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

Double Dipping – Meaningful Mindfulness

Mindfulness feels like the new catch cry. Its sudden appearance on school curricula and in children’s literature gives one the sense it’s a new concept but of course this is not one hundred per cent accurate. It’s more of a case of nudging empathy and caring within our next generations into a more prominent light, one that is accessible to them. Literature is one such way to improve accessibility and these two examples show how cleverly it can be done.

Ella Saw the Tree by Robert Vescio and Cheri Hughes

Picture books on mindfulness abound. This picture book by Big Sky Publishing is particularly special because of its gentle quality and strong connection with the everyday child. There is no overt preaching to relay the suggestion to pause for thought and take time to look around and notice the world. Hughes illustrations glow. Vescio’s narrative flows with an easy grace, reflecting the soul of this story, to remain calm and thoughtful.

Ella loves her backyard and fills her days playing in it but she overlooks the most obvious things at times, like the giant tree in the corner of her garden until one day, as the wind showers her with the tree’s falling leaves, she gets the impression it is crying. Despite reassurance to the contrary from her mother and Ella’s attempts to stem the downpour of falling leaves, nothing can alter nature.

Ella’s mother then teaches her daughter to see things in a different light by learning to sit still, observe, feel and ultimately recognise and appreciate all the many splendours, whether large or minuscule of the world. And this allows Ella to enjoy her world much, much more.

Ella Saw the Tree is a beautiful picture book to share, to keep and refer back to when needed. Whilst it focuses on an individual’s discovery of self-awareness, the implication that we should be more observant and empathetic towards our friends is also present amongst the swirling leaves of Ella’s tree.

Read Romi’s in-depth review of Ella Saw the Tree, here. For more insight into the story behind this story, read my interview with author, Robert Vescio, here.

Big Sky Publishing 2017

Too Many Friends by Katheryn Apel

This lilting junior novel is so on point with readers in this age bracket (6 – 8 years), it’s alarming. Apel reaches deep into the playground psyche of Grade 2s and extracts genuine emotion with the feather touch of verse.

The dilemma of having too many friends and those friends not all liking each other truly does germinate in the junior school years, quickly sprouting into an all-encompassing crisis, at least it can in the eyes of a seven year old. It’s a problem that often continues throughout the primary years as children’s social webs widen and become entangled by their developing emotions.

This eloquent verse novel more than ably addresses this social predicament from the point of view of Tahnee, whose pond of playmates is full to overflowing. How she works on retaining her bonds with friends she already has whilst inviting others she wants to befriend is skin-tingling touching and will no doubt strike a chord with many other children her age.

This third verse novel by Apel has a slightly younger, more playful feel about it than the previous, Bully on the Bus and On Track, which again suits the topic well. Tahnee is a warm, likeable character who epitosmises the concept of a mindful child. She shares her friendship woes with us in a series of short, elegant chapters that almost feel like standalone poems, perfect for readers to spend time with by themselves or as a sensitive shared reading experience.

Too Many Friends positively celebrates mindfulness and friendship for lower primary aged readers, demonstrating the power and beauty of these two concepts through the discerning use of verse. Highly recommended.

UQP May 2017

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Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Last week, Romi Sharp reviewed some heart melting picture books that promote helping to heal. You can view them, here. The inclusion of emotionally resilient building narrative in picture book format is a subject close to my heart, even more so after my recent return from Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content where I presented a seminar on Biblio-therapy and its usefulness in children’s literature. These next few picture books eloquently and artfully address the need to embrace feelings and increase a young child’s ability to cope better with change. Have a look for yourself.

Through the Gate by Sally Fawcett

Fawcett’s latest picture book epitomises the essence of change so succinctly, even I, a great resister, felt gladden and reassured. From the magnetising front cover, achingly decrepit and hopeful at the same time, to the dramatic transformation of the end pages, Through the Gate is a visually striking and emotionally memorable look at affecting and accepting change.

Continue reading Changing Feelings – Picture books about change

Feeling Good and Fitting In – Inspiring Picture Books

Self-assuredness, making wise life choices, strong self-esteem, and a kind heart – all positive attributes we wish for our offspring but not always easy to foster. The beautiful subtly of picture books can help reinforce and encourage these traits in children. Here are some inspiring examples.

Stick and StoneStick and Stone by Beth Ferry Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Simplicity refined. Gorgeous illustrations accompany a rock solid (pardon the pun) rhyming text about the strength and benefits of friendship, sticking together and courage in times of trouble. I loved the elementary message and profound humour. Kids will warm to the humanness of these two non-human characters, Stick and Stone. Highly recommended for primary school aged readers and those trying to understand schoolyard friendships.

Koala Books September 2015

The Truth According to ArthurThe Truth According to Arthur by Tim Hopgood Illustrated by David Tazzyman

This could easily become my new best-go-to favourite resource for dealing with fibbers. Arthur tells porkies, not to hurt but like most young people, to lessen the damage to himself that could arise from his actions, in other words, to avoid getting in trouble. However, Truth follows him about everywhere and no matter how hard Arthur tries to avoid, hide, bend or stretch Truth, Truth remains stalwart staring Arthur down until eventually …he admits The Truth.  Told in a smile-inducing uncomplicated way and matched with super line drawings, The Truth According to Arthur addresses the importance of taking responsibility for ones actions and always, always being honest. A brilliant addition to any parents’ tool kit!

Bloomsbury Publishing July 2016

I don't like KoalaI Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell Illustrated by Charles SantosKoala illos spread

There is something slightly sinister about the non-seeing stare of Koala. Something dark and off-putting that Adam finds unsavoury as well. So much so, he cannot bring himself to like his new toy, Koala one little bit. He tries everything to lose Koala but inexplicably, Koala always returns (good on you Mum and Dad!). Until one terrible night, Adam finally learns to value Koala’s unwavering friendship and worth. Santos’ drawings enhance Ferrell’s beautiful clean narrative, often in a clever parallel way and reinforce the notion of acceptance; of who we are, what we truly love and of our own fears.

Koala Books 2015

The Ricker Racker ClubThe Ricker Racker Club by Patrick Guest Illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

This is a once upon a time type of picture book that grabs kids’ attention from the very first page. Brothers Max and Ollie have invented the Ricker Racker Club, an association with distinct rules and regulations; being a boy for example. Polly is not a boy and secretly yearns to join the club so in an ironically old world way, she cunningly surrenders to the boys’ demands and desires, cleaning their bedroom, giving them her tooth-fairy money and so on whilst they belt around being, well, boys. Weeks pass until one day their pet turtle, Albert finds himself in peril of being consumed by the local wolf. Help comes from an unexpected quarter forcing the boys to rethink their club policies. A delightful comical representation of how friendships, acceptance, and courage are won on your actions.  Suitable for mid to upper primary readers and those who love back yard adventuring.

Little Hare Books HGE  April 2016

KindnessThe Invisible Tree – Kindness by Kirrily Lowe Illustrated by Henry Smith

For those who prefer their tales of moral strength and positive virtue with a more spiritual spin, seek out the Invisible Tree series by Wombat Books. Each picture book in the series describes how a child character learns about a particular attribute or emotion and how that virtue is a kin to a beautiful fruit, one that grows on an invisible tree inside them. The musical stories demonstrate how we can nourish our greatest gifts and capacities and share them with others. Kindness, set in Uganda, is the fifth book following this cultivation of strong healthy spirit and prompts children to grow their own invisible trees for love, joy, and peace. Spectacularly illustrated with found, recycled, and hand-made papers by Smith, these books form a treasure chest of inspired awareness.

Wombat Books 2016

Let's PlayLet’s Play by Herve Tullet

This little gem is amazing. Full of white space and second person interplay, Tullet creates two distinct characters for children to adore; yellow dot narrating straight out of the book and YOU, the child (reader). Yellow dot entices children to play with him with the words, ‘I’m bored…Do you want to play?’ What child could resist! They are led through a series of steps, fine-tuning their attention, questioning their fine motor skills and challenging their focus before plunging together into a dark, messy, FUN adventure. It’s nothing more than a succession of splodges, smudged lines, and colourful dots, yet Let’s Play is a miraculous riot of colour and genius which cleverly unleashes creativity and imagination in kids whilst giving them permission to be themselves, have fun, take risks and oh yes, ‘play again another time’. Brilliant. Ideal for pre-schoolers and older readers who’ll be able  to claim yellow dot as their new best friend. Gleefully recommended

Allen & Unwin March 2016

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Being You is Best – Picture book reviews about Self

Teddy illo spreadIt is sheer coincidence that the following picture books lie on my desk at a time when the tenets of tolerance, acceptance and being yourself are being so brutally questioned again, (when are they not). However, it is heartening to know that equally powerful positive messages are available and as accessible as picking up one of these books and sharing it with the next generation. The message is clear and simple: being you best.  It’s ok. It’s empowering. It’s beautiful. And it is not wrong. Here are some awesome new publications, which emphasis this conviction.

Being You is Enough Being You is Enough and other important stuff by Josh Langley

Josh Langley produces a number of inspirational, aphorism-infused illustrated books but I especially warmed to this recent release aimed fair and square at primary aged readers. It contains ‘all the important stuff a kid should know…’ conveniently listed from 1 to 11. Loud, bold, and just a little bit irreverent, Langley encourages youngsters to recognise and listen to their own superpower, the voice in their heads.  This voice can mislead you but also be your best friend and guide you to other awesome thoughts.  He goes on to reveal ways to combat angry feelings, bad thoughts, and many other internal conflicts common to young kids.

There is no sugar coating the message here, the advice is simply described and plainly delivered. This honest and straightforward approach will appeal to under 10-year-olds and frankly anyone else who is suffering from a touch of self-doubt. Langley’s line illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to his affirmations, quirky and kid-like, again bursting with appeal.

Being You is Enough is a terrific green light of a book to strengthen kids’ self-awareness, acknowledge their need to ride unicorns and reinforce the understanding that they are loved and never alone. A must read, wonderful bunch of little miracles between two covers.

Big Sky Publishing February 2016

Introducing TeddyIntroducing Teddy A Story about being yourself by Jessica Walton Illustrated by Dougal MacPherson

I could not wait to read this one. Errol and his teddy, Thomas are the best of friends. They do everything together but increasingly, Thomas feels less and less like playing. Something disturbs him so deeply that he is terrified it will destroy his friendship with Errol. A mighty conflict of self is raging within Thomas who eventually reveals to Errol that he wishes his name were Tilly, not Thomas.

Walton’s sensitive narrative escorts young readers through the tricky landscape of gender awareness and acceptance. It is a watershed picture book for it not only exposes children to different family models, equality, and tolerance of others, it gently challenges the paradigms of society whilst highlighting its diversity.  MacPherson’s charm-laden illustrations ably reinforce Thomas aka Tilly’s growing discord and eventual surrender to being herself.

Full of relevance and grace, Introducing Teddy is tastefully rendered and should be on every classroom bookshelf.  Suitable for early to mid-primary readers and anyone fearful of questioning their own sexuality.

Bloomsbury Publishing May 2016

The Mozzie with the Sharp SnozzieThe Mozzie with a Sharp Snozzie by Irina Goundortseva

Resonating the delightful tones of the Ugly Duckling, The Mozzie with the Sharp Snozzie is a delightful visitation of one little mozzie’s sense of self. Our chipper little protagonist lives by the pond in perpetual awe of the beautiful butterflies who flutter about being beautiful all day long. She yearns to join them, to be as beautiful as them but they shun her because of her ugly and boring appearance. Disheartened, Mozzie retreats then embarks on a plan to elevate her popularity by disguising her true self. The shallow butterflies are enamoured by their beautiful new friend until disaster strikes and ‘things go from bad to worse’. Will Mozzie abandon her newfound friends and self-appreciation to save the day?

Vibrant illustrations accompany a lively text and storyline that will have little ones enthusiastically page turning to the very end.  Mozzie… is an invigorating tale about the benefits of being proactive, being yourself, and loving who you are. In addition, it does wonders for the esteem and profile of mozzies everywhere, which I think is reason enough to hunt it down to enjoy.

Big Sky Publishing August 2016

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