Connecting with Dads – Picture Books for Father’s Day

With Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to celebrate all the quirks, quips and quandaries that go with fatherhood, but especially all the sweet, sugary and special moments that loved ones share together. Whether it’s about dads, grandparents or other role models in your life, the connection is what’s important. Here are a few special stories showcasing a mix of tenderly love, fatherly-figures and families with memories.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2017.

It’s true… one hug is never enough! For little people, it’s those big bear hugs, that comfort and warmth that helps them feel safe. From sailing paper boats on the ice, to playing catch in the clouds of snow, sheltering together from the fog and wind, and hopping from iceberg to iceberg, father and baby polar bear do everything together.

Anna Pignataro’s soothing rhyming couplets glide effortlessly across the tongue and through this tender tale on the ice. Metaphorical descriptions beautifully tie in with her delicate and dreamy illustrations. Where “the climb is way too high”, daddy is there lifting him up to reach their paper boat. When it’s foggy, daddy is there holding his hand. Each verse sweetly portrays the love, security, encouragement and playfulness felt by the little cub towards his father, and ending with the phrase “And I’ll be happy as can be – one hug is not enough for me!” But at the end of the day, with a gentle goodnight hug, will one just be enough?

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy oozes love, warmth and the unconditional support of a parent. The perfect bedtime story for children from two, when one giant bear hug can feel like a thousand hugs.

Whatcha Building?, Andrew Daddo (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), ABC Books, 2017.

Not as much a story about fathers but rather an ode to father-figures and tasks you could tackle together. Particularly if you have a soft spot for construction and a cup of tea!

Andrew Daddo tells the tale of a curious and persistent boy, Little Davey Durak, with a penchant for off-cuts of wood. Burly builder Bruce is busy deconstructing the old corner milk bar, which certainly takes Davey’s fancy. Over days and different kinds of weather, the two struck up a solid relationship, although Davey’s lips as to his building plans are tightly sealed. Bruce’s own curiosity is fed by his imagination, as he wonders whether the boy is building a rocket ship, a boat, a Ferris wheel, billycart, a space station or a complicated roller-coaster. Once the “brand-new, super-sized, super-schmick corner store” is complete, all that’s left is the old milk bar sign. The pair take it through the most fascinating streets lined with King’s glorious mix of photographed recycled bottles, jars, cups and kerosene lamps acting as a backdrop to his eccentric, animated cartoons and illustrated cardboard cut-outs. And finally Davey allows Bruce into his mastermind creation. “It’s exactly what this town needs.”

Whatcha Building? relays a wonderful message of community and awareness of recycling and sustainability. The text and illustrations are carefully considered whilst absolutely entertaining us at the same time. Although with little dialogue on Davey’s part, the bond between him and the builder is undeniable with their mutual respect and subtle banter. A down-to-earth book to share with dads; a reading experience that is sure to be recycled over and over.

Grandma Forgets, Paul Russell (author), Nicky Johnston (illus.), EK Books, 2017.

When an ageing loved one suffers from dementia, the whole family is affected. But the resilience and maturity of the little girl narrating this story is truly admirable. Taking what often is a disheartening situation and turning it into a wonderfully positive and bonding experience is how the grandchildren and their parents treat Grandma.

Paul Russell’s story provides readers valuable opportunities to share old and plan for new memories with their parents and grandparents. In this case, the Dad’s heart is heavy as his mother forgets, but the brother and sister ensure ways of continuing Grandma’s involvement and inclusion as a valued and loved family member. There are plenty of joyful and playful moments throughout the book that subdue some of that heaviness to make it such a light-hearted and ‘memorable’ read.

With Nicky Johnston’s beautifully nostalgic, vibrant and emotive illustrations, Grandma Forgets is a meaningful and powerful story that youngsters will adore sharing with their loved ones at any time of the year.

And for another favourite to share with Dad is the “poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect”; The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston. A deeply significant, achingly heartbreaking and heartwarming tale, all at the same time. You can read more of my previous review of this beautiful book here.

Happy Father’s, Grandfather’s and Special Person’s Day to all the admirable, caring and supportive men who do so much for your loved ones.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Gone to the Dogs – Canine reads to relish

Pig the Winner illoCats v Dogs: me, I’m more of a dog person but there can be little denying the positive impact pets have on small minds and well-being no matter what species they are. The therapeutic effect dogs have on the lives of their humans is well documented. Their cuteness appeal however is much harder to chart. It simply knows no bounds. Here is a smattering of doggy-inspired reads for kids that may lure more of the feline-inclined over to the dog-side.

Cute Appeal

The Pocket DogsThe Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King is a jolly little new addition to the extremely likeable picture book series, The Pocket Dogs. Mr Pockets’ dogs, Biff and Buff struggle to accommodate a new member into the family in this picture book that pre-schoolers will soak up with glee and older readers can easily tackle on their own. King’s iconic illustrations thrill to the nth degree. Learn more about Biff and Buff’s adventures here, in Romi’s fabulous recent review.

Omnibus Books Scholastic Imprint February 2016

Winner!

Pig the WinnerI have to confess, Pig was not my favourite Aaron Blabey character when he first forced his way into our lives. Bulgy-eyed and ill-tempered with the most pugnacious attitude on four legs, Pig was hard to love. Nevertheless, his irascible nature eventually got under my skin like a coat-full of fleas and by Pig the Fibber, I had to agree with my 9 year-old that this cantankerous canine really was worth trying to love. Pig the Winner is quite possibly my favourite account of this bad-mannered pooch to date. His behaviour has not altered and his agenda remains purely pug-orientated; poor second-best, Trevor is treated with the same distain and disrespect as before for Pig’s greed to be first at everything outweighs any compassion he has for his kennel buddy. He’s a cheat and a gloater who has to learn the hard way that good sportsmanship should be about fun, friendship, and fitness not just coming first all the time. And he does learn eventually, sort of… Pig the Winner is a gloriously gauche and enjoyable mockery of man’s best friend behaving badly. A winning addition for your Pig collection.

Scholastic Press March 2016

Tips and Tricks

Wonderdogs Tips and TrainingIf you need help changing your pooch from a Pig to a well-mannered pup, look no further than Dr Katrina Warren and Kelly Gill’s Wonderdogs Ticks & Training. This doggy training guide isn’t just about extending the mental prowess of one of the world’s smartest dogs, the Border Collie, although it does feature Kelly Gill’s troop of wonder collies. It guides readers through the basics of puppy care, socialisation, initial good manners training and harnessing canine respect and psyche. Moreover, it does all this in a supremely conversational and digestible way, perfect for the young dog owner. Children as young as five will gain much from the clearly laid out explanations and sweeter than cotton candy photos of some very cute collie pups. Part 2 ramps up the training to wonderdog level introducing readers and their dogs to dozens of trainable tricks ranging from basic to advanced, again in step-by-step logical progression. It’s easier than following a recipe and just as rewarding. You don’t have to be a new dog owner either to appreciate this book and transform your dog into something even more wonderful.

HarperCollins Publishers March 2012

Leader of the Pack

Me TeddyChris McKimmie’s creations either make you cringe with discomfort or cheer with exuberance. His picture books brim with artwork that is simultaneously bewildering and bewitching, crowded with observational humour and flushed with detail. I don’t always find them easy to read but immensely interesting to absorb, often across a number of readings.

Me, Teddy echoes much of the iconic McKimmie brilliance we’ve come to associate his tales with however, for me, it represents a significant piece of art and comedy, as well. This is Teddy’s scrapbook, a carefully scraped together collection of memories, anecdotes, pictures, and internal thoughts by the McKimmie’s much-loved black Labrador. Teddy introduces us to his chewed-shoe and soap-eating, puppyhood then invites us to romp with him through his day-to-day adventures including his confusion when his family temporarily depart with their suitcases, leaving him behind. I love Teddy’s dog-eared perspective of life and the subtle intimation that he is the one who really calls the shots. Actual drawings, photos and hand written notes create a delicious sense of authenticity for what could have been a self-indulgent tribute for a (beloved) family pet, which it is but which also elevates it to a heart-warming picture book that any child, person and dog lover will instantly ‘get’ and love, too.

Allen & Unwin Children’s February 2016

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Review – The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Breath of Fresh Air – Katrina McKelvey on ‘Dandelions’

imageKatrina McKelvey started life in a little country town in New South Wales, where she was fortunate to be able to soak up the charming facets of nature. Nowadays, Katrina is soaking up the well-deserved praise for her gorgeous debut picture book, ‘Dandelions’.
Having had embraced the pleasures and joys through her roles as mother, former teacher, CBCA Newcastle sub-branch president, committee member for the Newcastle Writers’ Festival, and now author, Katrina’s first book certainly reflects her creativity, dedication and passion for life and love for children.

image‘Dandelions’ is a whimsical, delicate story of the special bond between father and daughter, but also of the magic of the world around us. It is about resilience, hope, imagination, wonder and affection. Katrina’s text is perfectly poised, complimenting its storyline on every level. Graceful and tender, the story explores the life cycle of the dandelion as a little girl prompts her Dad to re-evaluate the beauty and simplicity that life has to offer, and together they allow their imaginations to take a wonderful flight.

The illustrations by Kirrili Lonergan are exquisite, with their watercolour fluidity that almost literally sweeps us in to this free and dreamy world. As the wind carries the dandelion seeds across town, we too, can sense ourselves swirling, twirling, spinning and turning on this fanciful drift.

Lyrically and visually stunning, ‘Dandelions’ will spread love, appreciation and curiosity far and wide, harvesting treasured bonds between the generations. Readers from age four will be blown away by its beauty!

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to find out more about Katrina McKelvey and how her ‘Dandelion’ wish literally came true.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, ‘Dandelions’! What have you got planned for your upcoming book launch?  

Thanks! Kirrili and I plan to celebrate in a huge way with our family and friends. We will be launching Dandelions on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library. We have planned some dandy treats, craft activities and a live reading of the story. We will be projecting the illustrations on a large screen as I read so everyone can feel like they are part of the book even from the back of the room. Kirrili will give a demonstration of how to draw a dandelion seed head. And of course we will be toasting all the people who have helped us during this long journey.  

image‘Dandelions’ is a sensitive and magical story of the beauty of nature and the loving relationship between father and daughter. What was the inspiration behind this story?

As my daughter and I used to walk to and from preschool, she would jump in gardens and gutters to pick dandelion seed heads. We found them growing everywhere. She enjoyed blowing them apart with me. After that, as my husband mowed the lawn, I used to get a little sad watching him destroy the dandelion plants that made those puff balls she loved so much and I wondered how she would feel if she ever found out.  

I have loved watching the relationship develop between my husband and our daughter. It’s a very special relationship – one I hope they cherish forever.  

This book also incorporates lyrical elements that are perfect for promoting dance and movement. As a former teacher, do you have any other teaching and learning ideas for children to engage further with ‘Dandelions’?  

Gosh, the possibilities are endless!  

Firstly, the story should just be enjoyed. I hope adults and children find a really comfy, quiet place to snuggle in and share the magic of Dandelions.  

But to extend this experience, here are some more educational based ideas.
1) Children could investigate the lifecycle of a dandelion and watch it happen in their own backyards. They could research the origin of the name ‘dandelion’. It’s very interesting! They could also investigate dandelion folk names. Some of these are very funny. There are great time lapse videos on YouTube showing how a dandelion flower turns into a seed head. Amazing!  
2) Children could investigate other uses of the parts of the dandelion plant. Every part of the plant can be eaten in some way. You’d be amazed. But I don’t advise you just pick it and start eating it! Children may also like to taste dandelion tea.  
3) Children could collect dandelion seed heads, leaves and flowers. They could use dandelion seeds to make pictures and collages, use dandelion leaves to stamp patterns, and use dandelion flowers as a brush or stamp to paint pictures.  
4) Parents and teachers could discuss the themes of Dandelions with children. The themes include forgiveness, resilience, hope, love, using your imagination, and the importance of the different types of family relationships.  
5) If teachers and parents have children with sensory needs, this book is an excellent companion or springboard to assist with enhancing their sensory learning experiences (blowing, touching, tasting, and seeing).  
And for more advanced children:  
6) Dandelions is full of prepositions and verbs. Children could try and find them. Children could brainstorm other prepositions and verbs to show how and where they think dandelions move and then write their own sentences using a similar structure to the sentences in Dandelions (e.g. … tumbling in the wind above …). They could publish and illustrate their sentences and form a class book.  

A full set of ‘Teaching Notes’ is available by clicking here.  

imageKirrili Lonergan‘s illustrations perfectly compliment the gentle, whimsical nature of the text. What do you like about Kirrili’s work, and how did you find the collaborative process with her?  
I’ve had the privilege of watching Kirrili’s style develop first hand over the last several years. I love how she layers colours, her messy nature and her signature stripes. The first time I saw a completed dandelion seed head I cried. (Hint: Look at the endpapers)  

Our friendship started many years earlier, but our collaboration for this book actually started back in 2011 – long before our contract – with a single dandelions illustration. That illustration travelling the country with my manuscript and accompanied many rejections all the way back home.  

Late in 2013, I found a writing competition I could send Dandelions to. The judge was a publisher and she wanted to publish it after we completed a few rewrites. Then I was asked if I would like to suggest an illustration style that would match my story (this is rare). Of course I put forward Kirrili’s illustration that travelled the country with my original manuscript. The publisher agreed and our official ‘Dandelions’ collaboration was born.  
I was so lucky to see the illustrations develop and grow during the next part of the publication process. Usually authors don’t have input into the illustration process – they just get in the way!  

I watched Kirrili enjoy developing her unique style for this book, develop her colour palette, and perfect her seed heads – sometimes by touch light (but that’s another story!). I saw her pride grow as she moved closer and closer to finalising every single illustration. She would send me photos of her work in progress at random times – which was always a delight.  

We had fun going on day trips to take photos of houses, trees, rivers and flowers. We looked at colours, angles, movement and style. I learnt a lot. She looks at things in a different way to me – with that artistic eye I don’t have. She designed and finalised the cover and sent it to the publisher before I got to see it. Kirrili wanted to keep it as a surprise until further through the process. When I finally saw it, I cried! – again.  

How would you describe your publishing experience with EK Books?  

We have been so lucky! We have worked with a beautiful publishing team. From the initial discussion about the possibility of publishing Dandelions to now, every member of the team has been helpful and lovely. Kirrili and I have felt we have been kept in the loop and guided and supported professionally through every step of the journey. Every word and every line has had the attention of several people. Everything went smoothly. We are so proud of the relationship we have developed with EK Books and we are proud of the book we made together.  

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating this book?  

I think the rewards are still coming. I can’t wait to see Dandelions in the hands of children and see how they interact with the story. I wonder what their favourite page will be? I wonder whether Dandelions makes dads stop and snuggle with their daughters on the lawn somewhere instead of mowing it!  

One of the biggest challenges was to find a publisher who believed in the story as much as I did.  

The second biggest challenge was to wait from the signing of the contract until I had the first copy of Dandelions in my hand. It took 2 years from getting my publisher’s attention to holding it. At least I got to watch Kirrili illustrate it during the long wait.  

Who or what inspired you to become an author? Do you have a preference for the type of genre you like to write? What is it about writing stories for children that you love?  

I was a full-time mum while my children were little. I read lots of picture books to them during this time and fell in love with them. I had given up primary teaching so when my children started preschool, I wanted to start a new career that involved children and was very creative. It had to be flexible too so I could do it around my family’s needs. Writing for children was the answer. I find writing hard work. It doesn’t come easy for me so I love the challenge. It keeps me feeling young.  

I love writing picture books but have dabbled with the idea of writing early chapter book in the near future. Writing a picture book is extremely hard!  Writing for children gives me permission to play with words. I get to play with the sound of them and the look of them too. I get to make up characters and journey with them as they do amazing things. I get to connect with children on a very deep level and have fun with them too.  

I admire Stephen Michael King’s writing style. I often reread the picture books he has written to see how he’s played with words. My favourites include, ‘A Bear and a Tree’, and ‘Henry and Amy’.  

Besides dandelions, what is your favourite kind of plant or flower?  

I have a few but I would have to say roses. I love looking at them and the way they smell. I grow them in my own garden and they get fussed over a little. They make an appearance in Dandelions too. I also love Lavender, Jasmine and Violets.  

imageWhat were your favourite books to read as a child? Any that have influenced you as a writer now?  

I have to honestly say I don’t have a favourite book from childhood. I was a reluctant reader as a child and I could be found climbing trees and playing Basketball instead. I found THE book when I was teaching in my twenties – Just Tricking by Andy Griffiths. I completely understand what it is like not to want to read books. I was a good reader but had no desire to jump into a book. Quite sad now I think about it. Hopefully I can help children who a reluctant readers with my books.  

What’s next for Katrina McKelvey? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?  

I have lots of picture book ideas rolling around in my head and as many on my computer. I have a couple of solicited picture book manuscripts in front of publishers at the moment too. I‘ve been planning a new picture book manuscript which will have children turning books upside down. I plan to start submitting early chapter books to publishers next year.  

I’ll continue to work on the children’s program of the Newcastle Writers’ Festival. I enjoy being a Books In Homes Role Model. I love working with my ‘children’s writing group’ though the Hunter Writers Centre. I also participate in the guided reading program in my daughter’s classroom. I’m busy but I’m so fortunate.  

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Katrina! It’s been a pleasure!

*Dandelions will be launched on Saturday, 31st October at 10:30am in the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library.  See details here.

**For more information on the author, please visit Katrina’s website and facebook pages.  

***And for Dimity’s full review of ‘Dandelions’, click here.

Double Dipping – Last minute delights for Dad!

My Dad is a GiraffeMy Dad is a Giraffe

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

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

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

Could not be better for Father’s Day.

Scholastic Press August 2015

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

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

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

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

Scholastic Australia August 2016

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

Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Winners

Earth HourThe NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, held at the Mitchell Library last night, was an opportunity to recognise some of our literary greats, as well as newcomers to the winners’ stage.

Eminent author/poet, David Malouf, won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for Earth Hour (UQP), another award to honour the exquisite writing of this distinguished, generous man.

Jaclyn Moriarty deservedly added to her cache of awards for the second in her ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy, The Cracks in the Kingdom (PanMacmillan) This stunning original fantasy has already won the Queensland Literary YA Award and the Aurealis YA Award, and last night won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature. My review in The Weekend Australian is here. Jaclyn was one of the most engaging speakers on the night; sharing poignant and funny words from her readers that highlighted the importance of books in the lives of young people.Cracks in the Kingdom

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature was shared by Tamsin Janu’s debut novel, Figgy in the World and Catherine Norton’s, Crossing. Figgy in the World is set in Ghana and relays the tale of eight-year-old Figgy who tries to get to the ‘United Stilts of America’ to buy medicine for her grandmother. Ghana and its people are brought to life in this novel. It is my favourite of the CBCA Book of the Year shortlist for Younger Readers.

Figgy in the World

Both these books are published by the recently defunct Omnibus Books imprint from Scholastic Australia. Omnibus has published books that have become contemporary children’s classics over the years, so their closure is extremely disappointing.

Some other shortlisted children’s authors/illustrators were in attendance, including the sublimely gifted Stephen Michael King for The Duck and the Darklings (Allen & Unwin), written by Glenda Millard. This is my favourite of this year’s CBCA shortlisted picture books. Trace Balla’s debut picture book, Rivertime (Allen & Unwin) has created an awards buzz, shortlisted here, as well as for the CBCA and Crighton awards. It was interesting to hear some of the inside story of this book. Trace and her partner actually made the ten-day canoe trip that was the catalyst for the book and it seems as though Trace had as much trouble climbing onto jetties as did her child protagonist, Clancy, in the book.Duck and Darklings

Other highlights of the evening were awards for translation, the Multicultural NSW Award to Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (NewSouth Books), the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting to Black Diggers by Tom Wright (Playlab/QTC), Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting to The Babadook by Jennifer Kent (Causeway Films) and the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing to Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man (Giramondo). Mark Henshaw won the Christina Stead Prize for fiction with his stunning The Snow Kimono (Text) – read my review here – and Don Watson’s The Bush (Hamish Hamilton) emulated his Indies Awards honours by winning both the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction and overall Best Book of the Year. He was so flabbergasted by the second award that he confessed to finally being humbled.

Bush

David Williamson was deservedly presented with a special award for his distinguished body of work. He generously donated his prize money to an upcoming winning playwright of a competition run by the Ensemble Theatre.

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!

Let’s hear if for the boys! – Chrissy Classics you’ve Read with your Kids

Grinch ChristmasAs we romp ever closer to that special night of the year, don’t forget to take a moment or two to sit with someone small and share some magic. You never know, it may extend into a lifetime of golden memories.

Nick EarlsToday’s classics you’ve read with your kids starts out with multi-talented SE QLD writer, Nick Earls and despite his difficulty connecting with frost-bite and using the oven in 30 C degree plus weather to roast a traditional meal for three days, I believe is definitely on the right track with these all time favourites.

Nick Earls’ sugar plum delights…

Stick ManOkay, Christmas. I have to admit it doesn’t take up a huge part of our library. Maybe I’m more of a Grinch than I realised. Books are big in our house – my son is five – and a dinosaur Christmas book could really get some traction. In lieu of that, I think we’re looking at Polar Express  by Chris Van Allsburg and Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer. Perhaps Christmas books aren’t a big feature for us because we don’t connect with the religious side of it, or all the snow and cold-climate traditions?

Pat FlynnNext up, popular kids’ author, mad keen surfer and more than adequate tennis player, Pat Flynn shows us that we need look no further than our own glorious coastline for hilarious and meaningful Christmas inspiration, Aussie-style!

Pat Flynn’s Aussie flavoured Christmas Classics…

The other day my four-year old looked up at me with big, solemn eyes. ‘Dad, is it “Santa” or “Father Christmas?”’

‘Umm, I think you can use both.’

‘Okay.’ She thought for a bit. ‘Do you think Santa and Father Christmas will bring me a pony?’

It’s that time of year again, and what would Christmas be without stories of snow and reindeer during sweltering nights? Fortunately, there are some Aussie Christmas books to reflect our experiences down under, and these tend to be the ones I read to my own children. Here are some favourites.

 

12 Days of Aussie Christmas The 12 Days of Aussie Christmas by Colin Buchanan and Glen Singleton.

With half a dozen snags, five rusty utes and four footy fans, what’s not to love? Comes with a great song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_4IlcGyosw

  The Down Under 12 Days of Christmas by Michael Salmon

There is always plenty of detail in a Michael Salmon boDown under 12 days Christmasok to help enjoy a second or third reading.

 An Aussie Day Before Christmas Kilmeny Niland

and

An Aussie Night before Christmas An Aussie Night Before Christmas Yvonne Morrison and Kilmeny Niland

Any books that link Christmas with fairy bread and lamingtons are all right with me. Frivolous and funny.

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book reminds us that while we’re often battling nature at Christmas time, we’re at our best when we help each other through the tough times.

 856-20141023120845-Cover_Mr-Darcy-and-the-Christmas-Pudding_R Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas.

Peter Carnavas is my favourite illustrator (mine too Pat, mine too) and this Mr Darcy Christmas book sees him having a quaking good time drawing Mr Darcy the duck, Lizzy Duck and her sisters.

Well that should keep you well and truly satisfied this Festive Season. As I continue to crank up the silly season spirit in readiness for celebration and cheer-sharing, I want to say to every body who’s ever visited and read these posts, who’s ever ended up trekking down one of the many wonderful stories for kids I’ve tried to share with you over the past year – Thanks! Wishing you all a very very Merry Christmas! Dimity

Santa reading

 

 

Rounding up the Reindeers – Frivolous Fun Reads

Okay, so the countdown is on: Chrissy pudding curing away; Christmas turkey ordered; extra chairs stacked ready for those visiting hoards. Santa’s list might even already be on its way to the North Pole but you realise you have a few more stockings to stuff. Here are a bunch of playful festive reads that may be a little low on literary beef but will deck your halls with seasonal joy and verve. They are guaranteed to keep anyone up to six years-old thoroughly amused for at least as long as it takes to roast your Christmas turkey. And the best part? You can sing-a-long to just about every one of them!

One NightExcept this one,…One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King is perhaps the least frivolous of the bunch being a heart-warming retelling about the legend of talking animals who magically relive the night Jesus was born every Christmas Eve at midnight. The conversational narrative paired with Stephen Michael King’s divine watercolour illustrations is so dreamlike, you’ll want to wish upon a star and listen out for the animals at midnight too.

Omnibus Books October 2014

Santa's Busy ReindeerForget about ten green bottles – Santa’s Busy Reindeer means red, as in Rudolph’s nose, is the new green. Ed Allen teams up with Sydney illustrator, Nathaniel Eckstrom as ten of Santa’s reindeer scramble madly to get a sleigh load of pressies delivered on time. Trouble is, they are too easily distracted for their own good. A jolly read-aloud counting book that embraces the sillier bits of the silly season.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Keep an eye on your Christmas tree and everything under it because that bloke’s back and his Christmas appetite is bigger than a five year-old’s wish list to Santa.

There was an Old Bloke who Swallowed a PresentThere was an Old Bloke Who Swallowed a Present is bigger, brighter and even more ludicrous than previous Old Bloke and Old Lady books by P. Crumble and Louis Shea. Brimming with batty brilliance, this is visual gravy for your festive fare. It left me wondering though, how much that Old Bloke looks like someone I know. Possibly one of the best titles I’ve read in this series.

Scholastic Australia October 2014
The Twelve Days of ChristmasTake it down a gear or two with The Twelve Days of Christmas. Alison Jay’s distinctive fine art work gives this well-known song an almost vintage feel. The sumptuous illustrations are visually stimulating yet instil a genteel tranquillity in contrast to the frenetic rising tempo of the song, suggesting that you can have too much of a good thing. Merry makers be warned!

Koala Books October 2014

Amelie and Nanette SnowflakesFor little girls who want a bit more of a bedtime story to fall into dreams with, try Amelie and Nanette: Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes by Sophie Tilley. It’s all things soft and sugary just like the tops of the girls’ fairy cakes and just as sickly sweet in parts but then Christmas is the time to allow a bit of self-indulgence. Shimmering tinsel stars, enduring friendships and fairy wings are de rigueur for these two this Christmas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books October 2014

Yikes Santa ClawsNeed something for the mini male monster masters in your life then whack Yikes, Santa Claws! by Pamela Butchart and Sam Lloyd on your list. It has dinosaurs, Santa, the word ‘poo’ in it and a nice lilting rhythm. Winner!

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2014

Ella and Olivia Christmas CountdownEJ Hide and PeekLet your slightly older readers snuggle up with these early reader chapter books as you digest the last of the fruit mince pies. Fans and followers of Ella and Olivia will be in raptures with their Christmas instalment of Christmas Wonderland, while EJ 10 recruits can join Emma Jacks as she discovers why Christmas can be full of surprises in Hide and Peek.

Scholastic October 2014

Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle Glen Singleton’s illustrations just scream Australiana for me, which may explain why I tried to scream this picture book aloud to my family with such unbridled enthusiasm. Perhaps I should have relied more on the bonus CD thoughtfully included. Happy to report my rendition of this popular Chrissy carol did nothing to diminish their enjoyment of Colin Buchanan’s (along with Greg Champion) and Glen Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle.

Syd Echidna is in the throes of sprucing up his shed for Christmas when a wretched willy-willy ‘undecorates’ all his hard work. Exasperated beyond exhaustion, Syd slips into a deep sleep while a troop of his best mates set to work on a bonza Christmas surprise for him.

Leg thumping, sing-along jocularity that will be getting lots of airplay around these parts this season. Because who doesn’t love a bit of song and dance at Christmas time? Make sure your kids are part of the fun.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

These aren’t even the tip of the iceberg, more a small bump somewhere near the top a North Pole-sized mountain of cool Chrissy reads available this season. Be sure to look around our other posts for more great kids’ titles.

If you’re looking for gifts with less focus on Christmas flavour but equal heart and soul, keep an eye out for my next post: Dim’s Top 25 Cracking Christmas Reads for Kids.

 

 

Christmas Collectibles

One NightA plethora of picture books about Christmas are published each year. Some are froth and bubble, as unsatisfying as cheap tinsel. Others are excellent, and should be shared with children and families in the lead-up to Christmas Day or join the collections of  avid Christmas book collectors.

Some standouts for 2014 that are already available are One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) and The Christmas Rose by Wendy Blaxland and Lucy Hennessy (Walker Books Australia). One Night is an Australian retelling of the birth of Jesus. Stephen Michael King’s illustrations illuminate this miraculous event. The Christmas Rose is a beautiful piece of art and writing which tells the story of a girl who follows the shepherds and the star to the stable to give the Saviour a gift.

Christmas Rose

 

A fun Australiana addition to Christmas this year is Colin Buchanan, Greg Champion and Glenn Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle (Scholastic). It comes with a bonus CD. Effervescent musician and writer, Buchanan, is accumulating a significant body of work for children. Seek him out.

Some older titles for Christmas book collectors and aficionados that are worth a look if you haven’t already come across them are –

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King (who also illustrated One Night), a very Australian story which achieved the distinction of being a CBCA shortlisted book, rare for a ‘seasonal’ book.

The ABC Book of Christmas is distinctive because it features art by Australian illustrators, including Stephen Michael King (the king of Australian Christmas illustration), Ann James, Judith Rossell, Wayne Harris, Greg Rogers and Anna Walker.

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan, is a very funny account of the birth of Jesus, told from the grumpy innkeeper’s point of view. For those scratching their heads for Christmas play ideas, this book can easily be adapted as a performance or readers’ theatre. The Nativity Play by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen would also be helpful to read during the festive season. And Mem Fox and Kerry Argent continue the nativity play theme with the Australian contemporary classic, Wombat Divine.

jesus' christmas partyA Christmas Story by eminent UK illustrator, Brian Wildsmith, tells the Christmas story from the point of view of a girl and donkey. Other high-quality picture books told from animals’ perspectives are On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez; and the original, humorous, The Lion, the Unicorn and Me by esteemed author Jeanette Winterson, illustrated by Rosalind MacCurrach.

British artist, Christian Birmingham has illustrated some sumptuous Christmas books including The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol. P.J. Lynch has also illustrated Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exquisitely.

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal and is a contemporary Christmas parable.

Newbery medal winner, Kate DiCamillo has crafted a profoundly moving story of a girl who cares for a stranger at Christmas time in Great Joy. It is superbly illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.

And The Tale of the Three Trees, retold by Angela Elwell Hunt and illustrated by Tim Jonke, beautifully combines the Christmas and Easter stories.

Tale of the Three Trees

It’s No Mystery That Lesley Gibbes Loves All Things Scary: Review and Interview

With Halloween fast approaching, what book would be more fitting than the sensationally mysterious, Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King?!

9781921504631Review: Scary Night
Ready to be horrified? It’s time to hide! Let out a scream, it’s Scary Night!
Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King bring us a spooktacular tale of three brave friends that set upon a journey in the dead of night. Join them for a mysterious adventure!  

Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel. Any guesses as to where they are tip-toeing to under the pale moonlight?  

The animal friends wander far over dark, rolling hills, traipse through the whispering woods and even dare to cross a snapping crocodile-infested creek. Shivering and squeezing each other tight, they continue on their way. Frightening grizzly bears, ghouls in the cemetery and a black bat cave. Is this enough to forfeit this treacherous expedition? No way! They may be scared out of their wits, but nothing will avert these determined characters.  

Despite their absolutely terrifying experience, the friends finally make it to their destination completely unscathed.  

1407287658567.jpg-620x349But where did they end up? Read the book and you will get a BIG surprise!  

Scary Night is beautifully written in poetic prose. Lesley Gibbes so effectively draws the reader in with her interactive, humorous question and answer play and repetitive phrases. She has also provided plenty of opportunity for teachable moments, including phonic awareness, prepositional language and rhyming words. And Stephen Michael King’s expressive, Suess-like illustrations are bold and engaging, with his use of cool, moody colours and white accents of the bright full moon and the characters large, white terrified eyes. Just perfect to create the thrill of the night-time scene.  

Scary Night, a story of courage and friendship, contains all the goodness of fun, adventure, suspense, and just a little bit of bite to keep its young readers entertained many times over. This read-aloud book is a real treat!  

Lesley+GibbesInterview: Lesley Gibbes
Today I shiver (with delight) to conjure some spellbinding details behind Scary Night and what makes Lesley Gibbes tick.  

What was the inspiration behind the story?
As I child I loved exploring. My family home at Whale Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches was bushy and led onto a cliff top reserve. It was a great place to explore and go on exciting and sometimes scary journeys. So I wanted a story that had an exciting journey for my SCARY NIGHT characters. I also love scary! So setting the story at night when anything can happen was a must. My own children had a role to play too. The refrain ‘It’s a mystery!’ was all theirs. They had loads of fun answering my questions like ‘Where are your socks?’ with the answer ‘It’s a mystery!’, so I absolutely had to use this phrase. But there’s another less creative and more academic side to the construction of SCARY NIGHT. You see I’m a primary teacher and I wanted certain elements in the text to encourage and support reading. So you’ll find rhyme to support reading, refrains for repetition, question and answers to encourage participation and loads of opportunities for parents and teachers to ham it up for dramatic play. So all up SCARY NIGHT was quite a compilation of thoughts, ideas and inspirations.  

Scary Night is a whimsical rhyming tale. Do you often write in poem or do you have a variety of writing styles?
I love writing in rhyme and as primary teacher I understand the important role rhyme plays in the teaching of reading. But I do write in a variety of styles. I have three new picture books due for release next year and they showcase a variety of writing styles. ‘Bring A Duck!’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro is another rhyme/prose combination. It’s a riotous story about a duck themed birthday party. There’s no rhyme in the bedtime story ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart or ‘White Fin’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson. White Fin is for primary aged children and is a story about the visiting whales in Sydney harbour. I also love writing novels and have a chapter series coming out soon.  

Are they your ideas to include the little illustrative details like spider webs and ghostly shadows in the images, or did you leave this up to your illustrator?
Stephen has such a creative mind I didn’t want to get in his way. All the quirky, interesting details are part of Stephen’s wonderful imagination. My own ideas would pale in comparison.  

What was it like to work with Stephen Michael King?
Stephen’s work is so magical I was in heaven as I watched the illustrations progress. Stephen did have a surprise for me though. He wanted to take the illustrations for SCARY NIGHT digital. Stephen started with hand drawn ink and watercolour then he created a unique look for SCARY NIGHT by working with the illustrations on the computer. So his soft water colour became bold blocks of colour, perfect for SCARY NIGHT.  
Is there anything that you’re really afraid of?
Being made to eat raw eggs! There, I said it. Yuck!  

438311-48df15a6-fb4a-11e3-8cc4-c8f5cb031907Do you have any traditions or plans for Halloween?
My children are very excited because at long last they are old enough to go on their first trick-or-treat romp around the neighbourhood. Costumes have been bought, lolly bags have been chosen and SCARY NIGHT has been pulled from the shelf ready for a night time reading to get us in the mood. I can’t wait!  

What’s the next writing project that you’re working on?
At the moment I’m writing book four of my FIZZ chapter book series for children 6-9 years old.  The series is being illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Allen & Unwin. It’s due for release in 2016. Fizz is a feisty dog who, more than anything, wants to be a police dog. But there’s one small problem. Police dogs are big and buff and Fizz is small, white and fluffy. Well you can see the problem! The books are loads of fun and full of laughs. I can’t wait to see Stephen’s illustrations.

Thank you so much for answering my questions! I really appreciate your participation, Lesley!  
My pleasure. Happy reading everyone!  

For more infomation about Lesley Gibbes:
http://www.lesleygibbes.com
http://www.facebook.com/lesley-gibbes-australian-childrens-author

Review and Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – The Duck and the Darklings

The Duck and the DarklingsFrom beneath a mountain of brightly coloured picture books all screaming for review, I spied the oddly unassuming cover of The Duck and the Darklings. Odd because apart from Peterboy’s candle-hat, this was one sombre looking picture book. Even the title sounded desolate, quirky. Surely though something fantastical had to be dwelling between those black covers because this was the new creation of two of Australia’s most revered story tellers, Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King.

The Duck and the Darklings is less of a blasé five minute read and more of a whimsical journey of despair, discovery, renewal and hope. It opens bleakly in the land of Dark and is about a small child named, Peterboy and his Grandpa, who share everything. Their home, though ‘built with care and lit with love’ is not a joy-filled place and is populated by others who depressingly are trapped by their own decayed memories.

But buried deep within Grandpa are ‘scraps of wonderfulness’ and ‘symphonies of stories’ past; tinder that Peterboy hopes to ignite and so rekindle the fire in his Grandfather’s eyes. He searches the ‘finding fields’ for something to make Grandpa’s inner light burn bright again but instead finds a wounded duck and takes her home.

Grandpa reluctantly repairs Idaduck and fosters a ‘forbidden fondness’ for her. But, just as Grandpa warned, it isn’t long before Idaduck gets the urge to be gone on the wind.

Peterboy is determined to make Idaduck’s departure memorable and enlists the Darkling children and Grandpa to help him light Idaduck’s way. It is a farewell and dawn that will never be ‘disremembered’ in the land of Dark.

This picture book sent tremors through nearly every one of my heartstrings. As I navigated my way through Peterboy’s and Idaduck’s story for the first time, it felt that Glenda Millard was deliberately tailoring each piece of prose for Stephen Michael King to work his illustrative genius on. Turns out, that was the case.

Glenda MillardMillard delivers unforgettable word images and unique refrains that defy banality and fill every page with pure poetry. Sorry drops; rusty latch key of his magnificent remembery; crumbs and crusts of comfort; and speckled surprises are just a few of my favourites amongst many of the fine examples of Millard’s exemplary way with words.

The Duck and the Darklings appears something of a departure from the norm for Stephan Michael King as well, at first. A noticeable lack of colour, definition and tea pots marks the first two thirds of his illustrations. Splats, smears and stains define the imperfectness and soulnessness of the land of Dark. The world Peterboy inhabits, bereft of light and cheer and hope, reminded me of the slum cities of some third world countries and of the dark depths of one’s own despair.

SMKBut gradually, almost imperceptibly, the landscape lightens as we eventually rise from the dark of night and the bruised ‘wounds man had made’ with his indifference, heal. A new day dawns, happily, in true trademark Stephen Michael King style.

The Duck and the Darklings is indeed a little bit strange, a little bit dark and a little bit different. It is also a lot of wonderful. Beneath an opaque veil of futility and the poignant reality of the inevitability of life, glows an inextinguishable brilliance.

Millard and King reassure us that even though physically all may be lost, deep down inside, hope beats. It hangs on like life itself and can be strengthened and restored to full splendour; ‘quack, waddle and wing.’ Truly inspirational.

Share this triumphant story with children 5 years and beyond and any adult who’ll listen.

Then, listen to this – not certain if the book motivated my mindset for this song or the reverse. Either way both are something special.

Allen & Unwin March 2014

 

 

 

 

Stephen Michael King’s Baker’s Dozen – Classics you’ve read to your kids

Every now and then it’s nice to reflect and remember the golden moments of yesterday. And nothing conjures up warm, snugly memories better than a magic word or two, shared and cherished with those you love.

Stephen Michael KingWhen I asked children’s illustrator author, Stephen Michael King, what his reading list looked like, he trumped the idea with a list of classics reads, dredged up from his recollection of days spent reading them with his children.

Have a look. Do you recognise any of your favourites? Perhaps you’ve shared one or two of them yourself…

One dozen classic stories I’ve (Stephen Michael King) read with my children.

It was going to be ten but I had to add two more. Whoops three more . . . the title should read thirteen classic books I’ve read with my children. Here’s his baker’s dozen.

The Terrible underpants The Terrible Underpants – (with voices) You can’t say the name Wanda Linda without doing a silly voice. Kaz Cooke – Penguin Books

Green Eggs and Ham – I had to read every page in one breath. It’s lots of fun as the text grows and my face turns blue. Dr Seuss – HarperCollins

 Mr Magnolia – I love it, so my children had to love it too. Simple problem/perfect solution! I’ve read it easily three hundred times. It didn’t worry me if my children were already asleep. Quentin Blake – Random House UK

My Uncle is a Hunkle – My daughter asked me to read this at her preschool. I used my best ever cowboy voice. We must have read this book together about a hundred times. I feel like crying when I imagine her laughing in my arms. Lauren Child – Hachett Children’s Books

Where the Wild Things Are – I read this hundreds of times too. Its story and art are timeless but its design is what hypnotises me every time. Maurice Sendak – Harper Collins Inc.

The Hobbit – I read this to my son when he was in primary school and we were both so proud we read it together before the movie was released. My daughter read it to herself a few months before the movie’s release. She’s equally satisfied. JRR Tolkien – HarperCollins

Peter Pan – I read this with my daughter and we both loved how Peter killed pirates and yelled “Cock a Doodle Doo”. We love the movies but the book is an earthy adventure not to be missed. J M Barrie – Vintage

hover-car-racerHover Car Racer – My brilliant wife suggested I read this. If you want to introduce your son to books and you need to twist his dad’s arm to read . . . then this is the book. I had a lot of work on at the time but this book kept me connected. I read it once to my son, then to my daughter, and then my son asked me to read it again. Matthew Reilly – Pan Macmillan Australia

The Importance of Being Ernest – (with voices) Who would have guessed! What an experience! Father and daughter magic! I had a different voice for every character. Occasionally I would use the wrong voice or say a random stupid word. It was so much fun. Oscar Wilde – Penguin Group

Danny the Champion of the World – What can I say? I own an autographed copy. When I first read this book I wished I lived like Danny in a caravan with my dad. A Message to Children Who Have Read This Book – When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY. Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl– Random House UK

Midnite Midnite – (with illustration by Ralph Steadman). My Mum gave me this book. I read it when I was eight, nine or ten. Can’t remember exactly when! It was a joy to dust off the old copy and read it again. Over forty years after it was written, father and son had a rollicking good time! Randolph Stow – Penguin Books

Nicabobinus – I read this in a dusty corner when I worked in a children’s library and had to contain my laughter. Both my children read this book on their own steam. I heard waves of freeform laughter coming from their rooms. Terry Jones– Penguin Books

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – I first read this because I admired the old ink illustration. I then chose to read it to my daughter because it has a great girl character and wolves. Joan Aiken – Vintage Children’s Classics

Thanks to SMK for this beautiful list, and Roald Dahl for his sage advice as always.

In future Classic Reads with your Kids posts, we’ll try to feature even more ‘classic Aussie reads’ too! Keep on reading.

 

A festive feast

I couldn’t resist taking a break from my Christmas duties to squeeze this post in. At this time of year, there’s a veritable sleigh-load of children’s Christmas books on offer; exciting new titles and plenty of old chestnuts too. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is one of the latter, which if not already part of your Christmas hamper, is destined to become so.

Brimming with rural Aussie flavour, this CBCA short-listed picture book is a sensitive juxtaposition of a pig, ironically named Applesauce, who feels hopelessly bereft after a bushfire sweeps away life as she knew it in her valley. Unable to come to terms with the loss, she succumbs to abject depression, certain there will be no Christmas this year for her and her beloved Joe and Marigold; the people she shares her life with.

Sage Owl consoles Applesauce, advising her that ‘Christmas comes from the heart’ not from what you have or have not got. But surrounded by such a bleak, scarred world, Applesauce is unable to feel anything but glum.

Meanwhile, others from the neighbouring bush are making their way through the empty landscape to see Joe and Marigold. We are still not sure why, although a glimpse at the book’s cover gives us a clue. The arrivals of the Shepard family and Marigold’s three slightly eccentric looking, elderly aunties all go unnoticed by Applesauce, that is until, she is finally introduced to Joe and Marigold’s new baby.

Suddenly, all that was miserable and desolate becomes cheery and meaningful. Cockatoos swirl like snowflakes. New red leaves blaze like fairy lights in the fierce sunlight, and it is amongst these simple and symbolic celebrations of new life that Applesauce lets ‘Christmas fill her heart again’.

Author Glenda Millard
Author Glenda Millard

From the first line, award-winning author, Glenda Millard, draws us almost imperceptibly into Applesauce’s pining for better days; days before drought and bushfire desecrated her world. Even without the exquisite illustrations of Stephen Michael King, Millard’s descriptions are deliciously seasoned with enough sensory detail to enable the reader to smell and feel the arid emptiness of the land; ‘night fell as dark as burnt toast’ is one image that lingers on long after being read and is thoughtfully followed by a text-less spread of night, star flecked sky.

King’s illustrations compliment the poignant text perfectly; never impinging on the tale, always filling each page with delicate, imaginative colour. I adore King’s quirky illustrative style and sense of fancy.  Both work well to retell a tale as old as Christmas itself. Adults sharing this picture book with young children will recognise the clever parallels to the nativity story. Young readers will enjoy the gorgeous imagery, magically told tale and simple yet strong Christmas message. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle is guaranteed to fill your heart with the spirit of Christmas.

Recommended for pre-school age (3) and above.

Review – A Bear and a Tree

It’s so nice to hold a new Stephen Michael King book in your hands. It always has that squeal-with-glee feel to it. The illustrations are so iconic, the language is always utterly heartfelt, and the characters that lovely combination of meltingly sweet, and strong.

Ren is outdoors, sitting under her favourite tree. She is a tad bereft because the tree has lost its leaves. Bear, who is collecting the leaves for his winter bed, finds Ren crying, offers her his brolly, then sits with her for as long as is needed.

Soon it begins to snow and Bear knows he shortly needs to hunker down for hibernation. But for now, he will spend a day with Ren. It will be their first ever winter’s day together – exploring, making patterns in the snow, creating bendy creations with tree branches and melting icicles into stunning creations.

Together, they play, dance, twirl and just . . . be. That is, until it’s time for Bear to go.

This is a story about friendship yes, but its seasonality brings with it a sense of both finality – and the promise of rebirth and new life. Ink and watercolour pages are awash with both the thick silence of snow, falling leaves and letting go – but similarly, they are awash with the tinkle of icicles and laughter, and the lovely dynamics between good friends.

Tender, sweet, simple and stunningly illustrated, this is yet another special book from an emotive and masterful talent.

A Bear and a Tree is published by Penguin.

MORE GREAT PICTURE BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS

Today I wanted to talk about three different picture books, all unique and appealing in their own way. All great Christmas presents for the young book lovers in your life.

PRUDENCE WANTS A PET

What kid doesn’t want a pet of their very own?

Prudence is so desperate for a pet that she befriends a branch, a twig and an array of unlikely objects. But after a while, her ‘pets’ either break or lose their appeal because they don’t respond to her love. You’ll have to read Prudence Wants A Pet to find out whether Prudence gets her perfect pet.

Cathleen Daly really gets into the point of view of a small child with her simple but poignant text. Stephen Michael King’s hilarious illustrations make the journey twice as meaningful for a young reader.

This book is a joyful one and the illustrations are so expressive. When I read it, I was inside Prudence’s head and heart, feeling her desperate longing for a pet. This book will be loved by both young readers and their parents.

Lemony Snicket said about Prudence Wants A Pet,

I admire this book so much I have adopted it as my pet. I drag it around with me wherever I go, never letting it out of my sight.

Prudence Wants A Pet is published by Scholastic.

MR DARCY

Mr Darcy appealed to me because it’s ‘ a new twist on Jane Austen for five year olds.’

It’s a story about Mr Darcy, who is a reserved and gentle duck who feels he is a bit too important to socialise with the other ducks. This makes him very lonely. In this book he discovers the importance of friendship.

I enjoyed the subtleties in Mr Darcy and of course, the gorgeous illustrations by Peter Carnavas.

Mr Darcy is written by Alex Field, who many people will know as Sophia Whitfield, publisher and co-owner of New Frontier Publishing. It’s a colourful, humorous picture book that provides a unique way to introduce young readers to the world of Jane Austen.

Mr Darcy is published by New Frontier Publishing

ABOUT FACE

About Face by Robert Moore is a story that explores and introduces young readers to the features of a face and the roles each one plays. Ears, eyes, nose and mouth become characters in the story.

I can imagine young readers being fascinated with this one, and parents will find themselves smiling at the funny twist at the end.

About Face has striking 3D illustrations by MonkeyStack that seem to leap out of the page at you. The raspberry pies in the story made my mouth water.

About Face is published by IP Kidz.