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

 

 

Forces of Nature – Picture Book Reviews

The scent of Spring is in the air. But that’s not all that’s lifting us up. From the tiny details to the wider world, our environment has so much to offer. For different reasons, these following picture books discover beauty and how the elements of nature can capture our hearts and strengthen our human kindness.  

imageHow the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.  

I patiently awaited its arrival. Now I’ve had my fix, and… it was worth the wait. This one effectively enlightened all my senses. With Bob Graham‘s natural poetic writing style, philosophical touch and emotive images, ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is another classic to soothe the soul.  

In a consecutive movement, similar to the styles of ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ and ‘Silver Buttons’, the story takes us on a journey with the sun around the globe. Starting from behind a snow-capped mountain, the sun begins to rise, giddily skidding across waters, catching glimpses in eyes, footsteps, aeroplane wings and over cities. In and out of proximity, the sun’s rays meet a vast array, from individuals, to small villages, and whole countries. Until, it barges in through Coco’s window. The sun becomes one with her family and friends, bringing with it a sense of togetherness, comfort and warmth.  

A gentle story of life, responsibility and peace, this book is adorned with Bob Graham’s characteristically whimsical and magical illustrative style, with a beautiful lolloping pace. ‘How the Sun Got to Coco’s House’ is a valuable asset aimed to inspire young readers to explore global environmental and social issues, as well as one that will simply light up their world! Once again, Bob Graham…brilliant!  

imageSeagull, Danny Snell (author, illus.), Working Title Press, 2015.  

Danny Snell brings us a heartwarming story of humanity and freedom, making clear our responsibility for appreciating the natural world around us.  

Beautifully descriptive yet simple language and serene backdrops allow its readers an intimate experience as a seagull tries to free herself from a tangled fishing line. Unable to loosen it herself, Seagull initiates help from the other creatures around the beach, but to no avail. The further she tarries, the heavier her load becomes as she catches a manner of litter in the line. Finally, it is the silent observer that enables Seagull’s wings to spread, and her heart to sing once more.  

Snell has cleverly and effectively used mixed media to differentiate between the elements of natural versus man-made / fragile versus harmful with paint for the scenery and animals, and colourless scanned images for the items of rubbish. His artwork is stunningly textured with varying sky hues to represent the passing of the day and the exhaustion, and eventual freedom, of the defenceless bird.  

‘Seagull’ is a gentle and significant story for primary school aged children to be aware of environmental issues and aims to empower control, kindness and compassion for our planet and our future. Definitely one that will pull on your heartstrings.  

imageOllie and the Wind, Ronojoy Ghosh (author, illus.), Random House Australia, 2015.  

Here’s a cheeky story of one force of nature; the wind. Treating the gust as an anthropomorphic, invisible being, young Ollie interacts with it in creative ways, hoping to be reunited with the hat and scarf that were snatched from him. Upon discovering that the wind is not naughty, but in fact playful, Ollie gestures some of his favourite toys. A nighttime kite-flying romp sees Ollie and the wind form a special bond, which, by the looks of the final image, seemed to put the wind in high spirits.  

The text is full with depth and life, and is accompanied by vibrant, textured and jovial illustrations. Ghosh‘s fine line drawings, minimal colour palette of bold greens and golds with statements of red, and cartoonesque style qualify for a unique and captivating reading experience.  

‘Ollie and the Wind’ will capture more than just your heart. It will encourage preschoolers to look at the world with a fresh perspective, investigate studies of meteorology, and explore friendships on another level.