels on the real life reality show, she handles it with modest aplomb and true integrity.

It is impossible not to love all of Abela’s characters in this tale even the snarky ones.  And while young readers are hanging on every syllable uttered, they are unwittingly enhancing their vocabulary thanks to each chapter heading introducing a new word and definition relating to that chapter. Ingenious!

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee may be a mouthful and a half to master but is invigorating and enlightening reading for anyone who adores words, competitions and fifth grade spelling (which I still struggle with). It’s a fun family indulgence without the need to go anywhere near the tellie.

Penguin Random House Australia July 2016

Princess ParsleyPrincess Parsley by Pamela Rushby

I had the unique pleasure of hearing the birth of this story a couple of years ago when accomplished author, Pamela Rushby pitched it for the first time to a panel of publishers at the SCBWI Sydney Conference. Now, like the growth of Parsley Patterson’s family country market, it has evolved into a book worthy of a place high on the bookshelf.

Following bouts of political kerfuffle, Mullumbimby farming resident, Kevin Patterson decides to withdraw from Australia and set up his own (Possum Creek) principality within the Northern Rivers hinterland. This way he can avoid the one-sided malevolent machinations of the local council and run his popular farmers’ market in peace. Sounds straightforward enough albeit a little left field; it’s a stance the surrounding residents applaud for his daring and pluck. His family revel in their collective newly acquired regal status, all that is except Parsley.

Being a princess is the last thing on Parsley’s list of things to be in her new high school. With her ‘not strictly hippy’ parents always in the limelight, the most popular boy in school tagging along and a cackle of hard-nosed A Group girls (The Blondes) to contend with, life under a tiara becomes increasingly embarrassing and more hilarious with each page turn.

Dim's Day 2 14th July (34)I am a bona fide fan of Rushby’s sharp satirical wit. Although somewhat toned down here for a slightly younger audience, it still transports readers along on a heady and spirited adventure echoing the same verve and heart of the 1997 movie, The Castle. Like the Kerrigans, the Pattersons are a family for which you feel an instant affection. However, can poor Parsley’s princely plight and newfound calling as a comedian be enough for her to realise the true cost of popularity?

I was amazed to learn that there are around 12 actual real micronations based on the principality idea here in Australia alone.  Stories like Princess Parsley, which engage on multiple levels, are not only a boon to read but also marvellous gateways to more of life’s delightful discoveries. Ripper stuff. Ideal for 9-year-olds and beyond.

Omnibus Books July 2016

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Fun for Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

One of the most joyful pleasures a child can enjoy is Daddy-time. There can never be too much of it. Here’s a new selection of picture books you can share with your special little someones on Father’s Day or indeed, at any time at all.

The Ballad of Henry HoplingseaThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea by Julia Hubery Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I love the look and feel of this jolly little tale. It is less about dads and more about appreciating what you have rather than agonising over what you do not have but it makes such entertaining reading that it is sure to give dads, daughters and sons sufficient enough excuses to stay snuggled together in reading harmony for many lovely moments.

Humble farmer Henry is besotted with Carmelita and begs her hand in marriage. In spite of their solid and long standing friendship, she refuses succumbing instead to her princess inspired yearnings to live in silks, eat oysters and one day be whisked off her feet by a shiny brave knight. Henry can supply none of these things so forsakes he is farmer origins and sets off for Knight School.

Henry’s proactive tenacity is admirable however; his kind heart is bigger than his knightly ambitions and abilities. Which of these though will be enough to win over Carmelita? Humorous rhyming text and bewitching illustrations full of colour and captivating detail ensure this is one ballad readers will want to relive again and again.

Little Hare Books (HEG imprint) August 2016

Counting on YouCounting on You by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Part of the You Have my Heart series, this padded hard cover picture book is the ideal size to slide into any Father’s Day gift bag. The text is sublimely simple but saturated with exquisite moving emotion. Readers are taken through a flowing collection of days, many of them recognisable to young children, those: ‘I can’t-find-my-socks days, my tummy-is-too-full days’ until they are reassured of the presence of a loved one who can hug them closer ,squeeze them tighter and ‘make things better’ than anyone else; in other words, the adult they can count on.

Counting on You examines the 6 primary emotions formerly identified under the Parrot’s classification. Cowcher’s restrained colour use is heavenly, truly evoking movement and feeling. Highly recommended.

The Five Mile Press August 2016

I spy Dad JBI Spy Dad! By Janeen Brian Illustrated by Chantal Stewart

No two dads are ever quite the same; they are as diverse and individual as pebbles on a beach. I love how kids love their particular version of dad no matter what he does, what he looks like or how he acts. One little girl wonders which dad belongs specifically to her and searches for him among dashing, splashing dads; sewing, mowing dads; and creeping, leaping dads enjoying the cheeky chase until she finds the one who’s just for her.

Brian’s gifted way with rhyming words ensures every beat of this search is on point while Stewart’s illustrations are playful and bright. A sure favourite for under sixes.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

Where's Dad HidingWhere’s Dad Hiding? By Ed Allen Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Never a dad around when you need one? Prolong your search and fun with this colour-saturated picture book promoting games and play, Aussie animals and relationships. Where’s Dad Hiding? encourages young pre-school aged readers to carefully examine every one of Tortop’s vibrantly illustrated page spreads for Baby Wombat’s missing dad.

Daddy Wombat is cunningly secreted on each page among a glorious collection of colourful Aussie inspired landscapes and situations. I get the feeling Daddy Wombat enjoys being cheeky and slightly irreverent just like real life human daddies as he leads Baby Wombat on a teasing search. This picture book pulses with verve and character making it a delight for dads to share with their kids.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

Grandpa is GreatGrandpa is Great by Laine Mitchell Illustrated by Alison Edgson

No matter what mantle they fall under grandad, pop, Nonno, opa, gramps, there is no mistaking the greatness of grandpas. This cute rhyming story reinforces the many moments and things grandfathers make memorable for their grandchildren. Whether it is playing games together, making mess, rocketing to the moon or simply watching the tellie together, Mitchell’s engaging text and Edgson’s bold use of baby animals to depict the grandpa-grandchild bond is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

The Greatest Fathers Day of AllThe Greatest Father’s Day of All by Anne Mangan Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

It’s the witty parallels I enjoy in this rhyming picture book about a dad eagerly anticipating his Father’s Day but like so many mere males, gets it mixed up a little. His blow-by-blow expectations take readers through some typical and well-loved Father’s Day morning rituals as his excitement mounts then crumbles into disappointment.  Children eager to plan their own Father’s Day surprises for dad will value the familiar similarities and the divine pencil and gauche watercolours used by Ainslie.  Her illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Anna Pignataro’s; her characters exuding the same sort of charm in their sweet alluring faces. A nice way to mark the occasion of Dad’s Day.

Harper Collins Publishers first published 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dads!

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Raised in a World of Picture Book Goodness

It is so important, particularly today, that our future generations are brought up as genuinely kind and caring people with peace and prosperity in heart and mind. It is our duty to continue to empower and raise our children as strong, tolerant and protective members of our society and environment. I love these following picture books for their beautiful messages of compassion, fervour, accepting differences, and making differences.

imageTogether Always, written by Edwina Wyatt and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo, is a sweet, profound and mesmorising book of everlasting friendship and overcoming differences in opinion without comprising values.

Pig and Goat ‘always‘ do everything together, no matter what fruit hangs from the trees in the orchard. They laze about in the sun and the stream, tell tales and hum tunes when the other is down. One BIG night Goat decides he feels the need to take Pig and go exploring over the hills. But when Pig misses his home, they forfeit their ‘sticking together always‘ pact and part ways. To soothe themselves to sleep or to comfort themselves when they feel lonely, Pig and Goat find ways to remember each other. They know that although they are physically apart, they are, in fact, ‘always‘ in each other’s hearts.

Gorgeously textured pencil and watercolours in splats and strokes magnificently outline the characters, showing both the elements of togetherness and individuality. This is further carried through when the mix of cool and warm tones are subtly separated when the friends are apart from one another.

Together Always is a deep and meaningful story with plenty of playful moments. It would perfectly suit preschoolers and beyond who might be grappling with complex friendships or missing a mate who has moved out of their immediate everyday world.

Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Egmont, March 2016.

imageIf you’ve heard of the movie ‘Oddball‘ then you’ll know and appreciate the persistence and virtue of the characters in the story. Poignant and uplifting, Chooks in Dinner Suits is based on the real life events of farmer, Swampy Marsh and his tireless, ongoing work with his canine pals to save a colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island. Gorgeously written in a factual yet frolicsome narrative by Diane Jackson Hill, with visually arresting scenery and playfulness by Craig Smith, this book is an eye-opening, captivating and warming experience to touch every heart and soul.

When settlers establish themselves in a town besides the small island off Warrnambool, soon humans, dogs and foxes make a devastating impact on the land and the penguin population. Swampy Marsh takes notice and pleads with the townsfolk to help reinforce his plan to protect the area, to no avail. But when penguin numbers dwindle to not even a handful, the people agree and Swampy recruits his two best Maremma dogs to act as the loyal, sensible and fiercely protective guardians that they are. Needless to say, the waddle on Middle Island flourishes, and just like with all happy endings, we are graciously gifted with a sense of relief and calm.

imageA story of hope, triumph and passion, guts and determination, Chooks in Dinner Suits is sure to ignite the spark in its early years readers to also advocate and fight for the future of our environment and its amazing wildlife.

More information about the island, the work of the Maremmas and the growth of the Little Penguin colony can be found at the back of the book, and you can also visit www.warrnamboolpenguins.com.au to read about the project.

Museum Victoria, June 2016.

imageEntrancingly adorable, eclectic and whimsical mixed media illustrations go hand in hand with this special story of courage and helping others in need. From the legendary storyteller that is Sally Morgan, collaborating with talented artist Jess Racklyeft, Midnight Possum is a book to treasure.

We all know that possums enjoy adventure and mischief in the dark of night. But what happens when there’s trouble? How do they escape those sticky situations? For one stealthy Possum, no problem is too much effort when he comes across Mother Possum calling for help. One of the twin babies is missing, but it doesn’t take long before Possum grunts, scrabbles and heaves his way down the dusty chimney in ‘mission impossible’ style. There he finds the tiny mite frightened as he clings to a brick ledge. Some ‘risky business’ later, the pair sneak out the pet flap in the back door and return to safety…and dinner!

Highly interactive, engaging and humorous with its fluid narrative, questioning, fun sound effects and cheeky illustrations, Midnight Possum ticks all the boxes. Children from age three will be hanging out to read this active book of bravery over and over, at all times of the night!

Scholastic Australia, April 2016.

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Discovering Adventure with Leila Rudge’s Picture Books

Her indelibly gentle style, warming tones, infallible use of mixed media, energetic and always gorgeous characters bounce from her pictures every time. Including titles such as Ted and Mum Goes to Work, illustrator Leila Rudge knows just how to capture the heart, soul and spirit of her characters in all of her books. Here are a couple of newbies to set you on course.

imageGiving preschoolers many themes and topics to explore, Leila Rudge‘s Gary, the racing pigeon, drives this adventure story home with its grit and determination. If he is a racing pigeon then why doesn’t he fly? That, we are unsure, but Gary finds other ways to get around. In similarity to Anna Walker’s Peggy’, this accidental hero breathes adventure and travel and no high rise obstacle will stop him.

The stories from the other pigeons and his scrapbook collection of mementos give Gary a sense of place in the world, even though he only knows his own backyard. Then one day he is mistakingly taken in the travel basket a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.

imageI loved Gary’s accepting yet curious personality, and the way Leila Rudge has written his story with verve and sensitivity. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!

Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, and challenging one’s own abilities. I’m sure children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on more adventures in the future.

Walker Books, 2016.

imageIf you ever want a book to test your dog-breed knowledge, your linguistic gymnastics and your wit, get The Whole Caboodle! Author Lisa Shanahan has lined up a beauty with this energetic and playful counting canine collection of cross-breed ‘oodles‘. And Rudge‘s illustrations achieve this characteristically zealous greatness in leaps and bounds. As the text bounces ahead, so do the characters across the softly-shaded mixed media, double page spreads.

The little dog (perhaps some kind of Terrierdoodle) wakes his peachy-pear, grizzly bear, fizzyjig, whirligig owner in a rush to visit the park. It takes from one to ten rollicking, rhyming, imaginative adjectives and dog breed terms to count from home, through the neighbourhood, across the fairground and in to the park.

With phrases like “Four tumbly-rumbly Goldendoodles” and “Six dizzy-whizzy Spitzoodles”, plus plenty of doggie shapes in the illustrations to find, The Whole Caboodle will certainly lead children from three into fits of giggles and thrills.

Scholastic Australia, 2016.

See Dimity‘s fab review here.

For more information on Leila Rudge visit her website and Facebook page.

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Far Beyond Our Imagination – Picture Book Reviews

Reading is a pleasure that allows for a range of benefits – reinforcing critical literacy skills, fuelling the imagination, inspiring empathy, and for the sheer joy. I chose these picture books with the commonality of the out-of-this-world theme, and I love that each one surprises its readers with elements of humour, compassion, relationships and the unexpected! Books can certainly take you to great heights where you can explore much more than initially meets the eye.

imageSpace Alien at Planet Dad, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

A powerful story intertwining the fun of space adventure play with the reality of adapting to family changes. Jake always gets a thrill when he visits his Dad’s place (Planet Dad) every Saturday. The bond between them is extraordinary as they act out a series of intergalactic missions, build space stations and enjoy spaghetti and meteorite sauce on movie nights. Jake is no doubt like many kids who receive special quality time with their fun, single dad. But in truth, life doesn’t stay the same forever. When a one-eyed, green Space Alien is suddenly a permanent fixture at Planet Dad, Jake is, as to be expected, furious. The place now has a ‘woman’s touch’ about it, and no amount of invader-blasting, alien-repelling or meteorite-showering action can force her out. Eventually Jake finds things in common with the Space Alien after a trip to the museum and slowly he comes to accept this new presence in their home.

Space Alien at Planet Dad is a super, highly interactive and energetic book that also deals sensitively and cleverly with changes to family dynamics. It allows its young readers, particularly those in blended families, the opportunities to perceive new situations and household members in a different light.

imageOlive the Alien, Katie Saunders (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Olive the Alien is another story based on the theme of accustomising to new, and strange, beings in the home. Understanding and accepting differences can often be challenging, particularly with no prior knowledge of the subject or their odd behaviour. In this sweet story of a little boy and his ‘alien’ baby sister, Archie eventually realises that her differences are not only endearing, but also that we all have (or had) the same inherent human nature. It’s difficult for Archie to comprehend the antics of his baby sister, Olive. She speaks another language, she cries VERY loudly, she makes a big mess, and she eats the most peculiar things. But worst of all, she makes really disgusting smells. She simply must be an alien!

Olive the Alien, with its beautifully soft, pastel shades and cute illustrations, is a humorous peek into the life of baby behaviour. Preschoolers with younger siblings will most certainly relate, but whether or not they admit to their own once-upon-a-stinky-nappy phase is another story!

imageMilo, a moving story, Tohby Riddle (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016.

Set in the early 1900s in New York, the story of Milo is certainly one of character, survival and good old-fashioned charm. For an ordinary life, Milo’s world is quite extraordinary, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He enjoys singing classics and playing quaint games with his canine pals, and every other day he delivers parcels within the quirks of the busy city streets. Then one day a blow up with his friend leads to a ghastly storm. Whilst the tumult rages inside his head, Milo and his kennel are also physically swept away to a most remarkable place above the clouds. Upon meeting Carlos, a plain-looking migratory bird, Milo’s mind clears and he comes to realise some important things:
1. The world is big and wide and there are many experiences to be had.
2. The power of friendship is strong and is to be valued.
3. Sometimes it takes an unusual, out-of-this-world adventure to understand and appreciate the little things in life.

Deep and profound on so many levels, Milo, a moving story is undeniably moving. From the intimacy of life in a kennel to the wide landscapes and perspectives, collages and real photographs of various locations. From the simplicity of old fashioned games and songs to the high-rising journey to the sky. The old-style sepia-toned hues contrasting with the mixed media cleverly and interestingly add a humble yet juxtaposed perspective. This book offers great scope for primary school discussions about development over time, on both literal and personal levels.

imageMoon Dance, Jess Black (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s another book to move you… Moon Dance is an unbelievably charismatic story to get you physically jiving at all times of the day or night. Rather than reaching out to space, in this lyrical fun-fest the moon comes to you. A group of Australian native animals gather together in Eucalypt Gully for a dance under the dazzling, full moon. Gorgeously hysterical terms and rhyming phrases add to the frivolity of the action.
“Wombat starts a conga, He wiggles his caboose!” We’ve got drunken blue-tongue lizards, clapping paws, cicadas on the timbals, a slow-dancing possum with a goanna, and a spry, moonwalking bilby.

Moon Dance celebrates the joys of togetherness and the wonderful benefits of music and dance. The illustrations are whimsical and lively, bursting with exquisite texture, detail and a glorious Australiana feel. This book will light up the night for children from age three.

imageThe Cloudspotter, Tom McLaughlin (author, illus.), Bloomsbury, 2015.

Sometimes we need someone to point us in the right direction… even if it is in plain view. The view Franklin likes to observe is the one in the sky… the clouds. He, alone, has amazing imaginary adventures with the clouds he spots, including swimming with giant jellyfish, driving racing cars and topping tall castle towers. That is why he is known as The Cloudspotter. But one day when a random Scruffy Dog tries to take his clouds, and ‘invade’ his cloud adventures, The Cloudspotter has a plan to rid the bothersome dog… and sends him off into the outer atmosphere. Soon he realises that what he was looking for wasn’t just the clouds, after all.

There is a refreshing illustrative mix of airy skies and bold foregrounds, with lots of visual clues to add depth and meaning. The Cloudspotter is perfect for preschoolers with wide imaginations, and the openness to the possibility of unexpected friendships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Picture Books of the Curious Kind

I’m always up for a good imaginative mystery that gets my mind, and heart, racing. It must be that dopamine rush I get when experiencing something novel and exciting, the eager anticipation and engagement, and finding something I can relate to. For kids it would be no different and the following two picture books, not surprisingly, tick all the boxes in the ‘curiosity’ department.

imageArthur and the Curiosity, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

When adults are oblivious to the hidden secrets and wondrous treasures of the world because they are overly concerned with ‘moving on through’. That’s the situation that Arthur experiences on his school trip to the museum. His teacher takes little notice of the amazing artefacts and ancient wonders as she hauls her class across the landscape pages. But Arthur’s not so heedless. Amongst and within the exhibits Arthur notices a ‘CURIOSITY’ – a mischievous green creature that seems all but a figure of his imagination. Taking his time to examine his surroundings, Arthur gains much more than he bargained for than any of his bustling peers.  The final page leaves us with a sneaking suspicion that Arthur’s excursion has left him with a lasting impression!

imageLucinda Gifford‘s bright and colourful illustrations are playful and eye-catching, allowing readers plenty of scope for discovery and delight as they ‘move on through’ the book at a steady pace. Her text is equally joyful and witty with double meanings that are sure to set tongues wagging with the endless conversational possibilities. The ‘curiosity’ is “…the UNUSUALLY active volcano.” and “…an EXTRAORDINARY mummy in the Ancient Egypt exhibition. Poor Miss Blunkett was trying to wrap things up.”

Arthur and the Curiosity is a fun read to explore and enjoy with its elements of humour and surprise. Children from age three and up will also relish the opportunities to identify with and show ‘curiosity’ towards the diverse characters, topics and experiences that are fostered by this book.

Arthur and the Curiosity is being launched on April 16th at The Little Bookroom. See details here.

imageThe House on the Hill, Kyle Mewburn (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

‘Curiosity’ can present itself in many forms; and in this book it presents with a thrilling anticipation. Here is a story to send shivers of curiosity up your spine in the hauntingly stunning, The House on the Hill. With high levels of suspense to chill your bones, this poetic spookfest is a winner.

With Mewburn‘s ode to Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, his romantically suave language and rhythmic canter beautifully rolls off the tongue. Sarah Davis‘s monochromatic, sepia toned imagery marries flawlessly with the spine-tingling lyrics to create an optimal intensity of creepiness and tension.

imageWhen two young ghosts are beckoned by the bell in the house on the hill, they find themselves “Upon the gate a portent hung, a dragon’s claw, a serpent’s tongue.” The initial terror slowly dissipates  with more and more clues being revealed as the characters edge closer to their destination.  Child-friendly hints dubiously lure us towards the dingy dwelling, like dancing moths, jack-o-lanterns and the characters’ outfits that appear distinctly like white sheets with cut-out eye holes. Davis’s striking illustrations with her extreme angles and perspectives, perfectly placed focal objects and effective use of light and shade draw us in with every breath as we follow the ‘ghosts’, and their cat, on their journey through the ‘haunted’ house on the hill. And just when our hearts can’t race any faster, we reach the final reveal and encounter the most ghoulish group of vile creatures – children!

imageIdeal for your Halloween thrills and celebrations, but equally fun-tastic all the year round. Behind the moodiness and apprehension, The House on the Hill takes preschoolers through an adventure of bravery, friendship and togetherness. There is loads of room for educational opportunities with its brilliant use of poetry, vocabulary, visual literacy and the arts.

You can watch the spooktacular book reading with Kyle Mewburn here.

Teaching notes are available at the Scholastic website.

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Powerfully Poignant – Historical MG reviews

Courage to CareBeing part of the human species is not always a club I’m proud to belong to. We can be pretty awful to each other sometimes even though most of us, most of the time err on the side of kindness. History allows us to mark the good times and the kind people. More frequently however, it serves as a reminder of the inglorious periods of our human existence. We cannot and should not hide from them if we want humanity to evolve, which is why these next three books make for such fundamental reading. All would complement the historical fiction shelves of young readers aged between 11 and 15. All encourage us to recognise discrimination, understand its origins, and be brave enough to fight its ugly consequences. All invite us to care in a powerfully poignant way.

One Thousand HillsOne Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

This book is devastating. Powerful and wrenching yet achingly beautiful. Roy and Zihabamwe have given one ten-year-old boy a voice among an ocean of hundreds of thousands that were silenced without reason or mercy. Written with understated force and crisp, almost child-like clarity, One Thousand Hills traces the tension fraught days leading up to one of the most despicable acts of genocide the world as ever known, the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Pascal lives in Agabande, close to Kigali, in the heart of Rwanda. His life is simple and idyllic despite the taunts of his older brother and annoying traits of his little sister, Nadine. His parents work hard, worship what is good and Godly, and provide for their family as devoutly as the rest of the villagers who reside in the verdant mountainous countryside. They are a mixed family of Hutu and Tutsis, yet they share the same brutality and sheer ‘awfulness’ of this crime against humanity, born of fear and a need to sustain power with over 800,000 other Rwandans.

This novel does not sensationalise the violence nor does it dwell on the political legitimacy and shortcomings of the world’s nations who at first refused to acknowledge the genocide and certainly did nothing to prevent or end it. Instead, readers are shown how Pascal, via his vivid and eloquent narrations to a counsellor in Brussels some five years later, survived the ordeal and how his experiences changed him.

His voice rings loud and pure yet is tragically and irreversibly altered by what he has seen and had to do to save himself and Nadine. The final picture is not a straightforward prediction of how the previously pious and life-loving Pascal will evolve. He is at the endpoint, painfully sad and despondent; we, like the counsellor are incredulous and shocked that he has emerged with any sense of hope at all.

Despairing and gut wrenching, yes, however rather than fuelling hatred and disgust, this poignant tale promotes understanding and hope ‘to prevent children having to hide or run in fear from conflicts that have nothing to do with them.’ (Paraphrased from James Roy’s dedication.)

Powerful, essential reading.

Hanna My Holocaust StoryMy Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander

This is the first title in the Holocaust series aimed at upper primary readers and at first glance, I had mixed feelings about curling up to read this one. On one hand, I find the potency and importance of this subject terribly arresting but on the other, if handled oafishly instils depression and worse, a kind of muted blasé trance – we’ve-heard-and-seen-it-all-before kind of attitude. Happy to report, Hanna exhibits none of the latter and is an excellent introduction of the Holocaust and its impact for young readers.

Peppered with edgy characters, spirited narration, and well-paced drama, Hanna is another title that skilfully addresses the atrocities of ethnic cleansing without bogging young minds previously unexposed to the grim details of WW II.

Hanna Kaminsky is a Polish Jew forced into hiding with her family, then surviving in the Warsaw Ghetto at the onset of WW II. Like Pascal, she can almost taste the rising tension of political unrest but is too absorbed by her love of gymnastics, her best friend, and her warm family life to comprehend the danger it represents.

Pascal’s refuge was an old disused water tank. Hanna’s is reading. Throughout her nerve-destroying confinement she clings to the one novel her mother allowed her to flee with, The Scarlet Pimpernel. She begins to mirror her survival on his character and adopts the mantra ‘pluck and audacity’ to make it through each moment of escalating horror. In spite of her own hardships, Hanna shows spunk and fortitude in the face of adversity, using them to help others in dire need.

Alexander’s historical notes give this story depth and dimension describing the staggering loss of life associated with the Holocaust, millions being children, but again are presented in a balanced, informative way. For there is no need to over-describe the tragedy of these events.

It’s interesting to note this title is endorsed by Courage to Care, an organisation devoted to educating and challenging young people to stand up to injustices rather than just being passive bystanders.

Inspiring and purposeful.

Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster

This did not pull me as much as the title and cover promised it might owing to continued overzealous exposition however, it is nonetheless a fascinating account of the conflict thPaper Planesat divided a nation and its people for nearly half a decade. Ashamedly, I knew very little about the Civil War that savaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s in spite of the fact that I was living and working in Europe at the time.

Paper Planes traces the plight of one family in Sarajevo through the eyes of the quite naive 12-year-old Niko and his eventual escape from the city under siege. Flecked with historic accuracies, this story does prick the emotions and beggars the belief as to how we humans are (still) able to fight our fellow man in such prehistoric ways for so little substantial reason.

Recommended for mid-grade readers, Paper Planes is another story about a terrible war and cultural genocide, the sufferers of which are often the innocents; the children and the people who never wanted it in the first place and like all war-torn tales, it is based on real historical facts and the lives of those who lived them.

Find all books here.

Scholastic Australia March 2015 – March 2016

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Review – The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, Margaret Wild (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Let’s face it. We’ve all experienced that yearning to find and rescue a defenceless animal, love it, spoil it, and raise it to be one of your own. Right? Well, Biff and Buff do in this story, but what happens when they realise they might have to learn to share?

imageMr Pockets and his adorable pocket dogs have returned for yet another delightful tale of friendship and love. Previously seen in The Pocket Dogs and The Pocket Dogs go on Holiday, the eccentric and warm Mr Pockets has a valuable lesson for his two loyal pooches. Brilliantly combining their undeniable talents once more, Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King capture elements of jealousy, compassion, trust, companionship, playfulness and tenderness all within its glorious 32 pages.

Biff and Buff are very comfortable with their current living (and travelling) situation with their owner, Mr Pockets and his snuggly, big coat. But one stormy night they hear a scritch-scratch at the door, and their life as they know it is about to change. A little, lost kitten is generously welcomed and she immediately fits right in. Mr Pockets takes a particular fancy to the adorable snow white ball of fluff and bathes her in love and affection. But the pocket dogs realise how much time their owner is spending with the kitty and suddenly feel dejected and second-rate. A wave of fear and jealousy sets in and causes them to endure worrying dreams and the inability to share their belongings as they once did. Some reassurance and encouragement from Mr Pockets is the comfort they need to reclaim their sense of belonging. But when Biff and Buff are ready to accept the kitten into the family, is it too late?

imageI love how Stephen Michael King utilises space, colour and loose lines to depict perspective, action and emotion. His characteristically eye-catching and whimsical pen and brush techniques are the perfect companion to the energetic and heart-melting moments of Wild‘s words. Her cleverly constructed plot is simple, but her expert use of narrative is vivid and sensuous, and the dialogue is engaging and encouraging. Both story and pictures maintain a softness and contentment of a kind family that touch us on many deep levels.

‘The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten’ is one to warm the heart and soul. Recommended for children from age three, and particularly those making new adjustments in their lives.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

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

 

 

Twice as Sweet – Picture Books by Mem Fox

Mem Fox is a legendary and much-loved Australian author, filling our homes with love and joy for more than 30 years. Just as endearing as her beloved iconic possum tale, Mem Fox introduces us to yet another two marvellous stories of fun, rhythm, exploration, imagination and reassurance.

imageThis & That with Judy Horacek, Scholastic Australia, October 2015.

When this quintessential duo that brought us classics including Where is the Green Sheep? and Good Night Sleep Tight pair up once more, you know you’re onto a winner. Little ones will be instantly drawn in by the appealing colours and cuteness gracing the cover and opening page. They’ll just as willingly be pulled along with the stimulating, repetitive phrase, “I’ll tell you a story of this, and I’ll tell you a story of that.” But the attraction doesn’t stop there. This is an adventurous and lively story of an adult and child journeying across wondrous lands and amongst exotic creatures and people. In collaboration, Horacek‘s illustrations present a spectacular array of colour, life and energy that you can’t take your eyes away from.

When mother and baby ‘rat‘ embark on their quest in a little, green box, you’ll never be more surprised at the fun that follows. Each turn, cleverly rhyming with the word ‘that‘, thrusts this pair into a new, imaginative scene. From encountering a chimp with a magic ‘hat‘, racing boys and their ‘cat‘, crazy giraffes on a ‘mat‘, kings and queens who ‘chat‘ and speckled hens who are terribly, terribly ‘fat‘. But at bedtime, with a twist of the recurrent phrase, mother safely settles her bub after this busy day with nothing other than a goodnight ‘kiss‘.

imageMem Fox‘s expert use of language keeps her listeners engaged until the very end. Together with Judy Horacek‘s child-friendly, bold and romping drawings, this book is a pure delight. There are a multitude of opportunites for little ones to use their imaginations, to explore the hidden, and familiar, details (including the subtle visual rhyming link of the main characters, and a well-known ball of wool!), and to simply just enjoy the ride.

This & That’ will have toddlers and preschoolers jumping at the chance to jaunt with these nimble rats again and again, knowing there is always a soft place to fall when the excitement is over.

imageNellie Belle with Mike Austin, Scholastic Australia, January 2016.

Again, utilising her winning formula of repetition, questioning and interactivity, Mem Fox introduces us to another fun-loving, audacious character in ‘Nellie Belle’. With a completely different illustrative style to Judy Horacek’s, Mike Austin‘s textured digitally-rendered images are certainly no less vibrant and engaging.

The sway of the verse is reminiscent of an old childhood song, and the illustrations have that retro-feel pop to them, too!

“Is it fun in the yard, Nellie Belle, Nellie Belle? Is it fun in the yard, Nellie Belle?”

imageWhen this canine pal catches a glimpse of the outside world through the fence, the michief begins. First she buries her beloved Ted amongst the flowers, then heads out to meet and greet some new faces in the street and on the beach. Playing chasey games with the seagulls and ball games with a seal, soon her fun is dampened. Nellie Belle finds herself confronted in a deep, dark spot amongst glaring possum eyes. In an energetic scamper back through the big, wide world, this spooked pup races straight into her bed (not before retrieving Ted from the yard, of course!).

The words and pictures marry beautifully with their crisp, patterned and cheery commonalities. ‘Nellie Belle’ is a vivacious read-aloud book that is perfect for toddlers eager to become their own independent, confident beings, with that added reassurance that their piece of comfort is always within reach.

To support Australian authors and Australian book stores, such as Boomerang Books, please share this post with the hashtag #ByAustralianBuyAustralian. Read more about it here.

Books with Bite – YA and MG reviews

Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.

Mid-Upper Primary Reads

The Vanilla Slice KidThe Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

CrossingCrossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’

Omnibus Books May 2014

Upper Primary – 14+ Reads

Talk UnderwaterTalk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing.  Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.

UQP August 2015

OneOne by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s September 2015

YA – New Adult Reads

The FlywheelFurther embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.)       I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.

Hardie Grant Egmont February 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live HereIt is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.

Walker Books August 2015

*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Two True Blue Tales – Australian Picture Book Reviews

Two enchanting books in a series written by Aboriginal elder, Aunty Ruth Hegarty and playfully illustrated by Sandi Harrold are about Aussie animals on Aussie adventures. The Creatures of Dryden Gully’ and ‘Pip and Pim’ take their readers on journeys of self exploration and discovery, with the tendency to veer off track slightly as young children often do. But their delightful characters and moralistic storylines remind us all of which path to follow.

imageThe Creatures of Dryden Gully is a special story of a mother’s protection and unconditional love as a young Kangaroo Joey discovers what it means to be unique and proud. Author and storyteller Aunty Ruth Hegarty, a child of the Gunggari Nation and the Stolen Generation, tells a heartwarming tale of Joey who is eager to grow up. When the Royal visitors, the deer, arrive to their land, the Natives are nothing but intrigued by their beautiful characteristics and abilities. In a bid to stretch his legs and explore his surroundings, Joey secretly follows the Royals to a clearing. But when poachers make a sudden, alarming appearance, Joey is confused and frightened. Luckily the young roo remembers his mother’s earlier lesson in survival and the pair are lovingly reunited.

With earthy-coloured oils on canvas, the illustrations are endearing and reflective of the pureness of the story. The Creatures of Dryden Gully reminds us of the importance of listening to our elders and recognising our own special qualities. It also reinforces awareness of folklore and concepts native to Australia. For children from age four.

imageWritten and illustrated by the same collaborative pair, Pip and Pim comparably appeals to its audience with a similar important message, sweet demeanor and playful images. It’s virtuous storyline is told tenderly yet colourfully, with dedicated text pages that oppose the illustrations.

Eager little possums, Pip and Pim, can’t wait to explore the forest floor for the first time. The liveliness of the bush under the bright moonlight, the call of the cicadas and the song of the night bird all add to the excitement of their first out-of-tree adventure. But despite their parents’ warnings to be careful, the young ringtails pay no attention. Initially they find other creatures such as echidnas and bandicoots busily foraging in the darkness. Then, upon stumbling into a plover bird’s nest, the screeching father frightens them and they quickly scamper off to find their awaiting parents.

With Harrold‘s spirited, bold illustrations showing off the glowing flora and fauna amongst the authentic nighttime hues, Pip and Pim is a delightful and charming book to share with your loved ones. A story of trust, listening to elders and a bit of mischief, it is an effective way for preschoolers to learn important life lessons about parental guidance and ‘stranger danger’ with an Australiana flavour.

Scholastic Australia, 2015.

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.

It’s Time to Celebrate!

As we approach the end of 2015, we take time to reflect on the year that was – all the joyous, heart-rending, life-changing and memorable moments. And in light of these occasions, we’re all a little stronger, a little smarter and a little wiser, so let’s celebrate! The following few picture books will give you that extra little reason to take pride in your achievements, and of course, to PARTY!

imageBring a Duck, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

If there ever was a book about celebrations it’s ‘Bring a Duck’! When Bear finds a party invitation from Pig in his letterbox, he is ‘tickled pink’! But he is also stumped – ‘Bring your own duck?’ – whatever could Pig have planned? With a cascade of ducks of all sorts, shapes, sizes, outfits and personalities, the party is a flapping success! Young readers will relish the fun of the duck-themed games, events and magic tricks, including duck hunts and stunts and pulling a duck out of a hat. And when it’s Bear turn to host an elephant party, we are immediately inspired to dream up the most imaginative of parties for ourselves!

Simply charming and exuberant illustrations team up with the fast-paced, rhyming text that hold our excitement and engagement all the way through.

With humour, delight, playfulness and creativity, ‘Bring a Duck’ is a quacking sensation that is sure to invite sentiments of harmony, togetherness, imagination and fun.

imagePickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds: The Birthday Party Cake, Alison Reynolds (author), Mikki Butterley (illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

From one birthday party to the next. It’s a joyous occasion for Pickle and Bree as they plan a party for their Panda friend, Jason. Or is it? This new, gorgeous series, including ‘The Decorating Disaster’, aims to gently guide its readers to appropriate social etiquette and positive behaviour. So, when Pickle is disgruntled as his bear plans are overhauled by the over-zealous and strong-willed Bree, what’s needed is a fresh perspective. Listening to others, being open to new ideas and accepting differences are just some of the valuable lessons Pickle and Bree learn from their experience. These points are neatly tied together at the end with a list of Good Deeds to acknowledge and reinforce what makes each of us special.

But despite the disagreements, we are enchanted by the party-goers’ funny antics, adorable expressions and energy that exude from the pages. The pastel colours and textures are homely and inviting, and the text encouraging and supportive. Therefore, successfully fulfilling its intention.

‘The Birthday Party Cake’ delicately and sensitively deals with common issues concerning relationships, emotions and tolerance. This enables its readers to value their own and others’ opinions and feelings. A fun, thought-provoking and relevant story for all children from age four.

imageScarlett, Starlet, Emma Quay (author, illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

From honouring the birthday boy or girl to taking centre stage yourself, Scarlett, Starlet certainly enjoys the spotlight! Scarlett loves to dance. And when she does she is the brightest sparkle in her mummy’s and daddy’s eyes. She spreads rhythm all over the place, and even her puppy Jazzy Jo-Jo loves to tap along. A spectacular stage performance sees Scarlett shine like never before. But in the end she doesn’t need the spotlight, or even her mummy and daddy’s affirmations to know that she is, and always has been, a star!

The simple language with its tapping onomatopoeia, repetitive phrases and age-appropriate dialogue beautifully tie in with the basic colour palette of bright red and yellow, which signify strength, power and luminosity just like Scarlett.

‘Scarlett, Starlet’ is delightfully charming; the perfect book for young preschoolers longing to make their mark on the world of entertainment. They will undoubtedly take pleasure in reliving Scarlett’s shining moment over and over again.

imageA, You’re Adorable, Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman (words), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Justine Clarke (audio), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

There’s no better way to commemorate special people and events in your life than with a song story and bonus CD to swing along to! The well-known, lyrical, alphabetical ode to someone wonderful is gorgeous in this new edition that celebrates the love and pride in those who mean the most.
‘I, you’re the one I idolise. J, we’re like Jack and Jill. K, you’re so kissable. L is the love-light in your eyes.’

With soft and dreamy illustrations that put all the warmth and tenderness in your heart, as well as the added elements of spirit, charm and curiosity. The soulful, Jazzy-tunes of Justine Clarke on the CD ignite that little extra spark to enlighten all the senses.

‘A, You’re Adorable’ is a sweet, melodic book that reinforces alphabet knowledge and feelings of adoration and affection towards our loved ones. Definitely something to appreciate as we look back on the year that was, and the aspirations we anticipate to satisfy in the year ahead.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more bookish excitement in 2016!

‘Balm for the Soul’ – Summer holiday Reviews

Parachute Nintendo gameSummer school holidays for me are childhood memories of searing hot days in a sun-shrivelled backyard, homegrown apricots cold from the fridge after a swim in the above ground pool, and losing myself for hours on end in stories. What are your perfect summer holiday memories? Chances are your children’s summers are crystallising into something unforgettable as we speak and although game-playing is much more sophisticated and consuming than my days on the old Game and Watch Nintendos (Go Snoopy Tennis and Parachute!), here’s hoping story books still play a significant role in their holiday adventures. Here are some outstanding titles that are perfect for sharing these holidays. Picture books, yes, but hum dingers they are!Perfect

For the freedom seekers…

I am falling more in love with and in awe of Danny Parker’s work with each new release. Perfect, illustrated by Freya Blackwood wildly perpetuates this love affair. As revealed in a recent seminar, Parker uses song-like nine syllabic rhyming verse (akin to kuji mantras) to eloquently describe three children’s summer place and activities. It’s superbly simple and concise yet captures each moment of the children’s life with astounding alacrity. They lounge in the sunshine, mix and make, break and create. They meander and breathe, soar and believe until storm clouds pen them indoors. Their days are full of scheming, with nights of ‘beautiful dreaming’.

Perfect Illos spread # 2 Perfect, quite simply…is. Crisp, clean and wholesome smudged with daring that belies the adventure of the children’s days. Summer essence is beautifully bound together with Blackwood’s timeless pencil and acrylic painted illustrations; delicate and creamy, exuding a fullness of spirit that only children with no restraint of time or imagination possess. A perfect portrayal of freedom and joie de vivre. Better than Nintendo! Read more about these two creators and Perfect in Romi’s post, here.

Little Hare Books Hardie Grant Egmont October 2015

Australian Kids through the YearsFor reminiscing…

Another better than perfect picture book to place up front and foremost on your bookshelves this summer is Tania McCartney’s and Andrew Joyner’s, Australian Kids through the Years. This is blindingly brilliant. At first, I had a niggling concern that the target audience (5 – 8) might suffer some disconnection with the past, it being so far away from yesterday for them and their collected reference frames, but I was happily wrong on this account. My Miss 9 adored every page, every era, every word, and every image (yes, even the 80s) of this unreal expose of kids’ lives from the very first inhabitants to present day. What they ate, wore, played, and Australian Kids Years illo spreadeven read is faithfully recounted in kid-friendly pictures and bubble boxes. There’s a real personal intimacy with the kids from each time period created by McCartney’s short and sweet vignettes so joyfully illustrated by Joyner. (His illustrations smack of Little Golden Book, old-world charm – a perfect match for the text).

So much more than a catalogue of that-was-then facts, Australian Kids Through the Years brings hysterically accurate information right back into our lives (hysterical because I still own a Walkman) and is absolutely brilliant to share with today’s Z Generation. My Miss Z revelled in the revelations. (Yes, Mummy really did love her dragster bike). A must for homes and schools, and late-20th Century tragics like me. You’ll be digging out your Nintendo after reading this, too!

Australian Kids Year illo spread # 2Timelines and listings of illustrations are all faithfully included, as well. Read Joy Lawn’s Aussie round up on good reads, here.

National Library of Australia October 2015This & That

For the littlies…

It’s been a little while since the Mem Fox / Judy Horacek duo joined forces. Not since their Where is the Green Sheep? have I read a picture book so many times in one sitting. Happy to report some fresh material is now available to rest your sheep-weary sensibilities and, ironically, Horacek’s iconic sheep make a fleeting cameo in, This & That.

Essentially a tale for the under fours, This & That is robust and short enough to go a few (dozen) rounds at bedtime. Fox focuses her balanced prose with simple rhyme and rhythm mixing fantastical improbabilities with silly acceptability. They are stories, made up for your amusement after all. Horacek’s clean-lined illustrations embellish the possibilities even further. I love her use of pinging colour and light and shade.

This & That has a vaguely familiar feel to it but it’s a formula that works a wonder, if Green Sheep is anything to go by. Not all of Fox’s work works for me but this one has been worth the wait. Guaranteed to be the new go-to bedtime favourite these holidays.

Scholastic Australia October 2015

For the thinkers…River Riddle

If you’re anxious about your kids’ minds slipping in a soporific summer stupor fear not, this fun picture book, River Riddle by first time team, Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop will keep them (and you) engrossed in many minutes of contemplative thought, or in my case many many many minutes. You see, this tale is based on the well-known kids’ logic puzzle and those two words (logic and puzzle) reside uncomfortably in my head. I just find this difficult! That is not to say, impossible. Dewar’s clever rhyming quatrains ably set the scene and pace for Jack whose aim is to make it to the market with his bag of hay…on the other side of a deep wide river.

River Riddle illosHis companions, a fox called Frank and a sheep called Dolly are not to be trusted on their own so in spite of a small boat being available for their river crossing, the dilemma of whom to row across first and whom to leave on shore till later arises. Turns out, Jack is smarter than I am and solves his river riddle but does he make it to the market in time?

Tortop’s kid-cute digi illustrations are boisterous, bright, and cheery. My primary schooler had loads of fun recreating this story and acting out ‘the crossing’ with her toys in a mathematical logical way; again, I had to leave the room so confused did I become. This is the kind of holiday pre-occupation you’d pay for, am I right. Great for small minds and big thinkers.

Scholastic Australia August 2015

If none of these holidays reads suit you, discover more here at the Kids Holiday Reading Guide 2015 – 2016.

To all who have read, wept and laughed at my words and those of so many others this past year, a heartfelt THANK YOU. Have a great Festive Season and a safe, story-filled New Year! I’m off to scoff a few fruit mince pies and of course, keep on reading!

 

 

 

 
 

 

Christmas is Still Coming – Picture Books this Season

Need more Christmas-themed books to keep your little ones entertained this season? Between my previous list, those featured on the Kids’ Reading Guide, and the Boomerang Bloggers fantastic suggestions, you won’t be short for choice of top quality reads to cover all your festive needs.  

imageSanta’s Busy Reindeer, Ed Allen (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2014.

In a similar style to some of his other titles including 10 Cheeky Possums and 10 Funny Sheep, Ed Allen teams up with illustrator Nathaniel Eckstrom to sing us a reindeer tune just like the 10 Green Bottles one. Readers journey with ten fun-loving, and at times obstinate reindeers, with each page turn subtracting one poor deer from the equation. Carrying out all their favourite Christmas pastimes, like ice skating, hanging fairy lights, organising gifts, carolling, baking and decorating the tree, unfortunate (but oh-so-humorous) mishaps lead us down to one, until they all regroup with Santa’s call and they’re off on their merry way.

Bursting with energy, cheekiness and Eckstrom’s witty illustrations, it’s so much fun to see the reindeers’ attempts at productivity the night before Christmas! Santa’s Busy Reindeer will have your preschoolers in fits of giggles and lots of sing-along action.  

imageThe Naughtiest Reindeer, Nicki Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2013.

Poor Rudolf is bed-ridden on the night before Christmas. How will the other reindeer manage to pull the sleigh without him? Never fear! Ruby is here! But Ruby isn’t exactly the most obedient of reindeers. Her over-enthusiasm and impetuous nature lead her to all sorts of mischief. Too much for Santa to bear, he heads back to his Mrs, mistakingly dismissing one visited home, and Ruby! How will those children react when they discover their absent presents? Who will make up for the night-time disasters? You will see, a little compassion goes a long way!

You’ll be lolloping along with Ruby’s antics in this gorgeously comical and engaging rhyming story. Young readers will fall in love with this delightful and zealous character, and no doubt will relish the sequel out this Christmas, The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo.  

imageThere is a Monster Under My Christmas Tree Who Farts, Tim Miller (author), Matt Stanton (illus.), ABC Books, 2014.

From naughty reindeer to naughty monster. This one’s exploding with naughtiness and cheek! With foul language and foul smells, a young boy’s Christmas is ruined by the gaseous fumes that pervade his every move. As told in first person in an explanatory style, we learn how the wrapping of presents ritual is infused with bauble bombs, a photo with Santa captures nothing but cloudiness, and Mum and Dad can’t get past his cracking noises and putrid whiffs. But will Santa believe the young boy’s innocence, or will the monster’s true identity be revealed at just the right moment?

If you’re into toilet humour, you’ll love it! There is a Monster Under my Christmas Tree who Farts, with its animated, digital cartoons, is certainly not a ‘pleasant’ read, but early primary children will certainly be tooting for more.

Christmas is Coming – Picture Books this Season

What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the sound of excited squeals on Christmas morning? Is it the smell of freshly baked cookies? Is it the sight of twinkling fairy lights around your Christmas tree? Or perhaps that satifying feel of a bloated belly after you’ve tasted every gourmet delight! Here are a few picture books for this coming Christmas to help elicit all those fond memories, create new ones, and enrapture all the senses.  

imageWhat Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2015.

This one is a little bit special. Perhaps even more so for me because I attended the book launch, and met the superlative duo, Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, whose winning books always put a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. And ‘What Do You Wish For?’ is no different. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. As Jane Godwin said herself, a ‘wish’ signifies more of a statement of fear of loss or of something that will not happen, and her intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude.

There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. This year, all the children imagine the most wonderful sentiments, including hopeful dreams of teachers getting married and lego coming to life! But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky.   
                                                                                            
imageThe combination of Godwin’s inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy illustrations is simply divine. I adore the gentle features and cool colour palette with touches of red, and the intricacy of the individually cut paper, watercolour and print spreads. (See Anna’s process here).

‘What Do You Wish For?’ is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.  

imageSanta Claus is Coming to Town, Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots (authors), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

The Christmas song ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, written by Haven Gillespie and John Frederick Coots became an instant hit in 1934. Still widely played to this day, it is a tune that families know and love. Including a CD track performed by our Aussie talent, Human Nature, and the retro tones and classic-look illustrations by Nathaniel Eckstrom, this is a warm book reminiscent of the good old times, and just being good.

Five cheeky jungle animals are getting ready for Christmas Day. Organising cards and presents for one another isn’t always so simple. Neither is riding their bikes to the jubilee. But if the young ones can remain cool, calm and happy, and remember the all-important event, Santa Claus will come to town and distribute gifts to those most deserving.  

Parents will definitely appreciate this timely reminder to their kids, but particularly will enjoy the lyrical melody and smooth voices of Human Nature. And the humorous, playful illustrations will certainly be absorbed by any preschool-aged child. ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ is a must-have for your stocking this Christmas!  

imageWe’re Going on a Santa Hunt, Laine Mitchell (author), Louis Shea (illus.), Jay Laga’aia (performer), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

A sure-fire way to get kids engaged in a story is to add a dash of jingle, a splash of rhyme and the ‘presence’ of familiarity. In this jolly Christmas adventure, the bonus music CD with the voice of Play School’s Jay Laga’aia, and the structure of Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, (see similar titles by Laine Mitchell), all mixed with the gaiety of the festive season makes for a guaranteed hit with its readers / listeners.

‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ takes five adorable arctic animals on a mission to deliver their letters to the ‘jolly one’. They bound through dark train tunnels, tinsel and swishing trees, herds of reindeer, the elves workshop, and sooty chimneys, because of course they couldn’t go over or under them! But upon catching a glimpse of the figure in black, white and red, it’s a frantic bolt back through the elements and straight into bed!

Energetic, vivacious, fun and full of thrill, ‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ is a preschooler’s literary and musical delight that is bound to create excitement (and perhaps some havoc) this Christmas time.  

imageChristmas For Greta and Gracie, Yasmeen Ismail (author, illus.), Nosy Crow UK, 2015.

Greta is Gracie’s older (and bigger) bunny sister. She is also extremely chatty, a little bit bossy and a lot impatient. The girls love everything about Christmas, but especially Santa. Gracie is meticulous, quiet and little, but she has a big curiosity. When she asks her sister all about Santa, Greta always has the answer (or so she thinks!). On Christmas Eve, whilst Greta catches zzz’s, Gracie creeps out of the room – slowly, quietly, sneakily. Who does she find busily working in her living room? And how does she silence her normally loud, talkative sister?

I love the casual, quirky feel with its watercolours and rough edges, and the handwritten dialogue in pink and yellow speech bubbles to represent each character. I also love how the language used clearly identifies the ages of these children; being curious in nature, with an element of egocentricity and brutal honesty.

‘Christmas For Greta and Gracie’ is gorgeously engaging, witty and sincere, perfect for young readers from age three. There are clear themes of sibling relationships, self expression, differences and acceptance, all the while including the magic and imagination of Christmas and its related traditions.  

For more great titles to explore this Christmas, check out Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – 2016, and Dimity’s Stocking Stuffer Suggestions.

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.

 

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Picture Books for Halloween

Rather than terrifying the boots off you, these two gentle yet energetic picture books caper around the Halloween spirit whilst addressing themes of responsibility, friendship and teamwork at the same time. A perfect opportunity to share some magic, cheeky giggles and affection with your little ones.  

imageThe Witch’s Britches, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Raining magical underwear! Giant ice cream cones! Dancing squirrels! Sounds like the perfect concoction for a quirky, spellbinding Halloween story. Here is yet another marvel by classic funny-man, author P.Crumble and the talents of illustrator, Lucinda Gifford.

Chanted in rhyming couplets, the tale tells of the magic that comes from, not a wand, but in fact, britches! The undergarments of pixies, goblins and witches all have spell-casting abilities, but with two rules – don’t lose them, and keep them clean! Young witch Ethel goes to her biggest effort to retain their odour-free, magical freshness. Until one windy day Ethel faces a catastrophe as her britches are stolen by a gust of wind, and cause phenomenal havoc all over the town. Unsuspecting mortals are surprised by their sudden abilities to fly, encounters with abnormally-large babies and dog bones, and unforeseen visits to outer space. The whole park has turned into an exploding, edible and fantastical circus scene! But with the stamp of her foot, Ethel sets the town straight…and finds the perfect way to keep her britches in line, too.

More kooky than spooky, ‘The Witch’s Britches’ is a tale full to the brim with humour, fantasy and adventure. The watercolour and pencil illustrations are bold, vibrant and energetic, with plenty of details to take the reader on the imaginative journey with this diligent little witch.

Lots of fun for preschoolers this Halloween with a simple lesson in being responsible for your belongings!    

imageEmu’s Halloween, Anne Mangan (author), David Cornish (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.  

Emu wants to organise the scariest Halloween party anyone has ever seen. But she doesn’t know how. Luckily her eavesdropping Aussie animal friends have the perfect plan. The hilarious scenes begin as they all roll up to Emu’s place, dressed in the spookiest of outfits the outback has ever seen – a zombie Kangaroo, a floating Tassie Devil angel, the scruffiest Frankenstein Koala, a Red-Back Spider (need I say more?), a ghostly Cockatoo and a frightening Dracula Echindna. But will Emu appreciate their efforts? Of course! That is just the beginning!

A wonderfully creative array of Halloween crafts, decorations, games and nibbles are beautifully integrated to allow readers the tools for setting up a themed party of their own. From paper ghosts to skeletons made from sticks, how to make a witches’ brew, sandwitches and bobbing for apples, the animals celebrate in frighteningly spooktacular style.

Written in rollicking, exuberant rhyme, with illustrations that clearly match the story’s energy and the warmth of this gregarious group. A mixture of pencil and Photoshop, scanned paper and cloth textures add depth, softness and familiarity to the adorable characters and their fun antics.

‘Emu’s Halloween’ is a brilliant read-aloud book for kids (and adults) of all ages that not only outlines the perfect scary Halloween party, but is also is a beautiful reminder of friendship, togetherness, creativity and spirit that can be celebrated at any time of the year.  

Taking Action – Fun Books to Get Kids Moving

The beauty of children’s books is that they lend themselves to so many further experiences beyond the reading of the words. These three books contain just the right mix of language and animation to have you and your little ones practicing a few moves of your own.  

imagePuddles are for Jumping, Kylie Dunstan (author, illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

The first thing you’ll notice upon picking up this book are the awesome illustrations. Each spread is entirely created with bright, cut and pasted paper characters and scenes in primary colours, suiting its wet weather theme and straightforward storyline.

Kylie Dunstan cleverly takes her early primary-aged audience on this rainy adventure through the park, market, the neighbourhood and back home again to bed, simply by stating the actions in the words and demonstrating them in the pictures. Written in present tense, the short sentences are relatable and encourage young readers to focus on how different objects can be utilised in the most enjoyable way possible.

“Bottoms are for wriggling, Sisters are for laughing!” /
“Beds are for BOUNCING, Books are for sharing”.

‘Puddles are for Jumping’ is both visually and actively entertaining. This truly playful and joyous book is perfect for promoting experiences in the creative arts and movement areas, as well as supporting themes of friendship and citizenship.  

imageConga Dance, Amanda Tarlau (author), Jane Chapman (illus.), Koala Books, 2015.

Another book to get you on your feet is ‘Conga Dance’. As the title suggests, this euphoric story sashays from start to end with a toe-tapping, bounding, shaking and strutting line up of Aussie animals, progressively joining in the dance. I love how the language matches each of the characters’ traits and encourages dramatic play.

“Wombat’s next, whiskers shaking” /
“Cockatoo struts and squawks with laughter.”

Emu leads the rhythmic chant with six lively friends following on, until…someone gets in the way!
To match the rollicking, rhyming verse, the watercolour illustrations are gorgeously textured, soft and expressive, perfectly representing the warm and jovial atmosphere of these adorable, fun-loving creatures in the Australian bush.

‘Conga Dance’ exudes warmth, excitement and a totally care-free attitude that will have preschoolers shuffling, bopping and giggling along in repeated succession.  

imageOnce I Heard a Little Wombat, Renée Treml (author, illus.), Random House, 2015.

Inspired by the classic 19th century nursery rhyme ‘Once I Saw a Little Bird’ is Renée Treml‘s adorable Australian version, ‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’.

This particularly sweet board book for toddlers is a beautiful read aloud story that will no doubt have your little one joining in the action. Cleverly interactive, the tale talks in first person, immediately connecting the reader with the audience. And it’s only at the very end that the mystery of the narrator is revealed. Great for fostering prediction skills!  

Energetic rhyme and repetitive verbs in clumps of three hook the listener in for the ride as an array of animals display their typical behavioural characteristics. Sugar gliders bump and jump, bilbies scratch, snatch and hop, and puggles splish, splash and plop. Attempts are made to convince each one to stay and play, but the little creatures have their own agendas. Until a little stomping wombat comes around and is ready to play and romp, and then it is time for the pair to stop and flop together for a nap. But who is this mystery animal friend? Read it to find out!

In her characteristically unique and stunning style, Renée Treml‘s artwork is soothing, yet playful with her adorable black and white scratch-art fauna, each assigned a different pastel-coloured background.

‘Once I Heard a Little Wombat’ is a delightful board book of perfect size and shape for little hands. With its exhibition of charming Australian animals and their habitats this lively romp has great learning potential, and is the perfect excuse for repeated read-alongs and role play action for all its early childhood readers.

Review – The BAD GUYS Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey

the-bad-guys-episode-1Admittedly, I’m a picture book fanatic, but I’m also an Aaron Blabey fan so I wasn’t going to let a 137-page chapter book with colourless illustrations stop me from exploring it. In fact, it made no difference to my level of reading pleasure; ‘The BAD GUYS’ is highly interactive and witty and kind of like a long picture book anyway.  

Characteristic to his style, Aaron Blabey has written a story with his slightly sick sense of humour, subtle message, clever use of language and with a twist on the expected. In eight hilarious, yet intense chapters, we join this mob of dangerous, dubious characters on their quest to take over the world. No, seriously, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Piranha are not as menacing as you might think. Actually, they are simply MISUNDERSTOOD. Actually, they want to be HEROES.

carThrough informal language, Mr. Wolf introduces the reader to each member of his gang; the accused ‘villains’, trying to prove their innocence. Funnily enough, there’s the occassional hiccup. His efforts are constantly challenged by his starving pals wanting something more wholesome than a little cupcake. Plus, it doesn’t help his case having Suspect Rap Sheets typed by the Police Department showcasing their criminal activities on display for all us readers to view.
So, Mr. Wolf proceeds to indoctrinate the crew into his Good Guys Club. Still not convinced, the gang set off in their ‘fully sick’, flaming cool car to rescue a kitty in a tree…with some ‘cat-astrophic’ results (don’t worry, the cat was not harmed).
Next on their mission, Mr. Wolf plans a 200 puppy rescue from a maximum security dog pound. What happens next is like a twisted fairy tale meets a twisted ‘Jaws’ movie. As if the illustrations weren’t comical enough, this whole scene is absolutely hilarious! And as if there weren’t enough surprises, is it a coincidence that our not-so lovable little Pig the Pug is found imprisoned in one of the cells!

4C44DAE3CC68D0F21D9C2E3183C7FD64613ACASo, do they turn out to be the type of heroes they had hoped? How do the gang feel about being ‘good guys’? Stay tuned for their next jaw-dropping adventure in The Bad Guys: Episode 2!

With its obvious references to traditional fairy tales and well-known ‘notorious’ personas, the plot is mostly straightforward, the language uncomplicated, and the humour dry, but also leaves room for readers to make inferences on the consequences of their actions and predictions for future episodes. The black and white illustrations actually suit this shady crowd perfectly. Being such a lively story as it is, a literally dull tone brings the levels to a perfect balance. Needless to say, Aaron Blabey‘s animations are completely satirical with their comic-style sequences and regular in-your-face boldness of big-eyed expressions and large, bouncy font.

‘The Bad Guys’ is a laugh-out-loud, unputdownable read with totally convincing edgy and quirky characters, sure to be a hit amongst 6-9 year old early readers.

Scholastic Australia, 2015.

View the book trailer here.
Visit Aaron Blabey’s website.

Baby Love Picture Books

When our little ones begin to show a curiosity for the world around them, this may include exploring nature; its particular features, elements of growth and change, as well as discovering their own individual attributes and the differences in one another. Understanding and appreciating these fascinating aspects can be facilitated through gentle and nurturing guidance, and what better resources to do that than loving parents and delightful picture books?! Here are three beautiful stories that look at unique qualities and special bonds, just right for toddlers and preschoolers.  

imageHush, Little Possum, P.Crumble (author), Wendy Binks (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

To the classic tune of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ comes a beautiful Australian version of the lullaby, ‘Hush, Little Possum’. Equipped with a CD recording sung by well-known Indigenous actress/singer, Deborah Mailman, this book/music combo doesn’t get more engaging.

Mama possum is gentle, reassuring and loving, but she is also little possum’s beacon of safety with her unrelenting courage and astuteness. Keeping her precious bundle sheltered from rumbling, wet skies, and gushing floods, to noisy and dangerous structures, Mama’s instincts are unsurpassed.

Absolutely gorgeous multi-textured, earth-toned illustrations of these sweet sugar gliders reflect both the sense of security and nurturing qualities emanating from the song, but also our unique Australian features and landscapes of rusty tin sheds, expansive crop fields and eucalypt trees sustaining the forces of an outback storm. Aimed at reinforcing affectionate bonds between mums and bubs, it’s pure and authentic; ‘Hush, Little Possum’ is perfect for toddlers as a bedtime treat.  

imageOur Baby, Margaret Wild (author), Karen Blair (illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.

‘Our Baby’ maintains a unique stance, spoken by the older sister who portrays a range of babies and their families in varying shapes and forms. From typical nuclear families (like hers), to single and same-sex parents, babies with distinctive qualities (like tiny shrimp toes and dandelion hair), babies on adventures to shops and playgroup, and those performing different talents and cheeky behaviours. Each time, the girl reflects on what makes her own baby so individual, forging their special bond with one another.

With large font and an energetic, rhythmic tone, Margaret Wild‘s text is age-appropriate, warm and playful that makes for an easy, enjoyable read. Karen Blair‘s characteristically gentle and pronounced illustrations beautifully reflect the richness, diversity and idiosyncrasies of families and in particular, babies.

A special book for babies that celebrates how life is truly unique for everyone.  

imageOur Love Grows, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Following on from the completely divine ‘How I Love You’, another babylicious book by the irrefutably talented Anna Pignataro is ‘Our Love Grows’.

Once again, the maternal bond between mum and baby is explored, this time through reflections on precious past moments. Little panda, Pip ponders; ‘Mama, when will I be big?’. In comparison to their natural world around them, Mama gently guides Pip through the processes of growth and change. She reminisces about the time her little one was tiny; how the stars were just a few, his footsteps so small, his toy Birdy all new and Blanky so big. Mama explains that as nature and Pip have grown, so has her love for her curious child.

The browns, blues, greens and golds in the watercolour and pencil illustrations beautifully reflect the natural, oriental-type settings and the cycle of the seasons, and the warmth and tenderness associated with this loving relationship. Anna‘s text equally suits this affectionate tone with its rhyming and first-person language, enabling its readers and listeners to connect with the story and with one another.

Featuring soft and magical images, with a gentle and sweet storyline, ‘Our Love Grows’ is a lyrical, soothing book perfect for sharing with children from age two.

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.                                                                                   

Double Dipping – Last minute delights for Dad!

My Dad is a GiraffeMy Dad is a Giraffe

Dads are often described as bears and can be boorish but does yours remind you of a giraffe? If he’s tall and gentle, fast and spotty and good to climb up, chances are he is a giraffe.

My Dad is a Giraffe is the latest technicoloured picture book by genius, Stephen Michael King. I admit, I tend to sway a little when I hear his name, so enraptured by his talents am I. Happily, this new partnership of carefully considered words and whimsical illustrations encased thoughtfully in a blue-for-boys cover does not disappoint.

King uses a candy shop palette of colours and swirls and squiggles to paint one child’s description of their father, a character they are clearly in awe of. I mean, this guy can do really ‘amazing grown-up things like sitting in the big chair with his feet touching the ground.’ Concepts like this one capture the rapture only children can possess before life and logic over take them. Experiencing a Stephen Michael King picture book is exquisite in its own right. Experiencing this one is like holding a bubble between your fingers. It encapsulates the seemingly fragile and temporary yet intrinsically beautiful altruistic relationship young children share with their father figures.

Could not be better for Father’s Day.

Scholastic Press August 2015

Dear Dad I want to be just like YouDear Dad, I Want to Be Just Like You

I know some might be money for old rope, but picture books by interactive picture book team, Ed Allen and Simon Williams are often right on the money. In the same epistolary style as Dear Mum, I Love You, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You is a collection of cleverly crafted correspondences by an assortment of critter kiddies in praise of their fathers. And when your dad is as funny, sporty and brave, not to mention a whiz in the kitchen as these dads are, you’ll wish you were just like him, too.

Williams’ full-page portraits plunge readers into the colourful hearts and homes of each animal from King Emperor Penguin to Salt Water Croc. The letters, enveloped in sneaky little fold outs and pull outs are ridiculously cute and funny while the enclosed sentiments will strike a chord with dads everywhere. There is even a referral to FIFO dads or more accurately, SISO dads as told through the eyes of Daddy Humpback. (You work it out!)

Humorous and utterly alluring, Dear Dad, I want to be Just Like You embodies a love of letter writing with the intimacy of daddy-child relationships like no other. A highly recommended fun Father’s Day read.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

For more fantastic Father’s Day reads, have a look at my round up and Romi’s as well.

Give Daddy a Cuddle – Picture Books for Father’s Day

We’ve seen some wildly adventurous and hilarious new release picture books available for Father’s Day, now it’s time to celebrate with some more tender, but just as lively, titles that will melt your heart with their precious innocence and charm.  

imageDaddy, You’re Awesome, Laine Mitchell (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

It’s the simple things that make Daddy awesome. Spending time together chasing a ball, swinging on the swing, looking up at the stars and sharing tickles are the kinds of memories children will treasure most. Laine Mitchell follows on from her Mother’s Day beauty, ‘Mummy, You’re Special To Me’ with this ‘awesomely’ imaginative rhyming gift to Dads this Father’s Day.
Here is another joyous collection of amazing animal parents, this time with fathers doing fatherly things. Plenty of action and adventure, building, exploring, camping and creating marvellous inventions, and always completing the verse with the phrase ‘Daddy, you’re awesome to me.’ But of course, no loving story about the paternal bonds between parent and child can end without an affectionate kiss and snuggle to soothe little ones after such a busy day.
With the characteristically stunning trademark style of Renée Treml‘s scratch art, vivid colours and simply adorable hand-drawn creatures, ‘Daddy, You’re Awesome’ oozes warmth, fun and adoration for those special people in our lives.  

imageDaddy Cuddle, Kate Mayes (author), Sara Acton (illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

Little Bunny wakes even before the crack of dawn (sounds familiar!) to the sound of the milkman’s truck. To Bunny, it’s time to get up and play. In cute, toddler two-word sentences, Bunny attempts to wake Daddy by any means. ‘Daddy ball?’, ‘Daddy bike?’, ‘Daddy kite?’. Bunny raids the house offering toys and accessories to a blissfully unaware, snoring Daddy, until enough is enough. In an oh-so-sweet ending Bunny is finally treated to a storytime snuggle and cuddle that sends them both back into a cosy slumber.
I love Kate Mayes‘ gorgeously simple text that will appeal to toddlers’ vocabulary and cheeky natures. And beautifully complimented is Sara Acton‘s energetic and adorable line and watercolour sketches on white backgrounds, making ‘Daddy Cuddle’ the perfect book for little ones (and their dads) to relate to the mischievous actions of this Bunny on a mission.    

imageDaddies Are Great!, Meredith Costain (author), Polona Lovsin (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015 (first published by Koala Books in 2013 as Daddies Are Lovely).

Daddies are there to make you feel safe, loved, cherished, proud and adventurous. And don’t dogs make you feel these things, too? That’s why this next book contains the ideal combination for tugging on our heartstrings.
It’s a book full of doggy daddy deliciousness, with its tongue-panting kisses, tail-wagging games, romping, rolling and digging goodness. You’ll also find caring poodles and border collies who soothe pups to sleep, boxers that raise a helping paw, and cavaliers and chihuahuas inviting close affection.
The illustrations are fantastically realistic and playful, beautifully supporting Costain‘s gentle rhyming text with its sweet ode to the fun and protecting fathers out there.
‘Daddies Are Great!’ exudes devotion and induces intimacy in this book of unconditional love and special relationships.  

Wishing all Daddies, Granddaddies and other special people a sweet and snuggly Father’s Day with your loved ones!

Picture Books of Beauty

Finding the extraordinary hidden in the simplest of things is like discovering a little piece of magic. Take a moment to stop and breathe in the beauty around you. You’ll find wonder in the most imaginative places! Whether you enjoy time in solitude, with a partner or a group, these few beautiful books help remind us all of the treasures in our world; nature, love and friends.  

the-red-featherThe Red Feather, Ben Kitchin (author), Owen Swan (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

With its calming and gentle illustrations using soft, muted beachy blues and yellows, and delicately written, warming story, ‘The Red Feather’ symbolises tenderness, resilience and autonomy.
When a group of young children visit the seaside, it is Claude who finds the red feather first. Wanting it for himself, he takes a light approach; patting it and wearing it in his hair…until he feels hungry and swaps it for a whole watermelon. One by one, the children delight in its flexibility, including singing, twirling, cuddling, dancing, and jumping with the small red quill. And one by one they take turns to trade it (although hesistantly) when something else is needed…until they feel lonely. Finally they discover that playing cooperatively is much more satisfying…until the red feather finds a new owner.

This simple story of resourcefulness, sharing and friendship stands out as one of beauty, just like the bright red feather that joyfully glides and swishes throughout the pale background scenery. ‘The Red Feather’ is an enchanting story to encourage preschoolers to see the value in togetherness; a single feather may look beautiful on its own, but imagine its beauty in full plumage.  

a-riverA River, Marc Martin (author, illus.), Viking Penguin, 2015.

This stunning book by Marc Martin encourages the solidarity of imagination in a world that is far greater, but no less beautiful, than a single feather. From the gorgeous, embossed front cover, to the endpapers that signify the beginning and ending of the story, with plenty of hidden clues to draw us in, it is easy to become totally entranced by this book.
A girl sits at her desk overlooking an expansive, crowded city with a single winding river flowing through it. In her little boat, she imagines floating amidst speeding cars on motorways, smoky factory buildings, patchwork fields of crops on farms, lush green valleys, gushing waterfalls, and through jungles and rainforests like the Amazon. And as the darkness sets upon her, she sails into open, and sometimes gusty seas until the raindrops on her window bring her back to the reality of her bedroom, and she notices the glimmering moonlight shining on her silver boat ready for another adventure.

Magnificently detailed, soothing landscapes on double page spreads and whimsically constructed poetic text beautifully compliment each other, effectively taking the reader on this tranquil journey with the little girl. Just divine!  

51CY7krRqaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Yak and Gnu, Juliette MacIver (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books Australia, 2015.

In another river ride adventure, Yak and Gnu are the best of friends. In rollicking rhyming text, this unsual pair sing and row along peacefully in their kayaks, believing that their ingenuity is unlike any other beast known to…beast. Until they encounter a goat in a boat. Now there are no other beasts like them, except for Goat. Carrying on their journey to the sea, Yak and Gnu are surprised and disgruntled each time they meet other sailing, rafting, floating and hovercrafting wild animals. Initially able to count these intruders of the water, the numbers appearing, and the ways they travel become more and more ridiculous and overwhelming. Concluding with an exquisite sunset, Yak and Gnu come to realise the beauty of their friendship to each other overrides any notion of originality or superiority.

Wildly bold and animated watercolour illustrations and entertaining rhythmic, read-aloud language, Yak and Gnu will have young readers in bursts of giggles from start to finish.  

Teacup-coverTeacup, Rebecca Young (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.

In one word – breathtaking. The irrefutable talent of illustrator Matt Ottley is sublimely showcased with texture and depth in this profound tale written by Rebecca Young. Her poetic text has a sophisticated tone with its ability to evoke emotive feelings and strong imagery in one’s heart and mind.
Experiencing days of serene white backdrops, calming whale sounds and the gentle, whistling sea breeze, together with times of darkness and cruelty, a young boy has no choice but to flee on a courageous journey to find a new life. Memories from home flood his heart but these reflections carry him forward. Amongst his few possessions, a simple teacup filled with earth, becomes the fruitful treasure that ties the uncertainty of the sea to the prosperous future that was just a whisper away.

‘Teacup’ is a poignant, powerful story of displacement, change and hope. It is a stunning gem aimed to promote the understanding of social issues and human rights, and also one that primary school aged children are sure to appreciate for its majestic beauty.
Read Dimity’s captivating review of ‘Teacup’ here.  

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

With large, clear font, this gentle story tells of two friends that are like polar opposites; a self-assured boy called Big and his little, timid lizard-like pet, Small. Their perspectives on the world differ greatly. Big bellows in the city streets, admiring the huge buildings and long streets. Small curiously observes autumn leaves and trickles of water. He ends up following slippery snail trails, a scampering mouse and a feather, until he realises he’s lost. In his desperate attempt to find his way back to Big, Small must think ‘big’ thoughts. It takes this near tragedy for both to realise what matters most in this life…each other.

With a gorgeous array of watercolours and pencil sketches, bright colours and mixture of busy scenes and stark, lonely white pages, the illustrations and narrative effectively capture moments of joy, wonder, urgency and despair. ‘Small and Big’ is a sweet, heartwarming tale of friendship, appreciating each others’ unique differences, and a world of beauty. Primary school aged children of any size and personality will adore this ‘little book with a big heart’.

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’.

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!  

Classics to cherish – Old tale picture book reviews

Don’t you love that emphatic certainty a below-twelve year-old has whenever they hear a remix of a song dating from the golden oldie era? ‘They got that song from such and such movie, Mum!’ Um well, no actually it was around way before me…Stories evoke similar conviction.

Alice in Wonderland 150thModern retellings of classic children’s stories might seem like a cheeky waste of time, but timeless tales and parables reclothed in sleek modern attire have an astonishing way of finding hanging space in a child’s heart. After all, they are encountering these tales for the first time. Sharing golden oldies with them is a sure fire way of rekindling your love for favourite tales as well. Here are a handful of ‘new’ classics to curl up with together.

We begin our journey with Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole. This is a large substantial picture book retelling of Lewis Carroll’s spectacularly well-known fantasy tale from the late eighteen hundreds.

Alice in Illo spreadLoud and outlandish like the very bizarre world Alice plummets unexpectedly into, this re-telling commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Alice’s journey. Many of the most famous phrases are included in a parred down text, which showcases some of Carroll’s most notable characters: Alice, the White Rabbit, and The blue Caterpillar.

Ever changing, yet strangely familiar and forever charming, Eric Puybaret’s dashingly abstract illustrations establish just the right amount of plausibility for our wide-eyed, take-it-as-it-comes adverturine, Alice. An excellent pre-emptive introduction for littlies before they embark on the original version.

Retold by Joseph Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg

Koala Books February 2015

The Velveteen RabbitIn keeping with le Lapin theme, The Velveteen Rabbit is a sublime re-release of the 1922 classic children’s story by Margery Williams Bianco. Lovers of the Toy Story notion that toys have their own very real wants and needs just like to their young owners will coo with delight over this bedside tale. The Velveteen Rabbit will melt the strongest of hearts with its ‘nursery magic is strange and wonderful’ credence.

Velveteen illo spread Bianco’s original text is faithfully reproduced and swathed in the softest, silken images befitting this dreamy tale by first time picture book illustrator, Helen Magisson. Subtle and sweet enough to want to take up and cuddle, the charm of The Velveteen Rabbit will ‘last for always’. Read our full Boomerang review and interview with Helene Magisson, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

The Ugly DucklingSlipping a CD into a picture book is a natty little bonus that enlivens a tale and adds extra dimension to its delivery. Justine Clarke is no stranger to delivering entertaining songs and stories to children and it’s her interpretation of this song adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale classic, The Ugly Duckling, that youngsters are going to warm to.

Written by Frank Loesser, this rendition is the same snappy paced version sung by the late Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie, Hans Christian Anderson.

The illustrations of Nathaniel Eckstrom are visually enchanting and bring to life the tale of a socially ousted signet that matures into the most beautiful and noble of all the creatures on the pond.

Justine ClarkeA timeless tale enhanced and best appreciated with the accompanying CD performance.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Henny PennySpeaking of timeless tales, The Once Upon a Timeless Tale collection by Little Hare Books gives children several fairy-tale titles to choose from in handy-to-hold sized, hard covered picture books with plenty of child and bookshelf appeal.

Hugely collectable, stories of yesteryear are retold in a simply laid out style, which confident readers can easily tackle themselves. Pre-schoolers will appreciate snuggling up with a new tale each night and get a kick of the beguilingly beautiful artwork accompanying each tale by various well-known illustrators such as Tamsin Ainslie, Ann Walker and Anna Pignataro to name but a few.

Henny Penny, the tale of an apprehensive hen who predicted the end of the world when she felt a bit of the sky fall on her tail, is one in a list of many familiar stories; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea and Jack and the Beanstalk amongst many many Timeless Tales Collectionothers. They come in CD audio versions as well. Find your favourites and please don’t forget to share them!

Little Hare Books, HGE 2014

 

Reconciliation Week Reviews

Narragunnawali’ – peace, alive, wellbeing and coming together. A word that lies at the heart of Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning and aims to ‘increase respect; reduce prejudice and strengthen relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.’ With National Reconciliation Week in full swing (27 May to 3 June), it’s high time we celebrate the wealth of gifted indigenous artists that go to great pains to share their histories and cultures. Here is but a smattering of titles that embrace imagination and time honoured fable telling.Stories for Simon # 2

Although not of indigenous background, debut picture book team, Lisa Miranda Sarzin and Lauren Briggs have united to produce Stories for Simon, ‘a story of a shared dream and bright future’.

Simon is your typical Sydney nine-year-old boy who one day, through his show and tell presentation, stumbles upon the moment in history when an apology to the Stolen Generation was finally voiced. As this sparks discussion and learning in Simon’s classroom, so too will this sensitive narrative encourage interest and understanding in school children as it outlines what the Stolen Generation is and why saying sorry is just the start of the journey towards ‘peace and coming together’. Filled with tangible emotion and magic, Stories for Simon reveals tragedies and fosters empathy in a brave, provocative coming together of two cultures.

This picture book provides another crucial element in the quest to procure and sustain reconciliation amongst our future generations and thus is an excellent introduction to it.

Random House for Children May 2015

Kookoo Kookaburra Gregg Dreise’s Kookoo Kookaburra and Sally Morgan’s and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Magpie Learns a Lesson, are two new picture books, which focus on Dreamtime aphorisms and fables. The message in both is to be kind and respect the feelings of others.

Kookoo Kookaburra, an ace storyteller, falls out of grace with his bushland friends when his good-natured storytelling deteriorates to hurtful personal ridiculing. He must learn to listen and observe more and speak less, whilst distributing kindness more genuinely, because we all know, that is the surest way to have kindness returned.

Magpie learns a lessonMagpie is another wily winged character who discovers that empathy and kindness strengthen friendships far better than teasing and jokes do. Fortunately for him, his best mate, Brown Falcon is wise and patient enough to standby him when disaster strikes.

Both the illustrations of Dreise and those of Tania Erzinger, have a textual fascination that enriches these beautiful Going Bush with Grandpatales. Well suited to lower and mid primary.

Magabala Books May 2015

Omnibus Books February 2015

 Sally Morgan teams once again with her son, Ezekiel Kwaymullina on a series of early chapter books, aimed at developing readers. Each has a cast of indigenous characters who star in family orientated stories (there is usually a grandpa or grandma involved somehow).

 Going Bush with Grandpa was the first. I liked One Rule for Jack. Flying High is number four in the series. Bright, breezy narratives with twerky little endings all One Rule for Jackgenerously illustrated by the iconic Craig Smith will keep smiles on faces for a long, long time.

Omnibus Books Feb 2014 – April 2015

Being at one and living in peace and synchronicity with nature are fundamental in indigenous culture. Animals are intrinsically linked to totems and dreamiDuelgumng stories, which when passed down through generations, ensures continued appreciation and understanding of one’s sense of place. Uncle Joe Kirk and Sandi Harrold, offer retellings of indigenous stories with a desire to educate and preserve.

Duelgum – The story of the mother eel, is a captivating travelog of the journey of the mysterious eel that instils a powerful sense of belonging, underpinning the sanctity of home as a place one can always return.

budinge Budinge and the Min Min Lights, draws kids into Budinge’s world as his imagination threatens to keep him hiding under the bedcovers forever. Full of joy and spirited illustration, this is a lovely example of how we sometimes allow situations to get the better of us.

Scholastic Australia January 2015

The Toast TreeImagine a tree that grows the best tasting toast in the world. The Toast Tree by Corina Martin and Fern Martins is a very special book about a very special tree.

Two young girls anticipate their grandpa’s daily return with rapture because he always brings them the sweetest, creamiest slices of golden-brown toast. Apparently produced on a magic tree that grows deep amongst the sand dunes, only he knows its location and only he can harvest its bounty, otherwise the magic will stop. Like all young people, the desire to discover this magic is intense so, heedless of their uncle’s warning, Mia and Ella search for the toast tree every day, but never find it.

I applaud the subtle duality of this tale; balancing the power of imagination and willingness to believe with the desire to instil magic and parent with love.

Martins’ illustrations are a step sideways from the sometimes-sombre tones of indigenous illustrations too. Colours zing and vibrate with liveliness reflective of the girls’ enthusiasm and convince you that you actually taste the tang of the sea wind as it races across the dunes and tickles your cheeks.

A delicious addition to your picture book collection and gorgeous example of talent coupled with passion.

Magabala Books April 2015

Keep an eye out for more posts on books with indigenous flavour and verve, coming soon. Meantime take a moment to reflect on the milestones and meanings of National Reconciliation Week and what they mean to us all as a Nation.

 

 

DINO-MITE! Dinosaur picture books with bite

If dinosaurs had any inkling as to how popular they’d end up, I’m sure they would have stuck around longer to enjoy their fame and fortune. Here are a few more new titles to add to your prehistoric, dino-inspired picture book collection, some serious, some silly. All fun.

dino-daddy Dino-Daddy by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd is a gentle, non-taxing dino analogy highlighting the worth and value of dads. Dino-dad is sometimes over-worked, not ultra-vigilant, but always super caring and fun! Pre-schoolers will think it fun too. One to save for Father’s Day.

Bloomsbury May 2015

 I wanna by a Great Big Dinosaur (who doesn’t) by author illustrator, Heath McKenzie takes up where I wanna be a Pretty Princess left off. This time, there’s not a scrap of pink in sight, which is great news for McKenzie’s boy fan base and all those little girls who prefer scales, teeth, and claws to tiaras and tea parties.

I wanna be a great big dinosaur McKenzie follows a familiar formula however the perfect pouting princess tutor is replaced with with a meat-loving, liberal minded T-Rex who eventually succumbs to the selfless friendship of his little boy. Be sure to study the end pages, which reveal more of McKenzie’s easy to digest humour.

Scholastic Press May 2015

Ten Tricky DinosaursCounting picture books never lose their flavour. However, keeping them bright and engaging requires imagination, a good dash of silliness, and a sharp eye for detail. Amanda Tarlau and Karen Mounsey-Smith display all these in Ten Tricky Dinosaurs. Simple, kid friendly statements set up each numerical situation providing pre-schoolers with pages of visual exploration and rapture. It’s the illustrative details and visual challenges that I enjoy most about these books; ‘spot the ladybugs’ for instance. Makes you wonder if this really was how the countdown of the dinos’ great demise occurred.

Koala Books May 2015

Jurassic FartsPerhaps my favourite of the pickings today is Jurassic Farts A spotter’s guide. (Please, no judgement) For the dinosaur enthusiast, this is the penultimate, non-fiction (and I use that term loosely) guide book to complete their paleontological board book collection.

P. U. Rippley, the ‘author’ of this unique and oddly informative text, invites young palentologists on a tour of the Ordovician, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, stopping along the way to spend time with ten intriguing prehistoric reptiles and sea creatures. Some are instantly familiar, others require a second look. However, one thing is for sure, not one of us would be able to recognise these creatures from their farts…until now.

Jurassic Farts illo spreadThanks to Rippley’s short and sassy explanations and Evan Palmer’s wind assisted illustrations PLUS an easy to use, number referenced audio recording of each dinosaur discussed, now everyone can appreciate the deadly long-range stink of the Mamenchisaurus.

Sublime, silly slapstick humour with enough fact and fart sounds to hold the interest of 3 – 6 year-olds and perhaps their fathers for hours.

And the best part? You can change the batteries in the sound device. Unlike the common bottom burp, this promises to be a gift that lingers on and on and on…

Scholastic Australia May 2015