Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Getting Serious about Series # 4 – Ripper Reads for Girls

Lola's Toybox Patchwork PicnicI don’t usually like to categorise reads into which gender they might appeal to better. I believe every child is individual and will find a story to fit their unique reading tastes no matter how pink the cover or how boyish the hero. To say that boys should be directed to sports orientated titles and little girls to books about bunnies is pre-historic thinking and infers we (little girls) don’t like puppy dogs’ tails and snails. Simply not true! However, there can be no denying that certain reads will attract certain readers more powerfully than others. This luscious collection of chapter books and mid-graders will undoubtedly appeal to the sweet-toothed predilections of little misses given they are choking with cuteness and gee gees and unicorns.

Lola’s Toy Box by Danny Parker Illustrated by Guy Shield

This is a perfectly placed first-time-chapter-book series for little readers just putting their A B Cs together. These books provide useful stepping-stones in Lola's Toybox On Story Seathe crossover from readers to more exciting chapter books, each with a softly delivered message and each peppered with adventure. Anyone with an animated imagination and insatiable love for their toys will adore Lola’s Toy Box series. Lola and her toy clown Buddy, chance upon a portal – an old toy box, which transports them time after time to the varied lands of The Kingdom where they experience toy-filled adventures beyond their wildest dreams.

The Patchwork Picnic is the first of this series so far. Other exciting toy-land destinations include The Plastic Palace, On the Story Sea, and The Treasure Trove. The Timberfield Talent Show is the very latest release. Wild and whimsical, just what five to seven-year-old emerging readers need.

Hardie Grant Egmont 2015 – February 2016

Pine Valley Ponies The Forbidden TrailPine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman Illustrated by Heath McKenzie

Pint-sized people from six years of age who love ponies, have ponies, ride ponies or want to ride ponies will fall over themselves with this new pony series. McKenzie’s tummy tickling drawings  (his horse characters are darling!) ably romp alongside short, easy-to-read chapters about Maddy and her pony, Snowy and their induction into the Pine Valley Riding ranch.

It’s not all smooth cantering for Maddy however, as she attempts to fit in amongst the fancy-pantsed, equine experienced girls of her class. However, the call of adventure soon overrides difficulties and cements her love of Pine Valley Ponies The Pony Showhorse riding, as it will for those absorbed in her antics. Start with The Forbidden Trail and move onto The Runaway Foal then prepare yourself for The Pony Show.

There is much for horse-orientated kids to love here, from the bright pastel and foil covers, enticing page layouts, pony profiles, nifty horsey Q & A and loads more besides. Well recommended.

Scholastic Press October 2015 – March 2016

Ruby Wishfingers illoRuby Wishfingers by Deborah Kelly Illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom

Ruby Wishfingers is an absolute crack up of a series. I loved the first instalment, Skydancer’s Escape and can’t wait to get into Toady-ally Magic. Suitable for slightly older primary aged readers, this tantalising new series still features terrific line drawings and easy to digest chapters but it’s the humour infused story line, flavoured with more than a hint of magic that truly makes Ruby irresistible.

Ruby Wishfingers Toadlly MagicShe’s your run of the mill ordinary girl with a peculiar name who one day awakens with a weird tingling sensation in her fingertips. She soon realises it’s a force to be reckoned with and that you should be careful what you wish for.

Loaded with lovable characters, talking pocket-sized unicorns, indignant felines, jellybean rain and magic, Ruby Wishfingers books will not disappoint those who love adventure and fast zany reads. My pick of the crop.

Wombat Books March 2016

Keeper of the Crystals Runaway UnicornKeeper of the Crystals by Jess Black Illustrated by Celeste Hulme

The things you’ll notice first about this adventure fantasy series are the brilliant covers and sparkly titles. Each of this four part series about Eve and her unlikely companion, Oscar lures young readers in like fish to wriggling worms. It begins when the pair unwittingly unleash the power of the crystals after they open a forbidden wooden box in Eve’s Nan’s attic.

The initial crystal is of a small unicorn, which is a portal into a mysterious fantastical far away land, Panthor. Suggestions of environmental instability and political oppression in each of the strange new worlds Eve and Oscar are transported to resonate throughout these tales albeit all disguised with action, myth, and fantasy for the young reader.

Keeper of the Crystal Eve and the Last DragonAn attractive series that would suit readers seven years and above and those with a penchant for the surreal.

New Frontier Publishing June 2015 – March 2016

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

Animals behaving badly – Picture book reviews

Archie illos spreadThey say animals have been done to death in picture books. Why then does nearly every second illustrated story I pick up feature talking, singing, skydiving critters of every shape and body-covering-skin type? Because kids adore them, that’s why. The funky demeanours of our animal friends serve not only to relay real-life stories and situations in non-threatening, easy to assimilate ways for young readers, they also ultimately create characters of irrepressible entertainment. This next selection of recently released picture books ably illustrates this point.

Cheeky monotremes, mammals, and avians

Echidna Jim went for a SwimEchidna Jim went for a Swim bristles with fun and frivolity until you realise things are shaping up to end very badly for poor old Jim who just wants to enjoy a day at the beach with his mates. The archenemy of inflatables is of course anything spiky, but Jim is not about to let that ruin his fun. Phil Cummings is known for his poignant, super sensitive picture books. Echidna Jim represents a more quirky, unconventional style for him that nonetheless embraces difference and friendship. I loved Laura Wood’s interpretation of the moon-jumping cow in, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Her portrayal of surfing dingoes and soggy cockatoos is just as beguiling. Great for tots over three.

Scholastic Press February 2016

ChipWestern Australian author illustrator, Kylie Howarth was raised on an emu farm so presumably understands the fevered machinations of our feather-minded friends. Chip is like most other gulls…he adores fish and chips; can’t get enough of them in fact. Sadly, his obsession leads to total prohibition of all fried foodstuffs from Joe’s Chips Van until one day Chip cooks up an idea involving the rest of his seaside-clan. Together, with a little perseverance and a lot of verve, they convince Joe of their potential sales benefit to him and thus earn a place at his table. This is a deceptively simple book featuring cuter than cute seagull pictures, an extra surprise element within, and the commendable message that human food is perhaps not the best for our wild native buddies no matter how hard they try to convince us otherwise. Fun reading for pre-schoolers with the potential to lead to real-life discussions.

The File Mile Press March 2016

Archie no ordinary slothHeath McKenzie is no stranger when it comes to capturing animal antics between the pages of picture books. Archie no ordinary sloth, is his latest creation featuring one of my favourites in the jungle, the ebullient sloth. Well, at least Archie is which is what immediately alienates him from the rest of his inactive tribe. Lonely and unable to accept his unsloth-like incongruities, Archie flees and happens upon a group of outcasts whose appearances and attitudes help him turn his own around. They convince him to return to his friends whom he discovers, are in grave danger. Will extra-ordinary Archie save the day? A charismatic little picture book full of McKenzie’s zest-filled drawings, lovable characters, and comical prose perfect for focusing on the usefulness of being different.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Big Bad Bears

Bear Make DenNot since Goldilocks and the Three Bears have I wanted to doss up under the same roof as a bear so much. Bear Make Den is the combined effort of Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner and is gloriously illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In a subtle uproarious salute to the home handy man, Godwin and Wagner reveal Bear’s Ikea-inspired side as he blunders through a bout of home renovations. As his den fills with furniture and other home-making necessities such as art and ovens for cake baking, it slow dawns on Bear that there is little point in having a great home if you’ve no one to share it with. EBear Make Den cake illo spreadlementary, bear-like prose roars into life within Joyner’s intelligently drawn pictures. Bear is someone I’d love to share cake with. Bear Make Den  is a splendid book to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early primary readers a like because of the scope of its vocabulary, visual story, and suggestion about ‘the value of relationships in making us happy’.

Allen & Unwin January 2016

A Beginners Guide to Bear SpottingIf you’re going to keep hanging around bears, you would be wise to swat up on Michelle Robinson’s and David Roberts’ Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting. This big, hulking bear of a picture book is laugh-out-loud funny and constitutes a primary- schooler’s essential guide to surviving a walk through bear country. It patiently takes readers through a series of serious definitions whilst trying to focus young attention spans on the various dangers and attributes of the Black and the Brown bear, which as it turns out, are confusingly similar. By the end, we are none the wiser as to whether bears are truly sweet cuddly teddies in disguise or not, but sufficed to say, we were warned. In spite of the drop-bear being the most fearsome Ursus we Aussies have to contend with, Bear Spotting is still a convincing and very comical read. Robinson’s text is as wry and witty as it was in There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes, while Robert’s drop-dead brilliant illustrations read like a box-office smash. Highly recommended.

A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting illo spread jpgBloomsbury children’s Publishing Australia March 2016

 

Double the Size, Double the Fun – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re looking for picture books exploring friendships of massive proportions, then these two latest delights are for you. Perfect for melting any sized heart! 

imageBlue Whale Blues, Peter Carnavas (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.  

On first glance, I noticed something different about Peter Carnavas‘ most recent creation compared to his previous works. His books including ‘The Boy on the Page’, ‘Jessica’s Box’ and ‘Oliver and George’ are well-known for their adorable hand-painted characters and animated scenes.
In ‘Blue Whale Blues’, the illustrations are still adorable and animated, but with an extra element; texture. Each character on each page has been individually crafted and cut out, with additional bits of fabric and textured and patterned papers to create an eye-catching, sensory collage effect. The washes of blues dominating the mixture of double-page spreads and bubble-shaped vignettes most suitably compliment the mood. And just to top off that sensory experience, Carnavas and New Frontier have cleverly integrated an interactive MP3 audiobook to listen to and read along. Just brilliant!

It is poor Whale’s wallowing in his own grief that captures our attention from the outset. He struggles to understand simple, everyday objects and their functions, such as upside-down bikes (“It’s NOT a bike!”, I hear the audience shout), and the use of a helmet (no, it’s not really a helmet!). Lost in his ocean of pity, Whale sings himself a ‘blues’ tune every time he gets stuck. But thank goodness for his trusty, easy-going pal, Penguin. He knows just how to help (or does he?). Although Penguin and Whale don’t quite succeed in their ‘big’ plan, at least they can have a good ol’ laugh at themselves, even when things continue to go awry.

‘Blue Whale Blues’ will inspire fits of laughter, moments of close bonding, and a cheery sing-and-read-along experience. With strong characters; big in stature and big in heart, this hugely engaging tale of friendship, problem solving and optimism is bound to sweep preschoolers off their feet time and time again.  

Be sure to check out Peter’s book launch if you’re in the West End area of Queensland.  

imageAs Big as You, Sara Acton (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.  

Sara Acton, much-loved author illustrator known for her gorgeous watercolour and line works of art, including picture books such as ‘Daddy Cuddle’, ‘Poppy Cat’, and ‘Bridie’s Boots’.
Her most recent creation is ‘As Big as You’, which, unlike the title suggests, defies gravity on a number of levels. First, the book’s rotation has been turned on its side, allowing for maximum impact to reflect its huge illustration proportions. Second, this story of one of the largest creatures on earth is so wonderfully light-hearted and whimsical to lift even the heaviest of spirits. And third, there is a part in the story that sees an elephant literally whizzing and zipping through the air like a weightless, deflating balloon! How extraordinary!

We are introduced to Claude, massively dominating the double-page, portrait-oriented spread, who is the father-figure to the little one crouched at the bottom of the page, Finlay. Finlay faithfully looks up to Claude, attempting the same triumphant feats as his elder, only to discover they are abysmal in comparison. So with every ounce of his might, Finlay tries his hand at greatness and climbs a tall tree. (Then comes the part where he resembles an out-of-control balloon). But reuniting with Claude is the reassurance and comfort that he needs to know that there is no hurry to grow up. Tickles, fat raspberries on tummies and a safe place to belong are suitably the best.

‘As Big as You’ is lively and interactive, with absolutely relatable characters. It beautifully captures the magic of childhood and the essence of perspective, loving relationships and independence, and reminds young readers to relish these playful and innocent moments.

Getting Serious about Series – Pup Patrol

As a grown-up reader, I’d be hard put to name a story that I doted on as a ‘kid reader’ that wasn’t part of a book series, Trixie Belden being a prime example – I still have 34 surviving cPup Patrol Bush Rescueopies in my collection!

Ask any Gen Z child what they are currently reading and chances are it is from a collection of books that embody one or two central characters whose stories kids simply cannot get enough of, as well.

Just why are series so popular with readers? Is it the connected storylines, the comforting continuity of style, the evocative evolution of much loved (and despised) characters, a reassuring sense of familiarity or simply the delicious feeling of never-ending expectations that kids (and adults) find so utterly addictive?

In this new ‘series’ of feature posts I’ll endeavour to answer these questions and more as we shed light on a veritable library of new series written just for kids. Some are brave and exciting, admirably rating high amongst the classics of J K Rowling, Mary Norton, Lewis Carroll, Louisa May Alcott, E. Nesbit, and Beatrix Potter. Others fulfil a more contemporary role, providing eager young readers with easily digestible, fun and furiously paced storylines well suited to wandering attention spans.

We start our serious look at series with such a collection – Pup Patrol.

Here is the Verdict – of a nine-year-old connoisseur.Pup Patrol Storm Rescue

Who wrote it?

Sally and Darrel Odgers.

Are there any pictures?

Yes, really good line drawings on nearly every second page by Janine Dawson. I like them because they help make the characters more real and I like pictures in my books.

What is Pup Patrol about?

Pup Patrol StampA really cute Border collie pup, a black and white one, called Stamp. (Barnaby Station Stamp of Approval to be precise) and his friend, Ace and all the adventures they have together.

Who are the main characters?

James, Stamp, and Ace. Ace is a cross-bred little dog who can be a bit naughty and nasty sometimes. Stamp is the collie and James is the human. Each story has other different animals and humans in them too.

What did you like most about these stories / books?

That they are about border collies and border collies are my favourite (dog) animal. I love how Stamp is a collie. It is like I can relate to him because I have a collie too. (The release of these books happily coincided with the acquisition of our own Border collie pup, hence the slight obsessive tendency towards canines of this breed.) Plus easy to read short chapters.

Which title in this series is your favourite so far?

Pup Patrol Farm RescueFarm Rescue because more collies are involved in the story.

What makes these stories stand out or different from other book series?

They are told from the dog’s point of view. This makes them really interesting and funny.

Who would you recommend this series to?

Anyone (boys and girls) who like adventures in different settings because these stories are exciting. People who like collies should read these books too!

I have to agree. Each Pup Patrol instalment focuses on some exciting aspect and challenge of our Australian landscape and the characters that people it all from a four-legged perspective. I first regarded the end-of-chapter glossaries as a little annoying, feeling they pulled me up and out of the action but on reflection and Pup Patrol Outback Rescueobservation of Miss 9, these proved a sly, fun way of incorporating and clarifying the meanings of new words and terminology without loading the narrative with too much heavy exposition. Crafty and creative.

Early primary-aged readers and fans of animal antics will love this action packed chapter book series including Farm Rescue, Bush Rescue, Storm Rescue, and Outback Rescue – new this month.

Jack Russle Dog DetectiveFor addicts of animals and a penchant for pooches, look no further than these other brilliant series by the Odgers team: Pet Vet and the Jack Russel Dog Detective series.Pet Vet Kitten

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scholastic Press March 2015

 

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Double Dipping – Bedtime dramas abound

Putting the kids to bed is a rite of passage that not every parent survives in tact. Bedtime can be fraught with misadventure and procrastination. A five-minute goodnight kiss can draw out into a production of Oscar winning proportions. If you have kids under seven-years-old, chances are you’ve experienced a night or two like this.

Perhaps a soothing tale of similarity will help salve those jangled nerves and settle your nearest and dearest. Here are two picture books that make me smile with thankful, ‘it’s not just us’ realisation.

Onsie Mumsie Onsie Mumsie by Alice Rex and Amanda Francey is a gorgeous little parade through a small girl’s imaginative bedtime routine suitable for pre-schoolers.

It’s bedtime but whose exactly. Our cute protagonist refuses to succumb to slumber until she invites all creatures great and small to bed first. Tigers, penguins, even crocodile onsies are dutifully donned then cast aside as it seems no one is quite ready for bed. Time ticks away until she is finally out-onsied and outwitted by Mumsie.

Amanda Francey
Amanda Francey

 Alice Rex’s bouncy text is undeniably read-aloud, share together material but it’s Amanda Francey’s adorable illustrations, full of soft pretty detail that really capture the heart.

Perfect for sharing those intimate bedtime moments, Onsie Mumsie is the essential companion for those (little girls in particular) who have ever owned or worn an Onsie. It would make a lovely addition to those Mother’s Day gift packs too!

Available here.

New Frontier Publishing April 2015

Alfie's Lost SharkieAnother beautifully crafted Mother’s Day gift to think about is, Alfie’s Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker.

We first met Alfie and his cat, Steve McQueen last year in Hurry Up Alfie. It’s easy to see what makes Alfie such a hit with early primary school readers. Even my nine-year-old relegates Alfie to the ‘must be kept and read repeatedly’ shelf.

Alfie is the mirror image of your typical six to seven-year-old. He is creative, dog-minded, and nonplussed about the world outside of his own universe. No amount of coercion or cajoling will hurry him into action, or in this case, convince him to go to bed.

Alfie’s excuse for delaying theAlfie illo spread inevitable this time; he cannot locate his favourite bedtime companion, Sharkie. He embarks on an exaggerated, pro-longed search for Sharkie as his mother attempts to guide him through the necessary pre-bedtime rituals.

 Walker’s dreamy multi-textured illustrations leave the reader with a keen sense of familiarity. Even the very young will instantly appreciate Alfie’s mischief filled world and his argument in spite of the fact that Alfie sports a rather long green snout and spikey tail.

Anna Walker
Anna Walker

However, it’s Walker’s sparse, snappy and well-thought out dialogue between Alfie and his mum that enriches Alfie’s personality enough to entice youngsters to want to re-live the moments with him, again and again. The ultimate sign of a winning, endearing picture book.

You’ll find Sharkie, here.

Scholastic Press March 2015

I’ll be posting more reviews for fantastic Mother’s Day picture books that you’ll be glad to get your hands on in the weeks to come.

 

 

 

Reviews – Ripping Mid-Grade Reads Two Wolves & Little Chef, BIG Curse

Mid-grade readers, tween fiction, early YA; call themLittle Chef Big Curse what you will, but books for 8 -13 year-olds must satisfy vital criteria. They require substance, humour be it belly-busting or cloaked as parody, and a completely honest rendering of imagination, no matter how fantastical the premise. Little Chef, BIG Curse and Two Wolves fulfil on all counts. Both are heftier reads for mid to upper primary aged kids (in excess of 200 pages). And ones I could have gleefully gobbled up again immediately I reached the end.

 Little Chef, BIG Curse is the debut work of Tilney Cotton and possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish.

It’s an off-beat taTilney Cottonle about hapless 11 year-old, Matty Swink who dreams of being a famous chef. He is practically enslaved by the foul-tempered, mean-spirited Fenella as her live-in dishwasher. With no means, family or support, Matty’s future seems confined to sleeping under the sink in Fenella’s diner. But dreams as big as Matty’s cannot be suppressed forever and when the King of Yurp announces a grand Cook-Off and the chance to break a 500 year-old curse on his only daughter, Matty finally forges his way to fame and freedom.

This is a zinger of a tale tickling with intrigue, bubbling with soul and simmering with an underlying sinisterness that kids will find electrifying. Cotton’s brilliant mix of colourful characterisation and original one-liners like, ‘roll with pumpkins’ produces a story that is full of punch, flavour and fun. Peppered with a generous helping of comical metaphors (‘breath like dog poo’ is a favourite), sprinkled with danger and seasoned with revenge, Little Chef, BIG Curse has all the humorous and gross ingredients of a Morris Gleitzman adventure and some. Top notch nosh! That gets 10 out of 10 from me.Tristan Bancks RH

Scholastic Press February 2014

Tristan Bancks’ junior adventure books including the My Life, Nit Boy, Mac Slater Cool Hunter and the Galactic Adventures series rival those of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Michael Gerard Bauer. Like kids 8 – 13 years-old, I can’t get enough of his quirky, comedy-loaded, layback style. Two Wolves however is a decisive departure from previous offerings aimed at the slightly older reader, demonstrating more drama, stronger conflicts and more thought-provoking themes. It blew my breath away.

Using the Cherokee Indian allegory that we all have good and bad (wolves) dwelling within us as the catalyst for conflict, Two Wolves explores moral dilemmas, innocence versus experience and family blood being thicker than water. Which wolf ultimately wins the internal battle depends on which one we feed, as thirteen year-old Ben Silver discovers.

Ben aspires to be a detective but naively lives in a world of limited resources and shaky real-life experience. He re-lives much of his life through the lens of an internal camera, ‘playing on the cinema screen at the back of his eyelids’.

This movie-making processing of events allows him to deal reflectively and safely with some pretty confronting issues, the most recent being the inexplicable, unplanned retreat into wildness with his parents.

Life on the run with them and his young sister, Olive, soon deteriorates into a painful battle of survival and family ethics. Ben is desperate to figure out what his parents are fleeing from and why but is uncertain of what to do with the truths he may uncover.

Ben’s most daunting concerns, apart from remaining alive with Olive, are the choices he is confronted with; right vs. wrong, family loyalty vs. honourable action. How Ben decides to end his movie makes for a gripping novel heaving with adventure and mystery.

Bancks’ delivery of Two Wolves is tight and crisp. Fragmented internal thought and observation are favoured over rambling descriptive narrative which keeps the reader firmly in Ben’s moments of extreme agitation. Ben is a believable hero. His naïve, almost tongue-in-cheek humour works beautifully against the darker aspects of this story resulting in a novel tweens can and will relate to even if they have never been in Ben’s situation.

Can money buy happiness? What scruples do you possess when it comes to family, or having to confess to a crime? Does deceit ever pay dividends? Two Wolves is destined to keep kids pondering over questions like these for months. Sensational stuff.

Random House Australia March 2014

 

Amazing books for ANZAC Day – Picturebook reviews

Occasionally a thing that you witness, a song that you hear or a line that your read manifests itself indelibly within you, seemingly forever. Sometimes, not always, you remember the exact time and place and occasion that these erasable impressions mark your memory for the first time. Often this phenomenon occurs when you are still young in years and free in thinking. Memorable moments can be fortifying but also confronting and Along the Road to Gundagai shocking, which is why books like these, Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli, constitute essential reading for young people.

Perhaps, had I been exposed to more picture books like these that introduced history and invited discussion and explanation, I may have been less shocked by the brutality of humans at war. Who knows? It was all in the past…

As ANZAC Day approaches urging us to remember the past, it’s difficult to know what to reach for when trying to share the meaning of these particular commemorations with your children. Unless they observe or participate in ceremonies or have relatives that do so, school is often the first place youngsters encounter terms like ANZAC Cove, the Great War, and diggers.

War is messy and cruel. It is horrid and scary but it is also about bravery, ingenuity, mateship, and perseverance. Along the Road to Gundagai and Gallipoli are picture books that capture the bitter essence of war in a way that is non-threatening but hauntingly real.

Jack O'HaganPenned by Australian musician, Jack O’Hagan in 1922 Along the Road to Gundagai has an almost anthem quality to it. It is not the first time a well-known song or verse has been purposely presented as a picture book but like others before it, the coupling of well-known lyrics with evocative images serves to anchor our appreciation and deepen our understanding of the story behind the words.

It is essentially a lament by the young men of the Great Wars; of their yearning to return to their youth which was so irrevocably spoilt by war.

Award winning Aussie illustrator, Andrew McLean, ironically ventured into the world of digital art to portray this poignant piece of history. The recollections of our narrating lad’s ‘old bush home and friends’ are all succinctly framed; captured moments matching the lyrical text, soft yet glowing.

Along the Gundagai Horses illoConversely, scenes from the scarred battle fields imbue entire pages with dark, sombre, desolation. Particularly arresting for me was the contrast of sunny skies over the Murrumbidgee and the gas-filled atmosphere of battle where even the horses wear gasmasks; the whites of their eyes betraying their confusion and terror.

All of us have a road to Gundagai we’d like to revisit. This powerful picture book rendition of an Aussie classic allows readers young and old to do just that.

GallipoliPicture books about the ANZACs of WWI abound. Many succeed thanks to the legendary intensity of the subject matter, the sensitive translation of emotions through illustrations and the poetic rendering of a brutal period of modern day history. Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood and Annie White delivers all these and more.

It is simply the story of Gallipoli. It is Dusty and Bluey’s story told through the eyes of Bluey’s great grandson. But before you say, not another ANZAC tale, look again; at the sepia-coloured end pages depicting wartime and post war snap shots of our two mates. Be swept along on their adventure, across vast oceans and scorching deserts and No Man’s Land. Feel the hunger, the terror and the relief shared by these two young men whose unbreakable friendship withstands time and war.

Kerry GreenwoodGreenwood leaves no stone unturned in the retelling of this infamously failed military campaign, however 7 year olds and above could easily master and enjoy this account themselves because it reads as fluidly as fiction. There are few dates to stumble over and enough storyline to accommodate a myriad of historical revelations including; the futile charges, trench survival, Simpson and his donkey(s), and the Roses of No Man’s Land.

White never belittles the enormity of Bluey and Dust’s situation. Her illustrations show mortar attacks and bleeding wounds in full colour yet are neither cheerless nor grim. Subdued sepia photographs are ‘stuck’ on every page like an old well-loved album guiding the reader from the past to present day remembrance.

Stirring, significant and worth sharing, especially with school-aged children.

War is certainly not joyful but it was special to sit and read these with my 8 year old and by some strange twist of intent, it was she who helped me through the more emotional bits.

Along the Road to Gundagai

Omnibus Books February 2014

Gallipoli

Scholastic Press March 2014

 

 

 

 

Review – Fire

FireMy first glimpse of the flamed-licked cover of Fire, sparked a considerable amount of emotion. Growing up close to the Adelaide foothills meant scorching childhood summers were unfortunately often synonymous with phrases such as Ash Wednesday and Black Friday.

A couple of years ago I was inextricably moved by the heart-rending picture book recount of the Brisbane floods by the same quietly sensational picture book team, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, (Flood) so viewed this new picture book release of theirs with anxious anticipation. Could they pull off another disaster-inspired winner able to resound with children and adults alike? The answer is, yes.

The cover and title pages, both featuring the single word, Fire, as though smeared by someone’s finger across a grimy, ash-streaked window pane, mesmerised me from the onset. I was unable to quell my attraction in the same way one is unable to sever ones hypnotic trance with fire’s dancing flames.

This is apt, for fire is the predominate character in this masterful expression of how our nation weathers one of its most deadly natural adversaries. Its release is timely. Once again, vast tracks of Australia bake till hills are ‘bleached golden…and leaves lay limp in the air sucked dry.’ All sobering reminders of Victoria five years past.

Jackie FrenchFrench balances beautiful evocative language with harsh stark imagery. She tempers the brittle narrative reality with soft lilting rhyme, thus allowing us to ‘enjoy’ the awful spectacle unfolding before us. A sulphur crested cockatoo sits alone under ‘a baked blue sky.’ He is disturbed by a flickering, snickering enemy. The birth of a bush fire takes hold with alarming ferocity and speed.

Fear feeds confusion, people flee. The fire feeds itself, growing more and more invincible and mocking as it consumes everything in its path without mercy or remorse. Soon an inferno rages; a fire storm spitting fury and blasting away life, deforming reality and changing lives forever.

But there is hope, always hope, on the horizon: a speck overhead, a hose, a loved-ones hand…And in spite of the devastation, French shows us that it is how we face the aftermath that is often the true measure of our survival.

I am unable to say whether the narrative imagery out surpasses the illustrations or vice versa, however Bruce Whatley’s visual images burnt themselves deep into my psyche like the very stink of fire ravaged bushland. They are breathtaking.

Most fascinating are Whatley’s endnotes describing how difficult it was for him to capture ‘fire’ in paint. And yet all of its dirty, erratic intensity and heat are rendered with such brilliant acuity, that the pages look almost too hot to touch. Logs turned to charcoal glow amber so realistically, you swear you could toast marshmallows on them.

But this is no marshmallow-toasting-time as we are reminded by images of burnt out cars, stricken families and most poignantly, a volunteer fire fighter giving a koala a sip of water from his bottle; all vivid recollections of news clips from former dire times.

Every page is hemmed in by ruled pencilled borderlines. The water coloured illustrations fill these windows, sometimes bleeding over the edges which for me, softens the impact of the scene, contains it somehow and therefore prepares me to turn the next page. I presume many younger readers will experience this subconsciously as well. My 8 year old appreciated the cockatoo’s presence throughout as much as I valued the lingering message that out of tragedy and despair, ‘good things will grow again’.

Fire is a warming testimony to the selflessness of those who give everything to fight Australia’s bushfires. It is as powerful and dramatic as fire itself but is a picture book that will have significant relevance for readers 4 + for varying reasons. It embraces the sometimes bleak reality of living in Australia and how that translates to our ‘never say never’ attitude and our indomitable spirit of survival.

Another CBCA award book in the making. Get your copy here.

Scholastic Press February 2014