Saturday, February 18, 2012

Children's Picture Book Reviews - February

This is another of my regular reviews of children's books. In this post I review some wonderful recent Australian and British picture books for younger children.

All but the last book are written for children from birth to age five years. The final book will appeal to slightly older readers.

1. 'The Cat and the Fiddle: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes' by Jackie Morris and published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books. This is a wonderful collection of 40 traditional rhymes that all children should experience. Jackie Morris has chosen some wonderful examples, some familiar like 'Hey Diddle, Diddle' and some less common like 'Jumping Joan'.

Here am I
little jumping Joan,
When nobody's with me,
I'm all alone.

The watercolour plates are wonderful, rich in detail and with a style that will capture interest. If you don't have a 'treasury' of rhymes, then surely this is a good place to start.

2. 'Hop, Skip and Jump, Maisy!' by Lucy Cousins and published by Walker Books. This is a 'Maisy First Science Book' that kids will enjoy. Every preschool child loves Maisy books and this one will only expand the number of fans. This energetic little mouse has fun outside, in the park, at all times of the day and she can do many things. Children love this 'pull the tab' book, they can make Maisy do star jumps, roll over, skip, drink, kick a ball and much more. Lots of fun for the 0-3 year old readers out there who love the simple stories and want to explore their books.

3. 'Ten Scared Fish' and 'Kangaroos Hop' both by Ros Moriarty and illustrated by Balarinji. These two delightful Indigenous Australian picture books from Allen & Unwin are a wonderful introduction to this genre for children under three years as well as being wonderful language concept books.

'Ten Scared Fish' focuses on the number 1 to 10, while offering an encounter with Australian animals and the wonderful art of Balarinji. Ros Moriarty is the founder of the 'Indi Kindi' pre-literacy project as well as her own memoir 'Listening to Country'. Beginning with 'One turtle by the waterhole', we travel to the sea meeting turtles and fish until 'Ten fish in the salt water' meet 'One big mouth'!

'Kangaroos Hop' introduces the reader to a variety of common verbs and increasing sentence complexity as we meet Australian animals with lots to do and add them incrementally each page to an expanding story. 'The kangaroos hop and the birds fly', 'The kangaroos hop the birds fly the echidnas shuffle and the butterflies dance', and so on. Wonderful!

Both books are beautifully and simply striking and as you'd expect combine bright colours, traditional Indigenous artistic techniques and a fresh and engaging illustrative style. I love these books!

4. 'My Green Day' by Melanie Walsh and published by Walker Books. This is another simple book for preschool children. But it has a twist. It introduces children to ten things that they can do to protect the planet. Each simple sentence has a fine print explanation for teachers and parents that helps them to explain why each thing will help to 'green' your day.

'I eat a free-range egg for my breakfast'
'I put my eggshell in the compost bin ..'
'I help empty the washing machine... and peg our clothes out to dry'. And so on.

The illustrations are simple but eye-catching, use simple tonal variations, strongly contrasting colours and many variations in page shape, cut-outs and so on, to capture attention. The book has the look and feel of recycled paper 

5. 'Mole's Sunrise' by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies and published by Walker Books. This is a charming book due both to its story and the illustrations. Mole never thought he'd ever get to see a sunrise until one day his friends show it to him.

Mole had never seen the sunrise.
"It's beautiful," said Vole.
"I'd like to see it," said Mole.
"Come with me," said Vole.
Off they went hand in hand.

With simplicity of language and simple sentence structure, Willis tells a delightful tale of friendship, innocence and imaginative exploration of the world. The illustrations of Fox-Davies exquisitely detailed pen and wash drawings that are as soft and gentle as the story. This is a wonderful book that children aged 0-5 will just love. You can also buy a touch, sound and picture book for blind children. What could be more appropriate for a book about a mole? Find out more HERE.

6. 'Bom! Went the Bear' by Nicki Greenberg, published by Allen & Unwin. I love this book and so does every child I read it to. In fact, I almost forgot to review it because I have one granddaughter who insisted on it being read so many times that it was buried with all my older children's books. Nicki Greenberg is a fabulous illustrator and writer who after the epic dimensions of her acclaimed graphic novel 'Macbeth' (see my review here), has produced a delightfully simple story of a little bear and an unlikely band of animals. The dog went 'strum strum strum' on the banjo, the singing was covered by giraffes who 'hit the high notes' and the turtles who sang low, the rabbit played the "Clarinet quick-quick", the koala played the sax "s-l-o-w". But it was the bear who brings a dramatic end to this simple story about a procession of animals playing varied instruments - "BOM! went the bear on the big bass drum... BOM! BOM! BOM! BOM! BOM!"  Delightful brightly coloured illustrations and slightly stylised animals with clear personalities, marry perfectly with carefully chosen and crafted words.

7. 'School for Princes: Stories from the Panchatantra' Retold by Jamila Gavin and illustrated by Bee Willey. Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books. This is a collection of five ancient fables taken from the 'Panchatantra' which is a piece of classic Indian literature from the 3rd century BC meant to offer wisdom for life. Gavin weaves five original stories in with them to tell the story of how three rude and badly behaved princes are shaped to become future kings.  The traditional tales focus on 'winning friends', 'losing friends', 'loss of gains', 'rash deeds' and 'the art of duplicity'.  Jamila Gavin was born in India and makes these unfamiliar stories of wisdom and moral advice relevant to a 21st century child. Bee Willey is an internationally acclaimed illustrator who doesn't disappoint in this book with a style that helps to makes sense of these culturally unfamiliar stories.  Suitable for readers 5-10 years and perfect for class read aloud to expand literary interests.

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