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

The Greatest Gatsby

Greatest GatsbyLiterary editors of both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers commented about words and grammar in their columns this weekend.

The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (Viking, Penguin) is a very clever way to help everyone understand words and grammar. Tobhy Riddle is one of Australia’s notable picture book illustrators, with works such as Nobody Owns the Moon, My Uncle’s Donkey, Irving the Magician, Unforgotten, The Singing Hat and The Great Escape from City Zoo.

He uses his highly developed and creative design skills to explain English grammar in a motivating and comprehensible way. He believes the old adage that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ and uses an inspired combination of his own illustrations, late nineteenth century photographs and other artwork in an uncluttered format with plenty of white space.

I particularly like the ‘English Words Network’, which sets out the parts of speech, such as nouns and conjunctions, like an urban railway line map. Riddle then spends time looking at each of these.

The title, ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ comes from a section on comparing adjectives. ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a descriptive adjective, ‘The Greater Gatsby’ is a comparative adjective and ‘The Greatest Gatsby’ is the superlative. The illustrated Gatsbys (debonair men in suits) are shown in increasing height to match their descriptions. ‘Gatsbys’ are also used to demonstrate ‘articles’ such as ‘the great Gatsby’ and ‘a great Gatsby’.

My Uncle's Donkey

The section, ‘Word classes in action’ culminates in an intriguing picture of an old man sleeping. Each word in the accompanying sentence is analysed visually and with the words seen here in brackets: ‘The (definite article) old (descriptive adjective) man (common noun) slept (past tense verb) soundly (how adverb) outside (preposition) his (possessive pronoun) home (common noun)’.

Riddle tackles the tricky and often misused ‘me or I’, ‘it’s or its’, ‘lie or lay’, ‘that or which’, the active and passive voice, and showcases the clever spelling of ‘fish’ as ‘ghoti’.

Affixes are shown visually to make it clear how words are built up. An example is the word ‘help’. It is shown at the top of a page representing the carriage of a train. Underneath is the word ‘helpful’, with the suffix, ‘-ful’, as another carriage. Under that is ‘unhelpful’, with the prefix and suffix each filling a carriage. The bottom row shows the word ‘unhelpfully’ filling four carriages.

Word SpyThis book is an excellent resource for a wide range of people, including schools and adult English classes. It could be used in conjunction with Tohby Riddle and Ursula Dubosarsky’s awarded The Word Spy and The Return of the Word Spy.

CBCA NSW 2010: Assorted Snaps

Some other snaps from the Conference:

Bob Graham took us through his life and his life’s works. He was then treated to orchestrated interpretations of four of his picture books (composed and conducted by George Ellis) including How To Heal A Broken Wing



Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle took to the stage to discuss the process behind their smash-hit, The Words Spy, and its sequel, Return of the Word Spy.



Sandy Fussell, author of the recent Jaguar Warrior talked all things Internet…



… with Boomerang Books’ own Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo and helmer of Kids’ Book Capers.

Queen Victoria made a rare posthumous appearance at the book launch of Queen Victoria’s Underpants, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s latest.

Okay… so I almost went a full festival without making myself the centre of attention – Margaret Hamilton looks on as I, the youngest member of the CBCA NSW Committee, and Maurice Saxby, the oldest living former CBCA NSW Committee member, cut the cake for the CBCA NSW’s 65th.

The cake in question before Maurice and I hacked it to bits. For the record, it was delicious.

2009 NSW Premier’s Literary Award Winners

Boomerang Books would like to congratulate all the winners of the 2009 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. We’re proud of you as book lovers and as Australians.

People’s Choice Award
Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole
The fact is, the whole of Australia despises my father more than any other man, just as they adore my uncle more than any other man. I might as well set the story straight about both of them. Heroes or criminals? Crackpots or visionaries? Relatives or enemies? It’s a simple family story. From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.

2008 Book of the Year Award ($10,000) & UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing ($5,000, sponsored by UTS)
Nam Le, The Boat
In 1979, Nam Le’s family left Vietnam for Australia, an experience that inspires the first and last stories in The Boat. In between, however, Le’s imagination lays claim to the world. The Boat takes us from a tourist in Tehran to a teenage hit man in Colombia from an ageing New York artist to a boy coming of age in a small Victorian fishing town from the city of Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped to the haunting waste of the South China Sea in the wake of another war. Each story uncovers a raw human truth. Each story is absorbing and fully realised as a novel. Together, they make up a collection of astonishing diversity and achievement.

Special Award ($20,000)
Ms Katharine Brisbane AM for her service to Australian literature and theatre. Click HERE for a list of her writing.

 

 

 

 
Christina Stead Prize for fiction ($40,000)
Joan London, The Good Parents
Maya de Jong, an eighteen-year-old country girl, comes to live in Melbourne and starts an affair with her boss, the enigmatic Maynard Flynn, whose wife is dying of cancer. When Maya’s parents, Toni and Jacob, arrive to stay with her, they are told by her housemate that Maya has gone away and no one knows where she is. As Toni and Jacob wait and search for Maya in Melbourne, everything in their lives is brought into question. They recall the yearning and dreams, the betrayals and choices of their pasts – choices with unexpected and irrevocable consequences. With Maya’s disappearance, the lives of all those close to her come into focus, to reveal the complexity of the ties that bind us to one another, to parents, children, siblings, friends and lovers.

Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction ($40,000)
Chloe Hooper, The Tall Man: death and life on Palm Island
In 2004 Cameron Doomadgee, a 36-year-old resident of Palm Island, was arrested for swearing at a white police officer. Within 45 minutes he was dead. The main suspect was well respected Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley. This is the story of what happened, the trial, and the Aboriginal myths around the case.

 Kenneth Slessor Prize for poetry ($30,000)
L K Holt, Man Wolf Man
L K Holt’s poems are stories, and eruptions from the midst of story. They are also pure lyric. A feeling for the formality of language guides her lines through a music of rhyme, half-rhyme (and quarter-rhyme) and turns found images of this world into blazon. She explores some dark matters – with homages to Goya, through the eyes of his mistress, and to Donne. She has a particular touch with the sensory strangeness in states of extremity; yet the giftedness of life breaks into vision in Holt’s poetry with lightness.

Patricia Wrightson Prize for children’s literature ($30,000)
Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Tohby Riddle, The Word Spy
Discover the meaning of acronyms, cliches and spoonerisms. Find out the history of the alphabet, punctuation, pen names and plurals. Learn how to trick your friends by speaking in Pig Latin or rhyming slang. This entertaining, quirky and enlightening look at the English language is full of games, puzzles, facts and riddles. Ages 9+.

Ethel Turner Prize for young people’s literature ($30,000)
Michelle Cooper, A Brief History of Montmaray
Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray, along with her tomboy younger sister Henry, her beautiful, intellectual cousin Veronica, and Veronica’s father, the completely mad King John. When Sophie receives a leather-bound journal for her sixteenth birthday, she decides to write about her day-to-day life on the island. But it is 1936 and the world is in turmoil. Does the arrival of two strangers threaten everything Sophie holds dear? From Sophie’s charming and lively observations to a nail-biting, unputdownable ending, this is a book to be treasured.

Script Writing Award ($30,000)
Louis Nowra, Rachel Perkins & Beck Cole, First Australians

Play Award ($30,000)
Daniel Keene, The Serpent’s Teeth, Sydney Theatre Company, Currency Press

Community Relations Commission Award ($15,000, sponsored by the CRC)
Eric Richards, Destination Australia: migration to Australia since 1901
In 1901 most Australians were loyal, white subjects of the British Empire with direct connections to Britain. Within a hundred years, following an unparalleled immigration program, its population was one of the most diverse on earth. No other country has achieved such radical social and demographic change in so short a time. Destination Australia tells the story of this extraordinary transformation. Against the odds, this change has caused minimal social disruption and tension. While immigration has generated some political and social anxieties, Australia has maintained a stable democracy and a coherent social fabric. One of the impressive achievements of the book is in explaining why this might be so.

Gleebooks Prize ($10,000, sponsored by Gleebooks)
David Love, Unfinished Business: Paul Keating’s interrupted revolution
Veteran economic and financial observer, David Love, explores the story of Keating’s revolution – a story that has never before been fully told – and sounds a timely warning that the failure to finish the job Keating started has left our new-found prosperity vulnerable, particularly in the current climate of international economic uncertainty. The revolution, it turns out, is at least as relevant to the future as it has been to the past.

The Biennial NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000)
David Colmer for his translations from the Dutch.