Stocking Stuffer Suggestions # 6 – Dim’s Christmas picks

Hold on to your paper hats. Here are some last minute cracking Christmas reads to cram into your kidlets’ stockings, a mere handful of my top picks this year. In no particular order:12 10 front cover

Fantasy

 PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? doesn’t set out to change the world but it does reinforce the magic of believing in all things Christmassy (insert cheeky wink). This action saturated little tale has all the ingredients of a tantalising Christmas mystery, if I do say so myself with sleigh loads of magical mayhem, weird smells, disappearing mail and an evil elf thrown in for good measure. Terrific fun for primary schoolers, by me!

Morris Publishing Australia October 2012

A Boy Called Christmas A Boy Called Christmas by the ineffable Matt Haig with illustrations by Chris Mould however may just save the world or at least the spirit of Christmas. Miika is a mouse who believes in cheese despite the fact he has never seen it. Isn’t that something? He is just one of the several seriously delectable characters in this enchanting Christmas-flavoured book. A Boy Called Christmas combines everything you thought you knA Boy Called Christmas illosew about Santa, mixes it with all the hopes you’ve ever had about Christmas and pats it altogether with facts you’d never dreamed about before. If there is one book you read to your children (or pets or grandparents or self) this holiday season, make sure it’s this one. Touted as an ‘evergreen, immortal Christmas classic’ A Boy Called Christmas will fill your heart with more warmth and wonderment than a jug of eggnog. Perhaps enjoy both together, at the same time. You can’t go wrong. I love everything about this book; the joy, the spirit, the illustrations right down to the sparkly snowy bits on the cover. Higher than highly recommended.

Allen & Unwin November 2015

Classic

The Nights before Christmas The Nights Before Christmas – 24 Classic Stories to Share is a pictorial advent-styled collection of short stories, poems, classic tales, and carols by the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson and more while, Tony Ross is responsible for page after page of vivid festive illustrations. Overflowing with merriment, sentiment, and fairies, there are plenty of fairies; this compilation is the penultimate way to countdown to Christmas sans sugar! I shared it with my nine-year-old last year and now we are giving it a second airing. She will not abide missing a day’s story or skipping ahead. The lure of what awaits for the next night is half the attraction. A bit like waiting for the man in red himself. Very very special.

Koala Books Scholastic Australia November 2014

The Hush Treasure BookAnother unreal collection and Christmas keepsake is The Hush Treasure Book. Readers can meander in and out of the stories, poems, and pictures of some of Australia’s most well-known and best-loved authors and illustrators whilst listening to the melodic tones of the accompanying CD. The picture book format of this assorted box of literary treasures renders it a collector’s must-have while making it utterly wonderful to share with your children. You can read Joy Lawn’s illuminating review of Hush, here. She made it through Judith Rossell’s incredible Maze Page contained within as did my ten-year-old. Not surprisingly, I did not. I am not a fan of mazes, but I am in love with this book.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Anthology

Rich and RareI touched on this anthology edited by Paul Collins a couple of months ago; you can revisit it, here. Rich and Rare deserves head of the table status as one of the most comprehensive collections of Australian short stories, poetry and artwork in recent times, and we do produce some cracking good ones. A sensational synergy of individuality so deftly and ably woven together into one fluid volume that it is pure pleasure to read. The likelihood of finding at least one or two of your favourite kids’ authors amongst this collection is above high, such is the calibre of Collins’ round up of talent. Deliciously diverse, thrilling, and thought-provoking Rich and Rare is capable of satisfying the fussiest of readers from 10 to 100 and as Collins suggests, ‘should be in every home.’

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

Australiana

Emo the EmuIt doesn’t really matter where the exact origins of the term ‘emo’ originated, what matters is this spanking new picture book by Tony Wilson and Lucia Masciullo. Both creators have captured the essence of emo in this picture book adventure, Emo the Emu. Emo is one moody, despondent little emu dude so full of mope that he is unable to enjoy his inner emu and Old Humpty Doo where he resides with his extended flightless family. Wilson’s lilting rhyming verse personifies the creatures of our Aussie landscapes precisely while focusingEmo illos spread on Emo’s utter gloom. Masciullo’s watercolour illustrations are ridiculously true to country and fun. Her rendition of lanky-fringed, angst-ridden Emo is hilariously spot-on (worthy of eliciting dozens of teenage eye-rolls). Thankfully, cool Kanga Katie lightens the mood and saves Emo from himself. This will make an awesome gift-with-a-difference for overseas family and friends or for those with a hankering to see more of our great land. A beaut exploration of friendship, emotions, travel, and the great Aussie outdoors. Put it on your list!

Scholastic Press November 2015

Australians Let Us B B Q!Need an extra dollop of Oz? Look no further than Australians, Let Us Barbecue! Yes, Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion along with the iconic illustrations of, Glen Singleton have merged every bit of Aussie swank and summer backyard tradition into the tune of our Australian National Anthem, (one I am betting Aussie kids will instantly learn the words to!) I am throwing both thongs in the air for this one. Slap the accompanying CD on for a rousing recital and sing-along to the very recognisable soundtrack. It’s not just all about burnt black snags on the barbie. The lads take us across rugged mountain ranges, across scorching desert plains, around the Rock, through the Whitsundays and back again. I am almost on that sailboat and in that Kombi thanks to Singleton’s dynamite depictions. An exemplary example of an Aussie summertime that must be experienced by everyone. Quintessentially, unashamedly Aussie.

Scholastic Australia November 2015

Oh there are stacks more, but investigate these first, then have a look through the Boomerang Kids Reading Guide 2015 / 2016 for more great gift ideas. You will not be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 5 – New beaut picture books

Okay, it’s only a couple more sleeps until December, which means we’re dipping into dangerous waters now. Christmas wish lists should be full and those letters to Santa should be in the post – pronto! If you are after a new Christmassy picture book to line your stockings with, try some of these fun ones on for size.

 Santa Baby Santa Baby by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Ada Grey promises to be the ‘most magical Christmas picture book of the year’ and it does have a touch of special about it. Reminiscent of the movie Arthur Christmas and the evergreen, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Baby tells the quest of Santa’s small progeny and his best mate, Roo who are upsettingly too young to accompany Dad on his worldwide mission on Christmas Eve. Grounded and miserable the two friends discover two abandoned presents and set out on a mercy mission to deliver the gifts themselves.

In spite of several distractions, they almost reach their target when they recklessly decide to undertake a ‘midnight loop-the-loop’, a sleighing manoeuvre hitherto only attempted by accomplished flyers, read Santa Claus. Their execution is, as you guessed, less than successful but just as it is all about to end in tears, Santa scoots up and rescues the rescuers. Santa Baby then realises that being Father Christmas is not as easy as sucking on a candy cane and that the two remaining presenThe Night Before Christmasts were actually for him and Roo and hold the answers to their dreams come true.

The child-friendly verse and super cute real knitted beanies and scarves illustrator Ada Grey dresses Santa Baby and Roo in adds to this merry feel-good story about the merit of patience and persistence. Magic for under-fives.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015Christmas at Grandma's Beach House

Swapping snowballs for sand dunes, head to Christmas at Grandma’s Beach House by the winning picture book team of Claire Saxby and Janine Dawson. Following their 2013 release of Christmas on Grandad’s Farm (reviewed here), this gorgeous new Christmas holiday expose adopts the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol and is bursting with more Aussie flavour than a kangaroo sausage on a hot barbie. This sing-a-long picture book will have you counting down the days to your next seaside escape and fruit mince pie. From the very first page Dawson’s illustrations, plunge us into the briny seaside environment of Grandma’s beach house. Nearly all of us must have some childhood memory of visiting such a relative’s place; I do, right down to the ‘holiday’ tree jammed in the corner, seagrass matting, and shell mobile!

Claire Saxby Saxby guides us through family introductions and new friendships with the days of Christmas countdown as we picnic on the beach, body surf and frolic under a very Aussie sun. Grandma’s beachside locale is soon swelling with a radiant assortment of kids and buzzy holidaymakers.

Chock-a-block with thongs, seagulls and sunhats, it doesn’t get any more Aussie or better than this. High on my list of sing-a-long picture books to jingle my bells to because I love a good excuse to belt out a carol, even if I don’t need a reason.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

Don’t go far, there’s a couple more hot-off Santa’s-press picture books on the way. Meantime, check out other titles for kids from the Boomerang Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.

 

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – Making merry with Gabriel Evans

Profile (studio) - Gabriel Evans small (507x640)You may already be familiar with Nutmeg, Bay and Saffron but not in a spicy culinary sense. These are of course, the mouseling children of the Woodland Whiskers family who first crept into existence in 2013 when illustrator, Gabriel Evans expanded his creative prowess to pen the Woodland Whiskers series. His illustrating career begun some years before, however at the tender age of 17. With a level of professionalism and artisanship that belies his age, Gabriel is the artistic force behind my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 4, The Mice and the Shoemaker.

In a world where more and more is expected for less and less, The Mice and The Shoemaker is a beautiful acknowledgement of the classic fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker, a tale of kindness begets kindness.

The Mice and the Shoemaker CoverIn this retelling, The Whiskers family tragically find themselves without a home just before Christmas. Grandpa Squeak comes to their rescue, allowing them to board with him under the floorboards of an old shoemaker whose acts of kindness have enriched Grandpa’s life for years. In an act of selfless humility, the Whiskers family decide to repay the shoemaker on Grandpa’s behalf (he’s too wheezy to do it on his own anymore) and in doing so, are rewarded with the best Christmas ever.

With a gentleness that warms the heart more effectively than a cup of eggnog and pop-up illustrations that defy belief, this is a true picture book Christmas keepsake. Luxuriously large page spreads, roomy enough to share with your own cluster of mouselings, depict scenes of glorious measure and infinite detail. Action and spirit abound without a hint of pretention or noise. I think it’s this intentional subtly that I find so alluring. I could not imagine the time and discipline Gabriel invests in his projects, so I invited him to the drafts table to delve deeper into his finely crafted world.

Gabriel is a 24 y/o illustrator creating imaginary worlds through a paintbrush. He’s illustrated over eighteen books. The Mice and the Shoemaker is his third in the Woodland Whiskers’ series.

Who is Gabriel Evans? Describe your illustrative-self.

I’m an illustrator working in a studio full of creative clutter.

I paint in watercolours, gouache, ink, pencil, and any other material I can lay my hands on.

When I’m not drawing pictures I’m growing trees and playing catch with my dog.

Woodland Whiskers The PartyOutline your illustrative style. Is it difficult to remain true to this style?

My illustration style changes all the time depending on the project. However, as soon as I start a ‘style’ for a book I find it easy to maintain that look throughout. I normally achieve this by working on all the images collectively.

The Mice and the Shoemaker has a very classic feel to the illustrations and is in fact the first style I taught myself after growing up on the classic illustrators including Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard.

The Mice and the Shoemaker revisits a classic Grimm’s fairy tale (The Elves and the Shoemaker). What compelled you to take on this re-telling?

This story has a very positive message of offering kindness to others without being asked.

Hopefully it will make children realise that helping others can make for unexpected and positive return.

How does it differ from the books you have illustrated before?

Pop ups! All my previous books have been 2D. But this book has the 3D component of pop-up. Suddenly I’m having to paint three layers for one scene. Then enters the clever paper engineers who compile the layers into a 3D pop up. How they do it I don’t know, but it looks awesome!

Do youRoses are Blue enjoy the author / illustrating process better than simply focusing on illustrating someone else’s stories? What excites you most about what you do?

I enjoy both scenarios.

When I write the story I have much more creative control. I write stories from a visual point of view. Normally the picture enters my head before the text does.

Illustrating stories for other authors is equally rewarding. I enjoy the challenge of interpreting an author’s idea.

You artwork is intricate in detail inviting exquisite scrutiny. How does technology influence and or enhance your illustrations?

All my work is created traditionally using watercolours, gouache, inks, and pencils. I love working hands on in my illustrations and haven’t yet found a need to introduce a digital component to my art.

What tip would you give kids eager to embark on a career as an illustrator?

You don’t have to wait until you’ve ‘grown up’ to start your career as an illustrator. Start now. Enter drawing competitions, put your work into school papers, and contribute work to art exhibitions.

What’s on the drawing board for Gabriel?

I’ve recently finished the illustrations for a pirate picture book with Walker Books. The author is Penny Morrison.

Presently I’m mid way through illustrating a picture book for Koala Books.

Just for fun question (there’s always one); if you could be a character in any fairy tale, which one would it be and why?

Umm, I would have to say the Little Pig with the straw house. Sure, it gets blown down by the Big Bad Wolf, but I think this pig was eco friendly and trying to reduce his impact on the environment by building with straw. I don’t think he was considering the slim chance of a grumpy passing wolf with epic lung capacity.

Plus as a pig I’d imagine he’d wallow in mud. I can’t think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon!

Me neither, glorious! May any wolves that turn up at your door, Gabriel have sustainable intentions and small lungs. Cheers!

Be enchanted by more magical picture books like The Mice and the Shoemaker by visiting Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 / 2016.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

Stocking Stuffer Suggestion # 2

Do you bite off more than you can chew? One’s tendency for this disparity amplifies at Christmas time, at least, mine does. However, it’s not just at the festive table that choice and over-indulgence can be paralysing. The lead-up to my favourite time of the year is where many choke. The solution? Planning. Break needs, wants, and to-dos down into meaningful, chewable mouthfuls, starting with my Stocking Stuffer Suggestion List. Over the next month or so, I’ll continue to add some Kids’ literary suggestions that you can fill your lists with and have plenty of time to organise before Christmas.

Here is Suggestion # 2 ( # 1 was Sam Wheeler’s mid-grade reader, Mister Cassowary)

SING-A-SONG-OF-SIXPENCE –Sing a long picture books

Flashbacks are curious things. I didn’t feel confident enough to risk the Nutbush but the rush of the wind through my hair as I slid effortlessly albeit awarkedly across a wooden floor so highly polished you’d sworn it was wet, was nothing short of confidence boosting. I am doing this! I am 14 again. I am burning up the roller-skating rink! Turns out, roller-skating is a lot like riding a bike; you don’t really lose the knack as you age, just a bit of grace.

For flashbacks of a more literary sensation, there is plenty to choose from. The offerings are endless and provide buckets of visual and audial stimuli to keep you and your little ones grooving away for hours. Here are some favourites:

Hush Little Possum Hush Little Possum is a gorgeous adaptation of the classic lullaby, Hush Little Baby. Mama sugar glider and her baby are caught in a sudden outback storm, but brave Mama does everything she can to keep her babe warm and dry. Divine illustrations by WA artist Wendy Binks introduce readers to a myriad of Australian flora and fauna while Deborah Mailman sings along in the accompanying CD. Quite special for three to five year-olds.

Juicy Juciy Gren GrassRemember Peter Combe? I do. His advice is to, ‘stay in touch with your inner child.’ Well you can with this CD release picture book featuring his favourites in, Juicy Juicy Green Grass and other fun songs. Blindingly bright, bold and bonkers enough to be loved by the very young and old. I like the Silly Postman best, I just do.

Hokey PokeyYou may have spent many long energetic hours swinging, stamping, and shaking your Hokey Pokey in playgroup and kinder sessions – I know I have, but never like this. Join an Australian cast with Sarah Hardy and Colin Buchanan (on CD) as they jump and shake their uniquely Aussie ways through this beloved children’s song (there’s tongue poking and ear flopping aplenty!) High energy and playful cues to get everyone involved and learning. Love this one.

The Farmer in the DellFollowing a string of popular tune-based picture books, the hilarious Topp Twins, and Jenny Cooper team up again for The Farmer in the Dell. Read, sing, play, live it. These renditions breathe exhilarating new life into beloved old gems. Cooper’s detailed and goofy illustrations capture the verve of each of these classic tunes based on accumulative and comic repetition. Others include, There’s a Hole in my Bucket, Do Your Ears Hang Low and She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain. Oooh, I feel another flashback coming on. High Ho!

Square Eyes coverKiwi singer, songwriter, Craig Smith creates laugh out loud songs that translate superbly into fun and funky picture books. Square Eyes is his latest, illustrated by Scott Tulloch. If you thought The Wonky Donkey was full of character and sass, wait until you meet Mr Square Eyes – a panda with a serious addiction to the old goggle box. An excellent, hi-energy comical attempt to discourage kids from doing less by convincing them to do something more.

10 Clumsy EmusThere are several entertaining remakes of the evergreen song, Ten Green Bottles featuring a billabong of interesting critters designed to get kids counting, moving, and grooving. Well move over silly wombats because here come the 10 Clumsy Emus. Emu fanatic, Wendy Binks illustrates this one with fabulous effect. Laden with astonishing detail, I struggled to find the hidden numbers in every scene, but maybe that’s because I was so hilariously distracted by the emusing (ha ha) antics and expressions of our esteemed friends. No CD needed with this one. Ten out of ten, no less.

The Tortoise and the HairP. Crumble and Louis Shea are known for their perennial favourites in the, There was an Old Lady series. The Tortoise and the Hair is a jaw-splitting departure from these and although not based on a song or nursery rhythm but rather a classic fable, it conjured up all sorts of imagery and tenuous connections to the musical, Hair that I just had to include it. Saturated with satire, animal characters and hidden detail with a punchy little twist at the end, tortoise will have you rocking and rolling over and over again.

The Cow Tripped Over the MoonLovers of classic nursery rhymes will adore Tony Wilson’s recently released, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon. Cow is beset with a high-flying ambition; to jump over the moon but she is plagued with difficulty. Repeated attempts end in disappointment and near failure until her friends remind her, it’s now or never; she will be remembered forever – if she can just get this right. A left of field reimagining coupled with the strong quirky imagery of Laura Wood, makes this a winner.

Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot BinikiDeborah Mailman makes a tantalising reappearance in Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini. If you think little ones might find that a mouthful, just watch them cha cha cha and sing along to this 1960’s classic by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss. A beguiling cast of creatures is perfectly painted by acclaimed illustrator, Kerry Argent including one very brave polka-dot wearing hippo! Suitably capturing all the fun and warmth of a day at the beach.

Silly SquidWithout straying too far from the seaside, children’s author extraordinaire, Janeen Brian, takes us through a rhyming underwater odyssey to rival Homer’s adventure with Silly Squid! Poems about the Sea. Along the way, we meet giant squid, clever octopus, lumbering whales, delicate sea stars, adorable seals and so many more sublime sea-creatures, each showcased in sweet rhyming couplets and accompanied by fun facts. Informative, visually enchanting thanks to Cheryll Johns’ luscious full-page illustrations and utterly delightful. Definitely one to treasure.

Omnibus Books and Scholastic Australia all released 2015

Check out Boomerang’s Kids Reading Guide 2015 – 2016 for more great titles to whet your Christmas appetite.