Kids’ Holiday Reads that Make Great Gifts

Books are the gift that just keep on giving, aren’t they?! They’re worth so much more than the latest toy that lasts a whole five minutes. Here’s a small roundup of some great books for kids that make for beautiful gifts and can be shared over the festive season and well into the holidays.

Picture Books

All the Ways to be Smart, Davina Bell (author), Allison Colpoys (illus.), Scribble, October 2018.

This is the fourth time this superlative duo have come together, following the successes of The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade , Captain Starfish and Under the Love Umbrella. Bell and Colpoys will be winning awards once again with this stunning picture book that is so intelligent in its own way. For all children wondering what their kind of smart is, this energetic rhyming guide reinforces a confidence that there is certainly more than one. From artistic endeavours to scientific explorations, using your imagination to skills in building, retaining important facts to showing compassion and empathy are all but a few. Coordination and music abilities, polite manners, ‘feeling scared but taking chances.’ The list is endless and these book creators have absolutely nailed it with their verve, humour, versatility and diversity. The language rolls off the tongue to perfection, whilst the neon colours draw your eye just the way an artist should. All the Ways to be Smart – adding much brightness to any child’s mind – in more ways than one.

What Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, October 2018 (Paperback).

What Do You Wish For? puts a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. Godwin’s intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude. The combination of her inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy, intricate illustrations, is simply divine. There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky. What Do You Wish For? is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.

It’s Not a Scribble to Me, Kate Ritchie (author), Jedda Robaard (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

I always love books that encourage exploration of the imagination. In this one, it’s the walls, floors and windows that get to discover what the bear child is conjuring up in his mind – much to his family’s dismay. The little bear speaks a lyrical tongue as to what his crayon and pen scribbles represent. A red Santa makes an appearance above the fireplace, a green frog on the toilet, a black witch inspired by broomsticks, a blue frothy sea and yellow splotchy bumbley bees. It’s amazing what each colour of the rainbow can be turned into, and where they happen to turn up! But somehow, this cheeky bear is able to win over the family with his colourful, magical, whimsical, wonderful charm. A beautifully alluring, absolutely sweet, vivacious and child-centred book in its words and pictures. It’s Not a Scribble to Me is ideal for children from age three as a facilitator of self-expression, creativity and boundless possibilities.

Australia Illustrated (2nd Ed.), Tania McCartney (Author, illus.), EK Books, October 2018.

I absolutely adored this book when it was first released back in 2016. Now I (we all) get to relive the magic once again with this much anticipated 2nd edition recently re-published. Australia Illustrated is a visual festive celebration, the ultimate pictorial encyclopaedia of our beautiful land. Tania McCartney’s expansive array of detail and design, even if only a snippet, takes us on a wonderful journey around the country exploring major attractions to pockets of hidden gems we may have otherwise missed. My kids loved traveling around Australia; spotting familiarities, discovering new mysteries of the unknown, and giggling along at the cute and quirky nuances. Vivacious watercolours and a mix of media showcase the well-known to the unique. From the BIG and beautiful Queensland Mango and Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the diverse native animals, bush tucker, sports, slang and weather, and a taste of idiosyncrasies from State to State. A gloriously scrumptious edition to pore over with the kids at home or away.

And another exquisite book from Tania McCartney that is a piece of art in itself is Mamie. Published by HarperCollins, November 2018. With her large, round gumnut eyes and angelic face, Mamie shares her story of adapting to change, fairies, pixies, elves and friendship. Celebrating the life of renowned and much-loved Australian icon – author and illustrator, May Gibbs of the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie fame, McCartney takes readers on a historical yet imaginative journey. She gently and expertly showcases the exceptional creativity, inspiration and achievements of Gibbs absolutely beautifully and with bunches of natural charm. Mamie is sure to win hearts abound, just as she has done over the past 100 years.

Chapter Books

The First Adventures of Princess Peony, Nette Hilton (author), Lucinda Gifford (illus.), Walker Books, 2018.

The attitude and tenacity of The Little Princess mixed with a quintessentially unique dialect like Lola (Charlie and Lola) together brings about this charming new face to the bookish world, Princess Peony. Partner that with the perfectly scruffy tomboy/girl-looking character in grey tones with pops of hot pink and you’ve got yourself a popular new series for girls (and boys) in the junior reader market. Princess Peony, the name which must be reminded to the audience every now and then, begins her fairy tale in front of her house, erm, Castle with her dog, no, Dragon; Totts. Her mission: to be Obeyed. But things take a wrong turn and her story is interrupted by Prince Morgan the Troll (aka, her big brother). Attempts to outsmart each other lead to some pretty hilarious events and a new mission to avoid child-eating bears. The text and pictures work brilliantly together providing plenty of visual literacy opportunities for readers to laugh about. And there is a remarkably True Princess Information and Quiz Sheet for all Princesses in Waiting to absolutely study and swear by. Just gorgeous! I will be buying The First Adventures of Princess Peony for my nearly six year old and all her friends!

The Tales of Mr Walker; a hotel dog with a nose for adventure, Jess Black (author), Sara Acton (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2018.

The Tales of Mr Walker is inspired by a real-life Labrador named Mr Walker who is a Guide Dog Ambassador and helper at the Park Hyatt Melbourne. This is an adorable book containing four enchanting stories about life working at the grandest hotel in town. Targeted at independent readers from age eight, we are delighted with the adventures this canine companion takes us on, viewed from the dog’s perspective. ‘Tracy must like parks as much as I do’. With his Guide Dog training behind him, Mr Walker is very well disciplined and loyal. But naturally, he has certain things on his mind, such as chasing balls, and food. Romp along on the fun adventures with Mr Walker. He doesn’t disappoint. Fluid and bright illustrations bounce in and around the text. The cover is appropriately high-end with its linen bound spine and gold trimmings. Royalties going to Guide Dogs Victoria is just another excuse to pick up this book as a gift for someone you love, and someone who loves dogs.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Even more great gift ideas for kids can be found at Boomerang Books here.

The Colours of Jane Godwin – Picture Book Reviews

Jane Godwin is one of Australia’s much-loved authors with over twenty books for children, many being awarded prestigious acclamations. Absolute favourites include Starting School, Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, The Silver Sea (reviewed recently), What Do You Wish For? and Our Australian Girl series. To say she has a colourful list of titles under her belt is an understatement! Today I’ll be sharing two of her latest colour-inspired picture books, Red House Blue House Green House Tree House! and Go Go and the Silver Shoes.

A perfect explosion of fun and colour can be found in this first book for young readers to follow a tiny mouse across a vast array of places, objects and animals. That’s if they can spot it! Red House Blue House Green House Tree House presents its audience with a jolly rhyming lilt about colours whilst also sneakily integrating a range of concepts in counting, sorting, sizes, and science. Godwin cleverly portrays a world that is both new and familiar, exciting readers along the way with her invitations for interaction. The illustrations by Jane Reiseger are brilliantly vibrant, fluid and oh-so child friendly with their wash and loose line technique and cheeky little scuttering mouse! From a number of coloured petals in the garden bed to floppy rabbit ears, a plate of fruit, tiny darting silver fish and one gigantic whale.

So many questions to ponder and giggles to be had, leaving a lasting impression and so many reasons to revisit Red House Blue House Green House Tree House over and over again. Rich, energetic fun and stimulation to engage emotional connections for children from age two.

Affirm Press, April 2018.

Another gorgeous collaboration between Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, this time in Go Go and the Silver Shoes. As her name suggests, Go Go is always on the go-go as an active and independent young girl. Destined to be a trail blaizer of the fashion world, Go Go is creative when it comes to re-fashioning her bigger brothers’ hand-me-downs. And it doesn’t matter what anyone, aka Annabelle, thinks! But one day she is allowed to choose the most beautiful silver, sparkly shoes. Naturally, they go-go everywhere on family adventures, until, one of them is swiftly gone-gone. Godwin masterfully tinkers with Go Go’s approaches to her lost-shoe conundrum as she deals with different pieces of advice and opinions. Go Go has both a mature and self confident side to her personality whilst also just being a kid, as perfectly rendered in Anna Walker’s illustrations. The beautifully subdued colour-palette with pops of red, in Walker’s characteristically phenomenal paint, cut and collage style, aptly portrays the sensible, independent yet playful lead character. And those silver, sparkly shoes! Certainly putting a gleam in every little girl’s eye! There is also this clever parallel storyline interwoven between the pages, adding yet another dimension of interest as to the outcome of the missing shoe. Brilliant!

Go Go and the Silver Shoes is a story that is meant to be! The universe may work in mysteriously wonderful ways, but it would certainly be expected that any child from age four will just fall in love with this one.

Penguin, February 2018.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Christmas is Coming – Picture Books this Season

What does Christmas mean to you? Is it the sound of excited squeals on Christmas morning? Is it the smell of freshly baked cookies? Is it the sight of twinkling fairy lights around your Christmas tree? Or perhaps that satifying feel of a bloated belly after you’ve tasted every gourmet delight! Here are a few picture books for this coming Christmas to help elicit all those fond memories, create new ones, and enrapture all the senses.  

imageWhat Do You Wish For?, Jane Godwin (author), Anna Walker (illus.), Penguin Random House, 2015.

This one is a little bit special. Perhaps even more so for me because I attended the book launch, and met the superlative duo, Jane Godwin and Anna Walker, whose winning books always put a smile on every face and a glow in every heart. And ‘What Do You Wish For?’ is no different. It’s that all kinds of fuzzy warmth, peace and togetherness that Christmas time really represents. As Jane Godwin said herself, a ‘wish’ signifies more of a statement of fear of loss or of something that will not happen, and her intention for this book is for readers to understand that this time of year is, and should be, one of gratitude.

There is an excited buzz in the air every Christmas. Ruby and her friends always put on a special show in the park, and write a wish to hang on the tree. This year, all the children imagine the most wonderful sentiments, including hopeful dreams of teachers getting married and lego coming to life! But Ruby’s wish is too big to write on a little piece of paper. Her wish is of spirit; it’s made of smells of baking, candlelight amongst the dark, wonderful surprises and quality family time. But most of all, her Christmas wish is one of complete serenity, and a warm sparkle in the sky.   
                                                                                            
imageThe combination of Godwin’s inspiring, tender words, and Anna Walker’s beautifully dreamy illustrations is simply divine. I adore the gentle features and cool colour palette with touches of red, and the intricacy of the individually cut paper, watercolour and print spreads. (See Anna’s process here).

‘What Do You Wish For?’ is the most magical treasure for any young reader and their family to cherish this Christmas.  

imageSanta Claus is Coming to Town, Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots (authors), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

The Christmas song ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, written by Haven Gillespie and John Frederick Coots became an instant hit in 1934. Still widely played to this day, it is a tune that families know and love. Including a CD track performed by our Aussie talent, Human Nature, and the retro tones and classic-look illustrations by Nathaniel Eckstrom, this is a warm book reminiscent of the good old times, and just being good.

Five cheeky jungle animals are getting ready for Christmas Day. Organising cards and presents for one another isn’t always so simple. Neither is riding their bikes to the jubilee. But if the young ones can remain cool, calm and happy, and remember the all-important event, Santa Claus will come to town and distribute gifts to those most deserving.  

Parents will definitely appreciate this timely reminder to their kids, but particularly will enjoy the lyrical melody and smooth voices of Human Nature. And the humorous, playful illustrations will certainly be absorbed by any preschool-aged child. ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ is a must-have for your stocking this Christmas!  

imageWe’re Going on a Santa Hunt, Laine Mitchell (author), Louis Shea (illus.), Jay Laga’aia (performer), Scholastic Australia, 2015.

A sure-fire way to get kids engaged in a story is to add a dash of jingle, a splash of rhyme and the ‘presence’ of familiarity. In this jolly Christmas adventure, the bonus music CD with the voice of Play School’s Jay Laga’aia, and the structure of Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, (see similar titles by Laine Mitchell), all mixed with the gaiety of the festive season makes for a guaranteed hit with its readers / listeners.

‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ takes five adorable arctic animals on a mission to deliver their letters to the ‘jolly one’. They bound through dark train tunnels, tinsel and swishing trees, herds of reindeer, the elves workshop, and sooty chimneys, because of course they couldn’t go over or under them! But upon catching a glimpse of the figure in black, white and red, it’s a frantic bolt back through the elements and straight into bed!

Energetic, vivacious, fun and full of thrill, ‘We’re Going on a Santa Hunt’ is a preschooler’s literary and musical delight that is bound to create excitement (and perhaps some havoc) this Christmas time.  

imageChristmas For Greta and Gracie, Yasmeen Ismail (author, illus.), Nosy Crow UK, 2015.

Greta is Gracie’s older (and bigger) bunny sister. She is also extremely chatty, a little bit bossy and a lot impatient. The girls love everything about Christmas, but especially Santa. Gracie is meticulous, quiet and little, but she has a big curiosity. When she asks her sister all about Santa, Greta always has the answer (or so she thinks!). On Christmas Eve, whilst Greta catches zzz’s, Gracie creeps out of the room – slowly, quietly, sneakily. Who does she find busily working in her living room? And how does she silence her normally loud, talkative sister?

I love the casual, quirky feel with its watercolours and rough edges, and the handwritten dialogue in pink and yellow speech bubbles to represent each character. I also love how the language used clearly identifies the ages of these children; being curious in nature, with an element of egocentricity and brutal honesty.

‘Christmas For Greta and Gracie’ is gorgeously engaging, witty and sincere, perfect for young readers from age three. There are clear themes of sibling relationships, self expression, differences and acceptance, all the while including the magic and imagination of Christmas and its related traditions.  

For more great titles to explore this Christmas, check out Boomerang’s Kids’ Reading Guide 2015 – 2016, and Dimity’s Stocking Stuffer Suggestions.

‘In a World of Imagination’ – Interview with Anna Walker

imageAnna Walker; master creator of picture books encompassing emotion, wisdom, sensitivity, adventure, charm and humour. And equally as gentle, creative, genuine and profound as her delightful stories and pictures is the author / illustrator herself, with which I had the utmost pleasure in meeting recently at her Mr Huff Exhibition. I am honoured that the amazingly talented Anna Walker has agreed to shed some light on her enchanting book-creating world and her newest masterpiece, Mr Huff (review here).  

imageYour trademark style of illustrating is always infallibly charming with its whimsical and multi-textured features. How did you develop this style and how did you come to illustrate books for children?

Ever since I was child I had wanted to illustrate children’s books. I developed my work with wanting to create an illustration that was hand crafted – a small piece of art. Perhaps this has contributed to my work looking textured as I use cut paper, watercolours, etching and woodblock. I look for different mediums to bring to life the picture I have in mind. Sometimes it reminds me of playing with my doll’s house as a child, making tiny cut flowers, blankets, and paintings to hang on the wall of the miniature rooms! The whimsy I don’t seem to be able to help, no matter what I try it is part of who I am, it seems my love of fairy tales and enchanted worlds pervades my world.  

imageYour long-standing partnership with the masterful author, Jane Godwin, has been hugely successful with titles including ‘Today We Have No Plans’, ‘Little Cat and the Big Red Bus’, ‘Starting School’, and ‘All Through the Year’. How did the pairing come about, and what aspects of working with her do you enjoy most?

In 2007, Penguin said they were going to send me a manuscript of a story to see if I was interested in illustrating it. I remember the yellow A4 envelope arriving in the mail and sitting on the corner of the couch to open the package. In the afternoon sun I read Little Cat and the Big Red Bus, written by Jane Godwin. By the time I finished I had tears in my eyes, it was so beautiful. I could hardly believe I had been asked to illustrate a true picture book that was so special.  This was the beginning a wonderful partnership. I love collaborating with Janie, she is a wonderful writer and an inspiring person.    

Many of your books were penned and illustrated independently. Do you find working independently or in collaboration more challenging, and why?

I enjoy collaborating as much as working independently. In some ways every book is a collaboration because you are chatting about the ideas and what the story is communicating early on with the editor, your family, friends and the designer.    

Your writing style is equally as gentle, thoughtful and enchanting as your pictures. How do you get this harmony so aligned? Do you prefer one aspect of the book creation over the other?

Thank you for your kind words! I prefer the drawing and painting over the writing. At times I find the writing very difficult but I persist as I have a vision of a story to tell. My stories usually are sparked by images and I bring the words in later to partner them.  

imageCongratulations on the launch of your latest picture book release, ‘Mr Huff’! Your recent exhibition beautifully showcased your work, including the book’s storyboard process, from inception to completion, original artworks, as well as your adorable models used in your stop-motion trailer. Can you tell us a bit about the response you’ve received so far. Any stand out moments? What was your most rewarding part of the process?

I couldn’t be happier with the way the Mr Huff exhibition went. In the lead up to the exhibition I wondered why I was having it. I felt like cancelling the whole thing. But on the opening night everyone was so lovely and said such kind things about the story.  During the exhibition it was particularly rewarding for me to see tiny children fascinated with the puppet I made of Mr Huff for the stop motion. A highlight for me was an email from a mum with two boys one of whom experienced Anxiety. The mum said the book was now part of their lives and that some days they described as ‘Huff Days’. When I read  these words they made every bit of the work that went into the story worth it.  

‘Mr Huff’ is a stunningly poignant yet uplifting and sweet story of a young boy who overcomes this growing sense of melancholy around him. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how did it develop?

The inspiration came from scribbling in my visual diary when I was feeling worried about things. There was no real reason for this anxiety it’s just something that visits me sometimes. I was drawing how that feels when it occurred to me perhaps I could translate that idea into a picture book. And so Mr Huff was born.  

The message of embracing challenges and being positive is one that stands out in ‘Mr Huff’. What would you like readers to gain from this book? Do you have a motto or life philosophy?

I find it fascinating how different people respond to the book. When a book ventures out into the world you hope that some families will relate to the story but I am never really sure whether that will happen. I have been overwhelmed with the lovely responses to Mr Huff.  

What do you love most about writing and illustrating for children?

I think the thing I love most is traipsing in the world of the imagination. It is very exciting to take a character that you can see in your mind and create a reality for them, to bring them to life so to speak.  To tell a story in 32 pages means your thoughts and ideas need to be distilled so that the result of the few words partnered with pictures speak volumes. I believe in the picture book being a true art form and think children deserve the time and consideration put into the books they are reading.  

Which authors and/or artists have been your greatest influences in becoming the successful writer and illustrator you are now?

Growing up, I was surrounded by wonderful authors such as A.A.Milne, Beatrix Potter and William Steig. I had open access to books with my mum being a librarian. A stand out though was Maurice Sendak who had a huge impact on me. When I was in Grade 3, I was mesmerised by Where the Wild Things Are and thrilled that our class made cardboard monsters of the Wild Things! I remember reading Aranea by Jenny Wagner and being struck by how a picture book could be about something so simple, so quiet and gentle.
The Australian authors and illustrators also played a big role in forming the illustrator I am today. Ron Brooks, Alison Lester, Ann James and Bob Graham are such pivotal figures in Australian literature and each inspiring in how they continue to create amazing children’s books.  

You’ve been winning numerous literary awards around Australia since 2009. What do these honours mean to you? Are there any that stand out as most significant to you?

The Crichton award in 2009 was one of the most special as when I was in the audience I sat in between Bob Graham and Pamela Allen! Bob chatted to me, and it is a memory I will treasure. I must admit I also loved Peggy being shortlisted in 2013 as my children were very impressed with the gold sticker!  

What projects are you currently working on? What can all of your fans look forward to seeing from you in the near future?

I am working on two special stories. One of them is about a little girl and it is set in Paris. I can’t wait to begin the paintings!  

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and illustrators wanting to publish their own picture books?
Be brave. Draw, write and explore ideas. Explore history, colour, mediums, reference, typography, design, experiences and anything else you are passionate about. Make books. Read them out loud. Find your voice.

Thank you so very much for answering my questions, Anna! It’s been a real pleasure!

Visit Anna Walker’s website and facebook pages.

imageHer new book with Jane Godwin, What Do You Wish For? will be out this September.