For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

A little while ago I dedicated a review article to man’s best friend. Today I have another brilliant collection of dog stories that highlight their boundless vivacity, loyalty and dedication, not to mention their occasional misdemeanours, that truly make our pets so loveable.

The 12th Dog, Charlotte Calder (author), Tom Jellett (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, Jan 2017.

To adoring cricket fans, and of course dog lovers: this one’s for you! Oh, and you have the added bonus of the eye-popping, crowd-pleasing illustrations by the legendary Tom Jellett!

Combining his three favourite c’s; chewing, chasing and catching, Arlo the dog loves to play cricket. Except he never gives the ball back. Struggling to play for the team, Arlo is sentenced to the pavilion (the kennel) by the children as the 12th dog. But he makes a come-back to form. Skilfully integrating cricket terminology into an everyday, Aussie backyard scene sees Arlo score the winning run and he is crowned the best fielder in the street… but is he?

Brilliantly characteristic of ball-loving dog behaviour in an exciting pitch of teamwork and sportsmanship, The 12th Dog marvellously bowls out humour, cricket knowledge and a beaut Aussie flavour. Any fan from age four will be cheering for more. Howzat!?

Gus Dog goes to work, Rachel Flynn (author), Craig Smith (illus.), Working Title Press, Jan 2017.

This book both melted my heart and had me laughing out loud. What a gorgeous representation of a loyal working dog, with a big personality. The narrative and the illustrations both reflect these aspects beautifully. Gus Dog goes to work is uncannily relatable and articulately universal, even if the setting is in rural Australia.

Tom the farmer belongs to Gus Dog, and together, they have the perfect formula for a good working relationship – A mixture of special, ‘formulated’ breakfast with the commonality of an understood language. One day Gus awakes to the disappearance of Tom, and so off he sets on his explorative journey to find him. Using his natural doggy instincts, Gus sniffs and looks and listens and chases and rounds up and rolls in everything he comes across, only the townsfolk are highly unimpressed with his antics. He doesn’t understand everything, but drawing on some of his human-word-knowledge, he knows what ‘getoutovit’ means. Gus also recognises ‘goodboy’ and ‘gohome’, which are music to his ears when he’s finally reunited with Tom.

With fluid pencil work combined with digital painting, Craig Smith has sensationally captured the energy, wit and idiosyncrasies of this working dog and the special bond with his owner. The narrative has elements of a mocking humour matched with a visceral innocence, which superbly depicts the dog’s point of view.

Loyalty, friendship and communication between man and dog faultlessly combine in this funny and loveable story. Gus Dog goes to work will be received with pleasure, compassion and relatability by its preschool readers.

Blue the Builder’s Dog, Jen Storer (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin Random House, Aug 2016.

In another tale of a working dog with a mind of his own, Blue the Builder’s Dog is delectably sweet and fiercely passionate in all matters on the building site. Jen Storer brings her quirky and charming sense of humour to this reflective and encouraging story, as does the awesome Andrew Joyner with his lively, retro-feel illustrations, representative of independence and being strong-willed.

Blue is dedicated to his job. He guards the tools, signs the concrete slabs, inspects the works (often) and keeps stickybeak cats away. He is friends with everyone on the team. Except Blue wants more. He wants to be able to go up high, wear a hard hat, and most of all, a home of his own. Living in the shed is no place for a Working Dog. So, with great building plans in mind, Blue quits his job and embarks on his own grand endeavour. His creation is nothing short of remarkable (for a dog), but it seems this kennel is short of stability, particularly in a big storm. Realising his shortcomings, Blue makes amends with his builder and the team. And there is another new and improved design too.

Blue the Builder’s Dog is an animated story of teamwork and having a voice. It shows a determined character who makes a clear statement about the importance of marking one’s territory, so to speak! Humorous with cleverly portrayed themes and insights that children from age four will adore.

My Dog Dash, Nicky Greenberg (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, Apr 2016.

If you haven’t read this story then I’m not going to spoil it for you. But let’s just say that this dog has no problem coming out of his shell. On first read, I found this so surprising I had to do a double-take! The title, My Dog Dash, may be ‘misleading’, but demonstrates perfectly how easily something, or someone may be misjudged by preconceived notions.

Despite Dash’s inattentive meanderings, misreading of social cues and favouring for homely disorder, the girl narrator is passionate about the wellbeing of her beloved pet, even when others don’t understand. She is dedicated to training him, walking him and cleaning up after him. When Dash disappears one night, the girl is naturally devastated (however not to any dismay by her parents, by the looks on their faces). In a most satisfying ending, there is one more shocking surprise. You’ll have to read it to find out!

I love the rawness of this story; from the sacrifice of standing up for a misunderstood friend, to the natural, earthy tones and mixture of pencil sketching and textured paints in Greenberg’s illustrations.

My Dog Dash is a quirky, comical take on what is considered ‘normal’ puppy behaviour. Friendship and responsibility are at the heart of this sweet tale for preschool children. Remember, don’t judge a pet by its covering!

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price

Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, March 2017.

Strumming up a musical storm in a delicious brimful of plonks, plinks and twangs is the energetic page-turner; Digby and the Yodelayhee…Who?. Sequel to the adventurous antics of Digby’s Moon Mission, here is a seamless transition from the moonlight to the limelight.

And just like its predecessor, the themes of teamwork, curiosity and problem solving, and the teachable concepts of measurement (telling time and noise levels) are included and presented in a whole new and refreshing melodic tone.

Price’s musical background is showcased in full spotlight, incorporating not only different instruments and their sounds but also in the way the narrative has been pitched. She has written this story with a tuneful arrangement, harmonising between rhyme and prose, just like the verses of a song. Clever!

Anil Tortop’s mixed-media illustrations once again bring life, colour, vibrancy and a discernible swag to the pages, composing the opportunity for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping, bottom-wriggling romp for its audience. And to add further to the liveliness of this book, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? is accompanied with swinging song notes and QR code for ‘Digby’s Jam’; a lyrical composition by Renee Price (and family) herself!

Digby is perplexed by the mystery of a ‘super-duper noise’. So he sets out on yet another mission to find a conclusion. It takes five hours of careful auditory processing, watching each of his trusty friends explore a different instrument at different hours of the day. Stanley strums on his guitar at half-past one, Sophie toots on her kazoo at half-past two. Finally at half-past six the noise-o-meter makes a much-needed appearance, and when it rings out a ‘Thunderous!’ sound the gang know just where to look. With their newly acquired yodelling prowess in tow, the group enjoy a noisy jam… but there’s another unexplained sound to settle!

Euphoniously delightful as a read aloud experience, visually dynamic, encouragingly active, humorous and imaginative, Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? will lead its preschool audience on a most exhilarating journey of resounding goodness.

For more information on this innovative and talented creator, please read my interview with Renee Price on Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? here and through the Digby Fixit interactive website here.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble – Picture Books for Halloween

Rather than terrifying the boots off you, these two gentle yet energetic picture books caper around the Halloween spirit whilst addressing themes of responsibility, friendship and teamwork at the same time. A perfect opportunity to share some magic, cheeky giggles and affection with your little ones.  

imageThe Witch’s Britches, P.Crumble (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Scholastic, 2015.  

Raining magical underwear! Giant ice cream cones! Dancing squirrels! Sounds like the perfect concoction for a quirky, spellbinding Halloween story. Here is yet another marvel by classic funny-man, author P.Crumble and the talents of illustrator, Lucinda Gifford.

Chanted in rhyming couplets, the tale tells of the magic that comes from, not a wand, but in fact, britches! The undergarments of pixies, goblins and witches all have spell-casting abilities, but with two rules – don’t lose them, and keep them clean! Young witch Ethel goes to her biggest effort to retain their odour-free, magical freshness. Until one windy day Ethel faces a catastrophe as her britches are stolen by a gust of wind, and cause phenomenal havoc all over the town. Unsuspecting mortals are surprised by their sudden abilities to fly, encounters with abnormally-large babies and dog bones, and unforeseen visits to outer space. The whole park has turned into an exploding, edible and fantastical circus scene! But with the stamp of her foot, Ethel sets the town straight…and finds the perfect way to keep her britches in line, too.

More kooky than spooky, ‘The Witch’s Britches’ is a tale full to the brim with humour, fantasy and adventure. The watercolour and pencil illustrations are bold, vibrant and energetic, with plenty of details to take the reader on the imaginative journey with this diligent little witch.

Lots of fun for preschoolers this Halloween with a simple lesson in being responsible for your belongings!    

imageEmu’s Halloween, Anne Mangan (author), David Cornish (illus.), Angus&Robertson, 2015.  

Emu wants to organise the scariest Halloween party anyone has ever seen. But she doesn’t know how. Luckily her eavesdropping Aussie animal friends have the perfect plan. The hilarious scenes begin as they all roll up to Emu’s place, dressed in the spookiest of outfits the outback has ever seen – a zombie Kangaroo, a floating Tassie Devil angel, the scruffiest Frankenstein Koala, a Red-Back Spider (need I say more?), a ghostly Cockatoo and a frightening Dracula Echindna. But will Emu appreciate their efforts? Of course! That is just the beginning!

A wonderfully creative array of Halloween crafts, decorations, games and nibbles are beautifully integrated to allow readers the tools for setting up a themed party of their own. From paper ghosts to skeletons made from sticks, how to make a witches’ brew, sandwitches and bobbing for apples, the animals celebrate in frighteningly spooktacular style.

Written in rollicking, exuberant rhyme, with illustrations that clearly match the story’s energy and the warmth of this gregarious group. A mixture of pencil and Photoshop, scanned paper and cloth textures add depth, softness and familiarity to the adorable characters and their fun antics.

‘Emu’s Halloween’ is a brilliant read-aloud book for kids (and adults) of all ages that not only outlines the perfect scary Halloween party, but is also is a beautiful reminder of friendship, togetherness, creativity and spirit that can be celebrated at any time of the year.  

Mission Accomplished! Renee Price Launches ‘Digby’s Moon Mission’

New and local indie author, Renee Price, has recently released the growingly popular Digby’s Moon Mission, just in time for Christmas. Fostering children’s natural curiosity and their young imaginations are key elements to creating a successful picture book, and ones that Renee elicits in her picture book.

Bza6SorCYAAMLHqDigby Fixit is a curious boy with a keen interest in a ‘banana-thin’ moon. With his dishevelled appearance and abundance of energy, Digby enlists the help of his friends; creating havoc in his poor mum’s kitchen, to embark on a mission to solve the mystery of the slivered moon. It takes a whole week to concoct the clever plan with a delicious array of gourmet meals, which most surprisingly, are catapulted into the vast atmosphere that is space.
Day after night, Digby measures the moon’s illumination, from starving to full to exploding, until it is a perfectly plump ball bursting with light. But it is also bursting with food! How will the moon react?  

Renee Price’s text delightfully integrates a mix of fun, age-appropriate vocabulary and dialogue with whimsical rhyming prose. Illustrations by Anil Tortop are colourful, humorous and expressive; perfectly suiting the action and wit in the storyline. The smoothness and softness of the drawings and colour palette are also a fine fit with the lush feel of the pages. Digby’s Moon Mission is a ‘super-duper’, charming and imaginative story; exploring teamwork, diversity and plenty of teachable concepts. Children from two years old will enjoy this adventure all the way to the moon and back again, and again, and again!  

renee price head shotI’m excited to talk to Renee Price about her journey to publishing her new book.  

Congratulations on the release of your first picture book, Digby’s Moon Mission!
Thank you, Romi! Wow. “The release of your first picture book.” I think it’s still sinking in! J  

Where did you get your inspiration for this story?
My eldest child. He is always enlightening me with his take on the world. One night, we were looking up at the sky and he noticed that the moon was only a “little” moon. We talked about why the moon may appear this way, and his theories had me fascinated. So, I wrote them down and turned them into a book. I have a long list of notes taken from our wonderful conversations.  

Digby’s Moon Mission contains a beautiful mixture of whimsical phrasing and rollicking rhyme. Is this your preferred style of writing?
Well, it certainly is now after hearing you describe it like that. Thank you! I originally wrote the entire story in rhyme. (I’m a huge fan of Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson). Although the story worked and the characters and themes were great, the rhyme and rhythm wasn’t (kind of ironic, being a musician!). With the help of my awesome editor, it was re-worked to contain both prose and rhyme. I didn’t want to lose the rhyme element completely, so we structured the story in a way that it felt like it has stylistic sections – like verses and a chorus, perhaps!    

What are the main teaching elements and / or message you would like your readers to gain from reading Digby’s Moon Mission?
I’d like readers to be able to take a variety of messages and themes away with them after reading the story. The importance of working together, diversity, and nurturing one’s imagination are big ones for me. Then there’s the food and science (phases of the moon) elements, the days of the week, plus the introduction of rhyming words.  

What was your favourite part of the story to create?
The ending. I’m such a kid at heart, and humour is how I roll so yes, definitely the ending.  

digby-18-19 The illustrations by Anil Tortop are so humorous, and just adorable. How did you find working with Anil? How much input did you have in the design process?
Anil is brilliant! She is also kind, witty, open-minded and incredibly fun to work with. I remember opening the file of her first sketches and crying because she nailed every single illustration. It’s like she’d stepped into my mind and made detailed notes of how I’d envisaged the story to be shown in picture. I had a lot of input into the design process, but I didn’t really need to ‘input’ much. Anil and Ozan (book designer – Tadaa Book) are both so creative, clever and professional, that most of the time, I was just giving the “A-OK!”  

You funded the publication of this book yourself through a crowdfunding campaign. How did you find organising this process and gaining all the support? What were the biggest challenges?
Crowdfunding was such an amazing experience. It was a creation in itself and I enjoyed every part of the process from uploading my campaign video and profile, to promoting my project far and wide. I was (still am!) completely blown away with the support I received. Everyone really rallied for Digby and I am endlessly grateful to everyone that showed their support. The biggest challenge would definitely be marketing the campaign. Not only promoting it, but how it is promoted. I always ensured positivity in my approach and never wanted to come across ‘over-bearing’ or that I was pestering people for pledges (although it felt like it at times!)  

You’ve recently celebrated your first book launch! What did you have planned for your supporters?
I did! It was a wonderful day. The launch was held as part of a local children’s/family market here, in Newcastle, so there were lots of lovely families stopping by to say hello and learn more about Digby. I had my stall set up with a kids’ activity station where children made Digby placemats, there were two book readings throughout the day and signings too, and I held a raffle for book purchasers where the prize was a gorgeous framed illustration from Digby’s Moon Mission, signed by Anil.  

How have you found people’s responses to Digby’s Moon Mission so far? Have you had any funny or memorable reactions from children (or adults)?
The response has been incredible! It is extremely humbling to hear that children are requesting Digby to be read over and over (sorry parents!). I’ve had three mothers tell me their children can recite the story from memory (one young boy ‘read’ the entire story to his grandmother at a family dinner!) Parents have told me that they love the ‘unexpected’ plot and the best physical reaction I’ve seen from children (and adults) is the final page of the book… it gets lots of giggles. I won’t spoil the ending though!  

Have you always wanted to be a children’s picture book author? What do you love about writing stories for children?
I’ve always wanted to write, but the desire to write for children came about when my youngest brother was born. I’m the eldest of five, so when he entered the world, I was in my final year of school and through my involvement with him, the desire to create, educate and foster children’s development grew. After I enrolled at uni to study early childhood teaching, I began writing stories and songs for children with the hope of one day, being a published author (or the next Justine Clarke!). Since becoming a parent, my writing has become my joy and motivator because I’m writing for them. I love that there are no limits to story-writing. Take an idea, and let it soar. Be the child!  

digby-cover01What’s in store for ‘Digby’ fans in 2015? What can we see from author, Renee Price, in the near future?
I have so many plans. Let’s hope some of them shine through! I’m working on the sequel to Digby’s Moon Mission, which is exciting! I have a couple of other non-Digby stories in the works, and I have written a Digby Fixit theme song so, I’ll try and find somewhere for that to fit… TV series, perhaps?  

Besides celebrating your new book, do you have plans for the holiday season?
Yes, I do. I plan for family time, and loads of it!  

Thank you so much for answering my questions for Boomerang Books, Renee! I hope you and your family have a very special Christmas, and Congratulations again!
It is my absolute pleasure. Thank you, Romi! Many happy returns to you and yours, too!

Digby’s Moon Mission is published with Renee’s brand name, Create It Kids, and can be found at:
Website: www.createitkids.com.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DigbyFixit 
Email: [email protected]  

Review and interview by Romi Sharp
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