Reviews – Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds Books 3 and 4

The gorgeous Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds series (by author Alison Reynolds and illustrator Mikki Butterley) continues from where it left off from The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster (see previous interview). With another two exciting books on exploring social etiquette and positive behaviour now available, we can hardly contain ourselves! Here they are:

Gently reinforcing the value of kindness, The Playground Meanies is a delightfully explorative story into managing challenging social situations in the playground. The Reynolds and Butterley team once again draw us in with their engaging script and expressive illustrations that truly allow readers to connect with these relatable characters.

It is a common occurrence for preschoolers to experience some level of bullying, even at their young age. Knowing what is appropriate behaviour, whether the instigator or recipient, can sometimes be confusing and definitely emotionally confronting. Alison Reynolds approaches this concept beautifully with her easy-to-follow and humorous narrative, and empowering ‘guide to good deeds’ notes that tie it all together.

When Pickle and the sensitive Jason are teased about their big feet by two little bears at the playground, it is Bree who shows maturity and wisdom, reminding her friends not to stoop to their ‘mean’ level. But Pickle, being loyal yet impulsive, sympathises with Jason’s sadness, and protests his vexation. And the result of his boisterous actions causes a roll-on effect. Getting along with the meanies may seem like a slippery slide to manoeuvre, but Pickle and Jason do well to compose themselves and be kind, with an effective result.

The Playground Meanies opens doors for plenty of discussion and role play, teaching children about positive actions in a sensitive, safe and playful manner.

In The Big Snow Adventure, Pickle and Bree hit the ski slopes a-sliding with aplomb. In this action-packed escapade of tobogganing-chaos, skiiing-turbulence and snowballing-frenzies, the heedless pair need reminding to respect the rules.

It’s all too easy to be unaware of invading people’s space or neglecting to check their feelings when you’re in your own world of fun and competition. That’s certainly what happened to Pickle and Bree during their trip to the snow. All the excitement of ski lifts and ploughing down the mountain makes them forget about listening to and following instructions and respecting the given boundaries. Disowned by their friends following the path of snow-covered destruction eventually leads Pickle and Bree to realise their foolhardy ways, and an exhiliranting ending to the day is had by all.

I love the consistency between books; the gentle and humorous storylines that play out like a real life scene, the strongly defined characters and the adorable multi-textured illustrations that make these books so full of charm and authenticity.

The Big Snow Adventure and The Playground Meanies are both delightfully engaging ‘lessons’ in friendship, respect, compassion and morality. Admirably empowering children from age four to harness a peaceful world, one step at a time.

Five Mile Press, February 2017.

Alison Reynolds recently completed her blog tour for her Pickle and Bree series. See her post with Dimity here and the books’ development here.

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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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Fun for Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

One of the most joyful pleasures a child can enjoy is Daddy-time. There can never be too much of it. Here’s a new selection of picture books you can share with your special little someones on Father’s Day or indeed, at any time at all.

The Ballad of Henry HoplingseaThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea by Julia Hubery Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I love the look and feel of this jolly little tale. It is less about dads and more about appreciating what you have rather than agonising over what you do not have but it makes such entertaining reading that it is sure to give dads, daughters and sons sufficient enough excuses to stay snuggled together in reading harmony for many lovely moments.

Humble farmer Henry is besotted with Carmelita and begs her hand in marriage. In spite of their solid and long standing friendship, she refuses succumbing instead to her princess inspired yearnings to live in silks, eat oysters and one day be whisked off her feet by a shiny brave knight. Henry can supply none of these things so forsakes he is farmer origins and sets off for Knight School.

Henry’s proactive tenacity is admirable however; his kind heart is bigger than his knightly ambitions and abilities. Which of these though will be enough to win over Carmelita? Humorous rhyming text and bewitching illustrations full of colour and captivating detail ensure this is one ballad readers will want to relive again and again.

Little Hare Books (HEG imprint) August 2016

Counting on YouCounting on You by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Part of the You Have my Heart series, this padded hard cover picture book is the ideal size to slide into any Father’s Day gift bag. The text is sublimely simple but saturated with exquisite moving emotion. Readers are taken through a flowing collection of days, many of them recognisable to young children, those: ‘I can’t-find-my-socks days, my tummy-is-too-full days’ until they are reassured of the presence of a loved one who can hug them closer ,squeeze them tighter and ‘make things better’ than anyone else; in other words, the adult they can count on.

Counting on You examines the 6 primary emotions formerly identified under the Parrot’s classification. Cowcher’s restrained colour use is heavenly, truly evoking movement and feeling. Highly recommended.

The Five Mile Press August 2016

I spy Dad JBI Spy Dad! By Janeen Brian Illustrated by Chantal Stewart

No two dads are ever quite the same; they are as diverse and individual as pebbles on a beach. I love how kids love their particular version of dad no matter what he does, what he looks like or how he acts. One little girl wonders which dad belongs specifically to her and searches for him among dashing, splashing dads; sewing, mowing dads; and creeping, leaping dads enjoying the cheeky chase until she finds the one who’s just for her.

Brian’s gifted way with rhyming words ensures every beat of this search is on point while Stewart’s illustrations are playful and bright. A sure favourite for under sixes.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

Where's Dad HidingWhere’s Dad Hiding? By Ed Allen Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Never a dad around when you need one? Prolong your search and fun with this colour-saturated picture book promoting games and play, Aussie animals and relationships. Where’s Dad Hiding? encourages young pre-school aged readers to carefully examine every one of Tortop’s vibrantly illustrated page spreads for Baby Wombat’s missing dad.

Daddy Wombat is cunningly secreted on each page among a glorious collection of colourful Aussie inspired landscapes and situations. I get the feeling Daddy Wombat enjoys being cheeky and slightly irreverent just like real life human daddies as he leads Baby Wombat on a teasing search. This picture book pulses with verve and character making it a delight for dads to share with their kids.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

Grandpa is GreatGrandpa is Great by Laine Mitchell Illustrated by Alison Edgson

No matter what mantle they fall under grandad, pop, Nonno, opa, gramps, there is no mistaking the greatness of grandpas. This cute rhyming story reinforces the many moments and things grandfathers make memorable for their grandchildren. Whether it is playing games together, making mess, rocketing to the moon or simply watching the tellie together, Mitchell’s engaging text and Edgson’s bold use of baby animals to depict the grandpa-grandchild bond is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

The Greatest Fathers Day of AllThe Greatest Father’s Day of All by Anne Mangan Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

It’s the witty parallels I enjoy in this rhyming picture book about a dad eagerly anticipating his Father’s Day but like so many mere males, gets it mixed up a little. His blow-by-blow expectations take readers through some typical and well-loved Father’s Day morning rituals as his excitement mounts then crumbles into disappointment.  Children eager to plan their own Father’s Day surprises for dad will value the familiar similarities and the divine pencil and gauche watercolours used by Ainslie.  Her illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Anna Pignataro’s; her characters exuding the same sort of charm in their sweet alluring faces. A nice way to mark the occasion of Dad’s Day.

Harper Collins Publishers first published 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dads!

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Curious Concepts – Concept picture book reviews

Concept picture books play a huge part in shaping a young person’s perceptions. They are capable of unlocking an inquisitiveness that hopefully sticks around for life and are crucial for developing critical thinking, reasoning, and logic. However, important educational concepts need not be strictly didactic and dull as these entertaining picture books clearly display.

Garden FriendsGarden Friends by Natalie Marshall is a Touch and Feel board book, sturdy and bright in appearance in the same vein as the That’s not my… series. This one directs 0 – 3-year-olds to experience their tactile investigations within a garden setting using short verb orientated phrases – ‘Duck is quacking!’ It’s joyous and sensual and a nice shift from the usual ‘touch and feel’ concept.

The Five Mile Press March 2016

Counting Through the DayCounting Through the Day by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro escorts pre-schoolers through a typical day from sunrise, to breakfast, to visits with Nanna and finally back off to bed. Along the way, our young protagonist gently encounters many fascinating objects and situations from two sturdy feet to five broody hens and even ‘thousands of raindrops falling from the sky’. And as children are wont to do, they count each and every one of them.

Hamilton’s gently rhyming verse and affecting choice of counting objects harness a child’s every day pleasures, highlighting the world around them: their toys, meals, the weather and so on. Numbers 1 – 11 are shown numerically and in words while Pignataro’s combination of drawn, painted, and collage illustrations are simply marvellous. The end pages alone will provide hours of delight and interest.

Counting Through the Day is as much about story as it is about learning to count. I love that readers are taken past the obligatory ‘10’, and are introduced to 11, 20, hundreds and even millions, exposing young minds to a universe of infinite possibilities. Easy to grasp and absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE 2016

For someone whose spatial awareness is not as sharp as it could be, the next two picture books are a real boon. They encourage an understanding of the relationship of objects to oneself and in ones world in a clever and entertaining way that ensures high levels of reader investment and interest.

The Shape of My HeartThe Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring Illustrated by Alys Paterson is a board book sized banquet of colour, shapes, and rhymes; images guaranteed to captivate 0 – 5-year-olds. This is no ordinary ‘this shape is a…’ book. It expands the notion of appearance and form by depicting the most obvious shape to start with – you and me. From there, readers are shown the various shape of parts of our anatomy (eyes, mouth, feet) the environment in which they live (sun, houses) and those shapes that inhabit the world with them (birds, vehicles, creatures in the zoo) and so on. I love how the shape you can hear with (ears for instance) leads to a myriad of other shapes that make up our existence. Sounds confusing to describe but not to behold and read thanks to Paterson’s cheerful and shapely illustrations. Reminiscent of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? in parts, The Shape of My Heart combines visual literacy, introduction of sounds, and rousing vocabulary whilst neatly implying that everything that shapes our lives fits within our hearts and you can’t get any more spatial than that. Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury for Children February 2016

What Could it BeWhat Could it Be? by Sally Fawcett is a fascinating picture book initiative combining the best bits of storytelling, creative stimulation, and subliminal learning. Displayed in complementing double page spreads, Fawcett gently introduces young readers to some well-known geometric shapes and colours. Pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers may already be loosely familiar with shapes such as circles, ovals, and even octagons. They are probably discovering the mysteries of an artist’s palette, as well but in What Could it Be?, they are challenged to delve deeper, look more closely and investigate the world of possibilities surrounding them.

With the help of, a young boy named Max, readers are prompted to answer the ‘what if’ inspired notion to think outside of the box and tap into their creative souls. Each page of story is gloriously illustrated by Fawcett who cleverly secretes dozens upon dozens of obviously hidden aspects in each scene to be discovered by roving little eyes. I say obvious because this picture book adventure serves to show that every conceivable form, colour and object in our worlds are there for us to find if we just look hard enough and perhaps use a little imagination.

Children will delight in the seek and find quality of What Could it Be?. In addition, this book has far-reaching usefulness in homes, schools, and early learning centres. I see a future for it in home schooling, too as it fosters a genuine exploration and appreciation of the world around us. At the book’s conclusion, children are invited to go one-step further and are encouraged to think, experiment, create, and share for themselves.

Unleash your child’s creativity with this one!

EK Books June 2016

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Janeen Brian’s Hunger for Stories Leaves us Wanting More

imageJaneen Brian is the much-loved, award-winning author of over 90 books for children, many of which have been translated and distributed around the world. Some of her most popular titles include I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, I’m a Hungry Dinosaur, Where does Thursday go?That Boy, Jack, I Spy Mum!, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, Silly Squid! and Pilawuk- When I was Young. Janeen is also widely known for her wonderful contributions to the industry, winning the Carclew Fellowship 2012, being Ambassador for the Premier’s Reading Challenge, and presenting at a number of conferences and schools. It is an honour and thrill to have had the opportunity to find out more about Janeen and her latest gorgeous books, Mrs Dog, Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky (reviews here).

Where did your passion for books and writing children’s stories begin? Are there any particular books or authors that have played a significant role in where you are today?

I think the passion was always there. I can’t remember a time when words and stories didn’t fascinate me. The sound and power of words has always intrigued. However, we were a book-poor family. And I went to a book-poor school. It was just how it was. I now realise I’ve always carried that ache inside of me. So, I guess it had to come out somewhere, sometime. I’m grateful it did. I would probably credit becoming a teacher and having daughters of my own with the eventual, tentative, stepping out into the children’s writing arena. But I also had a couple of angels in my later adult life who gave me a nudge.
Without a childhood plethora of books or reading matter, I’m on a constant treadmill, trying to capture the thrill of books which are embedded in the psyche of many of my writing colleagues, for whom those books were friends. And so I swing; to read back to my childhood and forward to what is out there today. I’m constantly reading. At times, I wonder if I evaluate enough of what I read. It just seems that I’m hungry or thirsty for stories and poetry. So many authors affected me, but two who immediately spring to mind are Robin Klein and Ruth Park. Their writing touched me; it was full of exquisite detail, rich in character and expressive in language. And they spoke of our country and culture, and at times, our history.

Your writing style varies between heartrending poetry, to playful rhyme and informative and lyrical narrative. Do you have a preferred style of writing? How has your style evolved over the years?

I think once again it comes down very much to what pleases me, particularly aurally. I don’t have a particular favourite way of writing. I write in the style that suits the work. And I find it interesting that although the style might differ according to what I’m writing, people still say they can recognise my work when they see or hear it. I guess my style is like a maypole, with many ribbons attached – each one individual but connected. I think, or hope, that my style has become more honest and richer as it’s evolved. That would please me.

Some of your recent books, in particular Our Village in the Sky, Where’s Jessie? and Mrs Dog, all carry a timeless feel with their beautifully lyrical language and images, as well as encapsulating more sophisticated topics such as cultural differences, loss and survival. What draws you to write with these kinds of themes?

Although at times, I can feel like a suburban fringe-dweller, I have to remind myself that my life has been full of interesting twists and turns and often it is the idea of survival that is uppermost. I think that many everyday people are heroes, tackling life’s mountains. However, from different, and sometimes difficult challenges comes strength and confidence. The word used a lot today is resilience. I think I try and show that in my work. We all battle at times, in various ways, and sometimes we have to dig deep to find courage or strength to continue. Or to look at a situation in a different way. Often, too, help can come when one person takes the hand of another.
I love to see a world of real things; kindness, laughter, nature, play and creativity. I’m not much of an adult in the highly commercialised world.
I think all of this affects the kind of stories and poems I write – and the themes and language embedded in them.

Your most recent release, Mrs Dog, is a truly moving story of unconditional love, nurturing and courage, with elements of humour and adversity blended in the mix. Did this story emerge from a personal experience? What aspect of the story is most meaningful to you?

imageLike in most stories, Mrs Dog is a mixture of experience and imagination. Over a period of years I had collected two names. They sat around in my head for ages with no story. Over time I linked them to farm-style incidents told to me by my husband, and then changed the ideas during many drafts until the final story emerged. It certainly wasn’t one whole package to begin with. I really like the fact that when under pressure, a person/creature is often able to rise above their own expectations, as Baa-rah did in his effort to save Mrs Dog.

What has been the most insightful feedback or response to Mrs Dog so far?

The unconditional love and compassion shown within an unlikely inter-generational relationship.

Illustrator Anne Spudvilas has provided the spectacularly dreamy artwork for both Where’s Jessie? and Our Village in the Sky. How did the pairing come about? How do you feel her illustrations complement your words? Were you able to work closely on each book?

imageIn both instances, I was able to work closely with Anne, which is not the usual experience with author and illustrator. Often seeds are sown many years before eventualities and this was the case in our first collaboration, Our Village in the Sky. Anne and I had become friends through many creator-style catch-ups, and she liked the photos and experiences I told her of my stay in the Himalayan mountains. When I later applied for a Carclew Fellowship for the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature, I devised a picture book of poems as a potential project and asked Anne if she’d illustrate. Fortunately I won the award, and in a serendipitous situation, Anne took her sketches and several of my poems to Allen and Unwin, who subsequently published the title.
Anne was able to use images from my photos to create her scenes and characters and we worked closely on the layout and flow of the book, with me making several trips interstate.
In both books, Anne’s palette and style suit the stories perfectly and I am full of admiration for her work. It evokes both emotion and sensory appreciation.
Where’s Jessie? is a story triggered from the sighting of a real teddy bear that’d travelled to the outback on a camel. Because I’d earlier researched and written an award-winning information book, Hoosh! Camels in Australia, I was able to provide Anne with much visual material. Anne could also access the historical database of Trove in the National Library of Australia.
There was story collaboration, too, when Anne suggested changing the character of the person who eventually finds Bertie, from an Afghan camel boy to an Aboriginal boy.

Where’s Jessie? is based on the real life travels of Bertie the bear through the outback in the early 1900s. What was it about Bertie’s story that caught your attention? What was it like to research, and how did you feel meeting the daughter of Bertie’s owner?

imageWhile visiting a country Cornish Festival in South Australia in 2011, I entered a church hall to view a collection of historic memorabilia. The real Bertie bear was seated on a chair, looking slightly tatty but well-loved. The note attached mentioned two facts; he was 101 years old. And he’d travelled to Alice Springs by camel. What a thrill! I had no idea of what I might do with that information, but I was finally able to track down the now-owner, the daughter of the original-owner, who’d been a baby at the time she’d received the bear. I’d had enough experience in the outback (flash floods, included) as well as my earlier research with camels, so it was really the story I needed to work on. At the launch of Where’s Jessie?, the now-owner spoke movingly about how well-loved the ancient bear still is within their family; citing that he is still the comforter of sick children and the soother of bad dreams.

Our Village in the Sky is beautifully written in angelic language that reflects the perspectives of different hard-working, yet playful, children in a remote village amongst the Himalayan mountains. This book is based on your observations whilst living there. What else can you reveal about your experience? What was the most rewarding part about writing this story?

imageI felt compelled to write about this village, and particularly the children, because I was able to interact with them at the time, using sign language or games. Or I simply watched them. Only a few villagers spoke any English at all, and it was very minimal. Culturally, and because of the language barrier, it was not possible for me to ask about many things pertaining to women or family life. So my focus was the children. I noted and photographed. I wrote a diary of my feelings and thoughts. But, back home, when I came to write, it was the children I wanted to write about. The images in my mind decided that the ‘story’ would be a series of poems depicting their life, so different to children in the Western world. The most rewarding part was the connection I felt through the words, and that I had acknowledged my experience in that area of the world.

What do you hope for readers to gain from this book?

Curiosity. Understanding. Awareness. And being able to relate to the child-like aspects in each poem.

Can you please tell us about your working relationship with illustrator Ann James on the I’m a Dirty/Hungry Dinosaur books? Was this collaboration any different to any other of your author-illustrator partnerships?

imageAnn and I had been published together in a book called Dog Star, an Omnibus/Scholastic chapter book in the SOLO series and we’d become friends mainly through catch-ups at various festivals and so on. At one festival at Ipswich in 2009, I asked Ann to consider a poem I’d written. It was called I’m a dirty dinosaur. Over discussions, Ann agreed to illustrate it and with the poem and a few sketches the material went first to my agent, Jacinta di Mase, before it was picked up and published by Penguin Australia. (now Penguin Random House Australia) Ann and I chatted about the text and pictures throughout the process, just as we did with the second book, I’m a hungry dinosaur. Both books have been a lovely culmination and collaboration of ideas.

What were the most rewarding and challenging aspects of creating the ‘dinosaur’ books?

imageWorking with Ann is a joy. She is alive with ideas, energy and enthusiasm. We both enjoy the playfulness of the books, and the act of play and fun with language is important to both of us. Ann also likes to minimalise her line work to give the maximum effect and I think she’s done this brilliantly in both books. I also like to hone down my words so they shine without any extra unnecessary baggage.
There’s also an integral trust between the two of us, which is wonderful.
The challenge came in the second book. It’s not an unusual dilemma. The first is the prototype. The second must follow the format yet still have its own life. We believe we achieved that in I’m a hungry dinosaur!

If you could be any kind of dinosaur, what would that be and why?

I guess if I could be any dinosaur it would be the one Ann created!

As an experienced author, what advice would you give to those writers just starting out?

Apart from reading and writing, I think it’s interesting to write down passages from other authors’ books. Writing slows your thinking down. You might enjoy reading the passages, but when you write them down, you are considering the authors’ motivations and reasons for writing those particular words. You might notice more fully the effect those words have. You might feel the pull of a different style, which could loosen your own, stretch it or challenge it. Finding your own voice can often take a long time. But playing around with other people’s words can sometimes be quite surprising.
Work hard. Understand that writing is a craft. As such, there is always room for improvement. And improvement brings you closer to publication.

And finally, if you could ask our readers any question, what would that be?

Some authors write in a particular genre. Their readers know what to expect. However, I write in many different genres. Do you see this as problematic in your reading of my work? **

Thank you so much for the privilege, Janeen! 🙂

Thank you, Romi. Your wonderful, thoughtful questions were much appreciated.

Janeen Brian can be found at her websiteFacebook and Twitter pages.

** Please respond to Janeen’s question in the comments below, or head over to Twitter and join the thread at #JaneenBrianAsks

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Three Types of Charm – Janeen Brian Picture Book Reviews

Award-winning author Janeen Brian is well-known for her superlative poetry, fascinating research projects and of course, those cheeky dinosaur books. She also has a gifted ability to incorporate important, ‘real-life’ topics into her stories in the most pleasurable and engaging ways. From the farm to the outback and atop the Himalayan mountains, the following three titles encourage readers to open their eyes and senses to worlds other than their own, to perspectives they have never seen, all the while allowing themselves to drift into imaginative and emotional realms.

 imageMrs Dog, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, is a picture book that will undoubtedly inject a large dose of sentimentality into your heart. In this case of sacrifice, bravery, trust and unconditional love, this story will most certainly leave an ever-lasting soft spot for these good-natured characters.

At her ripe age, Mrs Dog has moved on from her role as sheep-herding working dog. So, it’s only natural that she take on a nurturing motherly role when little weak Baa-rah the lamb is discovered alone in the paddock. Not only does Mrs Dog nurse his physical strength, but also empowers Baa-rah with street smarts (or ‘farm’ smarts, rather) and a strong voice. In a tear-jerking near-tragedy, the little lamb triumphs over his fears and uses his newly developed skills to alert the owners, Tall-One and Tall-Two, of Mrs Dog’s fall into the Dangerous Place.

The endearing character names, touching story, and soft textures and warm tones all blend beautifully together to create an indelibly loveable book for all ages. Mrs Dog, with its combined heartrending and humorous qualities, is a sweet and memorable visual and language experience to share amongst the generations.

The Five Mile Press, 2016.

imageIn Where’s Jessie?, Bertie Bear faces his own challenges and braves the harsh conditions of the Australian outback. Based on a true story set in the early 1900s, we are carried along with the raggedy teddy as he is dragged upon camel, whooshed through dust clouds, nipped by wild creatures, and slushed in water. All the while he longs to be back in the warm arms of his beloved owner Jessie. And the reunion is nothing short of miraculous.

With fantastically descriptive language, and stunningly expressive watercolour bleeds and scratches by Anne Spudvilas, the action and emotion of this adventure is truly engaging. Janeen‘s fascination with and fondness of this real-life bear, as discovered at an exhibition at Kapunda, shines through in her words.

Where’s Jessie? is definitely a story worth exploring further, as well as being an absolutely uplifting treasure to cherish for centuries.

NLA Publishing, 2015.

imageHer first hand experience with the children and families in the Himalayan village led Janeen to explore this intriguing culture and lifestyle in her gorgeously fluid collection of short poems in Our Village in the Sky. Brilliantly collaborating with Anne Spudvilas, the visual literacy and language are simply exquisite.

The perspectives of various children intrigue us with the work, and play, they do in the summer time. For these ‘Third-World’ kids, imagination is at the forefront of their industrious lives. Whether they are using water tubs as drums, daydreaming in soapy washing water, turning an old ladder into a seesaw, chasing goats downhill or flicking stones in a game of knucklebones, chores like washing, cleaning, cooking, gathering and building are fulfilled with the brightest of smiles on the children’s innocent faces.

Our Village in the Sky is a lyrically and pictorially beautiful eye-opener to a whole new world that our Western children may not be aware of. With plenty of language concepts, cultural, social and environmental aspects to explore, there will certainly be a greater appreciation for the beauty, differences and similarities between our children and those in the Himalayan mountains.

Allen & Unwin, 2014.

For fascinating insights into the production of these books see my wonderful interview with Janeen Brian at the following link.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Far Beyond Our Imagination – Picture Book Reviews

Reading is a pleasure that allows for a range of benefits – reinforcing critical literacy skills, fuelling the imagination, inspiring empathy, and for the sheer joy. I chose these picture books with the commonality of the out-of-this-world theme, and I love that each one surprises its readers with elements of humour, compassion, relationships and the unexpected! Books can certainly take you to great heights where you can explore much more than initially meets the eye.

imageSpace Alien at Planet Dad, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

A powerful story intertwining the fun of space adventure play with the reality of adapting to family changes. Jake always gets a thrill when he visits his Dad’s place (Planet Dad) every Saturday. The bond between them is extraordinary as they act out a series of intergalactic missions, build space stations and enjoy spaghetti and meteorite sauce on movie nights. Jake is no doubt like many kids who receive special quality time with their fun, single dad. But in truth, life doesn’t stay the same forever. When a one-eyed, green Space Alien is suddenly a permanent fixture at Planet Dad, Jake is, as to be expected, furious. The place now has a ‘woman’s touch’ about it, and no amount of invader-blasting, alien-repelling or meteorite-showering action can force her out. Eventually Jake finds things in common with the Space Alien after a trip to the museum and slowly he comes to accept this new presence in their home.

Space Alien at Planet Dad is a super, highly interactive and energetic book that also deals sensitively and cleverly with changes to family dynamics. It allows its young readers, particularly those in blended families, the opportunities to perceive new situations and household members in a different light.

imageOlive the Alien, Katie Saunders (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Olive the Alien is another story based on the theme of accustomising to new, and strange, beings in the home. Understanding and accepting differences can often be challenging, particularly with no prior knowledge of the subject or their odd behaviour. In this sweet story of a little boy and his ‘alien’ baby sister, Archie eventually realises that her differences are not only endearing, but also that we all have (or had) the same inherent human nature. It’s difficult for Archie to comprehend the antics of his baby sister, Olive. She speaks another language, she cries VERY loudly, she makes a big mess, and she eats the most peculiar things. But worst of all, she makes really disgusting smells. She simply must be an alien!

Olive the Alien, with its beautifully soft, pastel shades and cute illustrations, is a humorous peek into the life of baby behaviour. Preschoolers with younger siblings will most certainly relate, but whether or not they admit to their own once-upon-a-stinky-nappy phase is another story!

imageMilo, a moving story, Tohby Riddle (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016.

Set in the early 1900s in New York, the story of Milo is certainly one of character, survival and good old-fashioned charm. For an ordinary life, Milo’s world is quite extraordinary, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He enjoys singing classics and playing quaint games with his canine pals, and every other day he delivers parcels within the quirks of the busy city streets. Then one day a blow up with his friend leads to a ghastly storm. Whilst the tumult rages inside his head, Milo and his kennel are also physically swept away to a most remarkable place above the clouds. Upon meeting Carlos, a plain-looking migratory bird, Milo’s mind clears and he comes to realise some important things:
1. The world is big and wide and there are many experiences to be had.
2. The power of friendship is strong and is to be valued.
3. Sometimes it takes an unusual, out-of-this-world adventure to understand and appreciate the little things in life.

Deep and profound on so many levels, Milo, a moving story is undeniably moving. From the intimacy of life in a kennel to the wide landscapes and perspectives, collages and real photographs of various locations. From the simplicity of old fashioned games and songs to the high-rising journey to the sky. The old-style sepia-toned hues contrasting with the mixed media cleverly and interestingly add a humble yet juxtaposed perspective. This book offers great scope for primary school discussions about development over time, on both literal and personal levels.

imageMoon Dance, Jess Black (author), Renée Treml (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

Here’s another book to move you… Moon Dance is an unbelievably charismatic story to get you physically jiving at all times of the day or night. Rather than reaching out to space, in this lyrical fun-fest the moon comes to you. A group of Australian native animals gather together in Eucalypt Gully for a dance under the dazzling, full moon. Gorgeously hysterical terms and rhyming phrases add to the frivolity of the action.
“Wombat starts a conga, He wiggles his caboose!” We’ve got drunken blue-tongue lizards, clapping paws, cicadas on the timbals, a slow-dancing possum with a goanna, and a spry, moonwalking bilby.

Moon Dance celebrates the joys of togetherness and the wonderful benefits of music and dance. The illustrations are whimsical and lively, bursting with exquisite texture, detail and a glorious Australiana feel. This book will light up the night for children from age three.

imageThe Cloudspotter, Tom McLaughlin (author, illus.), Bloomsbury, 2015.

Sometimes we need someone to point us in the right direction… even if it is in plain view. The view Franklin likes to observe is the one in the sky… the clouds. He, alone, has amazing imaginary adventures with the clouds he spots, including swimming with giant jellyfish, driving racing cars and topping tall castle towers. That is why he is known as The Cloudspotter. But one day when a random Scruffy Dog tries to take his clouds, and ‘invade’ his cloud adventures, The Cloudspotter has a plan to rid the bothersome dog… and sends him off into the outer atmosphere. Soon he realises that what he was looking for wasn’t just the clouds, after all.

There is a refreshing illustrative mix of airy skies and bold foregrounds, with lots of visual clues to add depth and meaning. The Cloudspotter is perfect for preschoolers with wide imaginations, and the openness to the possibility of unexpected friendships.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Picture Books of the Curious Kind

I’m always up for a good imaginative mystery that gets my mind, and heart, racing. It must be that dopamine rush I get when experiencing something novel and exciting, the eager anticipation and engagement, and finding something I can relate to. For kids it would be no different and the following two picture books, not surprisingly, tick all the boxes in the ‘curiosity’ department.

imageArthur and the Curiosity, Lucinda Gifford (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

When adults are oblivious to the hidden secrets and wondrous treasures of the world because they are overly concerned with ‘moving on through’. That’s the situation that Arthur experiences on his school trip to the museum. His teacher takes little notice of the amazing artefacts and ancient wonders as she hauls her class across the landscape pages. But Arthur’s not so heedless. Amongst and within the exhibits Arthur notices a ‘CURIOSITY’ – a mischievous green creature that seems all but a figure of his imagination. Taking his time to examine his surroundings, Arthur gains much more than he bargained for than any of his bustling peers.  The final page leaves us with a sneaking suspicion that Arthur’s excursion has left him with a lasting impression!

imageLucinda Gifford‘s bright and colourful illustrations are playful and eye-catching, allowing readers plenty of scope for discovery and delight as they ‘move on through’ the book at a steady pace. Her text is equally joyful and witty with double meanings that are sure to set tongues wagging with the endless conversational possibilities. The ‘curiosity’ is “…the UNUSUALLY active volcano.” and “…an EXTRAORDINARY mummy in the Ancient Egypt exhibition. Poor Miss Blunkett was trying to wrap things up.”

Arthur and the Curiosity is a fun read to explore and enjoy with its elements of humour and surprise. Children from age three and up will also relish the opportunities to identify with and show ‘curiosity’ towards the diverse characters, topics and experiences that are fostered by this book.

Arthur and the Curiosity is being launched on April 16th at The Little Bookroom. See details here.

imageThe House on the Hill, Kyle Mewburn (author), Sarah Davis (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

‘Curiosity’ can present itself in many forms; and in this book it presents with a thrilling anticipation. Here is a story to send shivers of curiosity up your spine in the hauntingly stunning, The House on the Hill. With high levels of suspense to chill your bones, this poetic spookfest is a winner.

With Mewburn‘s ode to Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, his romantically suave language and rhythmic canter beautifully rolls off the tongue. Sarah Davis‘s monochromatic, sepia toned imagery marries flawlessly with the spine-tingling lyrics to create an optimal intensity of creepiness and tension.

imageWhen two young ghosts are beckoned by the bell in the house on the hill, they find themselves “Upon the gate a portent hung, a dragon’s claw, a serpent’s tongue.” The initial terror slowly dissipates  with more and more clues being revealed as the characters edge closer to their destination.  Child-friendly hints dubiously lure us towards the dingy dwelling, like dancing moths, jack-o-lanterns and the characters’ outfits that appear distinctly like white sheets with cut-out eye holes. Davis’s striking illustrations with her extreme angles and perspectives, perfectly placed focal objects and effective use of light and shade draw us in with every breath as we follow the ‘ghosts’, and their cat, on their journey through the ‘haunted’ house on the hill. And just when our hearts can’t race any faster, we reach the final reveal and encounter the most ghoulish group of vile creatures – children!

imageIdeal for your Halloween thrills and celebrations, but equally fun-tastic all the year round. Behind the moodiness and apprehension, The House on the Hill takes preschoolers through an adventure of bravery, friendship and togetherness. There is loads of room for educational opportunities with its brilliant use of poetry, vocabulary, visual literacy and the arts.

You can watch the spooktacular book reading with Kyle Mewburn here.

Teaching notes are available at the Scholastic website.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

Reviews – Little Elliot BIG…

It is special holidays like Easter that remind us to appreciate one another and of our need for togetherness. Easter Bunny and Chick may be the renowned chocolate-giving pair this holiday, but Elliot and Mouse find their own kind of sweet goodness in this loveable series of friendship and hope.

imageWhen I first read Little Elliot Big City I thought, “This is me.” No, I’m not a tiny, polka-dotted elephant, but I am a quiet type, and quiet types tend to go unnoticed at times. I also moved to this fabulous country as a child, which at first felt like an overwhelming experience. So I can relate to Little Elliot.

Being miniature size in a big, bustling city for this elephant is like being an ant in a sea of giants. Attempting regular-sized people’s everyday activities is challenging, to say the least. But you know what? He always manages, and his eyes are open to the brighter side of life. Helping out a littler one than he (Mouse) not only gives him the confidence boost he needed, but he also wins a physical boost to finally be able to purchase that much-desired cupcake he was craving. A new treat and a new friend…what else could you ask for?


imageThe story of Elliot and Mouse continues in Little Elliot Big Family when the compact elephant finds himself in another quandary; feeling alone and empty when Mouse is away at a family reunion. In the streets, Elliot notices the special bonds between family members; brothers, sisters, fathers with children, mothers with sons, grandmothers and even cousins skating together. Elliot longs for connection, for a place to belong. Upon chance, Mouse finds him in the snow and takes him to celebrate the joyous attic-party with all the mouse generations. And they couldn’t document this auspicious occasion without including EVERY member in the precious family portrait!

Mike Curato has brilliantly written both books with such simplicity that is so full of meaning. The minimal text conveys depths of emotion and sensitivities, particularly in Little Elliot Big City, that carries the stories forward at a perfectly timed pace. What also feels accurately portrayed and supportive of the words are Curato’s illustrations’ moodiness, softness, atmosphere and old-world charm. Look to be set in New York in the 1940s, both books convey gorgeously rich history and spirit within their sepia-toned, rendered images.

image‘Little Elliot Big City’ and ‘Little Elliot Big Family’ are a complete set that complement the purpose of the other and warm our hearts. Same could be said for the two inseparable characters that show us how to love, and are truly, larger than life. Perfect for anyone from age three, and in particular those who need reassurance of their value in this world, and those who can appreciate the small things.

Look out for more Little Elliot books coming soon.

The Five Mile Press, November 2014 and October 2015.

Purchase Little Elliot Big City and Little Elliot Big Family.

Hippity Hoppity – Easter’s on its way!

You may be surprised as I to learn that Easter is just two and a half weeks away. Well, maybe not with all those buns and eggs on the shop shelves to remind you. If filling your Easter break with more than just chocolate and egg hunts and spiritual appreciation is important to you, then perhaps these new picture book releases will appease the persnickety Peter Rabbit within (and entertain your younglings to boot!)

We're Going on an Egg Hunt Laura HugesWe’re going on an Egg Hunt, by Laura Hughes amply satisfies young tastes with easy-to-read, boldly laid out text that echoes the perennial favourite, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt verse. Being instantly recognisable means small eyes can concentrate on Hughes’ foxy little illustrations, only there is not a fox in sight, thank goodness. The Bunny Family are the ones on the hunt…for eggs naturally, and they are super excited about it, too.

As they traverse their way through woods and across farmyards, they encounter obstacles at every twist and bend. Armed with nothing more than an egg-swiping net and a barrow-load of perseverance, they figure out the best course of action until they hit the jackpot and a whole lot of trouble. Did I mention there were no foxes?! Perfect Easter action-based fun for pre-schoolers demonstrating positive rewards follow tenacious effort with dinky flaps to lift and treasures to accumulate.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books March 2016

The Wonderful Habits of RabbitsEver wondered what rabbits get up to when they are not fighting off wolves and hunting for eggs? Well, wonder no more for The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits will delight every lover of lapins and addresses all those tricky rabbit questions. Written in gently loping verse, author, Douglas Florian invites us to spend a day with a colony of rabbits (otherwise known as a fluffle) as they leap and laze The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits illos spreadabout the meadows. Actually, life with this family of cottontails stretches poetically across several seasons until it’s time to snuggle down with a goodnight kiss. Sonia Sanchez’s winsome pencil line drawings bound with colour and charm depicting the energetic spirit of bunny in the most Watership Down-dream-like way. The end papers are particularly appealing, especially for kids who love to quantify and establish ownership (of things) with plenty of rabbits to choose a favourite from. The Wonderful Habits of Rabbits is a fetching addition to your Easter reading.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

George BilbyIf Easter equals a chance to chillax with your loved ones and whip up a few dozen hot cross buns as it can for me, then you’ll appreciate George, the Bilby Chef and his insatiable quest to cook. This sweet new character hailing from the pens and paintbrushes of Jedda Robaard features in the first of a new picture book series about enterprising epicurean marsupial, George and because bilbies like George are Australia’s preferred kind of egg-delivering icon, he fits snuggly into any Easter basket. In this debut instalment, The Raspberry Surprise, George is intent on surprising his best friend, Betty Echidna on her birthday with a special sweet treat. Raspberry muffinsGeorge Bilby illos spread are his dessert of choice but locating and then harvesting said raspberries proves to be near impossible until George enlists the services of some of his very obliging and thoughtful friends. By the time Betty arrives, the cakes have been baked and readers are gently aware of the benefits of working together towards a shared goal. Robaard’s soft easy to digest illustrations compensate for a slightly longer text but one that young readers will enthuse over thanks to the lovely sense of expectation and logical explanation. Best of all; a handy Bilby Chef Recipe card is included to keep and use. I wonder what other scrumdelicious adventures George will encounter. Ideal for three-year-olds and above and budding junior Masterchefs everywhere.

The Five Mile Press February 2016

Dance Bilby DanceFor many, Easter is a time of reflection, renewed hope and of life moving forward. For most of us, dreams represent the impetus to continue. In Tricia Oktober’s latest picture book, Dance, Bilby, Dance, our favourite Easter marsupial, Bilby is no different; ‘he wishes he could dance.’ In what appears to initially be a one-man show, Bilby is surrounded by white space, alone with his desires while all those in the world around him appear to revel in what he regards is unobtainable, until one day, after closely observing his dancing shadow, his innermost yearnings leap into existence. But, has Bilby unleashed a passion too big and scary to control? Oktober’s bright expressive illustrations are king in a quietly impressive picture book that imaginatively introduces readers five years old and above to some curious critters, stirring language, and the possibilities that can lead to new friendships. I especially appreciated the gentle notion that overcoming ones fears can free one for moments of ecstatic expression and reward; an approach to life that should never be underestimated. And perhaps one of the soundest Easter messages of all.

Ford Street Publishing March 2016

Aussie Easter Hat ParadeNow it just wouldn’t be a notable time of year without a cheer-filled, colourful contribution by Colin Buchanan and Simon Williams, and if you have primary aged children you will instantly sympathise with the Easter Hat Parade tradition performed at many schools. What I love about Aussie Easter Hat Parade is the outrageous tribute to not only a swag of Aussie creatures but also the brilliant flora that constitutes their homeland (and ours). From the bright red desert pea that Billy Bullant crowns himself with to Wombat’s Gymea lily lid, each little mate adorns themselves with feathers, flowers, gum nuts and more resulting in a fantastic Easter bonnet brouhaha and the very first Aussie Easter Hat parade (just in case you were wondering how all this craziness started). Sensational fun, bewitching illustrations and a singalong CD to boot, with a neat little ending reminding us that sometimes the biggest brightest ideas can originate from the most minute situations…or ants.

Scholastic Australia March 2016

 

 

Children with Anxiety – Picture Book Reviews

Often it is our differences, fears and anxieties that contribute to our feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. It is common within our society to feel out of place or lack self-confidence. But you know what? That’s OK! Maybe it just takes a little time to warm up, to find your feet and be ready to tackle the world. Understanding and accepting oneself can often be a process that takes maturing, and a gentle and sympathetic support system can be a vital part of that growth. The following two books deal with these tender matters in beautifully delicate and encouraging ways.

imageThe Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribe Publications, 2015.

A sensitive young boy named Alfie feels the weight of the world on his shoulders as he struggles with social anxiety. Naturally, he’d rather hide than face performing as Captain Starfish in the upcoming fancy-dress parade. Those all-too-familiar feelings of nervousness that he has experienced before return. Admitting his fear of failure to the cowboys on his wallpaper is scary enough, but how will his Mum react when he tells her he can’t go?

Well, Mum (and Dad) are gratefully understanding. In fact, Mum takes Alfie to the aquarium instead. The underwater world is beautiful and wondrous, but upon spotting a starfish, just like his costume, he feels that heaviness weighing upon him once more. Fortuously it is a little shy clownfish that he connects with who shows him that it’s alright to wait in the wings (or coral, so to speak) until the time to emerge from the depths feels right.

imageDavina Bell’s genuinely heartfelt and beautifully written text so effectively relates Alfie’s fears and nightmares in an empathetic, delicate manner. Equally, Colpoys‘s exquisite illustrations with their soothing blues and greys and pops of neon orange, and the fantastic use of space and perspective add that perfect depth of soul and vulnerability.

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ speaks into the lives of many children facing anxiety. A poignant and enchanting tale set to add a little sparkle and illumination to the more sensitive souls of this often daunting world.

imageBeing Agatha, Anna Pignataro (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

Here we have another reserved child fearing the judgement of others. But just like it did for the boy in Davina Bell’s book, it takes time and encouragement for this character to truly realise what makes her an individual and thus overcome her internal struggles.

We are immediately drawn in with a pertinent discussion topic. First we see that Agatha’s parents are of an inter-racial (or inter-specie) communion, and that Agatha is centred at this somewhat of a divide at family get-togethers. Then there’s the fact that her likes and abilities seem less impressive than others’ – another reason to feel a sense of lack of worth. So Agatha decides that hiding from her classmates is the solution, until she realises that she’s more important than she thinks. With a little reinforcement from her teacher, Agatha’s friends are able to rattle off a number of traits that make her special. But they all agree, “no one else is a better Agatha than you!”

imageWhilst Anna Pignataro‘s simple narrative relays Agatha’s worries about her lack of belonging, it is her pictures that form the basis for its interpretation. Anna’s language is sensitive and gentle, and her illustrations support these qualities unequivocally. The grey tones of the charcoal render the story’s restrain and softness yet carry a sense of similarity amongst the characters. And it is the pops of watercolours and collage elements that give life, spirit and individuality to each of them, too. A wonderfully eclectic mix that this book highlights of difference as well as belonging.

‘Being Agatha’ is a modest, sweet and intriguing story lightly addressing feelings of anxiety with a reassuring touch that a range of young children (and species) between 2 and 6 will be able to relate to.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Alison Reynolds Guides us Through her Books on Good Deeds

imageAlison Reynolds is the author of over 50 books for children and adults, often incorporating important life skills and values in the most entertaining of ways. Some of her children’s titles include the Ranger in Danger series, The Littlest Bushranger, A Year with Marmalade and A New Friend for Marmalade. Today Alison answers questions about her newest gorgeous series; Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds.

Both picture books making their debut in the Pickle and Bree series adopt a value system approach that not only facilitates awareness of the importance of positive social skills, but they are absolutely refreshing, cute and funny too.

The Birthday Party Cake is an emotionally-charged tale of the two, competing characters – Pickle and Bree – both with their own opinions on how best to plan a party (and style the cake, in particular) for their Panda friend. Disagreements lead to tears, but a little compassion, understanding and acceptance goes a long way. The depth of passion, drama and empowerment will certainly fuel the hearts and minds of all readers to strive for a more peaceful society. (See my previous review here)

The Decorating Disaster deals with another delicate situation in which Pickle and Bree find their stubbornness to avoid collaborating leads to an array of disastrous mishaps. In the end, a paint-splattered Bree and her bear friend in a wallpaper ‘Pickle’ choose harmony over discord. Totally relatable, comical and endearing, another ‘enriching’ book for young children to cherish.

Welcome Alison!

Congratulations on the release of the first two books in the series – The Birthday Party Cake and The Decorating Disaster!

Thank you, Romi! They were a lot of fun to write.

You also have another two being published in August this year. How did the idea for this series come about?

The publisher had asked me if I was interested in writing a series of books about positive behaviour and social etiquette, but at a higher level than please and thank yous. They were looking for an illustrator and found the marvellous Mikki Butterley, and Pickle and Bree were born. Mikki already had an illustration of Pickle and Bree, and after I looked and thought about them for a while the ideas for the books emerged.

Is there a plan to write more Pickle and Bree titles in the future?

I hope so! There are lots of different issues to explore. And I love writing about Pickle and Bree.

Each book focuses on the concepts of values, social etiquette and positive behaviour in a delicate yet engaging way. In what ways do you hope the readers will utilise and benefit from the books?

I hope these books are a strong narrative with a super subtle message in there. I really want children to realise that they’re not alone and that many of us face the same problems interacting with others. I also try to show Pickle and Bree’s different attitudes and to create empathy for other people’s point of view and experiences. I also wanted the books to be fun and entertaining!

What advice or strategies can you provide for parents and teachers wanting to get the most out your stories?

The final page of each book has a Guide to Good Deeds, which acts as discussion points for parents and teachers. I like to ask children how they would feel in Pickle and Bree’s situation and if it has ever happened to them. It’s also fun to act out some of the situations taking turns to be Pickle and Bree, so the actors get to see each other’s perspective.

imageIn The Birthday Party Cake we see differing personalities with each of the characters. Bree is outspoken, Pickle is fun-loving and goofy, whilst their friend Jason is more reserved. Where did you draw your inspiration for these personas, and which one represents you the most?

I didn’t realise it until after I wrote the book, but Pickle is very much like my lovely dad. Easy-going, fun-loving, patient but stubborn. He’s also got quite a few characteristics of my husband and old Labrador Toby. Bree is my mum. Impetuous, full of energy, well-meaning, and says what she thinks. Jason is Jason. He’s one of those lovely reserved children, who like to join in but want to avoid the limelight. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think I’m a mixture of both Pickle and Bree.

imageThe Decorating Disaster is agonisingly humorous with the mishaps rolling on one after the other! Have you ever had a decorating disaster of your own?

Pass! Actually, the way my children remember their childhood every decorating attempt ended in a disaster. But both my dad and husband’s feet always ended up in the paint tray at some point. And my mother was a star wall paperer. Probably our best effort was when I made curtains and somehow hemmed them on the wrong side.

Did you handle it as well as Pickle and Bree did in the end?

My husband often encourages me to go out when he’s decorating. And, apparently I have the unfailing capacity to spot the one bit on the wall that hasn’t been painted. But we always end up laughing.

imageThe illustrations by Mikki Butterley are warm, seductive and rich with texture. What was it like to collaborate with Mikki?

I feel incredibly fortunate to collaborate with Mikki. I have perfect faith in her to create wonderful illustrations and reinterpret the text in a new way. She adds a whole new life to the story. Unfortunately, Mikki lives in UK, but one day we’re going to meet!

How do you feel her illustrations best compliment your words?

She takes my words and weaves her own magic. I feel as if we’re playing a duet, and without both parts the book would be flat and uninspired.

What do you like about her style of art?

I love the sense of life and movement her illustrations capture and the lushness and warmth without being cloying. And they’re so much fun. Especially the added extras, like mice or birds to find.

imageAs mentioned, many of your books centre around the gentle guidance of important life values and strategies. Why is this element significant to you and your writing?

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but I’ve been approached by four different publishers now to write on this theme. I’m not sure if I come across as incredibly polite, but suspect it’s more that I write these subjects with a light, playful touch. I also do believe that we’re all in this together and manners help us all get along better.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of creating books like yours?

Coming up with a different angle. So far I’ve managed to do this as they’ve all been slightly different. One of the next 2 Pickle and Brees is about bullying, but think I’ve managed to pull it off hopefully and still make it a fun read. The most rewarding aspect is if I can make this a kinder, gentler world for somebody, I’m happy. I feel lucky being able to communicate with so many different children through my writing.

Name one exciting event that you most look forward to achieving this year.

This is a very exciting year for me. I should have a series coming out, currently called Project X, and of course, Melbourne’s very own conference for kids and YA writers and illustrators, KidLitVic2016 Meet the Publishers in May. And Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds 3 & 4. (I used to be excellent at mathematics, but I’ve gone off as you can see by my telling 3 events.)

Completely understandable! Thank you so much, Alison for answering my questions on Pickle and Bree! I’m very much looking forward to the next two instalments! 🙂

Thank you, again for inviting me. And I’m looking forward to the next two instalments too.

Find more information on Alison Reynolds at her website

Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds is published by The Five Mile Press, October 2015.

It’s a Zoo out there! – Animal inspired picture book reviews

I’ve just returned from a farm-animal infested camping holiday, which wasn’t as reprehensible as the smell of the boar’s pen suggested. In fact, it made me re-realise just how important and beneficial interaction with all critters great and small is.

Whether the focus is on an animal for all its prickly, cuddly, bizarre glory or relaying the story from an anthropological point of view, animals in picture books continue to be a massive draw card. Here are some of my standouts from recent times.

Must have Mammals

Adelaide's Secret WorldThe ethereal quality and charm of Elise Hurst’s fine art and narrative are undeniable. She suffuses both once again into Adelaide’s Secret World, an anthropologic tale featuring a rabbit named Adelaide and her foray through fear, loneliness, and introspective alteration. This picture book is an imaginative and beautifully presented convolution of two characters for whom friendship would normally be isolated and foreign but through twists of fate and circumstance, a connection is found and a musical friendship forged. Marvellous for nudging little ones with quiet voices out of the shadows. Read Romi Sharp’s detailed review and interview with the author illustrator, here.

Allen & Unwin October 2015

Clementine's BathNot many dogs or kids leap at the mention of bath time with relish. Clementine is no exception. Following her long walk, Clementine steadfastly refuses to take a cleansing plunge after rolling in some pretty offensive odours. Annie White’s Clementine’s Bath is the second picture book to feature the shaggy loveable mutt, Clementine. With lots of robust bouncy-dog small people appeal, Clementine leads her family on a right merry chase until she finally succumbs to the suds. Perky, poetic, frolicsome fun and perfect for pre-schoolers to early primary doggy devotees.

New Frontier Publishing October 2015

Something Fishy

Blue Whale BluesLooking for a picture book swimming with leviathan humour and meaning that swells the heart. Look no further than Blue Whale Blues by Peter Carnavas. Whale is one seriously doleful dude who is feeling very blue given he is swamped with bike trouble. His chipper little mate, Penguin is there to lend a flipper, however repeatedly pulling Whale back from the doldrums. It isn’t until Turtle forces a frank and funny realisation that Whale is finally able to forget about his ‘blue whale blues’. This is one of Carnavas’s best offerings for pre and primary schoolers I’ve encountered. His skill in creating just the right amount of turn-the-page suspense and hilarity is quietly sublime. Nothing about a Carnavas picture book is forced, yet everything is rich and meaningful. His first illustrative crack at collage is winning, as well. Whopping good fun teaching kids not to take themselves or life too seriously.

New Frontier Publishing September 2015

Piranhas don't eat BananasThe Pi-ra-nha by definition is a freshwater fish of South America known for its razor sharp teeth and voracious appetite for meat including guinea pigs, puppies, naughty children, and professional tennis players, so Aaron Blabey informs us. Sadly, Brian, a piranha sporting a generous jaw of said teeth, loves bananas which immediately blackballs him from his piranha buddies. Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas is a priceless look at one individual’s attempt to persuade the masses. Blabey is at his uproarious rhyming best as Brian assumes every ounce of his inner Carmen Miranda in a gallant effort to convert his meat loving mates to fruit. Alas, not everyone is as vegan-minded as Brian. This snappy read-aloud story has Eric Carle Hungry Caterpillar appeal for younger readers with plenty of slapstick, tongue in cheek humour for the older ones (and some suggestive comedy for us adults!). Ideal for busting stereotypical ideals and encouraging small minds to try new things. Highly recommended.

Scholastic Press September 2015

Avian wonder

SeagullSome picture books offer more than just entertainment between two covers. Seagull, written and illustrated by Danny Snell, exemplifies how story and art can elevate meaning to levels that make you giddy with wonderment. Seagull represents her often-maligned species as she scavenges on a windswept beach (that reminds me intensely of the Coorong region in SA). She becomes entangled in thoughtlessly abandoned fishing line and tries repeatedly to free herself with no success so that readers feel a growing compassion and distress not usually associated with birds of her creed. As it sometimes occurs in life, help comes from an expected source and eventually, Seagull is free to soar the wide blue skies again. Snell’s shrewd use of collage and acrylic paintings beautifully capture Seagull’s demise, fading hope, and then singing spirit. The message behind Seagull’s near destruction is powerful and clear unlocking early primary discussion on topics concerning conservation, wildlife preservation and community outreach. Visit Romi’s review on Seagull, here.

Working Title Press September 2015

Robin''s Winter SongI was quite taken by Suzanne Barton’s, The Dawn Chorus so was delighted to hear Robin sing again in Robin’s Winter Song. The fact that Robin is experiencing a more Northern Hemisphere climate as he attempts to grasp the idea of ‘winter’ creates a refreshing reading stimulus for us enduring our typical southern summers. Robin’s first encounter with winter snows is unforgettable, replicating the magic many young and old alike experience when discovering something new and wondrous for the first time. Whilst not as moving for me as the award-winning Dawn Chorus, Barton’s sweet multi-media illustrations fill ones heart with warmth and joy.

Bloomsbury Children’s November 2015

‘Bearly’ there

Where's JessieBertie is a bear who has been there and done that…at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian’s fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where’s Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie’s family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie’s teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian’s practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas’s breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where’s Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.

National Library Australia November 2015

Being AgathaAgatha was born ‘just as the leaves were falling. She had her mother’s ears and her father’s nose’, which I can relate to in many ways. Quite simply, Agatha is unique and very special however, it doesn’t feel like that to her, especially at family gatherings. By the time Agatha hits kindergarten, her sense of self are put to the test for it becomes plain to her that she is different to everyone else. She begins to lose sight of what makes her special so creeps away to hide much to the distress of her classmates. With a little patience and persuasion, Agatha’s friends help her realise that being herself is the best part of being Agatha. I love how small children naturally look past superficial differences and are able to find true value and worth in another’s personality and actions. I wish more adults could retain this quality. Being Agatha by Anna Pignataro, is a book that reminds us all to look for the good within others and ourselves at all times. Bravo! A solid story about the specialness of difference sure to elicit smiles of acceptance and understanding in pre and early primary schoolers.

The Five Mile Press September 2015

 

 

It’s Time to Celebrate!

As we approach the end of 2015, we take time to reflect on the year that was – all the joyous, heart-rending, life-changing and memorable moments. And in light of these occasions, we’re all a little stronger, a little smarter and a little wiser, so let’s celebrate! The following few picture books will give you that extra little reason to take pride in your achievements, and of course, to PARTY!

imageBring a Duck, Lesley Gibbes (author), Sue deGennaro (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

If there ever was a book about celebrations it’s ‘Bring a Duck’! When Bear finds a party invitation from Pig in his letterbox, he is ‘tickled pink’! But he is also stumped – ‘Bring your own duck?’ – whatever could Pig have planned? With a cascade of ducks of all sorts, shapes, sizes, outfits and personalities, the party is a flapping success! Young readers will relish the fun of the duck-themed games, events and magic tricks, including duck hunts and stunts and pulling a duck out of a hat. And when it’s Bear turn to host an elephant party, we are immediately inspired to dream up the most imaginative of parties for ourselves!

Simply charming and exuberant illustrations team up with the fast-paced, rhyming text that hold our excitement and engagement all the way through.

With humour, delight, playfulness and creativity, ‘Bring a Duck’ is a quacking sensation that is sure to invite sentiments of harmony, togetherness, imagination and fun.

imagePickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds: The Birthday Party Cake, Alison Reynolds (author), Mikki Butterley (illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.

From one birthday party to the next. It’s a joyous occasion for Pickle and Bree as they plan a party for their Panda friend, Jason. Or is it? This new, gorgeous series, including ‘The Decorating Disaster’, aims to gently guide its readers to appropriate social etiquette and positive behaviour. So, when Pickle is disgruntled as his bear plans are overhauled by the over-zealous and strong-willed Bree, what’s needed is a fresh perspective. Listening to others, being open to new ideas and accepting differences are just some of the valuable lessons Pickle and Bree learn from their experience. These points are neatly tied together at the end with a list of Good Deeds to acknowledge and reinforce what makes each of us special.

But despite the disagreements, we are enchanted by the party-goers’ funny antics, adorable expressions and energy that exude from the pages. The pastel colours and textures are homely and inviting, and the text encouraging and supportive. Therefore, successfully fulfilling its intention.

‘The Birthday Party Cake’ delicately and sensitively deals with common issues concerning relationships, emotions and tolerance. This enables its readers to value their own and others’ opinions and feelings. A fun, thought-provoking and relevant story for all children from age four.

imageScarlett, Starlet, Emma Quay (author, illus.), ABC Books, 2015.

From honouring the birthday boy or girl to taking centre stage yourself, Scarlett, Starlet certainly enjoys the spotlight! Scarlett loves to dance. And when she does she is the brightest sparkle in her mummy’s and daddy’s eyes. She spreads rhythm all over the place, and even her puppy Jazzy Jo-Jo loves to tap along. A spectacular stage performance sees Scarlett shine like never before. But in the end she doesn’t need the spotlight, or even her mummy and daddy’s affirmations to know that she is, and always has been, a star!

The simple language with its tapping onomatopoeia, repetitive phrases and age-appropriate dialogue beautifully tie in with the basic colour palette of bright red and yellow, which signify strength, power and luminosity just like Scarlett.

‘Scarlett, Starlet’ is delightfully charming; the perfect book for young preschoolers longing to make their mark on the world of entertainment. They will undoubtedly take pleasure in reliving Scarlett’s shining moment over and over again.

imageA, You’re Adorable, Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman (words), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Justine Clarke (audio), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

There’s no better way to commemorate special people and events in your life than with a song story and bonus CD to swing along to! The well-known, lyrical, alphabetical ode to someone wonderful is gorgeous in this new edition that celebrates the love and pride in those who mean the most.
‘I, you’re the one I idolise. J, we’re like Jack and Jill. K, you’re so kissable. L is the love-light in your eyes.’

With soft and dreamy illustrations that put all the warmth and tenderness in your heart, as well as the added elements of spirit, charm and curiosity. The soulful, Jazzy-tunes of Justine Clarke on the CD ignite that little extra spark to enlighten all the senses.

‘A, You’re Adorable’ is a sweet, melodic book that reinforces alphabet knowledge and feelings of adoration and affection towards our loved ones. Definitely something to appreciate as we look back on the year that was, and the aspirations we anticipate to satisfy in the year ahead.

Wishing all our readers a safe and Happy New Year! Looking forward to more bookish excitement in 2016!

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

 

 

Review – The Great and Wondrous Storyteller

Great and Wondrous StorytellerNorbert P. Winklebottom begins his wondrous journey on the front end pages of Michael Scott Parkinson’s new picture book resplendent in suit, tie, and a dazzling sense of self-confidence for he is, The Great and Wondrous Storyteller.

Great and Wondrous Storyteller spreadHe has read books of all description, in every location from the top of cloud-clad mountains to the bottom of the deepest oceans to everyone from queens and kings to goldfish, yes! And about subjects as diverse as unicorns and dragons. With qualifications like these difficult to pass over, Norbert’s friends entreat him to read them a story.

Now, this is where Norbert’s sparkle loses some of its shine for it turns out Norbert is not as au fait with the art of book reading as he professes. In fact, he doesn’t even know what to do with the book they hand him. It’s difficult to turn on, he’s not sure which way to hold it, and none of the words makes any sense at all.

Norbert’s friends sniff subterfuge and begin to lose confidence in this braggart’s skills just as Norbert’s own sense of confidence begins to falter. It is also at this point that 21st century readers like me may think they have Norbert’s storyline in the bag. Kids! I thought, they don’t even understand the nuances of a real book these days being so digitally blinkered. Bah!

It’s the surprise appearance of Norbert’s dad who reveals why Norbert cannot read this book. Under Dad’s encouraging tutelage, Norbert’s aspirations reassert themselves in glorious bibliomaniac fashion ensuring his newfound love of books and reading will indeed make him a great and wondrous storyteller, one day.

Michael Scott ParkinsonI found this book oddly divisive at first, being led down the wrong library aisle, as it were. Not so, Miss 9 who instantly enjoyed the humour and cartoon-esque illustrations so ably served up by Parkinson. On second look, The Great and Wondrous Storyteller is indeed a picture book that packs in more than it first appears to, a bit like a Tardis.

Norbert’s initial boastful exclamations really describe the wonderful portable physicality of books and stories, and that you can read about anything, anywhere, any time. Lovely.

Norbert is a little monster with giant aspirations, impatient to tackle grown-up-dad things but after being walloped by a hefty dose of self-realisation, quickly learns that baby steps will take him to his goals faster and more safely than exaggerated leaps.

After being exposed as a bit of fibber – green handed as it were – Norbert learns the value of honesty and of not being ashamed of your shortcomings. Lovely.

Norbert Storyteller IlloAll sound ideas portrayed in a fun colourful way that are best appreciated through the shared reading of this book with an adult.

The Great and Wondrous Storyteller has the potential to enthral tiny readers who are still working out their ABCs, which means it’s ideal for sparking a love of reading for life. Entertaining, quirky and ultimately, heartening.

The Five Mile Press August 2015

Anything but Boring – A collection of Board Book reviews

I’m not sure how or why but I’ve still got many of the board books of my childhood and now, those from my daughter’s early learning days.Big Book of Silly

Their very construction may have something to do with standing up to the test of time. Maybe, I just can’t bear to part with them because of what they represent, an intensely intimate time of shared firsts, revelations, and discoveries.

Board books not only symbolize these never to be repeated phases of a child’s development but also crucially supply growing intellects with those first initial stepping stones towards visual and verbal literacy.

Here are some fun newbies to add to your collection.

Big Book of Silly illo spreadBig Books by Natalie Marshall. I absolutely love the look and feel of these large format board books. The Big Book of Silly allows pre-schoolers to revel in the surreal and silly, like a rhino eating three hundred jellybeans before bed for instance (however perhaps this is not as silly as it sounds to a child). As with the Big Book of Happy, it is illustrated with loud colour-filled pages of big bold characters prompting very young readers to question their own happy and silly moments. Too much fun to pass up.

The Five Mile Press May 2015

Cheeky Monkey manners Lisa Kerr is another Aussie author whose Cheeky Monkey Manners builds on her Cheeky Monkey series character and uses vibrant full-page colour to harness young attention spans.

Cheek Monkey spreadCheeky Monkey is not so much rude as ‘unknowing’ and with the help of his extremely tolerant jungle pals eventually comes to understand and use his ‘please’ and ‘thankyous’ correctly.

Repeating scenarios and a square compact size makes these books idea for introducing and enforcing manners in pre-schoolers.

The Five Mile Press May 2015

Magic Car Wash seriesAnother vibrant set of books perfectly suited for fledging imaginations is the Magic Car Wash series, a family collaboration by Rosie Smith, Bruce Whatley, and Ben Smith Whatley.

Kit the mechanic owns a car wash and small but eclectic fleet of vehicles in the town of Tyre Flats. (Don’t you love the connections?) The thing is, whenever the cars drive through the car wash, magical things happen; front and back ends mix and match resulting in some curious combinations…and adventures.

Magic Car wash illo spreadBeginner readers will get a real buzz of out these Transformers meets Cars tales. They provide the idea vehicle from which to explore concepts of fear, friendship, spatial awareness and direction, and the benefits of working together to achieve great results. I adore the simple colourful graphics, exploration of language and brilliant little twisty endings of these books. Robust (super thick glossy pages means these books will last for a long time on the book shelves of even the most active readers) yet cute enough to win over boys and girls, and hopelessly appealing, the Magic Car Wash series is another great example of board books on offer from The Five Mile Press May 2015. Titles include The Giant Mouse, The Runaway Car and Red’s First Fire.The Giant Mouse

Lastly but not least (there are still so many to fawn over) a little bit more magic…Possum Magic. Mem Fox and Julie Vivas have joined formidable forces again to develop a series of beautifully bound board books aimed at pre-schoolers and based on their perennial picture book favourite, Possum Magic. Animals led the way, now followed by, Actions, an exploration of ‘doing’ words.

Possum Magic ActionsWords that inspire action in various modes are lovingly represented by Vivas’ cheerful illustrations. Familiar yet brimming with new eye-catching detail, each spread features two different verbs demonstrated by those endearing Possum Magic bushland characters we’ve come to love.

If you like eating (lamingtons), reading (in comfortable places) and dancing (under starlit skies), you will love Possum Magic, Actions and so will little ones aged 0 – 4 years of age.Possum Magic Opposites Possum Magic Numbers

Scholastic Australia 2015

Pig Kahuna PiratesHere’s another hot off the press. Pig Kahuna Pirates! by author illustrator, Jennifer Sattler just corkscrewed its way across my desk. This chunky little board book follows in the wake of Pig Kahuna and Sattler’s previous Chick ‘n’ Pug picture book creations. Goofy, cutesy characters bounce through seemingly parochial situations yet inspire adventure and genuine expressions of love.

chick n pugThe porcine brothers, Fergus and Dink spend a day at the beach together  caught in a world of pirates and brotherly disagreement until Fergus realises the value of his baby brother. Heavily textured illustrations ably capture the emotions and the ambient beauty of the day. A great board book addition for those with siblings under 5 years old.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books July 2015

 

Review – Fly-In Fly-Out Dad

A year ago, I made a rare flight to Rockhampton. It was a mid-week, evening departure on one of those regional planes no bigger than a Lego model. What struck me most about the flight however as I waited in the boarding lounge, was the sheer number of men and women arriving into Brisbane that night from various regional centres, all still attired in their high-vis work shirts and dusty boots and smelling ‘like diesel and machines’ – the FIFO workforce.

Fly in Fly Out Dad Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a picture book by Sally Murphy and Janine Dawson that addresses this regular migration of parents (and non-parents) to occupations in remote centres, often for weeks at a time. What is the norm for an increasing number of families is unknown by many children and seldom seen in books. Representations like this picture book and Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad and My FIFO Daddy by Aimee O’Brien, both published late last year, are therefore gold when it comes to surviving this somewhat specialised way of family life.

The FIFO/DIDO employment system exists because the benefits of assisted commuting of employees to mining destinations for example outweighs the costs of relocating families and establishing new communities at the site of employment. This has many benefits for the families involved but several drawbacks too namely the anxieties it can generate within the younger members of a family, most notably, according to studies, in boys.

In Fly-In Fly-Out Dad, our little boy hero loves his dad and seems to accept the idiosyncrasies associated with his job, his funny smells and long absences. Nevertheless, he lives in eternal hope that maybe, one day, Dad will stay and not leave them for weeks on end.

The boy’s family life is a stable, comfortable haven for him, mum, and his baby sister. Having dad at home cements this feeling of security. With Dad around, completeness buoys the boy but also reinforces his desire to have dad around permanently. It’s a simmering anxiety that never fully dissipates.

Through his father’s animated anecdotes and descriptions of life working the mines, he assumes super human qualities in the eyes of his son, which in turn allows the boy to gain a clearer picture of his father. In return, the boy shares ‘all the living’ he has done since he last saw his father.

Anyone who has had a loved one work away for extended periods, be their relationship one of parent and child or as a couple will immediately appreciate how intense this period of initial reunion can be. There is so much want and need to share, to compensate for lost time together that the exchanges don’t always go smoothly.

Sally MurphyThankfully, our little lad’s dad relishes his time at home, dividing it generously between fatherly obligations, his pregnant wife, and adventures with his eldest son. No moment is wasted.

Murphy’s award winning way with words ensures this narrative is relevant and light-hearted yet intrinsically sensitive to the FIFO dynamic. The measured repetition of certain key phrases adds weight and emotion whilst also providing clear expectations within a cyclical time frame. The boy is still deeply dismayed that his father has to leave again but bravely shows stoicism in front of his parents. Dad reminds him to embark on more adventures while he’s away so that his departure ends on a note that rings loudly of resilience and acceptance.

Janine Dawson Dawson’s water coloured depicted family possess a real sense of charm and individuality. I love her portrayal of Super-Dad both in his home environment and in the dongas surrounded by burly workers dining on dainty chocolate brownies and vanilla slices. (The canteen scene is a standout favourite). This clever use of visual comedy illustrates the gender diversity of these careers as well.

More than just a staid explanation of what a work away parent does, Fly-In Fly-Out Dad is a beautiful picture book celebrating the super-hero in every father and an entertaining assurance that the temporary absence of a parent need not make a family any less loving or united.

A brilliant kindergarten to early primary classroom catalyst for discussion about this very real family dynamic.

The Five Mile Press July 2015

Musical Book Beats for Little Ones

Music and books have many benefits in common for a baby’s long-term development. Learning about patterns and sequencing, counting, memory, expressing language and emotions are all powerful advantages to being exposed to these experiences. And when combined, this makes for a most engaging, dynamic and instrumental union. Here we explore a few upbeat and rhythmic books for toddlers and preschoolers that are sure to have them bopping away to their little hearts’ delights.  

Fish jamFish Jam, Kylie Howarth (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2015.  

Who doesn’t love a scit-scatting-dooba-diddling jazzy sea-minor fish? Unfortunately, all the creatures in the sea. Toot the fish beep-bops his way around the ocean, only to be shooshed by grumpy seals, lobsters, penguins and killer whales. He is just too noisy. But one day he comes across a most unexpected surprise that changes his solo singing days forever!
‘Fish Jam’ is such a fun way to explore music through the instrument of your voice. Author / illustrator, Kylie Howarth has produced a bubbly and entertaining story through her minimal text and vivacious cartoon-style pictures.
Preschoolers will be ‘o-fish-ally’ overjoyed to chant along with Toot for plenty of pipe sessions, no matter who’s listening!  

Children's+Book+Review,+B+is+for+BedtimeB is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton (author), Anna Pignataro (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.  

Here we have a beautiful lyrical lullaby that sings us through an alphabetical routine from awake time to catching zzz’s. A little girl and her puppy dog settle for bed with the help of their loving family. A Book read by dad and a ticking Clock on the wall, “Dd is my Dog, who’s not sleepy at all.” Gran gives a Hug and mum gives a Kiss. The Moon shines on her Nose. Eventually she is Quiet and as she goes to Sleep, she cuddles her Teddy Under the covers, Yawns and hushes until morning.
Anna Pignataro’s illustrations are as sweet and harmonious as the gentle tempo of the words. I love the fluidity of the watercolours and gouache and the patterns of the collage.
‘B is for Bedtime’ is perfectly paced to soothe young ones into a cosy slumber, to be enjoyed each and every night.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

Baby BeatsBaby Beats, Karen Blair (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

Toddlers will love joining in to the rhythm and beat with this group of young children playing on their instruments. ‘Baby Beats’ immediately sets the musical tone, inviting the readers to make sound with their hands and feet. We explore beats and booms on the drums, bangs and clashes on the cymbals, tapping sticks and the chick, chick, chick of the shakers. All the strumming and singing eventually exhausts these tiny superstars as they lay down to rest.
Gorgeous, soft crayon and watercolour paintings set against white backgrounds effectively gives focus to the performances of the characters. The little details in the pictures like the funny actions of the cat, and the additional ‘home-made’ instruments also lend themselves to further enjoyment and ideas on creating your own music at home.
‘Baby Beats’, with its inclusive onomatopoeia, is a perfect book of sounds and rhythm and the introduction to a range of musical instruments.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.  

51wdwNe+JBL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Chooky-doodle-doo, Jan Whiten (author), Sinéad Hanley (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.  

This one’s not musical as such, but is ideal as a preliminary to finger games and songs about numbers. ‘Chooky-doodle-doo’ is a whimsical counting story with some rhyming elements to keep little ones joining in all the way through. One chick finds what it thinks is a worm and gives it a good tug. Enlisting the help of another chooky chick, the pair huff and puff, struggling to get this worm free. The story continues with subsequent numbers of chookies pulling on a continually elongating worm. Five chicks and a rooster cannot shift the stubborn squirmer, and with a final flop and a chooky sprawl, they discover that the worm is not actually a worm afterall!
Adorable, funny and interactive. With colourful handcrafted and digital illustrations, young preschoolers will love the humour and playfulness of these cheeky chooks.
CBCA 2015 Early Childhood Notable Book.

Review – Big Hug Books

For many oThe Playground is like the Junglef you, by now your little ones will be well and truly back into the school routine. Apart from the usual school-related requirements, you may have also restocked your return-to-school library, determined to share the educational and emotional journey your child is embarking on, perhaps for the first time. You will find some of those terrific school-ready titles here.

But what if the ensuing days might not exactly pan out as expected for your little ones, or even for you for that matter? What happens when your child’s feelings are derailed by a minor incident that they allow to escalate into a damaging problem and subsequently feel powerless to overcome? How can you help them get back on track smoothly?

Like manyShona Innes, I find some of the answers in books, picture books. Newcomer to writing for children but experienced child whisperer and clinical and forensic psychologist, Shona Innes together with The Five Mile Press has released a series of books under the banner, Big Hug Books.

Big Hug Books are essentially that; picture books that wrap young children and their carers up in issue specific stories that enable readers to understand and embrace problem situations and learn solutions to overcome them. And we all know how benefThe Internet is like a Puddleicial a great hug can be.

There are four in the series so far with two new January releases, The Playground is like the Jungle and The Internet is like a Puddle. Innes uses age appropriate analogies to illustrate the many positive attributes of each situation a child encounters then progresses to the less positive things that could occur between friends, within relationships, during periods of loss, and living in our modern world. Her expressive text, while a little laboured and repetitive at times does adequately reiterate and reinforce the choices available to all young people and the reasons why they should react in certain ways.

The puddle metaphor used to establish how deep and unassuming Internet use can be in The Internet is like a Puddle, is particularly clever and useful. It is a topic we should all be aux fait with considering the tender age that our offspring are exposed to such digital media these days.

Irisz AgocsIrisz Agocs’ playful watercolour illustrations provide the much needed focus and fun to keep youngsters riveted to the main theme of each book. Animal characters depict children in a consistently comical yet sensitive way.

Easy to read footnotes at the end of each story gives parents, teachers and carers time to take in what they have read and arm them with more insight into each particular topic of discussion. Conveniently, this eliminates the need to some degree that every (new) parent feels to read and memorise every how-to-parent book available on earth.

While titles in the Big Hug Books series will not remedy every problematic situation you and your child will encounter, they do tackle the more common ones in a format that promotes acknowledging, seeking and solving the dilemma together, parent and child. In my eyes that is as valuable as any hug.Big Hug illo spread

Suitable for older pre-schoolers and primary aged children.

The Five Mile Press January 2015

 

Doodles and Drafts – A Blog Tour with Alison Reynolds

Alison ReynoldsA couple of years ago a diminutive orange cat sprang into our hearts and homes courtesy of picture book creators, Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie. That cat was, Marmalade. He caused quite a sensation around our home, so when we heard he was on tour with Alison Reynolds, purrs of satisfaction reverberated throughout the house once more.

Alison Reynolds is no stranger to children’s fiction, but when she teams with illustrator, Heath McKenzie, her work is picture book paean.Heath McKenzie 2

A New Friend for Marmalade, sequel to the hugely successful, A Year with Marmalade, is a simple story about making new friends. But as we all know, the art of forming and maintaining friendships is seldom that straightforward. Hierarchy and the delicate differences between boys and girls all begin to surface in early primary years, making social interplay more of a challenge.

A new friend for MarmaladeWhen Toby, the boy across the road attempts to join BFFs, Ella, Maddy and Marmalade, things go instantly awry. Toby’s endeavours to fit in are not particularly successful nor welcomed by Ella and Maddy. He is over-exuberant, clumsy and dresses funny. Marmalade, however, sees him differently.

In Marmalade’s moment of crisis, his gamble on Toby pays off and beautiful new friendships are forged all round.

I love the snappy, clean layout of this picture book. Swirling text works effectively against plenty of white space, giving readers the sensation of floating seamlessly along with the story.

The narrative itself is succinct and character driven, with enough repeating phraseology to prompt even the most modest beginner reader to join in the fun.

McKenzie’s soft smudges of pastel colour highlight significant aspects and emotions of the story: the girls’ cubby house and sand castle city, Toby’s cap and scooter, and of course, our little orange hero, Marmalade.A NFM illos

Acceptance, tolerance and making that leap of faith permeate appealingly through this dreamy picture book, resulting in a fine example of ‘less is more’. It certainly stacks up for me.

Uncover why sand-castle-city builders from the age of 4 years and up will treasure A New Friend for Marmalade, here.

Stick around with Alison and Marmalade for the rest of their tour and participate in the fantastic competitions listed below. You never know, you might just make few new friends along the way!

The Five Mile Press 2013

Alison Reynolds Blog Tour Dates

March 2014

11th Dee White – review and post http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

11th Chris Bell – post http://christinemareebell.wordpress.com/

12th Angela Sunde – interview with Heath http://angelasunde.blogspot.com.au/

12th KBR – book giveaway http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

13th Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/author/dpowell

14th KBR Guest post http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

14th KBR Review http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

14th Sally Murphy – Meet my book http://aussiereviews.com/reviews/blog/

15th Buzz Words – Interview http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/

17th Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au/

17th Pass-it-on Post and Review- Jackie Hosking

18th Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au/

Pet contest for all ages!

Marmalade the cat is full of personality. Do you have a pet with personality? Win a piece of artwork by Heath McKenzie. Send along a photo of your personality-plus pet to www.alisonreynolds.com.au, [email protected] or upload to

Random book giveaways!

Just leave a comment on one of the posts in the blog tour, comment on Facebook or even email Alison that you want to enter competition to win A New Friend for Marmalade.

Jump the Slush Pile!

Win a free pass to a Children’s editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials CB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Jump the Slush Pile!

Win a free pass to a Non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win an assessment of Chapter One of a chapter book by the fabulous mentor extraordinaire Dee White. http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/ Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials DW. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win a free picture book assessment by Alison! Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials PB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

 

Double Dipping Reviews – A Book about Scary & Wanda and Dragonfly and their night-time adventure

This week’s double whammy review hails from innovative Aussie publishers, The Five Mile Press and addresses two common childhood dilemmas; refusing to go to bed and stuff that scares you.

A book about ScaryWhen I see the names Danny Katz and Mitch Vane together, my mouth twitches involuntarily into a smile. But this is A Book about Scary. So should I be feeling fearful instead of funny?

The premise is delightfully simple; everyone is scared of something. So what’s your biggest fear? Katz artfully leads us through a tidy alphabetical listing of some of the more common childhood terrors; clowns, dogs, needles as well as some not so common; quacking ducks! (Actually my toddler was terrified of the quacking toilet duck ads for years). And Katz hits the nail on the head every time. How many of us have had to resort to sugar-coated food bribes to tempt a trembling toddler onto the escalator? And why does the monster in the plughole that drinks up kids’ bath water have to sound so scary?

Danny KatzKatz tackles these curly questions with style and wit using the exact tone and voice any five year old would when faced with validating their fears. When a scary situation requires a little more explanation, Katz luxuriates in two to three pages of it, often concluding in a concise and comical one-liner; ‘clowns are pretty funny’ and ‘yummm’ – poor devoured moth.

Mitch Vane Mitch Vane’s self-confessed ‘wonky and messy’ illustrations add a fabulous sense of playfulness and just enough silliness to reassure young readers that fear is really just a state of mind.

I could hardly believe we’d covered twenty-six fears so fast. Luckily the end pages reconfirm it is ok to be frightened of something every so often, just as Katz and Vane are, and feature even more scary stuff. There’s even a generous space left for readers to draw what scares them most. Brilliant! But my 7 year old already beat me to that one.

Even if you already know your ABCs and have conquered most of your fears, A Book about Scary, will have 2 – 5 year olds trembling with laughter and agreement, and you smiling with quiet appreciation.

 

Wanda and Dragonfly Anna Hymas’s, Wanda and Dragonfly and their night-time adventure, explores the nocturnal world of Wanda and her favourite toy, Dragon, who is really a dragonfly. Wanda thinks the world is far too exciting to waste on sleep and she’s right.

When counting sheep fails, Wanda and brave Dragon forsake slumber and decide to take a night-time rocket flight around the universe. They stop by the moon, shoot past stars and after burning their thumbs near the sun, return to Earth to discover yet more strange and wonderful lands.

Deeply satisfied with her expedition, Wanda is not surprised to wake from a sound night’s sleep and discover a new friend in her bed secreted from ‘the land of others’.

Anna HymasThis is a whimsical little tale richly illustrated yet with an economical and subdued palette that will encourage children with aversions to going to bed that sleep can be as wondrous as wakefulness.

Good to read with 3 – 5 year olds.

The Five Mile Press –  Both picture books available now.

 

 

Doodles and Drafts – A Blog Tour Adventure with The Littlest Bushranger

I was one of those horsey girls as a kid. Loved them. Couldn’t accept parents’ refusal to keep one of them in our backyard. So I transformed my trusty bike – the one with the chopper-style handlebars – and the dog’s leather lead into the best little mare you could imagine. I actually steered the bike around for months using those ‘reins’; through pitted canons and deeply wooded forests (our backyard was large and varied in landscape).

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERImagination. It’s every kid’s greatest gift and most alluring asset. And Alison Reynolds’s and Heath McKenzie’s latest picture book, The Littlest Bushranger, celebrates it in style.

The Reynolds’ / McKenzie team, with over 150 titles between them, are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with and one of my favourite picture book artist combinations.

The Littlest Bushranger is a snap shot of Jack’s first day alone without his older sister Lil, who has just started school. His day becomes anything but ordinary as he is forced to navigate through frightening terrain and outwit the crafty Outlaw in pursuit of Lil’s prized treasure.

The Littlest BushrangerThis adrenaline-charged adventure is slightly more robust and male orientated than Reynolds’s and McKenzie’s previous book, A Year with Marmalade, however it is bounding with exhilarating movement and irrepressible charm. I especially love the tactile cover and the intelligent use of perspective and colour to accentuate the drama and action of Jack’s pursuit. His steely-eyed companions; his spirited steed and ‘gang member’ Hector, are as impressively heroic as Jack who valiantly earns his title as The Littlest Bushranger.

Ideal for 3 – 6 year olds and anyone who believed their bike was the best horse ever, like me.

Alison ReynoldsTo celebrate this thrilling new release, I am joining the adventure with Alison on her Blog Tour of The Littlest Bushranger. Mount up and see what she has to say…

Q Alison, you have written dozens of books for small children and younger readers. Do you enjoy creating picture books?

I love writing picture books. The connection between words and illustrations really interests me, and how you can use both to convey ideas.

What makes them harder or easier than other genres you like to write in?

It’s harder as every word is crucial. It’s easier because picture books are shorter than some other genres.

Q What was your inspiration for this story?

I saw a bird hopping on a railing near our dog, Molly and then my imagination rambled.

Q I love the choice of Jack’s imagery persona – a fearless bushranger. Why bushranger vs. your usual sword-wielding pirate or knight?

My publisher, The Five Mile Press, suggested a bushranger book. Maybe the next books could be pirates and knights.

Q Does Jack’s situation parallel your life as a child in anyway?

I started school a year later than my friends and neighbours because my birthday was after the magic cut-off point. I can remember playing at home, until they returned. I used to spend a lot of time running around on my hobby horse.

Have you ever had to reclaim a stolen treasure and face your direst fear?

Think I was more likely to purloin the treasure myself. Once when visiting my mother’s friend I spied a very special embroidered hand towel, apparently there was a flush and no more hand towel.

Q What was the most memorable imaginary world you visited when you were Jack’s age?

My friends and I played a game called boots. This consisted of us wearing my big sisters’ much too big boots and racing around the backyard playing chasey and I think spies were involved. In our backyard my dad cut the branches of the plum tree so they supported a plank. This became at different times a stage coach, flying saucer and police car. We were very versatile!

Q What was the hardest part of bringing The Littlest Bushranger to reality?

Coming up with a story of a bushranger for that age group. I didn’t want guns but decided a sword/broom was okay.

What was the easiest?

Having Heath McKenzie as an illustrator makes everything easier. If there’s a bit of writing that won’t work, I’ve realised that I probably don’t need it and Heath will illustrate it instead!

Q What advice would you give anyone else wanting to write a picture book?

Play with words, cut, revise, cut. And do illustrations that no one need ever see, but by doing this you can check that each page can be illustrated and it can clarify what you are trying to say.

Heath McKenzieQ Was the choice to involve the uber-talented Heath McKenzie again to illustrate this book yours or just an unbelievably marvellous strike of good fortune (and decision making)?

The Five Mile Press matched me with Heath again and I feel very lucky!

Q Do Heath’s illustrations represent what was originally in your head when you first conceived the idea for The Littlest Bushranger?

Heath somehow captured what was in my head, and created something even better by adding his own ideas. When it came to the outlaw/monster I wrote in the illustration brief, “Heath go wild” – and he did! I would never have come up with such a wonderful creation!

TLB spread 2How do you think they have helped bring the story to life?

I think they work in direct partnership with the words and tease them out into something very special. I especially love Hector the dog!

Q Other than writing, what other past times do you like to indulge in – say like horse-riding?

I have a rocking horse from when I was Jack, the littlest bushranger’s, age. That’s the extent of my riding apart from my hobby horse that I loved. I’ve watched a whip cracking contest, but haven’t tried it. And I don’t really like Irish jigs and Scottish reels. So think I would be a very bad bushranger!

Thanks Alison for inviting me along on this fantastic, white-knuckle quest!

Thanks, Dimity for having me!!!

Join the gang and continue to be part of the adventure. Here are the rest of the dates for Alison’s Tour. Don’t forget the competition either. There are some wicked prizes on offer. Thanks for riding with us.

June 11 Kat Apel

http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/blog/

June 12 Chris Bell

http://christinemareebell.wordpress.com/

June 13 Angela Sunde

http://angelasunde.blogspot.com.au/

June 17 Interview with Melinda Beaumont

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

June 18 Dee White

http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com/

June 19 Kids Book Review

http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

June 20 Interview with Melissa Keil.

www.alisonreynolds.com.au

June 21 Heath McKenzie and Alison Reynolds interviewed by Juliet Chan, Marketing & Publicity Executive.

www.fivemilepress.com.au

Monster Competition Watch out for prizes – so good they should be outlawed! These include a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork from The Littlest Bushranger.

There are a couple of monsters in The Littlest Bushranger. One’s a bunyip, and the other an outlaw/monster who steals Lil’s telescope.

What sort of monster do you like? Send along a painting/drawing/model of a monster and you could win a piece of Heath McKenzie’s amazing artwork for The Littlest Bushranger.

Upload your best monster to https://www.facebook.com/alison.reynolds.524 or email it as a low res jpeg file to [email protected]  and we’ll upload it. If you don’t have a scanner, take a photo on a smart phone and email that!

Two categories. Under 12 and 12 plus including grown-ups. Entries close 25th June!

Jump the Slush Pile!
Win a free pass to an adult non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk. Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the Littlest Bushranger book tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.
Keep you eyes peeled for other prizes along the ride including a picture book assessment by Alison Reynolds, 2 free passes direct to an editor’s desk (you get to skip the slush pile), and copies of The Littlest Bushranger. Just comment on the posts. Simple!

The Five Mile Press June 2013

 

WHY I LOVE MY DAD, WHY I LOVE MY GRANDPA

It’s Father’s Day this Sunday so we thought we’d pay a tribute to all dads and grandads this week at Kids’ Book Capers by featuring some great books about these very special people.

Today we’re looking at Why I love my dad and Why I love my grandpa.

These gorgeous new books are in the popular Why I love my… series by Alison Reynolds and Serena Geddes.

They’re perfect partners for Why I love my mum and Why I love my grandma released earlier this year from The Five Mile Press.

Why I love my dad and Why I love my grandpa are written in an appealing style with fun illustrations.

They’re also books that can be personalised for the reader, allowing them to insert a photo of their own dad/grandpa on the front cover.

Alison Reynolds’ quirky text is full of warmth and humour, and Serena Geddes’ illustrations capture the hilarious antics of Dad and Grandpa.

Why I love my dad

Young readers will relate to all the antics of this scooting, hulahooping, kite flying dad. They’ll love him for the way he’s prepared to give just about anything a go, even if it’s not something he’s good at.

Why I love my grandpa

Who could not love a stilt-walking, hand shaking, VERY flexible Grandpa? This Grandpa clearly enjoys spending time with his granddaughter doing the things that make her happy even if they’re not the kind of activity he might normally do.

My grandpa can’t wear a ponytail and My grandpa can’t climb trees were the pages that gave me the biggest giggle but I’m sure young readers will enjoy every single one of the double page spread.

I enjoyed these books for their ‘have a go’ Dad and Grandpa and their warmth and colour.

Why I love my dad and Why I love my grandpa come in a durable hardback format that can be slipped easily into a nappy or other carry bag – and they’re the kind of books to encourage discussion about what family truly means.

They even have space at the back for the reader to fill in with favourite things they like about or like to do with Dad or Grandpa.

Tomorrow at Kids’ Book Capers we’re featuring Nick Bland’s, Some Dads.