Big Cats and Small Cats – Picture Book Reviews

No doubt, cats have attitude – aka ‘cattitude’. They may tend to be arrogant, vicious or just plain naughty. But if you really think about it, they are in fact, loveable and soft-at-heart. The following few kitty-inspired picture books take a look at the different personalities of our feline friends.

The gentlest of the lot, Maya and Cat is evocative, heartwarming and heavenly. Caroline Magerl transcends beyond beauty with her poetic language and mesmerisingly enchanting illustrations in amongst a gripping tale of friendship, responsibility and trust.

The fine line and watercolour paintings in a style so charismatic aptly portray the dramatic moodiness and intense atmosphere of a lost cat drenched with rain and anguish. It is with her determination and good will that Maya searches for its rightful owners. Long, yellow scarf blazing behind her, Maya eventually follows Cat’s nose to an unexpected fate; where a long, yellow windsock atop a rocky boat leads Cat home and Maya a treasured reward.

Intriguing, beguiling and warming for the cockles of your heart, this loveable tale between Maya and Cat will be welcomed into your home with an outpouring of love and affection many times over. Beautiful for ages four and up.

Walker Books, August 2018.

Another cat to love, despite its size and demeanour. In It’s Hard to Love a Tiger by Anna Pignataro, a little girl knows all the difficulties associated with owning a tiger for a pet. The rhyming couplets and adorably hilarious illustrations actually make this story so endearing, that it’s hard not to love it at all. So much glorious detail hidden in the pictures demonstrate the very effect a roaring, growling tiger makes on a crowded street, when brushing his teeth, and feeding him sticky treats in a pastry store. The tiger carries on with his inappropriate gestures and anti-social behaviours that would make any small child cringe. But guess what? There’s plenty of love to go around.

I love the premise that renders It’s Hard to Love a Tiger so relatable for young children. The tiger could be a toddler or a kitten, both of which can be frustrating but oh-so charming and forgiveable at the same time. The text includes enlarged, bold words that literally leap out in a fashion to encourage terrific talking points. Deceptively loveable for children from age three.

Scholastic, June 2018.

Here you’ll find a most arrogant cat. A cat with only one thought. A narrow mind and a rumbling stomach. Cat Spies Mouse is a simple yet ingenious tale about the power of lateral thinking, tolerance and, well, copping a comeuppance.

Rina A. Foti writes a humorous dialogue with minimal text facilitating a curiosity for the nuances of our behaviours and encouraging challenge for streams of closed thought. In this case, Cat wants to eat Mouse because “that’s the way it is.” Cat is not open to Mouse’s positive suggestion for a possible friendship, and his stubbornness certainly lands him in a dark place.

The illustrations by Dave Atze create high impact with their bold and animated energy, brilliantly offsetting the wittiness of the tale and the deeper meaning of the underlying philosophy. Cat Spies Mouse would empower its early years readers to question the ‘why’s’ in life and how much of those can or cannot be controlled.

Big Sky Publishing, July 2018.

Another take on the trustworthiness of the stereotypical fierce character is this whimsical story featuring one big cat, a hat and an umbrella. The masterful Polly Dunbar nails the humour, the energy, the interactivity, all with a very important message to preschool-aged children – beware of deceptions and don’t fall for trickery. Trust your gut, and not that of a sneaky lion.

A Lion is a Lion sweeps us up in a rhyming romp of linguistic and aural goodness, questioning the real character of a ferocious lion. “Is a lion still a lion… if he skips down the street singing, “Hoobie-doobie-doo”?” Poshly dressed in hat and coat, the lion visits two young children and delights them with all the charm and savviness in the world. He treats them to a dance in their living room and requests a polite bite to eat… until the fiery redness of the pages emerge, and so does the true nature of the lion. It is pleasing to see that the children have just as much spunk and verve to show him who’s boss!

Splattered with spirit, fast-paced and funny, A Lion is a Lion is a charming delight with a big message (and a big appetite).

Walker Books UK, February 2018.

Did you love The Cat Wants Custard and The Cat Wants Cuddles? Of course you did! To jog your memory you can read my review here. The third instalment in this series with the wonderfully precocious feline fiend is The Cat Wants Kittens. What a surprise! Kevin is back with more grumbling ferocity than ever. He’s super unimpressed with the couple of balls of adorable fluff that invade his space, but we expected that, right?

Yet to be released but most anticipated. I would expect no less than brilliance once again from the dynamic duo, P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford.

Pre-order your copy here.

Scholastic, August 2018.

Collecting Klassen Classics

Whenever I pick up a Jon Klassen book it seems to have that super-power magic that thrusts it into classic-dom. So delectably simple yet surreptitiously clever and charmingly funny, it’s no wonder they are so well-loved around the world. The author-illustrator is the legendary creator of winning books including I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Mac Barnett). Today we’ll explore the third instalment in the ‘hat’ series, We Found a Hat, and a newbie with supreme author Mac Barnett; Triangle.

We Found a Hat carries on the saga with hats brilliantly, this time featuring two principled turtles…and a hat. When stumbling across this abandoned item in the middle of the desert, the high-top headpiece soon becomes the turtles’ object of great desire. However, as there is only one hat, they agree to leave it alone. But for one turtle, the temptation of his new obsession is overbearing and he attempts a sneaky act of pilferage whilst his companion sleeps. Morality and loyalty surface when he hears of the marvellous dream with both turtles enjoying their fortune.

I love that this story is played out in Parts, giving it a movie-quality feel. So clever! Klassen’s ingenuity also strongly emanates through the use of simple narrative and monochromatic, modest images that both say so much. The unspoken words captured through the eyes of the devilish turtle brilliantly evoke humour and clarity into his thoughts. The sparseness and the speckles of the scene beautifully portray the given landscape and the underlying notion of keeping life free of complication.

We Found a Hat certainly explores some complex facets of behaviour, such as enticement and immediate gratification despite ethics, as well as aspects of trust, communication and compassion that are important in relationships. Yet its beauty lies in its simplicity, wit and charm, sure to allure readers of any age many times over.

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, October 2016.

With their wry sense of humour, rich messages and unsurpassed storytelling talents, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen enlighten us with the first in a new trilogy and more sneaky characters; it’s Triangle.

This board book style picture book with its stand-alone, wide-eyed triangle on the cover is just sublime. Again, with Klassen’s mesmerisingly textured watercolours in earthy tones and unpretentious landscapes we are immediately drawn in to the action of each scene. Barnett’s narrative is straightforward, perfectly paced and inviting, enrapturing his audience with curiosity, excitement and absolute delight.

Triangle leaves his triangle house with one naughty plan in mind – he is off to play a sneaky trick on Square. His path through a shape-laden environment leads him to Square’s door, where he plays his cruel, snake-impersonating trick. When Square uncovers Triangle’s mean joke, he intends on revenge and chases him back through the shapes and to Triangle’s door. But what happens next comes an unexpected justice for both parties. You get what you deserve!

Stunningly captivating. Brilliantly played-out comedy. Triangle shows us exactly the result of a poorly thought-out and mischievous prank. Including themes of trust and social discrepancies, young readers are also pleasured with the exploration of shape and size, and the playfulness that is childhood. ‘Tri’-mendous fun for kids from age three. Out soon!

Walker Books Ltd. UK, Walker Books Australia, March 2017.

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.

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