Animals at Work – Picture Book Reviews

Kids are all too quick to grow up these days, but yet to realise the complexities and oftentimes, inequalities, that go with grown-up responsibilities. Sure, life in the playground can be tough, too. No doubt there will be times they feel under-valued, misunderstood or lonely. Whilst these references may seem quite grim, the following ‘adult-work-life’ picture books paint these dark hues to meet a bright and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel.

Ok. It will be called… Next award-winning picture book of the year. Phenomenal artist. Phenomenal storyteller. Shaun Tan wins over the masses with his latest picture book, Cicada. Considering its haunting themes, this book has a definite star-quality appeal that is sure to set a glow in every reader’s heart.

You heard it… ‘Tok Tok Tok!’. Time marches on for hard-working cicada. Seventeen years. Stuck behind his computer desk hidden amongst a concrete jungle of office carrels – hardly noticed, immensely unappreciated. Treated as sub-human, despite the fact he is not human at all. But honestly, his pay is docked for being forced to use the bathroom twelve blocks away! Work life for cicada is dire with no thanks, no living support (he lives in an office wallspace), colleague abuse and eventually a retrenchment with a figurative kick in the butt.

Seventeen years imprisoned in this grey, lifeless cell of despair. There’s nothing left… but to transform. And all you can do is laugh! Tok Tok Tok!

Cicada breathes intense concepts and colourless imagery that is far from dull, mixed together with sharp language spoken in a broken English. However, it embodies a fiery life within that speaks universally to humans about the power of self-worth, about courage and respect. An impressive, evocative picture book for older readers (5-9 years).

Lothian Children’s Books, June 2018.

Work life at Baggage Handlers United is pretty fun for Marvin. He loves the routine of putting things on and taking things off. He has friends that work there, too. But what happens when his ‘friends’ start laughing at his expense? Missing Marvin is a meaningful and sensitive story about the hurtful effects practical jokes can have when taken too far.

Sue deGennaro beautifully captures the heart and soul of this story through her gentle, multi-faceted illustrations and leading language that carefully directs readers to ponder the emotions being explored. When Barry, Shelly and Ivan set up what they think are amusing shenanigans, it is upon closer inspection that we see the heartrenching damage done to Marvin. “… he wonders if a joke is only a joke when everyone is laughing.” All too often, people (at work or at school) go about their day ‘pretending’ they are okay. And all too often, ‘the signs’ go unnoticed. Learning strategies to avoid emotional and physical isolation are nicely handled here when Marvin decides to come out of hiding (after succumbing to his bed) and open up to his friends about his feelings.

All it takes is a conversation. Missing Marvin brings about a light-hearted simplicity on the cusp of complex issues related to bullying and depression. Presented in a sweet and satisfying way, this book will help preschool-aged children find compassion, sensitivity and courage when needed most.

Scholastic, April 2018.

With a gorgeous setting based on the Greek islands of Andros and Mykonos, who wouldn’t love to live and work there? Originally from Greece, author illustrator Elena Topouzoglou paints a charming picture of friendship emerging out of loneliness.

In Mr Pegg’s Post, a little girl, Anna, longs for interaction from the outside world beyond her lighthouse home. The only visitor is Mr Pegg – the pelican postman. One stormy night, from the darkness Mr Pegg comes thumping into her life, serendipitously changing the world as she knows it. The ability to work effectively can be difficult when faced with a crippling injury. However, Anna’s eagerness to help deliver letters by boat serves them well in his recovery and her social connections. Anna receives more than just letters now. She has friendships, and a job!

The soothing blue wash of the water represents a beautiful link between the isolation of the lighthouse and the community spirit of the mainland. Mr Pegg’s Posts delivers a message of support, appreciation and value to the hearts of children from age three.

New Frontier Publishing, July 2018.

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Interview with Jo Emery, author of My Dad is a FIFO Dad

jo emery photoMy Dad is a FIFO Dad, an uplifting story that has already touched the hearts of many families, has beautifully encapsulated the highs and lows of the life of a child with a father who ‘flies in and flies out’ for work. (See Review here). But let’s not forget the strength, courage, commitment and perseverance of the mother who wrote the book, who is raising three children on her own for three weeks in every month. Today we talk with author, Jo Emery, about her moments of heartbreak and joy, her achievements, family life and plans for the future.  

Congratulations on the success of your book, ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’, already sold out on the first print run!
THANK YOU, it’s been a very busy and exciting introduction to the world of children’s books J  

Can you please tell me a bit about your career background, writing history and family?
I have been employed by the Department of Education and Training Queensland for the past 17 years and most recently held the position of Principal at one of the Sunshine Coast’s Primary Schools. I have been on leave for some time (3years) however, to raise my family. I have 3 children, Sahskia who is almost 7, Ahnika 3 and Grayson 11 months. My husband Steve and I have been married for almost 10 years and have been living a FIFO lifestyle for almost 4 years. I’m not quite sure when I signed up for the FIFO commitment but for now; we are making it work as best we can, for our family.  

I have written in poem, song and story for as long as I can remember. It is something I have always enjoyed and felt the need to do. It has given me respite and relief, enthusiasm and enjoyment and in this case an opportunity to help others stay connected to the ones they love the most.  

jo emery family photoWhy you were inspired to write ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’?
The story, My Dad is a FIFO Dad was born out of the raw emotion of our last drop off of Daddy to the airport. We were late for the plane and had to leave Steve in the ‘drop off zone’, rather than park the car. The children were devastated that Daddy was heading back to work and it was the first time that Ahnika, two at the time, had realized that Daddy was going away for a long time. My eldest daughter Sahskia, was incredibly sad as she felt the angst of her sister also. (Needless to say this was our last drop off and my husband now catches the shuttle bus J) It was incredibly heartbreaking to see and to feel and so, as I have often done in many situations, that night I went home and put pen to paper to debrief. The initial draft of my story was penned some 18 months ago. The story is told through the eyes of Sahskia. I tried to capture what I knew she was feeling on that day and mix it with what I hoped she would be strong enough to feel in times to come.  

How has the change in lifestyle affected you and your family?
Firstly, we are separated physically … Steve and I had never been apart longer than 48 hours so weeks on end has been a very big change for us. Our family is apart 3 weeks of every month and together for one. But what we have learned is that our life style is not about the amount of time spent apart, rather the quality of time we have together. Our mantra is ‘To Make Everything Count’. We are a very open family, when we are sad we cry, when we are angry we get angry, when we are happy we laugh loudly and so the openness and respect we have for each other’s feelings helps us to deal with issues and move on. Our kids are very connected with both Steve and me but that is because we work on it. The difficult times we experience because of FIFO,  is on those special occasions that arise when we are apart… birthdays, weddings, funerals, Easter, holidays and so on.  

my dad is a fifo dad page3On the opening page of ‘My Dad is a FIFO Dad’ there is a child’s beautiful drawing and statement about her dad being the greatest. Can you tell us about that? Who drew the picture?
This picture was drawn by my eldest daughter Sahskia. This is her view of what it means to be a FIFO Dad. Clearly the ‘flying in and out’ component of his job plays on her mind. I love that her Daddy is still smiling while he departs and the family who remain are smiling too; even the man in the ticket box is having a happy day. My kids adore their dad and he knows more than anyone that they consider him to be the greatest dad ever, and that’s because he really is!  

We are then drawn in with fun scenes of an animated dad role playing, riding and reading stories with his kids. What are your partner’s favourite things to do with your three children?
Steve just loves being with them! We live in what we consider one of the most beautiful places on the Sunshine Coast and so visits to the beach, parks and in the pool are all of our favourites. Our kids are heavily into dancing and so having the opportunity to watch them do what they love to do most is wonderful when he is home from work.  

You capture the narrator’s thoughts, feelings and actions of sadness and resilience so well. Are these based on your own child’s words and behaviour, or your experience with dealing with these issues?
I would say that these thoughts are shared from experience, practice and hope. I guess I tried to capture what my child was feeling and mix it with my hopes for what she would be able to feel in the future. My children are very resilient and with age and maturity this is developing more and more. We discuss how to deal with issues of different kinds, very often and I hope that one day it will become second nature. In saying this, the children and I are all sensitive souls and so acknowledging our feelings and working through them is something we will always do.  

What do you hope this book achieves for its readers and the general public?
I hope that our story resonates with others in a FIFO/DIDO situation and that kids that are able to feel ‘OK when Dad’s Away’. I hope the story reassures children that despite distance, fathers can be present in heart, mind and spirit in many situations and those families can work towards building and maintaining strength, resilience and unity. While the platform for this story is FIFO I really think that anyone who believes in the unity of family will enjoy it and take some important messages from it.    

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_cover How have you found people’s responses to the book so far?
I have been completely overwhelmed and relieved that all of my readers have loved the story as much as we do. Hearing that there have been tears, laughter and reassurance is the vein in which it was written and I couldn’t be more proud! I have received some beautiful photos of kids reading the book together with sibings, together with mum and together with Dad. In some of the orders I have received, there is a sense of urgency for families to have the book ‘in time for when Dad gets home’, it’s wonderful that the messages within the book are being shared as valuable in advance of them being read.  

As a first time author, how did you find the publishing process, and working with illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn?
I am a true believer that things happen for a reason and firstly I found Ann-Marie and then was lead to Dragon Tales. I have been more than happy with this process and feel that in both, I have made the very best choice! I began my search for someone who could take my words and bring colour and life to them and give the beat of my heart to each and every one. You know you have made the right decision in your choice of illustrator when you open a PDF and your heart swells with emotion. Ann-Marie Finn, gave coloured life to my words and where there were no words her drawings carried the true intent of our family story, like she had known us for a lifetime. I am so very grateful! It is wonderful working with Kaylene at Dragon Tales as I have felt in total control over my work. She has offered constructive feedback and given me the necessary guidance of a true professional in this process, I couldn’t be happier!  

Do you have any plans to write more stories along this line, or on other topics? Will you continue to write picture books?
ABSOLUTELY! I have plans to continue working to provide materials that will support families living a FIFO lifestyle but as well as this I cannot wait to share many other picture books with children and their families.

Thank you for your insights on your journey and for letting us take a little peek into your life, Jo! All the best with your future plans!

For more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad, please visit:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com
http://www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner

Review – My Dad is a FIFO Dad by Jo Emery

my_dad_is_a_fifo_dad_coverMy Dad is a FIFO Dad
Written by Jo Emery
Illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn
Published by Dragon Tales Publishing

Brand new and hot off the press, and already sold out on the first print-run is the popular, My Dad is a FIFO Dad!

My Dad is a FIFO Dad was written by Queenslander, Jo Emery, mother of three and wife to Steve who works in Australia’s Resource Industry interstate. She wrote the book as both an emotional outlet and as a means of supporting other families experiencing the hardships associated with a lifestyle where fathers work away from home. This touching tale highlights tender and heartwarming moments; times of sadness, strength and pure joy.  

Dads can still be the greatest, most involved and loving dads, despite working interstate for three weeks in every month. The book begins with a gorgeous sentiment and drawing of an aeroplane by the child narrating the story. We are then captivated by scenes of a fun, animated father role playing with his three children, riding bikes and scooters in the outdoors, and snuggling together for a night time story.  

my dad is a fifo dad pageBut when Dad’s away, the little girl asks her Mum why he has to go away so often. To highlight his job’s importance she explains how Australia utilises its resources, which is nicely weaved into the story; here and again at the end.

”I think that’s pretty important!”  

Also beautifully integrated is the girl’s sense of longing, but also of resilience and warmth as she continues her daily life as a ballet dancer, swimmer, bike rider and at school, and she knows she’s making him proud. Thinking responsibly and positively helps the little girl to solve problems involving having accidents, friendship issues and boredom.  

Dad is always in the girl’s heart and mind; whether they are interacting over the internet, when she expresses her thoughts in her diary, and she especially relishes when they are finally reunited and hold each other in their arms once more.

my dad is a fifo dad page2Funny
Intelligent
Fantastic and
One of a kind.

He’s MY Dad
And I think that’s pretty important!  

Jo Emery’s My Dad is a FIFO Dad has a clear purpose in connecting with other families with FIFO/DIDO work arrangements. A clever inclusion is an activity sheet for children to write about their Dads. The emotions in the story are perfectly depicted in the pictures by the talented author / illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn. The use of mixed media incorporates a wonderful balance of detail and movement in those active moments, and simplicity and calmness of the scene when the little girl reflects.  

My Dad is a FIFO Dad is a touching book about family unity and resilience, with a dash of humour, that young children will both enjoy and gain strength from. It is a relevant and valuable support resource for many families around Australia and the world.  

Look out for a fascinating interview with the author, Jo Emery, coming soon!

You can find more information about Jo Emery and My Dad is a FIFO Dad at the following websites:
http://www.mydadisafifodad.com/
www.facebook.com/mydadisafifodad

Review by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner