Review – Ruben

It took Bruce Whatley almost the same amount of time I have been plying my trade as an author to conceive and create this 96-page picture book (around 10 years that is). To call Ruben a masterpiece is a discredit to the complexity and intense beauty that harbours within each page. One might spend hours alone exploring the end pages, searching for clues and analysing the significances secreted within.  This is not a picture book for the faint hearted. However, it is a supreme testament to Whatley’s self-effacing talent and a proclamation to strive to be the best you can be. As decreed by Whatley himself, ‘It had to be the best I could be.’

Ruben is a captivating synthesis of picture book and graphic novel. Told in parts akin to chapters, it describes the solo existence of a small boy living in the shadows of a futuristic city that functions only on what it receives. It is incapable of producing anything in return, an inequitable industrial wasteland of pylons, viaducts and ominous occupants who represent the pseudo organic heartbeat of a mechanical monster.

Continue reading Review – Ruben

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

Review – Cyclone

CycloneI was but a babe in arms when Cyclone Althea swept across Townsville on the eve of Christmas in 1971 however, I will never forget the noise of it; the warning sirens, the howling winds, the pelting rain. We were hushed into submissive silence by the storm screaming to get through our walls; muted by the all-consuming blackness, the sheer force of it. And then afterwards, struck again with incredulousness; our roof still over our heads whilst every other in the street lay shorn off, twisted and deformed in backyards where they didn’t belong.

Images like these are hard to erase. A few years later, another cyclone, this one by the name of Tracy struck at a similar time of year, blighting a similar town, producing similar indelible memories for the survivors.

Bruce Whatley and Jackie French45 years on, powerful storytelling duo, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley mark this event with their new picture book, Cyclone. It’s hard to ignore the images of this beautiful work, as well.

Following in the same potent spirit of their Flood and Fire collaborations, Cyclone focuses primarily on a single tragic natural disaster, which had cataclysmic consequences for not only the community it affected but also many others across Australia. The results are profound and moving, yet also hopeful.

A storm brewed out at sea on the 24th of December 1974, yet the residents of Darwin hunkered down, unconcerned, too preoccupied with the imminent arrival of Santa Claus to worry about a fairly normal occurrence for them. When Cyclone Tracy unexpectedly swung and hit Darwin full in the face, she did so with such vehemence and force that the township was taken unawares. As the BOM quoted, ‘The entire fabric of life in Darwin was catastrophically disrupted, with the majority of buildings being totally destroyed or badly damaged, and very few escaping unscathed.’

French depicts this wholesale devastation with lilting verse that pays homage to the intensity of the storm as well as infusing the tragedy with a personal touch. The narrator, presumably a small expectant child waiting for Santa but faced instead with a wild beast who consumes their town overnight, is shown huddling with their family in their brick barbecue amidst a sea of destruction.

FloodThe poignancy of the situation and the degree of loss is beautifully rendered by Whatley’s pencil and acrylic wash illustrations. As with its two predecessors, I believe Whatley executed Cyclone’s drawings with his left (non-dominant) hand producing exquisite expressions of infinite detail and fluidity. Streaks, smears and runs feature in every landscape representing the force and chaos of the storm and later the pervading sense of new life, slowly seeping back, where ‘houses grow…day by day’ – my daughter’s favourite spread. The washed-out appearance and toned-down hues do indeed reflect the tone and look of a feature film reel likely to have existed in the 70s. The whole effect is goose bump raising.

Cyclone is an ode of sorts to the man at the end of the phone line French happened to answer one fateful day following the catastrophe of Cyclone Tracy as she manned the Information Section of the Department of Urban and Regional Development. She will never forget his despair, nor his tenacious courage to rebuild and move on.

FireLike Flood and Fire, and Cyclone Tracy itself, Cyclone is a telling testimony to the legacy of good that can emerge from ravaged lives and homes. It cites that humans are ultimately survivors, capable of adapting and ‘inventing ways to live with whatever challenges the planet throws at them.’ We are reminded to respect the forces of nature and learn from our mistakes; a significant observation for those who have endured a natural disaster and for those of our more recent generations who have not. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press February 2016

It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

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.

Review – Teacup

TeacupI want to frame this picture book and hang it on my wall. To label Teacup as having bucket-loads of appeal for audiences familiar with and sympathetic to displacement, migration, social disruption and family change strips away the myriad of other sophisticated, elegant qualities this book deserves to be described by. It is simply sublime.

Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley is a timeless story of a boy fleeing his home to ‘find another’. We know not where from nor why but immediately warm to his story after learning that amongst the meagre possessions he takes with him is a teacup which holds some earth from where he used to play.

Teacup illo spreadUnlike any other creature on earth, the need to retain ones past in order to make ones way better into the future is strongest in we mere humans, especially in times of dramatic change. Therefore, the boy sets off across seas sometimes kind and friendly, other times wild and testing. Along the way he has time to contemplate all that he has left behind; his home, his sense of place, his beloved family and the naivety of childhood. The clouds that swirl above him may not be permanent but his memories remain secure as does his hope, until one day that hope takes root in the form of a sapling apple tree.

This symbolic tree of life sustains him until the day his is able to build his life anew; older, wiser, a better receptacle for change, just like his teacup.

RY-001The beauty of this story is its incredible scope. It could be describing loss or the dislocation of refugees. Others will interpret it as a story of a search for love and belonging. Whatever journey Teacup takes you on, Young’s eloquent use of words and symbolic imagery massage your emotions to the point of quiet reverence. The narrative bobs gently upon these thematic eddies, always moving forward, into the unknown.

Matt OttleyEven more arresting than the text are Ottley’s illustrations. More like a collection of fine art, they are jaw-drop beautiful, each a breathtaking portrait of the boy’s journey. Dense in texture and meaning, Ottley’s illustrations reflect sky and sea, at once both soothing and uplifting.

Teacup is a picture book to treasure for its undiluted beauty and the subtle way it transcends moralising on human rights and condition, thus making it an important and exquisite reading experience for youngsters aged four and above.

Potential award winner.

Scholastic Press April 2014

Review – Fire by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.  

fireHarsh weather conditions are terrifying enough at the best of times, but what about when Mother Nature plays a hand in the wild and extreme that gamble with actual lives?
Award-winning author and Australian Laureate, Jackie French, together with the unequivocally talented illustrator, Bruce Whatley, have joined forces in producing a gripping and stunningly haunting book of adversity; ‘Fire’. Just like their previous book, ‘Flood’; depicting the horrendous Queensland floods in 2011, ‘Fire’ is another efficacious story of courage and strength in the face of a natural disaster.

Throughout the book are amazing, succinct verses that take your breath away with every word. The story begins with a serene outback set amongst golden hills and limp gum tree leaves. Upon turning the page, we are faced with the sudden impact of ferocious orange flames and black smoke, sending a once peaceful cockatoo fleeing for its life. Ramifications advance, affecting the people who live amongst the burning trees as the fire engulfs the land in a thunderous, cackling roar. Pretty soon, whole page spreads bleed with blood-red paint across the atmosphere, and thick grey ash that forces inhabitants to quickly escape the “gulping smoke and singed debris.”
Fire book imageNext, a gut-wrenching image of the oven swallowing houses, trees, the land. What about the aftermath? Loss, grief, disbelief. But the bravery of the firefighters and the safety of loved ones is what is appreciated most. From pain comes the strength of the Australian spirit, as we see the CFA tending to sick animals, and read of those friends who give love and help rebuild a world burnt bare. And eventually, the Earth is reborn once again.  

The final page details Jackie French‘s personal experiences with fighting bushfires and its effects on the land, and how best to manage its dangers. Bruce Whatley also gives appreciation for the courage of those dealing with these terrors, and his account of his illustration process. It is fascinating that he felt the erratic nature of the fire was the hardest thing to capture, because looking at his daubs, flicks, bleeding outlines, reds and yellows amongst their surrounding darks certainly creates intensely evocative and impactful imagery in my eyes.  

‘Fire’ is a powerful, poignant and moving story of real life truths; a devastingly beautiful, poetic rendition of a tough facet of nature. It is a book about life, love, friendship, hope and the human spirit that is so brilliantly captured in its words and images. ‘Fire’ is suited to primary school children, and is deservingly shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Picture Book of the Year awards. Just phenomenal.

Interesting background information on Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, as well as fantastic teaching ideas based on the book, ‘Fire’, can be downloaded from Scholastic here:
http://resource.scholastic.com.au/resourceFiles/8219103_8176.doc

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Review – Thelma the Unicorn

We’re all familiar with the theme of acceptance and being content with whom and what we are. It’s been relayed a thousand ways, right. But have you ever discovered self-worth with the aid of a carrot? Thelma has.

Thelma the Unicorn Aaron Blabey’s dazzling new picture book, Thelma the Unicorn not only deals with this theme in a fresh, clean, pink unicorny way but it has a sparkly front cover to boot; guaranteeing extra eye-appeal.

Thelma is a little ordinary pony who yearns for loftier heights. She dreams of being a prancing, pampered unicorn, the sort that never goes unnoticed. She believes this will elevate her into special-dom.

Her best mate, Otis tries to convince her otherwise. ‘You’re perfect as you are,’ he insists. But Thelma isn’t having a bar of it. When she spots a carrot on the ground, ideas of grandeur and transformation take serious hold and after a truck incident involving pink paint and glitter, she reinvents herself as, Thelma the Unicorn.

A shimmering star is born Thelm illo spreadas she sashays before a world that quickly becomes obsessed with her glamour. Intoxicated with her newfound fame, Thelma laps up the attention.

However, with great recognition often comes diminished privacy as Thelma soon discovers. Adoration rapidly turns into possession and Thelma’s life just as wildly slides out of her control. Until that is when one night she can no longer stand the isolation of fame and makes yet another life-altering decision.

Aaron BlabeyI truly love Blabey’s rendition of this tried and tested theme. The lilting rhyming text lopes along at a much more satisfying pace than Pig the Pug did for me (apologies to any Pug fanatics). It is a real pleasure to read.

I have always been a fan of Blabey’s bulbous-eyed human depictions as well, but really enjoyed the simple, long-lashed beauty of Thelma and Otis, who sit harmoniously alongside his quirky human character illustrations.

Tongue in cheek humour pops up regularly in the text and illustrations throughout Thelma’s foray into fame-dom, which helps to point out to young readers that all things that glitter are not necessarily that attractive in the long run and it’s okay being who you are even without a horn stuck on your head. Thelma the Unicorn is the perfect kind of ‘special’ to share with three-year-olds and above.

Feel good and funny.

Out this month and available, here.

Scholastic Press February 2015

 

Get Reading for School, Kids!

With school starting up for the year ahead, there may be many mixed feelings of trepidation, excitement and loneliness (and that’s just for the parents). But if your kids are going through some of these emotions, too, here are some fantastic resources to help children relate their own experiences to others and reassure them of things that may be causing anxiety.

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Developing Friendships
Snail and Turtle are Friends, Stephen Michael King (author / illus.) Scholastic Australia, 2014.

Snail and Turtle like to do lots of things together. They like to walk and run and read (as you can imagine, very slowly and quietly). Whilst they are good friends, Snail and Turtle recognise their differences in their habitats, diets and favourite activities. But they find common ground in their creative painting pursuits, ‘even though Snail likes swirls and Turtle likes shapes and blobs.’
A very sweet story of friendship and celebrating differences, with equally gorgeous bold, colourful and textured illustrations by author / illustrator Stephen Michael King.

jessica-s-boxPromoting Resilience
Jessica’s Box (Cerebral Palsy Alliance Edition), Peter Carnavas (author / illus.) New Frontier Publishing, 2014.

Jessica’s Box was originally pubished in 2008, winning awards including The Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards 2008, the CBCA Awards 2009, and Speech Pathology Australia Shortlist 2009. It is a story of starting in a new school and trying to make friends by showing off possessions. Jessica displays much resilience when her attempts initially fail, she eventually discovers that being herself is far more successful in the friend-making department. In 2014 a new edition has been released to include images of Jessica in a wheelchair. The storyline and sentiment remains unchanged; giving focus to the fact that many children are faced with challenges of trying to fit in, forming friendships, and being yourself, regardless of ability.
Read Dimity Powell‘s fascinating interview about Jessica’s Box with Peter Carnavas here. Also, Jessica’s Box will also be read on ABC4Kids’ Play School Friday 30th January at 9.30am.

9781925059038Packing Lunches
What’s In My Lunchbox?, Peter Carnavas (author), Kat Chadwick (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

And brand new from Peter Carnavas is What’s In My Lunchbox?
What special goodies will you be packing in your child’s lunchbox? Sweet? Savoury? Healthy snacks? A little treat? All to be expected. Well, you can imagine this boy’s surprise when, after finding a not-so-appetising apple, the most bizarre things happen to emerge from his lunchbox.
‘Today in my lunchbox I happened to find…’ A sushi-offering fish? He doesn’t like fish. A chick-inhabiting egg? He doesn’t like eggs. A honey muffin-loving bear? He doesn’t like bears. A dinosaur, then his sister! How absurd! Perhaps that apple is more appetising than he originally thought!
A very funny repetitive story, perfect as a read-aloud, with equally rollicking, fun, retro-style illustrations. What’s In My Lunchbox? will have your kids in fits of giggles. It’s just delicious!

parachuteFacilitating Confidence
Parachute, Danny Parker (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2013.
CBCA Book of the Year Shortlist 2014.

I love this story about a boy who keeps a firm grasp on his security object; a parachute, with the most imaginative occurrences caused by his own fear. The perspectives portrayed by illustrator, Matt Ottley really take the reader into the scene and give that extra dimension to the emotion intended by Danny Parker. Toby feels safe with his parachute, even doing the ordinary daily routines. But when it comes to saving his cat, Henry, from a high tree house, Toby gradually puts his fears aside and inches towards becoming more confident until one day he manages to leave his parachute behind.
A simple storyline but with creatively juxtaposing and interesting scenes, Parachute is a fantastic book for little ones overcoming insecurities associated with learning new skills or becoming more independent.

hurry-up-alfie-1Getting into a Routine
Hurry Up Alfie, Anna Walker (author / illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out. This fun-loving, easily-distracted and stubborn crocodile typically finds handstands more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?! Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes! The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way out, but there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!
All too familiar are the daily joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ child, and Anna Walker does it with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.
Hurry Up Alfie is the perfect back-to-school book for young ones with the same autonomous attitude.

School Specific Books
first-dayFirst Day, Andrew Daddo (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.

An adorable picture book about a girl and her mum preparing for her first day of school. Getting dressed, making new friends, learning new rules, and being brave. But who is the one with the most nerves?
First Day is a cute story with very sweet illustrations to match. Perfect for mums of first-time school goers.

Starting-School-Copy-2Starting School, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin, 2013.

Meet Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly. They are starting school. Watch as they adapt in their new environment; meeting new friends, exploring the school grounds, eating routines, establishing rules and learning new subjects.
With plenty of good humour and beautiful, varied illustrations to discover exciting things, Starting School makes for a wonderful resource to introduce Preppies to the big world that is primary school.

my-first-day-at-schoolMy First Day at School, Meredith Costain (author), Michelle Mackintosh (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2013.

We are introduced to another four children – Ari, Amira, Zach and Zoe, who take us through some of the routines associated with adapting to school life. These include lining up, waiting your turn, visiting the toilet, what to do at bell times, a lesson on self-identity and class photos.
Cute illustrations with plenty to explore, My First Day at School is another fun book to help children with understanding various facets of beginning school.

And there are plenty more great books to help cope with the transition to school, but your school staff and fellow parents are also valuable in aiding with adapting to the big changes.
Wishing all new school parents and children the very best of luck with this exciting milestone in your lives! I’m in the same boat, so wish me luck, too!

Review – Hurry Up Alfie by Anna Walker

hurry-up-alfieHere comes Alfie! Bursting onto the scene. So much to do, so little time. Alfie is plenty busy… too busy to get ready to go out.

With classics including the I Love series, I Don’t Believe in Dragons and Peggy, and her beautiful illustrations for Jane Godwin’s All Through the Year, Starting School and Today We Have No Plans, award-winning author / illustrator Anna Walker knows kids. And here is no exception with her easily-distracted, stubborn and fun-loving crocodile in her latest release, Hurry Up Alfie.
2013-author-walkera-01-headshot

‘Alfie’s in no hurry to get up… until he finds out he’s going to the park!’

But in typical kid fashion, Alfie’s handstands are more important than eating breakfast, as is chasing Steve McQueen the cat. And looking for undies unexpectedly leads to the discoveries of missing items and different ways to use your pyjamas. What else?!

Alfie thinks he’s finally ready. It’s coming up to midday on the clock, and an ever-so-quickly-losing-patience-parent informs him that it is not an umbrella needed but rather some clothes!

The battle to get dressed eventually ends when a compromise is made, and parent and child make their way to meet Bert at the park; clothes, umbrella and all. However, there’s sure to be a re-match when it is time to go home!

hurry up alfie page 2As a mother two young girls, the struggle to get out of the house on time is all too familiar. Anna Walker similarly understands these daily pleasures and the joys of negotiating with an ‘independent’ pre-schooler, with so much warmth and humour. Her trademark illustrative style of watercolours, pencil, textured patterns and photo collages once again so perfectly compliment the gentle and whimsical storyline, as well as adding to the detail and movement, and making each scene so real.

Hurry Up Alfie is an adorably funny read that rings true for any household with young children. It’s a gorgeous story about asserting one’s independence, learning to focus on a task, self-expression and cooperating with others, but also enjoying the simple pleasures in life. If only we could all be so care-free like Alfie!  

Review by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
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