Art and Music in Picture Books

Art and music feature in some recommended picture books and Christmas gifts.

Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen published by the National Library of Australia

Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 and is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen award. He is a virtuoso of painterly artwork and has illustrated Australian stories such as Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, Mustara by Rosanne Hawke, Ziba Came on a Boat written by Liz Lofthouse, The Poppykettle series and The Afternoon Treehouse and a long list of children’s classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (hence the title of this tribute to his work), Peter Pan and Wendy, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol will be perfect books for Christmas. Ingpen has also designed Australian postage stamps.

His most recent books include the awarded outback-based Tea and Sugar Christmas and Radio Rescue! (both written by Jane Jolly). Wonderlands gives a generous insight into these books and others. It is a must-have celebration of children’s literature through the lens of our maestro, Robert Ingpen.

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen, illustrated by Daniel Frost (Wide Eyed Editions, Allen & Unwin)

Music is important for the pleasure it gives and because it’s good for the brain and can lead to unexpected friendships and opportunities. Enjoyable and useful to use in homes, schools and music schools, The School of Music is a lavish compendium of music, musicians and instruments in picture book form.

Musician characters (such as Diva Venus, a star singer, Ronny ‘Beethoven’ O’Reilly, a composer and Roxy Mojo, a percussion specialist) are introduced at the beginning of the book and feature strategically throughout to explain concepts. Section 1 looks at different types of music and instruments and how music connects with film, maths, architecture and other disciplines. Section 2 offers a musical toolbox, which enables children to write music, beginning with fun graphic scores using pictures and symbols. Section 3 is about children making music themselves. The book suggests diverse ways such as making a kitchen orchestra as well as playing a conventional instrument or singing. It concludes with tips on performing and composing.

There are bonus music samples accessed by the QR code at the end of the book and children could dip in and out of this book or use it as a Christmas holiday music appreciation and education course, ideally even alongside learning a musical instrument. 

Awarded Children’s Information Books

EmuThis year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books forms an impressive list. Four of the six titles focus on an aspect of Australian history.

Emu (one of the ‘Nature Storybooks’ series from Walker Books) is natural history, however, and upholds the quality of last year’s Crichton and Queensland Literary awarded Big Red Kangaroo. It is written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne and combines literary and factual texts in an engaging package for young readers.

Coming of Age

The other title that isn’t historical is for the opposite end of the age spectrum – mature secondary, although chapters could be used for younger readers in high school. Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia is edited by Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) and a number of its contributors have appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A. The contributors write about their experiences growing up as a Muslim. An important feature is the diversity within Muslim groups, also based on the country the writers or their parents are from.

Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?) writes about body image; Hazem El Masri, former rugby league star,  among other things, explains a core difference between Islam and Christianity – Muslims don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, died on the cross or was raised from death; Hazem’s wife changed some of her school’s culture by lobbying for the opportunity for Muslims to pray; and former Miss World Australia, Sabrina Houssami, laments that white Australian girls wouldn’t be her friend.

Tea and SugarTea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) is a sumptuous volume, and is also a notable CBCA picture book this year. Robert Ingpen is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal. All of his books are stunning. This one showcases the train that serviced the settlements along the Nullabor Plains from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Aboriginal and Afghan people helped build and maintain the 1050 km of rail. The book starts as an appealing literary narrative about young Kathleen who is waiting for the first Thursday in December when Father Christmas travels with gifts. This story is followed by information in non-fiction form.Mary's Australia

 

Mary Mackillop was a girl when Victoria became a state and she was twelve during the Eureka Stockade. Pamela Freeman juxtaposes Mary’s life and time caring for the poor and educating children with the years when Australia became a nation in Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia (Black Dog Books, Walker Books).

Audacity

 

Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker and illustrated by Brett Hatherly, is another excellent publication from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The title comes from a stained-glass window at the Australian War Memorial. Each chapter features a person, including women, and the war they were involved in and also highlights their outstanding attributes, such as courage or leadership.

 

The A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard (Text Publishing) is coffee-table size and is set between 1803 and 1853. The research and illustrative processes are intricate and include cut-away pictures of buildings. This book is full of fascinating and gory facts which will intrigue older readers. A-Z

Christmas Countdown – Kids’ reads to keep you calm and collected

If you’re already thinking how to fill the sleigh this Christmas, climb on in and assume the brace position because it’s only 44 more days until Christmas. Yes! As terrifying as that may sound, here are three fantastic new reads to lessen the impact. They are cheerfully Christmassy, are already, or destined to be classics and just perfect to start your countdown to Christmas in earnest with.

The Nights before ChristmasI don’t like to risk cavities on store-bought Advent calendars and don’t always have the time to make my own, so when The Nights Before Christmas: 24 Classic Stories to Share magically appeared, I bubbled with festive gratitude.

Twenty-four excerpts, poems, and yuletide stories even carol lyrics are thoughtfully brought together in a magnificently presented hardback anthology. Readers as young as seven will enjoy immersing themselves into this collection of traditional and contemporary tales but the real joy ignites when you spend each night with your child(ren) sharing the magic and anticipation of Christmas together.

Storytellers including Tolstoy, Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brother, Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Louisa May Alcott all contribute to the festive soirées but perhaps my favourite ‘night’ is Number 22, Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; reaffirming once again that to simply experience magic one need only believe in it.

Lavishly illustrated in glorious full colour by acclaimed UK illustrator, Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas is the penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. This is one Christmas keepsake you won’t be throwing out with the Christmas crackers. Highly recommended.

Koala Books imprint of Scholastic October 2014

Mr Darcy and the Christmas PuddingMy November Christmas to-do list often involves provisioning the pantry with more festive goodies than anyone can eat and making the Chrissy Pud, which is why Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas is included on this countdown list.

The ineffable Mr Darcy adores Christmas and having mastered his former social ineptitude with the help of his friends in the previous picture books, Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy and the Dancing Duck, prepares to involve them in a splendid yuletide celebration. He invites his nearest and dearest over on Stir-up Sunday to help bake the Christmas pudding but is somewhat disconcerted by the unexpected presence of Mr Collins.

Plucky ducky, Lizzy appeals to Mr Darcy’s more charitable side until he finally relents so that everyone, including Mr Collins, enjoys Christmas time, pudding and all.

As with all these titles, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding draws deliciously on Christmas traditions, mode a la Austen and how the expectation of the big event is often sweeter, more satisfying and twice as exciting as the day itself.

Pride and Prejudice fans have another one their collections. Three to six year-olds will be begging to lick the pudding bowl.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014

Tea and Sugar ChristamasAnother picture book that heralds the beginning of the festive season and is a definite keepsake for Christmases to come is Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen.

This is less of a picture book and more of a beguiling glimpse into the yesteryear life of Kathleen, a young resident of a settlement town along the Nullarbor Plain rail link back in the days when the Tea and Sugar Train travelled from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie once a week.

Jolly’s substantial prose ably transports us into Kathleen’s world past the ‘drooping peppercorn, bent acacias and scraggy salt bush’ as she eagerly awaits the provisions train in a heat so torrid her feet sear ‘like scones on a griddle’. Chocolate could only be brought in winter when it was less likely to melt.

Ingpen’s glorious line pencil drawings belie a world of colour as each page unfolds into a spectacular double panoramic spread emphasising the breathtaking enormity of the outback and the complexity of the Mixed Goods Train No 5205 aka The Tea and Sugar Train itself.

Tea and Sugar SantaBut what is so special about this week’s train, the one that every child on the Plains waits for on the first Thursday of December every year? Take the trip and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Tea and Sugar Christmas truly epitomises a child’s anticipation and expectations of Christmas no matter where or how they live. And as with all NLA publications, the fascinating factual inclusions ensure this is one of those special unexpected Christmas surprises you are sure to treasure.

National Library of Australia November 2014

Make room in the sleigh for more after you check out these fantastic gift ideas for kids from the Kids’ Reading Guide 2014. And stayed tuned for more fantastic pre-Chrissy posts guaranteed to keep you and your little ones inspired and excited and above all, well read!