Birds in Flight – Picture Book Reviews

There’s something about birds in books that literally makes my heart sing, whether it be the pleasurable sense of freedom they so naturally possess, or their resourceful grit and determination, or their cheeky personalities that are just so loveable, or all of the above. Here I share some astounding picture books that soar with beguiling and triumphant goodness.

Bird to Bird, Claire Saxby (text), Wayne Harris (illus.), Black Dog Walker Books, March 2018.

The story of one bird, one seed, one tree.” We follow this enlightening path as a bird inadvertently helps to create a sapling with the drop of a seed, and that older, fallen tree thus serves many a use, finally being carved into the shape of a bird for a little boy to treasure forevermore.
A gorgeous collaboration between author and illustrator brings life to life in this tale of the journey of one tree. With an essence of Bob Graham’s perceptual and consequential nature, Claire Saxby writes her circular narrative with a similar gentle, poetic style and light repetition. Wayne Harris’ illustrations carry the story forward in a flawless sequence of artistic beauty, combining texture, movement, light and vivid colour with every page turn. Never feeling a dull moment, the story sets intrigue whilst subtly weaving important discussion themes around timber harvesting, usage and recycling, convicts, wool looms, and wood carving. It also acknowledges historical changes through time without ever losing focus on the tree and its transformations. Bird to Bird; a beautiful, thoughtful tale for primary-aged children, reflecting the value of nature, sustainability and art.

Bird Builds a Nest: A Science Storybook about Forces, Martin Jenkins (author), Richard Jones (illus.), Walker Books, March 2018.

Explaining science to preschoolers is not always easy, or fun. But here in Bird Builds a Nest, nonfiction expert Martin Jenkins (Fox in the Night and The Squirrels’ Busy Year) writes a fascinating and entertaining account of a bird experimenting with forces and the concept of pushing and pulling. The book is written with easy-to-follow dual narrative, one of Bird’s story building her nest, the other of smaller print, factual text describing each concept in simple terms.
Bird’s first mission as she awakes is to acquire her morning meal. By applying a force towards her, Bird attempts to ‘pull’ a big, strong worm from its tunnel. Her hunt for twigs is not always straightforward; she hasn’t got enough force to ‘lift’ the weight of the larger sticks. With trial and error, fetching and carrying, pushing and pulling, Bird manages to find suitable materials to successfully build her nest.
The illustrations by Richard Jones are both playful and artful with their mixed-media and mixed-technique sharp, contemporary style and modern colours. Bird Builds a Nest is a witty, clever and sweet approach to the science in nature and the everyday forces used all around us. This one will ‘pull’ little ones in, for sure!

Gary, Leila Rudge (author, illus.), Walker Books, PB, November 2017.

Originally published in 2016, Gary by Leila Rudge returns with his own paperback edition. This story, awarded Honour Book in The Children’s Book Council of the Year Awards 2017, never gets tired, no matter how many outings or roads it travels. We still love this tale of a passionate racing pigeon (with a difference) driving this adventure story home with his boundless grit and determination.
Recounts from the other pigeons’ expeditions, and his scrapbook collection of mementos, give Gary a sense of place in the world despite only knowing his own backyard. Then one day he mistakingly falls into a travel basket and is taken a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? How will he find his way back to the loft? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.
Rudge’s sensitive and dynamic narrative beautifully marries with her character’s accepting yet curious personality. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their warming tones, mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!
Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, challenging one’s own abilities and never giving up on one’s dreams. Children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on his adventures time and time again.

Just a Little Bit of Love – Picture Book Reviews

There are a few ‘love-ly’ events about to reward us with their heartwarming presence, including Valentine’s Day, Library Lovers’ Day and International Book Giving Day. Yep, they all fall on the same day: February 14. So what better way to help your children fall, or continue to fall in love with books than to share one, buy one, borrow one or give one away. Here are a few with the themes of friendship, hope, compassion, and of course, love to make your hearts sing with an abundance of warmth and affection.

The Poesy Ring, Bob Graham (author, illus.), Walker Books, November 2017.

The perfect book to share this Valentine’s Day; a beautiful story of love, hope and the power of destiny. Graham’s poetic text alluringly ties in with his moving line and watercolour illustrations that sweep and navigate in succession across the pages. And aptly so. This is a story of the boundless journey of a symbol of love – a golden ring, inscribed with “Love never dies”, beginning its adventure with heartbreak in Ireland, 1830, and reaching its timely fate as a cherished jewel in New York City, 1967. Bound in a meadow for many a season, accompanied by many a creature and unknowing passers-by, the ring then finds its path to the bottom of the sea, only to be eventually discovered once more to where it meets its ultimate destiny. Graham’s touching account grips the heart and mind with his ponderings of one of life’s magical mysteries. The Poesy Ring is sure to win the affections of primary-aged children and rekindle fond memories for any adult who has ever been in love.

Ash Dresses Her Friends, Fu Wenzheng (author, illus.), New Frontier Publishing, February 2018.

Here is a gorgeous story of making connections; where loneliness is turned into fulfilling bonds. Author / illustrator Fu Wenzheng’s text explores the relationship between internal feelings and outwardly behaviour, with a character that reveals a change from sadness / being quiet to contentment / sharing with others. Wenzheng also showcases her talents with her multicultural and textural print and watercolour illustrations that emanate a beautiful Chinese flavour of pattern and dual-tone red and grey. The book’s theme is around sharing and helping others through generous and creative gestures. This is demonstrated by Ash, a shy, azure-winged magpie who discovers her immense satisfaction in tailoring clothes and other textiles for her new animal friends with her patterned material. And the love she receives in return is even more rewarding. Ash Dresses her Friends is a physically small book wrapped with big-hearted and indulgent goodness that will help young ones to open themselves up to loving friendships.

Fox & Moonbeam, Aleesah Darlison (author), Narelda Joy (illus.), Wombat Books, September 2017.

This sumptuously detailed picture book with its lush, digitally mastered illustrations and richly emotive text shows nothing less than a grand sense of faith and courage. Gerard Fox serves as a clock winder in the Queen’s palace. This unfulfilling job is only endured, for the moments he has time away he breathes in life through his violin-playing occasions in the park. Mademoiselle Moonbeam Lapin, famous ballerina, lives the high life of travel, glamour and lights, yet her heart is empty. The pair, upon meeting, lead us to a satisfying ending showing them both shining from the inside out. Darlison‘s narrative is thoughtful and provocative, luminously balancing with Narelda Joy’s intricate, layered collage in a traditional Victorian England setting. Fox & Moonbeam contains a wonderfully perceptive concept of entrusting in a friendship, but particularly in the self-belief and courage to be able to follow your passions and achieve your potential. Encourage your primary-aged children that it’s their ‘time to shine’!

What’s Your Favourite Colour?, Eric Carle and Friends (authors, illus.), Walker Books UK, February 2018.

What a brilliant explosion of diversity, flamboyance, life and love in this colourful book of art! If ever there was a time to appreciate all the colours of the rainbow, to accept and embrace our different preferences and what makes us happy, it’s right now. Eric Carle invites all his friends to choose, illustrate and describe their favourite colour in this glorious collection of artwork, poetry, and poignant little stories. Carle explains his love of ‘yellow’ for its challenge when mixing colours, but also for the yellow sun. The shades roll on, with Bryan Collier’s ‘blue’ awakenings opposite a collage of his little girl amidst blue balloons. Mike Curato paints a substantial picture of his favourite colour ‘mint’. ‘Purple’ reminds Anna Dewdney of her love of her old purple polyester trouser suit, and peacocks in her garden! In total, fifteen award-winning author/illustrators grace the pages with their marvellous textural, dramatic, effervescent and nostalgic pieces. One of our very own, Marc Martin vividly pops with his flock of magnificent watercolour crimson rosellas – his favourite colour is ‘crimson red’. A childhood photo and short biography of these diverse contributors complete this celebration of individuality coming together to form a colourful rainbow. What’s Your Favourite Colour? is beautiful, inspiring and mesmerising for any age.

 

Funny Holiday Reads for Kids

Whether relaxing at home, on the road or in the air, or sitting by the side of the pool at a fancy resort, your kids will need some great reads to keep them chilled and entertained all summer. Here are a few funny books from popular series for middle graders that will have them enthralled from start to end.

Logie-award-winning television series by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane, Little Lunch is the perfect school-based comedy to read when school is out. Triple the Laughs, fourth in the illustrated book series, contains three immersing stories that will have kids snorting and chortling all the way through.
In ‘The Ya-Ya’, Atticus learns to appreciate his grandmother’s cooking after a long episode of avoiding the small, brown, smelly things in his lunchbox that look and smell like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.
The Dress-Up Day’ is about Battie using the alias of superhero, Stretcho, to hide the fact that he is really scared of a lot of things, including moths, crabs, knees, and especially dogs.
The third episode involves Melanie being punished and unable to eat her piece of ultra-choco-happiness cake because Tamara has put ‘The Germblock’ on her following a visit to the toilets. But did Melanie really not wash her hands? Rory seems to know the answer!
Hilarious, authentically appropriate (and sometimes perfectly inappropriate) antics that readers from age seven will relate to or simply have a good old chuckle about, Little Lunch Triple the Laughs is a winner.

Walker Books, August 2017.

Number six in this comedic Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis is ‘The Cat Stole My Pants’. The injudicious boy detective is back with another mission to achieve Greatness, this time on an island in Key West, Florida, apparently NOT on holiday / honeymoon with his mum and new step-dad, Doorman Dave.
The graphic novel for tweens sets sail with a pair of missing (or stolen) pants whilst touring the house of famous author, Ernest Hemingway. It then takes us through a sea of laughter as Timmy’s scepticism and hypochondria are a consistent source of his ‘failures’. His social and relationship building skills are tested via interactions with Dave, and Dave’s nephew Emilio, which of course Timmy exploits, I mean, recruits as an ‘unpaid’ intern in his detective agency. Their mission is to solve the mystery of the mysterious note-dropper and a hidden treasure somewhere in the town, leading to a gloriously unexpected and emotionally imposing resolve. All the while, Timmy’s elusively illusive polar bear agent is apparently, according to Timmy, extorting money for a book report required for his summer school homework. But someone else more reliable is there to save Timmy from his unscholarly ways.
With its sarcastic and dry wit, quirkiness, unbelievable yet somewhat uncannily familiar circumstances, and comical illustrations, The Cat Stole My Pants delivers an unputdownable read packed with action, mystery and lessons in (perhaps how to not) handle new and estranged relationships. Set to steal the attention of children from age eight.

Walker Books UK, April 2017.

Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is the third in the super-charged, action-packed comedy series blessed with an unbelievably talented array of popular Australian authors. Featuring stories from the Treehouse’s Andy Griffiths, R.A. Spratt, John Marsden, Tony Wilson, Meredith Costain, Alex Ratt, Tristan Bancks, Deborah Abela and Alan Brough, plus fantastically funny sketches by Andrea Innocent.
Again, another ‘brilliantly coloured’ book; literally so eye-blindingly bright you can’t miss it on a bookshelf, but also contextually vibrant in nature to keep its readers totally entranced from neon-green chapter to neon-green chapter.
Nine stories cleverly unfold within the blood-orange cover containing a mix of the unexpected, frightening, enlightening and ridiculous. From a life-threatening shower ordeal, to three greedy pigs and a wolf pie, a psychotic childhood clown come back to life, a high-flying ‘Bum’, to an abandoned girl forging a life of cake and Royalty. Each one different, each with its own voice and level of intensity.
Recommended for middle graders, however make note, this edition is not for the faint-hearted! The authors have definitely turned it up a notch compared to the prequels in terms of ‘scare factor’ and complexity. Some truly nightmarishly frightening with others making you question who you can trust. But all in all, Laugh Your Head Off Again and Again! is a ludicrously entertaining collection of stories to thrill every sense of humour.

Pan Macmillan Australia, October 2017.

Now here’s a raucously Roman romp of colossal proportions! Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons! by Gary Northfield is the second hysterically historical book in the series, brilliantly mixing fictional absurdity with non-fictional goodness. It is charged with a chariot-load of droll, and senseless, humour, and insanely wacky black and white illustrations neatly slotting into the storyline throughout. There is also the inclusion of authentically pertinent details of the ancient era with its Roman numeral numbered pages and facts on what the Romans brought to Britain at the closing.
This is the story of The People’s Champion, gladiator Julius Zebra, and his animal cronies on a mission for granted freedom. Emperor Hadrian, the villain in this tale, has promised this outcome on the grounds that Julius defeats the Britons, to win governance of the Roman Empire. Led by Septimus, the boss of the gladiator school, the animals are taken unwillingly to the far-off land of Britannia for a final shot at victory, only to realise their perpetuated slavery will remain unless they stand up for themselves. This does not come without a series of daft and imprudently courageous attempts to outsmart Septimus, their opponents and the Emperor.
Teamwork, friendship and loyalty are at the heart of this fast-paced scramble to freedom. Bundle with the Britons is zany, zesty and zebra-tastic, seizing its middle grade audience with every rip-roaring joke and clanging bangs of energy.

Walker Books UK, May 2017.

Kids Will be Rapt to Find Even More Wrapped this Christmas – Part 3

Baubles and bunting, twinkling lights, wrapping of presents and fresh pudding delights… no doubt your homes are tingling and shimmering with the scent of Christmas looming in the air. With bursting wish lists at the ready, don’t forget to add some more bookish treats under your Christmas tree. Following the joyous suggestions for kids in part 1 and part 2, here are a few more gorgeous picture books to share and spread the holiday cheer.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise is a friendly, thoughtful and evocative story about sharing the joy of Christmas with loved ones. Mark Carthew’s rhyming verses flow smoothly like warm egg nog over a Christmas pudding. His tale emits strong feelings of tenderness overcoming loneliness, as well as sentimental memories and bonds between family and friends. Simon Prescott’s gentle illustrations provide a sense of generosity, cosyness and pure magic that beautifully match that festive warmth.

Marvin is devastated at the thought of spending Christmas alone with no tree or presents to give. However, best friend Marigold Mouse has just received a gift, this first day in December, and she is insistent that her mate spend the coming days helping her to prepare it for the season. What follows is a gorgeous celebration of fond memories, creating new ones and sharing the Christmas, ‘decorative’ spirit with a friend. There’s plenty to treasure in A Christmas Surprise for young and old. See Dimity’s review in her Cracker List.

New Frontier Publishing, November 2017.

Adorned with sparkling red embellishments on the cover, this book is wrapped in beauty and glamour to mark the beginning of the festive season. Pick a Pine Tree is an exquisite tale of the frivolity and togetherness one tree can bring as it transforms into a marvellous creation of lights, ornaments and a central piece of love.

The rollicking rhythm by Patricia Toht, supported by the cartoonesque, mixed media illustrations by Jarvis both emanate joy, innocence, sparkle and awe. The pine tree’s journey from the lot, to being sturdily assembled and then abundantly decorated with friends is a delightfully instructive process that ends in pure happiness.

Pick a Pine Tree is a simple story for young children to appreciate the tree-selection and preparation exercise, all the while setting a tone for the importance of unity and intimacy in a most jolly and ebullient manner.

Walker Books UK, October 2017.

Everything is oversized and over-the-top in this next picture book. Is there ever such a thing as too much Christmas? There is for one 7 year old. The sound of the greeting, ‘Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas!’ is not a very festive one as all her family care about is being the biggest and brashest in the neighbourhood. As good as their Christmas-loving intentions, Mary’s family are simply an embarrassment. Too many lights, too many presents, an oversized tree and a dog with a deafening singing voice. Charity, inclusion and a big heart prevail in a joyous and bright finale that embodies just the perfect fit.

Well-considered and humorous text by Laurie Friedman and energetic and vivid illustrations by Kathryn Durst make Merry Christmas, Mary Christmas! a story of benevolence and spirit that is sure to ‘over-stimulate’ young readers this season.

Carolrhoda Books, Lerner Books, September 2017.

Fantastic Camouflages and Where to Find Them – Picture Books

Fascinating creatures and hidden characters reside in every nook and cranny in this wonderful world. You have the chance to discover their exact locations, even when cleverly camouflaged from plain view. Explore beautiful and exotic landscapes while you search through these delightful picture books.

Can You Find Me?, Gordon Winch (author), Patrick Shirvington (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, September 2017.

Widely acclaimed author Gordon Winch, together with the charismatic artwork of Patrick Shirvington, present this Australiana vision of beauty in our natural scenery.

From long, grassy tufts, to trees on the shore and nestled in amongst green leaves and winding branches are a secret collection of furry, feathered, scaly and ‘sticky’ animals just waiting to be uncovered. Whether it’s a grasshopper in the long grass, a king parrot within leaves and fruit, a leaf moth atop a pile of dead leaves, a gecko scampering on the muddy forest floor, a stick insect in sticks, or a seahorse weaving through the seaweed, the camouflage premise is the same. And Winch’s words hail clearly and repetitively; “I live in… I look like… That is why I am hard to see. Can you find me?” With their own distinction, the watercolour smoothness of fluidity and unifying tones cleverly mask each animal within its surrounding, however visible enough for young readers to play the game.

Can You Find Me? is an enchanting book for inquisitive early years children who will no doubt forever be on the lookout for hidden creatures wherever they may go.

Gecko, Raymond Huber (author), Brian Lovelock (illus.), Walker Books, October 2017. 🦎

As a part of the Nature Storybook sets, like Claire Saxby’s Koala, Emu and Big Red Kangaroo, author Raymond Huber and illustrator Brian Lovelock present this narrative non-fiction beauty, Gecko, that sleekly combines story and fact to create a most captivating read.

A scurrying gecko juts between sunning and guarding himself in the brightness of the day, but as the sun begins to set, food is on his mind. His food is also on his entire body as he peels and consumes his own skin! Apparently they shed their outer skin several times a year. Gecko also has clever ways to protect himself from predators as he alters his skin’s inflections, colours and folds to camouflage and hide his shadows. But Gecko becomes the target of a ferocious leaping rat, stealthily escaping the prying jaws by dropping his tail. And with one final defence of his territory, Gecko is safe and self-sufficient.

The illustrations are remarkable with their textured and vivacious watercolour and acrylic background speckles and splashes, beautifully replicating the gecko’s appearance and natural characteristics. Equipped with page numbers, information on geckos and an index, Gecko acts as a practical reinforcement for primary students to study different text types and the fascinating world of the lizard species. 🦎

Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere!, Martin Handford (author, illus.), Walker Books UK, October 2017.

“Have you found Wally yet?” If you haven’t had the chance to find the famous wanderer and his intrepid travellers, or if you just can’t get enough and want to share the experience with your young ones, now’s your time! I’m fully stocked up on Where’s Wally? books (see my post, Wally Turns 30!), but now with Destination: Everywhere, the magical search continues.

This beautiful, large square hardcover with embossed linen spine is a Wally-fan’s delight. It includes twelve of the classic scenes with brand new twists, turns and playful meanders across the globe. In The Great Portrait Exhibition, Wally-Spotters are asked to scrutinise over the individual paintings, and even spot something that can “go and come back again”. A new collection of fantastical creatures and phenomenal people are clustered together in a gazillion frames – your job to match a given set with those in the main scene. More scenes follow with identifying localised portraits in amongst the larger picture, such as particular dinosaurs in the Jurassic Games, finding the corresponding Wally silhouettes in The Land of Wallies, and conducting a one-eyed Jolly Roger flag spotting search in Pirate Panorama. There are other games like manovering through mazes and sorting shapes and symbols, to keep your eyes peeled and fingers dancing all through the book.

Once again, Where’s Wally? contains a pint of quirkiness and an ocean of vibrant colours and life. Destination: Everywhere! will transport its audience to the vastest of places only to get lost in the most minuscule of details. Still a classic!

Playful Picture Books to Explore

Whether relaying conceptual understandings, or understanding the minds of young explorers, picture books can take their readers on imaginative, sensory and mind-boggling journeys. Making discoveries through play and contextual language opens up a whole new way of perceiving the world. Just look at these new titles that inspire a range of learning adventures.

From Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury‘s classic quest, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ comes the must-haves; My Explorer’s Journal and My Adventure Field Guide.

The latter includes the most fascinating contents that will keep you in good stead as you embark on your outdoor nature journey. Whether rain, hail or shine, a rainforest, caves, mountains or your backyard, there’s plenty to explore. Complete with planning and safety tips, the guide sets out to encourage a field of fun activities for children and adults to delight in together. Chapters include facts, questions and experiments about the Sky, Down in the Ground, the Field, Plants and Trees, Creepy-Crawlies, Extraordinary Creatures, Tracks and our climate. With adorable illustrations and liveliness in essence of the original story, plus a comprehensive glossary, the Field Guide exudes a glorious sense of wonderment, excitement and acumen for your brave expedition.

The Explorer’s Journal is the perfect accompaniment as a keepsake record of your fun adventures, but also ‘bears’ it’s own weight as a stand-alone resource. There is space for sketching, writing and pasting in souvenirs, as well as a handy elastic close to keep your place. Following the same chapters as the Field Guide, this journal allows its users opportunities to find objects or animals, and make and record observations with the guidance of the clever, leading questioning and tasks. From creative writing to rainy day crafts, nature games, making perfume and actively encouraging sustainable living, little minds will be brimming with motivation to learn more about our beautiful world.

The We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Field Guide and Explorer’s Journal are treasure troves of amazing information, inspiration and pure joy, perfect for any backpacker from age five.

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, April 2017.

Double Take! A New Look at Opposites will have your brains charging and your hearts pounding with chaotic goodness. Author Susan Hood cleverly winds exact opposites through a range of divergent perspectives.

Travelling with boy and elephant we meander along and across the town, from crossing the street to watering different-sized plants, balancing up in the sky to flexing down in the sea, observing in galleries, standing in queues and riding a roller coaster. What do all these have in common? Differing points of view. “Who knows what is BIG unless there is small? Does short measure up except next to TALL?” With a collection of opposites, prepositional language, and relative words and comparable contexts, Double Take! is so much fun and encouraging of perceptual awareness. Jay Fleck’s illustrations in blocks of colour and shape with his retro-look characters are the perfect match for the rollicking rhyme, wit and acuity gracing the pages. I give it the opposite of a low recommendation for preschoolers and above (or is it below?).

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, July 2017.

Jez Alborough is the phenomenal success of classics like Where’s My Teddy? and Hug. In succession, his newest story is an adorable mix of innocence, cheekiness and warmth; it’s Play.

Simple sentences in speech bubbles relay the conversation between mummy chimp and baby Bobo. The detailed illustrations are the driving force leading its young observers through the recognisable feelings of curiosity, frustration, exhilaration, disappointment, rebellion, fear, anxiety, relief and finally, comfort. With Mum repeating “bedtime” and “stay”, all Bobo wants to do is “play”.

Swinging out of his tree without permission, the tiny chimp is lucky to have the support of the other animals to allow him his adventure out and back again with safety. The episodic layout gives the book a natural sense of playfulness as well as the clarity pre-readers will benefit from in understanding the sequence of events. With a strong-willed, relatable and loveable character, Play will become a nightly favourite for any toddler resisting the bedtime routine (and the demands of their parents!).

Walker Books UK, Walker Books Australia, July 2017.