For the Love of Dogs – Picture Book Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Books of Summer – For Kids

In Australia we’re in the midst of Summer, although here in Melbourne we’ve already had all four seasons in one, sometimes even in one day! A great way to familiarise children with all that the season encompasses is through engaging language experiences. That means providing children opportunities to see, do, touch, listen, read and think about different activities (going to outdoor places like the beach, pool, etc), and then talk, write and create about them.   
I’ll suggest a few fantastic picture books to get stuck into following your outdoor Summer adventures, as well as some fun learning tasks to enrich and reinforce what your child has discovered.  

rules-of-summerRules of Summer, Shaun Tan (author / illustrator), Lothian, 2013. CBCA Winner 2014, Queensland Literary Awards Winner 2014.

Wow. Just wow! Shaun Tan has brought a truly fantastical, mysterious and somewhat dark version of what Summer means to a pair of young brothers. Amazingly thought-provoking and surreal, with spectacular, Van-Gogh-like paintings, this book promotes analytical skills in deciphering its’ content; both the text and the images.
Exploring the complicated relationship between the boys, each spread states a new rule to obide by. But failing to comply results in harsh consequences, particularly for the younger brother. In the end the pair join forces in an imaginatively delightful celebration of summer fruits and a beautiful sunset. And after all the emotion, conflict, darkness and out-of-this-world imagery, there’s still room for a little chuckle as seen in the endpaper.
Suited to primary school aged children who will enjoy adding their own interpretation to the depth and meaning that Shaun Tan has conveyed.  

2015-01-07-15-06-02--1990215886Granny Grommet and Me, Dianne Wolfer (author), Karen Blair (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013, CBCA Shortlist 2014.

An enchanting book about a boy narrator who delights at the sea’s wonders, with his Granny and her elderly, grommet friends (a grommet is a young or beginner surfer). There is much humour in watching old ladies twisting, turning, zooming through dumpers and riding a curler wave to the shore! However, the boy feels nervous about what he doesn’t know, but Granny reassures and shows him safe and friendly things in the sea.
Lovely, gentle text by Wolfer, from the perspective of a child, beach safety tips, and fun, colourful paint and pencil drawings by Blair, make Granny Grommet and Me an engaging and reassuring story to be read many times over.  

noni-the-pony-goes-to-the-beachNoni the Pony Goes to the Beach, Alison Lester (author / illustrator), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Following the original Noni the Pony, the loveable pony is back and ready to set off to the beach with her companions; Coco the cat and Dave the dog. As far as cats go, Coco prefers to be nonchalant and stay dry. But like any typical energetic dog, Dave bounds off through the waves to find a whale, only to become stranded in the middle of the ocean. In her true heroic, caring manner, Noni is there to fish him out and return to the safety of the shore.
With Alison Lester’s characteristically gorgeous, endearing illustrations, and gentle, rhythmic wording, Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach is a fun, positive tale of friendship and all things magical about visiting the beach.  

a-swim-in-the-sea-1A Swim in the Sea, Sue Whiting (author), Meredith Thomas (illustrator), Walker Books, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2014.

A gorgeous story of an excitable young Bruno who can’t wait to experience the big blue sea for the first time. Wildly eager to dive right in, Bruno suddenly halters at the loud, thumping, pounding waves, which frighten him. As his family introduce him to other fun beach activities, like rockpools and sand cities, Bruno eventually discovers that the big blue sea is far from scary.
Sue Whiting’s text is beautifully descriptive and engaging. I love the way she talks about the sea; ”wobbling like a sparkly blue jelly”. And Meredith Thomas’ illustrations are equally expressive, bold and moving with bright, complimentary colours that almost literally wash over the pages.
A delightfully sunny story about first-time experiences at the beach, and facing one’s fears.  

seadogSeadog, Claire Saxby (author), Tom Jellett (illustrator), Random House Australia, 2013. Speech Pathology Australia Winner 2013.

An adorably funny story about a dog who is not like other working, well-trained dogs that fetch sticks, sit still then roll over and stay clean. Their dog is a Seadog, a run-and-scatter-gulls, crunch-and-munch, jump-and-chase Seadog. And although he is not a bath dog, there comes a time to sit-still-till-it’s-done, until…
With Jellett’s characteristically boisterous and comical illustrations, Seadog is a great read-aloud book perfect for little ones who enjoy romping with their dogs at the beach.  

9781925161168_ONASMALLISLAND_WEBOn a Small Island, Kyle Hughes-Odgers (author / illustrator), Fremantle Press, 2014.

‘On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari.’ Ari lives alone, collecting objects and watching the large ships pass by. One day a captain visits and tells Ari of the wonderful and intriguing people, buildings and exceptional artefacts of a great land on the horizon. Ari longs for a place like this and feels alone on his island. Until he has a brilliant, creative idea which eventually attracts the footsteps of many, and he is finally able to appreciate his surroundings and frequenting company.
Exotic, Mediterranean-style paintings, packed with mosaics, pattern and texture, artist and author Kyle Hughes-Odgers has created a magnificent flowing story exploring isolation, friendship, creativity and recycling that is both sophisticated and unique.  

With a few more weeks of Summer school holidays left, there’s plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine with your little ones (and furry ones, too!). Then find a cool, shady spot like Coco the cat for some relaxing summertime reading!  
And for some fun teaching and learning activities related to the Summer theme, head to www.pinterest.com/mylilstorycrner.
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Kylie Westaway Makes a Big Splash with her Debut Picture Book, ‘Whale in the Bath’

Author-pic-in-tree-close-upKylie Westaway is the author of her popular debut picture book, Whale in the Bath. She has literally travelled far and wide, worked in foreign schools, events and in theatre. But there’s one thing that has remained constant in her life; her love of writing. Here, I’ll give you the brief run-down of her captivating tale, Whale in the Bath, then we’ll find out more from Kylie Westaway about how it’s all come together.  

whale-in-the-bath The Review:
Get ready to dive right in to this splashing ‘tail’ of a stubborn whale and a boy with a huge problem. Kylie Westaway and Tom Jellett have brilliantly combined to fill our homes with laughter with the whimsical ”Whale in the Bath”.
Bruno finds himself in a ‘conveniently’ misfortunate situation when he’s sent off to take a bath. A massive whale overfills the tub, and it is using Bruno’s bubble-gum bubble bath, which is not even the whale’s flavour of preference. But his family won’t have a bar of it, and accuse Bruno of lying and purposely avoiding his bath. With several failed attempts to get the whale out of the bath, it finally squirts out a genius plan to help Bruno get clean and smelling, well, fishy!
A very comical story with Tom Jellett’s distinguishable trademark cartoon-style drawings and cool, retro colours, makes ”Whale in the Bath” a most engaging, imaginative and charming read. It aims to encourage preschoolers who just want to be heard, and to simply have a whale of a time!  

The Interview:
Congratulations on your first picture book release, ‘Whale in the Bath’! How did you celebrate its launch?
My family held a surprise launch for me! I turned up, expecting it to be a party for Father’s Day, and all my family and friends were there holding copies of my book. It was really lovely!  

Inspiration-Whale-in-the-BathWhere did the inspiration for this story come from?
It actually came from a drawing I found in a market a few years ago. It was a cartoon-style drawing of a whale in a metal tub, floating on the ocean. The whole story popped into my head at once. I’ve put the original drawing up on my website.  

What was your favourite part of creating ‘Whale in the Bath’?
Definitely seeing the illustrations from Tom Jellett. I’ve been writing stories ever since I can remember, but I’ve never been very good at drawing. Seeing Tom’s amazing images bringing the story to life was an incredible feeling. He did such a spectacular job.  

How did you find the publishing process and working with illustrator, Tom Jellett?
It was fascinating for me, because I hadn’t known quite what to expect, but the whole team I worked with was fantastic. I loved getting updates from Tom, and seeing the drawings progress from sketches to finished pieces. It was a real thrill when the designer started placing the words into the images and playing with different fonts and moving the type around. I feel like the finished book is so much more than I could ever have imagined because I had so many great people pouring their hearts into it.  

whale in the bath whooshI love the final surprise on the last page of the book! How much illustrative detail did you provide, and how much was left to Tom’s imagination?
It was almost all Tom’s imagination. The only illustrative detail I provided was that the whale shot a bath load of water into the air on the page that says “whoosh”, otherwise it was all Tom! That page was actually the most difficult to get right, and from memory we went through about 10 different roughs before Tom hit on the aerial view, and we all agreed that was perfect. One of my favourite illustrative details was Tom’s inclusion of the krill, which snuck into almost every page with the whale on it. In fact, when Tom provided the final page, which happened to be the imprint page with our dedications on it, he had added more krill to the page with a note saying “hope this isn’t overkrill.” He is completely brilliant.  

What has been the best response from a child and/or parent about your book?
Having kids want to read it has been the best response. It is such a thrill everytime someone tells me that their child loves my book and asks for it to be read over and over again. That is indescribably wonderful. Although one child has sent me a card with a picture of a whale in it (my very first fan mail!) and I love that too!  

Do you have plans to write stories on a similar tangent? Will Bruno feature in more books?
I really love Bruno and I definitely think he is going to have more adventures. At this stage I haven’t got anything in works, but he is pottering around in the back of my mind, and I’m sure he will come out again soon!  

You obviously have a good imagination! If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?
Thank you! That’s a tough question! Probably I would have to be an animal that could fly – maybe an eagle or an albatross. I would love the feeling of being able to soar on big wings. Every now and then I have dreams that I can fly, and they are always incredible.  

Have you always wanted to be a picture book author? What do you like about writing children’s literature?
I’ve always wanted to write books for kids, whether that’s picture books or young adult. I think the problems you face as a child and how you handle them mould you into the type of adult you are going to become. Setting up good morals and codes of behaviour (without being preachy or saint-like!) in books, helps kids know how to handle those sorts of situations when they get into them. For me, Whale in the Bath is a story about telling the truth and not being believed. This is something that happens to kids a lot, and I like that Bruno doesn’t back down and is able to find his own way through it, even though no one believes him. You are often very powerless as a child, and I think that writing stories about people like Bruno is a great way of showing how you can empower children, and that’s something that I think is very important.  

What were your favourite books to read when you were a child?
Goodness, I could go on and on for pages here! For picture books, I loved The Most Scary Ghost and The Monster at the End of This Book. When I was a bit older, I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series! I always wanted to be off having adventures with a dog like Timmy! My all time favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and my first dog was named Scout, but I also love JRR Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Diana Wynne Jones.  

You’ve written a fantastic article about getting a book published (read it here). What is your greatest piece of advice for new and emerging writers?
Get as many people as possible to read your work, don’t spend years on the one story (write lots of stories) and keep submitting to magazines and publishers! That’s three pieces of advice, sorry! I couldn’t decide which was most important.  

I’d like to thank Kylie for her time and brilliant responses, as well as a very Merry Christmas and wonderful New Year!  

Find Kylie Westaway at:
http://www.kyliewestaway.com.au
https://www.facebook.com/kyliewestawayauthor
http://www.twitter.com/kyliewestaway  

Romi Sharp
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/whale-in-the-bath-teaching-notes
http://www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner
http://www.twitter.com/mylilstorycrner  

whale in the bath krill

Review – Seadog

SeaDogIn his youth, my shaggy-coated border collie had a fondness for rolling in guano, preferably just after bath time. The maturity and inability age brings to pursue such endearing past-times means I have not had to deal with that glorious dead-fish-wet-dog-poo smell for some years – until now.

Thanks to the jolly new picture book Seadog, by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellet, there’s a new canine character in my life. And I love him.

Who couldn’t adore the larger than life, guiltless, messy charm of this floppy-eared mutt? There are many things Seadog is not. He is not a clean, shiny dog. He is not a trick dog or a fetch dog. But his devotion to his young family and all things maritime knows no bounds. Even if he is permanently on the nose, wilfully disobedient and partial to rolling in piles of rotten fish, Seadog embodies the immense spirit of the sea with an unparalleled verve for life, and terrifying seagulls.

His devil-may-care personality races across each page and through the briny waves until he develops some serious grooming issues. But Seadogs ‘don’t like baths’ either.

Tom JelletTom Jellet’s super-groovy illustrations depict our scruffy hero in rough and ready style. Jellet’s line drawings boldly ignore the sticking-within-the-line rule giving Seadog the perfect unkempt, woofy appearance. Until he concedes to ‘a few short minutes’ of pampering and preening so that every hair lies neatly in place, within the lines of conformity, ‘until someone opens the door…’

From the navel flag bedecked end pages (which I took some minutes to try to translate hoping for a secret message there in – a la SEADOG!) to Claire Saxby’s easy verse-style text that reads like a rousing sea shanty, Seadog is a boisterous, enchanting read about a dog with more heart than the largest ocean and infinitely more appeal than a pile of rotten fish.Claire Saxby

In your face fun for pre-schoolers and beginner readers.

Andy Griffiths will officially launch Seadog at the Williamstown Literary Festival on June 2nd at 2.00pm. All are welcome to join Claire Saxby, however energetic canines unfortunately cannot attend!

Random House Australia Released May 2013

 

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – “MATES” GREAT AUSTRALIAN YARNS FOR KIDS

Every book I have read in the The Mates series (published by Omnibus) has been full of great characters and humour and the two books I’m talking about today are no exception.

These uniquely Australian stories celebrate what it is to be Australian – our history, our inventiveness and unique perspectives on life. And these books are humorously illustrated in full colour.

YOU TURKEYS

Written by Michael Gerard Bauer

Illustrated by Nahum Ziersch

You Turkeys was always going to be a favourite with me. Not only is it written by Michael Gerard Bauer whose writing I greatly admire, but I am probably the only person in Australia who has a fascination for Scrub Turkeys.

Jake’s Dad’s garden is his pride and joy so when the scrub turkeys move in and turn it into a mess, pecking at the tulips and spreading the chip bark with their sharp claws.

Dad has a five point plan to get rid of them and Jake is his enthusiastic assistant. But when scarecrows, pepper and chicken wire fail to work, he has to rethink the whole situation.

Apart from the great characters and humour in You Turkeys, I loved the resolution to this story and I’m sure that young readers will too.

BARNESY

Written by Allayne Webster

Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Hannaford’s family loves naming things, even the lawnmower! The new baby lamb needs a name, and it’s Hannaford’s turn to choose…

There’s something appealing about a book that starts by introducing Victor the Evil lawnmower. And growing up in a household with cars called Snortsy and Soames, I could really relate to a family that names everything.

But so far, Hannaford (named after Alfred Hannaford) hasn’t had a chance to name anything. So when a new baby lamb arrives at the farm, this could be his chance. But first he must find a way to help the lamb’s injured mother to walk again.

Barnesy is full of great characters like Sir Robert Helpmann the thieving wombat who danced out of the way of an oncoming car and Stumpy, the cockatoo.

It’s another hilarious read in the Omnibus “Mates” series.

The “Mates” books are for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels, but the humour and colour of will be enjoyed by kids of all ages and reading levels.