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

 

Jess Racklyeft Touches Hearts with ‘Smile Cry’

imageJess Racklyeft is the illustrator behind her adorably heartwarming debut picture book. With her beautiful, vast array of design and art work and use of mixed media, Jess’s passion and talent shines brightly in Smile CryToday we find out more about her illustrative inspiration.

Review:

“It’s such a cool book! It never finishes and you could just read it all day!” – Miss M, age 6.

The fun flip-over format with its narrative meeting in the middle is just the beginning of what makes this book so special. Smile Cry, where you can start at either end, deliciously offers its readers a gourmet of emotive goodness to explore and ponder.

My two daughters, ages 3 and 6, perfectly fit the target age group for this clever story, and our first reading experience was … unforgettable! Each page turn, whether we were enjoying the kinds of ‘smiles’ or the types of ‘cries’, motioned us into role-play and thought-provoking action.

imageThe reactions of the three cute characters – piglet, bunny and cat – are easily identifiable as they face a mixed bag of situations, and feelings. Tania McCartney‘s text is wholesome and pure with sentiments of depth that delve further than it appears on the surface. Her beautifully written phrases allow their readers to consider the subtleties of each emotion. It may be a sorrowful, disappointed or even a joyful cry, or an ecstatic, satisfied or grimacing smile. From a ‘hug a cuddly monkey smile’ to ‘perhaps it’s a lost cry’, or a ‘tickle smile’ to a ‘tickle cry’, the level of warmth and empathy will touch each heart in different ways.

Jess Racklyeft‘s illustrations perfectly suit the delicate nature of the story with their pencil and watercolour softness and pastel tones, not to mention her sweet, cuddly characters that exude personality and warmth. I also love how Jess has included fine details and layers to turn each spread into a story of its own.

Smile Cry is a divinely heartfelt book, chock-full of sweet and savoury sentimental moments. It is a valuable resource for building foundations for sound emotional development. Readers from age three will simply gobble it up at every turn, over and over again.

EK Books, March 2016.

Interview:

Congratulations, Jess, on the recent release of your first picture book, Smile Cry! How do you plan on celebrating its launch?

Thank you so much! On Saturday April 9th I’ll be launching the book at The Little Bookroom in Carlton North (Melbourne). This is my local bookshop, and since I wandered in there almost four years ago with my baby has been a place of inspiration and support… They’ve been stocking my cards and prints, and now my first book.
On the day we will have tasty baked goods, drinks and lots of games. A musician friend Claire Hollingsworth will be playing a few songs, and I’m looking forward to sending it off into the world with some cake and champagne. The fantastic author Tania McCartney recently launched the book in Canberra and it looked like such an amazing day.

What were your thoughts on Smile Cry when it was handed to you to illustrate?

It was a big build up as I had entered a competition to illustrate the book that Tania and the publisher Anouska had run on an online drawing group, the 52 Week Challenge. I had seen a couple of lines of text from the book to create my entry, but wasn’t sure how the narrative would work or the characters etc. So when I first saw the manuscript I was so excited about the possibilities. The text was so image-filled, Tania had put together such a sweet and sensitive manuscript and my mind was racing with the illustrative possibilities!

What was it like to collaborate with the talented Tania McCartney?

She’s just a dream to work with. She’s so passionate about children’s books (like me!) and has so much respect for the industry and the process. I used to work for a children’s publisher and I know usually the author and illustrator don’t have a great deal of interaction in the process, but I was so lucky EK Books allowed us to work closely on it. I think this resulted in the best outcome for us both – and we had so much fun through the process. She’s an inspiration.

What little secrets can you share about the making of Smile Cry?

imageOn “An ate all the pies smile” I snuck in a little copy the paper The Age. One of my favourite pastimes pre kids was an afternoon of sun lounging with the paper in the park with some baked goods. Sadly, this doesn’t last more than a few minutes these days, but I drew it remembering those days very fondly J. Also, I created a very subtle colour palette for each side – Smile has slightly warmed tones, and cry cooler.

I love the softness of your lines, tones and sweet characters in the book. This style perfectly suits the gentle nature of the story. What was your favourite part of the book to work on? Why is this meaningful to you?

Thank you so much! It’s funny because I did another book around the same time, and by coincidence they are coming out the same month (The Midnight Possum) – it’s a completely different style though, and I didn’t actually consciously plan out the look as much as I now see they have. It just sort of came together in a very easy way (with a lot of drawing, of course!).

imageIn terms of my favourite part… I loved working on all of it to be honest! It’s been a lifelong dream to illustrate picture books and the process was just a joy. I think the pig walking in the forest page was perhaps my happiest one as it is my happy place being in nature too.

Your illustrative repertoire is wide with work including children’s books, painting and design of cards and prints. Is any one venue more challenging than the rest? Where do you plan for your art to take you in the future?

I had a long time working in other industries before working as a freelance illustrator, so when I set out to make my career viable and stable, I wanted to gain work in a lot of areas. It’s been pretty challenging trying to keep up with all the different projects and clients, especially since we had a second baby, but I do enjoy working on lots of different things. I would say picture books are the most challenging as you have to dive so deeply into the project, but it is something I would like to do more of. I hope one day to both write and draw my own books, as well as create a line of décor products for kids (I love translating illustrations to different mediums – eg doonas!).

Sounds gorgeous!

Have you always wanted to be an artist? What do you love about illustrating for children?

I have, although I got swept into working in a variety of other jobs before I got back to my true work love, illustration! I love the fact that you are creating work that a child can connect with and it may stick with them for the rest of their life. I reflect back on my favourite books from my own childhood, and the way they spoke to me so strongly in an emotive or imaginative way.

What does your work space look like? Is there an item in your studio that you cannot live without? What are your favourite mediums to use?

imageWe are really lucky in that we have a “granny flat” out the back of our garden which has beautiful light, and an intercom so I can hear when our bub wakes! I love working with watercolours (and always have) although more and more I am having fun experimenting with digital media. I’ve also been scanning in my 3 year old’s artwork and use some of this for collage material for my work, or for drawing with her – for example last October she did some watercolour marks and I made an Australian bird painting a day in ink.

How did you get your break in the industry? What is your greatest tip for emerging illustrators?

imageI sent the most amazing lady, Patricia Howes from Omnibus, my portfolio for 6 YEARS! While I look at my first work and grimace, she was so kind and would send the most helpful feedback – and called me to say I had a job illustrating a book with Sally Morgan (you could have blown me over with a feather). I’ve also been lucky to have yearly catch ups with Anna Walker, and amazing people like Tania and EK Books to support me through the process of working on my first book. So I guess I am saying – make connections, friendships and keep chipping away, as all those incredible people from the industry are usually also very kind and happy to share their knowledge.

What are you currently working on? Any exciting projects or upcoming events that you can share with us?

In October my next book will be released with Scholastic, called One Little Koala. Right now I am working on many many client projects, from designing resin jewellery for Erstwilder, creating portraits for my Etsy shop, designing candle labels for a non-profit, painting a peony for a wedding gift, designing fabric etc…. I keep a little overview of projects on my website www.jessesmess.com as they come to fruition. But in the background I am always musing over the next possible book project, so hopefully next year I will have a couple more out in the world J

Looking forward to seeing more amazing art from you. Thank you so much for joining us at Boomerang Books, Jess!

Thank you so so much for having me!

Purchase Smile Cry.

Find details for the launch here.

Jess Racklyeft can be found at her website, on Facebook and at her Etsy store.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Hey Corinne Fenton, What’s Your Christmas Wish?

Corinne's Launch of Little Dog-5842Corinne Fenton is established as one of Australia’s treasured authors of beautiful picture books. They often contain an element of social history, and her knowledge and passion for writing is regularly shared in schools, libraries and workshops.  
This Christmas, there are TWO Corinne Fenton picture books that are unmissable and will have children from birth to eight feeling enriched and cherished for all of the holiday season; Little Dog and the Christmas Wish and Hey Baby, It’s Christmas! Let’s find out a little more about Corinne Fenton and her books!  

What do you love about writing children’s books?
I love being taken away with the words, those times when in my head I’m spinning and flying on a carousel horse, but really I’m at my desk staring into space.  

queenieMuch of your writing involves a great significance to social history. Is there an element of personal meaning when incorporating these topics?
Yes, in a way I believe I write about animals whose stories must be told – for me there’s a certain responsibility to tell them. When I visit students in schools it gives me a great feeling to share information with them through my stories. I strongly believe that children are learning this information in an enjoyable and almost effortless way. This is another reason why I feel so strongly about picture books.
Queenie: One Elephant’s Story came about by accident (I was actually writing a story about sparrows) but when I found her I knew immediately her story had to be told. Her story raises many issues about animals in zoos today, compared to what zoos were like back when elephants were giving rides not only here in the Melbourne Zoo but in zoos all over the world. Queenie walked for almost 40 years through the depression and through two world wars carrying up to 500 people a day.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox tells of a dog called Lady and her loyalty to her master, but there is also a host of information about bullockies, bullocks, wagons and pioneers and what it was like to live in the days when it took a bullock team up to 4 months to travel a journey which today takes a truck only 4 hours!
Flame Stands Waiting is a fictional story about a carousel horse called Flame, set in a real place – on the carousel at Melbourne’s Luna Park. This story takes place in the years of the depression, the bright lights and happiness of the carousel contrasted strongly with the drab clothing worn by the children. The discussion about this story centres on being different but students can take it further by comparing carousels throughout the world and their differences and by studying further about the depression.  

little-dog-and-the-christmas-wish[Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a truly charming book. It is a story of loyalty, love and family belonging. This gentle, beautifully written tale is set in 1957, with Corinne Fenton’s own nostalgic memories evident, as is her love of dogs!
Little Dog, a white West Highland Terrier, escapes from home in a thunderstorm on Christmas Eve and finds himself in the heart of the city. He passes familiar Melbourne landmarks, scouring through the tall buildings, watching people bustling around, searching for his best friend and owner, Jonathan. With the hope of finding his way back home, will Little Dog get his Christmas wish? With stunning drawings by illustrator Robin Cowcher, appropriate for this setting and era, readers will enjoy the soft watercolours, smooth lines and textures of every scene.
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish is a heartwarming, engaging story that will have children from aged three, as well as older generations, in anticipation of the ending’s reveal and for future readings every Christmas.
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Your current story, ‘Little Dog and the Christmas Wish’ is set in Melbourne in the 1950s. What does this time and place mean to you? What was your inspiration behind the story?  
This book is special to me for many reasons. A child of the 50’s, it was actually nice to know, first hand, what I was writing about – to remember the enormous Foy’s Santa on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, calling children toward him like this . . .. (finger) and to remember coming into the city on the green and cream rattly trams to marvel at the Myer windows every year – and walking under the portico of the Melbourne Town Hall. I also remember the clip-clopping of the Clydesdale horses as they delivered milk or bread to our front gate.
I believe I am privileged to have such precious Christmas memories and to be able to tie that in with a lovable ‘Little Dog’ character was a special Christmas gift for myself.  

The illustrations by Robin Cowcher are simply stunning. How much of the artistic content is based on your own ideas, and how much came from Robin?
As with all of my books I did a lot of research on this particular book, which Robin was able to refer to. The story is set in 1957 so the Myer windows that year displayed The Nutcracker Suite and on Christmas Eve that year the Regent Theatre were screening An Affair to Remember (one of my favourite old movies) so I imagined all of this when I was writing. Yes, Robin did a magical job on telling the other half of the story with her superb illustrations.  

hey-baby-it-s-christmasA love letter became ‘Hey Baby!’, dedicated to her own babies. ‘Hey Mum, I Love You’ was written for her own special mum. ‘Hey Dad, You’re Great’ was released in time for Father’s Day and is dedicated to her ”dad, grandpa, pop, great grandpa, all of whom I was privileged to know, and to my husband for being such a great dad.”
”This final book (‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’) is dedicated to my sister and brother who shared with me wonderful and precious childhood Christmases, which are printed on our hearts.” – Corinne Fenton.
Hey Baby, It’s Christmas includes an adorable array of animal images, accompanied by equally beautiful text by Corinne Fenton about enjoying the exciting lead up to Christmas.
”Hey Baby. Hang on tight, count the sleeps. Christmas is coming.”
This book touches the heart with tender moments between mother and baby, with cute, cuddly ducklings and a ‘quiet as dreaming’ sleeping puppy. There are also moments that make you giggle. Hey Baby, It’s Christmas is perfect for those calm, soothing times, when you can steal plenty of sneaky kisses and cuddles with your little one, whilst teaching them the true meaning of Christmas… Love!
Black Dog Books 2014]  

Congratulations on the release of your most recent book, ‘Hey Baby, It’s Christmas’! How did you celebrate the launch?
This launch was celebrated on Sunday November 9 at the Watsonia Pre-school with readings, books, babies, small children, cake, Christmas crafts, face painting and lots of laughter. It was the perfect place to launch such a book.  

What has been your favourite part of creating this book, and all the ‘Hey Baby!’ books in the series?
In all picture books I believe each word must earn the right to be there and in these short books (the original Hey Baby is only 53 words long) it’s even more important that each word is as perfect as it can be and that’s my favourite part, finding that perfect word, no matter how long it takes.  

Did you have a long term plan to publish all your titles in the series when writing the first ‘Hey Baby!’ book?
Not at all. I actually wrote the first one, Hey Baby! as a dedication in another book, which is not yet published. It was one of those happy accidents that grew.  

What is your favourite thing about the festive season?
Christmas memories and making more and being with the people I love. This Christmas will be special writing-wise as I have many book signings and readings in the lead up to Christmas (see my website under events – and my regular Wednesday blog post.) http://corinnefenton.com/blog    

Thank you so much for sharing, Corinne! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season!  
And the same to you Romi. Thank you for this opportunity. Corinne  

Connect with Corinne:
http://corinnefenton.com/  
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Corinne-Fenton-Author/

Book it in! Sunday 30 November  – 11.00 a.m. –
Little Dog and the Christmas Wish Window Launch Event at The Little Bookroom, 5 Degraves Street, Melbourne –

Check dates for other appearances by Corinne Fenton on her blog: http://corinnefenton.com/blog  

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
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