Monday, August 12, 2019

Twelve Great Picture Books for Children Aged 3-7

'Now What? A Math Tale' by Robbie Harris & illustrated by Christ Chatterton

I reviewed a book by Robie Harris and Chris Chatterton earlier in the year on this blog. On the occasion a small elephant was experiencing a 'maths tale' (Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale'). This book is similar, but this time it's a small cute puppy that is finding out about number and shapes once again.

Chatterton once again uses digitally coloured pencil illustrations with photographic elements. The lovable puppy will attract the attention of young readers (or listeners) aged 1-4 years.

These lovable books will be dragged around and 'read' by young children who will love the illustrations, and the simple text that parents or teachers will read to them. 

'Nits' by Stephanie Blake

I just love 'Nits'. Well not those dreadful things that infest our children's hair at times in the early years of schooling, but this delightful book by Stephanie Blake. Because in this lovely picture book we meet a special little rabbit who loves Lou even when she ends up with nits. Quite a rabbit is young Simon —he thinks he's in love with Lou! But Lou loves Mamadou… But when Lou comes to school with nits(!) Mamadou is nowhere to be seen. Simon gets his chance, because as he tells Lou, "I love you and your nits!" That's some rabbit. he seals the relationship with a kiss, and in return he gets...?

I love Stephanie Blake's quirky simple cartoon-like illustrations. They are so evocative. Stephanie is the author and illustrator of dozens of highly successful books in France, many of which are children's favourites. I'm so glad that this book is available in an English language version. Delightful!

'Noodle Bear' by Mark Gravas

"Noodle-eating fame is all very well, but there's no place like home.
Noodle Bear is crazy about noodles. His best friend, Fox, brings him other delicious treats when he's a no-show at her party but he's so noodle obsessed that doesn't he notice them. And when he's run out of noodles, his only thought is to go to the big city and become a contestant on the TV game show, 'Noodle Knockout'. Of course, he becomes a surprise star with more noodles than he can eat. But no amount of noodles and fame can fill the empty space where home and friends should be."
    I love the cartoon-like illustrations of Mark Gravas who is an accomplished animator and director from Sydney. The expressive characters will delight young readers. He is best known as the creator/director of "Yakkity Yak" (2002/2003), an Australian/Canadian co-production. He has directed an animated other films as well, including "Here Comes Peter Cottontail: The Movie" and the Cartoon Network production of "Casper's Scare School".

    'Wolfy' by Gregoire Solotareff & translated by Daniel Hahn

    This delightful story about a wolf and a rabbit who become close friends is delightful. It is about loyalty, friendship and fun. From a well-known French author, the book now appears in this English language version which children will love. It is such a simple, and yet engaging book. the illustrations are uncluttered line and water colour plates that offer such expressive characters.
    "Once upon a time there was a rabbit who had never seen a wolf, and a young wolf who had never seen a rabbit. The pair meet and become good friends. Tom the rabbit teaches the wolf to play marbles, read, count and fish. Wolfy teaches Tom to run very, very fast. But eventually their friendship is tested by the classic game Who’s-afraid-of-the-wolf? Can the little rabbit and the young wolf remain best friends in all the world?"

    Over one million copies have sold in the French edition, I suspect that this English version will also be VERY popular.

    GrĂ©goire Solotareff was born in 1953 in Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent his early childhood. He moved to France with his family as a child and later began a career in medicine. He published his first children’s book in 1985. Since then he has published over 150 books for young people which have been translated throughout the world. His books have also been adapted to film.   

    'I am so Clever' by Mario Ramos

    "The big bad wolf is hungry and on today's menu is Grandma, with Red Riding Hood for dessert. But no one is home at Grandma's house, only a nightdress lying on the bed. The wolf puts on the nightie and sets off to see what he can catch dressed as Grandma."

    This adaptation of the traditional tale is very creative and fun. The wolf meets Red Riding Hood in the woods and warns her about the dangers of sharks in the forrest, but of course she doesn't meet any. And along comes Red Riding Hood. She looks clever, but the wolf thinks he's the smartest. But maybe not! So many funny twists in this traditional tale that give it fresh appeal. I can't think of a better retelling of a traditional fairy story. I'd love to share this with a class of five-year-olds!

    'Ella & Mrs Gooseberry: Discovering What Love Looks Like' by Vikki Conley & illustrated by Penelope Pratley

    "Grumpy old Mrs Gooseberry from next door has lost her love. 'I didn't know you could lose love,' says Ella, her young neighbour. So she begins her quest to find out what love looks like and how she can help Mrs Gooseberry to rediscover it. Her mother says love is warm, like a home-cooked pie. Her teacher says it's like lanterns in the night, sparkly and bright. Perhaps though, for Mrs Gooseberry, love might look like a little kitten."

    Ella and Mrs Gooseberry is a lovely story, so simply told. With small details the author shares some of the indicators of how simple love can 'warm' the heart. A little girl with her own warm heart takes the time to work out how to warm the heart of a seemingly sad elderly neighbour. This sweet understated story supported so well by Penelope Pratley's expressive line and watercolour drawings will warm the heart of readers. "It's a story of community and the ripple effect of selfless giving, ideal for creating opportunities for discussion about kindness, empathy and helping others."

    'The Visitor' by Antje Damm

    "Elise was frightened―of spiders, people, even trees. So she never went out, night or day.
    One day a strange thing flies in through the window and lands at her feet. And then there comes a knock at the door. Elise has a visitor who will change everything."

    This is a story about friendship and shyness. "A child unwittingly brings light and color―literally―into a lonely person's life", with an out of control paper plane. It is an unusual tale about a child who in a surprising way reinvigorates and warms the heart of an elderly lady living alone.

    The artwork is almost like a mini theatre set, with cut-out characters against 'set-like' backgrounds. Damm creates a diorama from cardboard and photographs the scenes, giving the illustrations surprising depth.

    'The Visitor' is an exquisite storybook (I don't say such things often). It is created by well-known and celebrated German writer Antje Damm. In an earlier life she worked as an architect (and there are hints of this in her illustrative work). She has written and illustrated over a dozen books. 'The Visitor', was selected as one of ten New York Times / New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books in 2018. 

    'One Careless Night' by Christina Booth

    'One Careless Night' is the depressing story of how Australia's last thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) died one cold night in a Tasmanian zoo. Whether it is collective guilt, or wishful thinking many Australians hold onto the vain hope that perhaps, just perhaps, deep in the depths of the ancient Tasmanian mountains and river valleys this long lost creature might have survived.

    Where the mist swallows mountains and winds whisper through ancient trees, a mother and her pup run wild and free. They hunt, but they are also hunted. Carted away. Sold for bounty. And then, one careless night … The last thylacine is gone.

    This beautiful book in dark monochrome images with hints of brown is haunting and leaves the reader sad and sorry for the carelessness and selfishness of the early settlers who raped the beautiful flora and fauna of Tasmania.

    Award winning author illustrator Christine Booth has done a beautiful job with this book. The haunting images complement the equally powerful words to provide the reader with a wonder reading experience. This will be a wonderful book for children aged 6-9 to read alone, or as a shared book by parents or teachers of children aged 4-8 years.

    'Song Of The River' by Joy Cowley & illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

    In this delightful picture book by New Zealand author Joy Cowley, we have the story of a young boy Cam, who follows the river from its trickling source in the snow capped mountains to the sea. The boy follows the river as it leads him through forest, farms and towns to the salty sea beyond. The delightful muted water colours of Kimberly Andrews with their autumn tones are reminiscent of great illustrator Leonard Weisgard who won the Caldecott Medal in 1946 for the 'The Little Island' with author Golden MacDonald. The dramatic landscapes are packed with detail to discover in the world of the river.

    Joy Cowley is an accomplished author who was shortlisted for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2018, and Kimberly Andrews is a trained biologist and geologist who grew up in the Canadian Rockies and has lived and worked in Borneo, the UK and New Zealand. She is an illustrator of great talent.

    'The First Adventures of Princess Peony: In which she could meet a bear. But doesn't. But she still could' by Nette Hilton & illustrated by Lucinda Gifford

    This book with the world's longest title is quirky but good. Nette Hilton has brought us a series of funny illustrated books series for imaginative readers.

    'Once upon a time there was a dear little girl called Peony.
    That's P.E.O.N.Y.
    And it's me. I live in a Castle with my Dragon whose name is Totts.
    That's T.O.T.T.S
    And that makes me a Princess if you really want to know.'

    The book is delightfully illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, and girls aged 5-7 will love the series. The books are about a funny little girl called P.E.O.N.Y.


    Searching for Cicadas' by Lesley Gibbes & illustrated by Judy Watson

    Lesley Gibbes have teamed up to produce a wonderful picture book about a child and his grandfather who go searching for cicadas. It is part of is part of the award-winning narrative nonfiction Nature Storybooks series.
    In the summertime, Grandpa and I go cicada-watching. We put our camping gear into my wagon and walk down to the local reserve. Last year we saw five Green Grocers, three Yellow Mondays and one Floury Baker. Can we find the rare Black Prince this year?

    The style of the book is to have two parallel texts. The first on each double page spread is larger and in narrative form. It tells of the exploration of a small boy and his grandpa. As the narrative text leads us through the bush with the boy and his grandfather we are offered another following text that explains the names and characteristics of some of their observations and discoveries. Both texts are well written and are well supported and complemented by the delightful black line and soft watercolour images of Judy Watson. This book will be popular with 'young scientists' interested in their world.

    'The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature' by Pierre-Jacques Ober & illustrated by Jules Ober and Felicity Coonan

    A young WWI soldier's unauthorized visit home has dire consequences in a haunting story reimagined in miniature tableaux.

    It is Christmastime, 1914, and World War I rages. A young French soldier named Pierre had quietly left his regiment to visit his family for two days, and when he returned, he was imprisoned. Now he faces execution for desertion, and as he waits in isolation, he meditates on big questions: the nature of patriotism, the horrors of war, the joys of friendship, the love of family, and how even in times of danger, there is a whole world inside every one of us. And sometimes that world is the only refuge. 

    This story is set 100 years ago and was published to mark the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It is a deeply moving and sparingly narrated story. It is based on true events set in the First World War in France. Rather unusually it has been reenacted using photographs of miniature war dioramas. Notes from the creators in italic script explore the innovative process and the personal connection to the story.
    The book will be suitable for readers aged 6–8 years.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2019

    Boredom is still good for children!

    I've posted on this topic before, but as many children seem to be on holidays around the world right now, I thought I'd repost it in revised form. My title is once again meant to be outrageous, but I also think it's true.

    Children still struggle in this digitally over-stimulated age to keep themselves busy without a device in hand or before their eyes. Children and adults alike never seem to stop! Rarely do we daydream, sit quietly on a park bench and stare into space, lie around at home resting on a wet day and so on. Lazing around does not seem easy in our driven lives. Even if there is a moment where we aren't confronting a task, conversation or activity, we reach for a device to help us fill this time with more activity.

    Boredom should be less of a problem than at any time in history, because it seems that there are endless things to do and many ways to use our time. And yet children still end up bored. But maybe, our children need to experience boredom without devices being the solution or antidote? In fact, might a device withdrawn period of boredom be good for our children? It might well be that creativity, self-directed learning, and even the ability to stick at a task, are 'arrested' for many of us because we're always stimulated by devices.

    What is boredom?

    In essence, it is 'unmet arousal'. You are looking for something to do, or an activity to fill a space in your life, but you just can't motivate yourself to do something. Neil Burton suggests that there are many reasons for this:

    "These reasons can be internal—often a lack of imagination, motivation, or concentration - or external, such as an absence of environmental stimuli or opportunities. So while you want to do something stimulating, you find yourself unable to do so;  moreover, you are frustrated by the rising awareness of your inability."1

    What is significant about boredom is that it's a state that can be acted upon by the bored person. The typical bored child - who we have all experienced - will say, "I'm bored! What can I do?" Or, "Mum can you ... ". Note the onus is being placed on you as the parent to deal with their 'bored state'!

    My simple answer to such situations is NOT to try to solve the problem, or simply give in and allow them to retreat to devices and more screen time. During times of boredom your children might just:
    • Find some new activities and interests
    • Lead them to use their imagination 
    • Offer opportunities to be creative
    • Assist them to develop mindfulness
    • Begin to enjoy the moment and their surroundings
    However, you might just need to give them some prompts and help to get them started. Here are a few ideas.

    How to respond to "Mum, I'm bored"?

    At times, you should simply say, "what are you going to do then"? Don't feel that you need to solve the problem. Rather than always trying to solve the problem, it is often best simply to offer some prompts that will direct them towards possibilities. Here are some examples:

    1. If it's a fine day, tell them to go outside, lie on their back and look at the sky, and think about 3 things that they might do. If it's bad weather suggest that they look out the window, what do you see? List ten things you can see. Draw one thing. Use one thing as a stimulus for a riddle or poem, "There was a ___  ___ in my yard, I didn't need to look too hard, but try as I might ...".

    2. Suggest that they get a box (a shoe box works well) and go and find 5 things they would like to place in it that they could use, or do. This might lead children to put in a favourite toy, a game, crayons, craft materials, a book and so on. Ask them to consider one the thing they could do first. If you have more than one bored child, ask them to compare boxes and come up with a shared activity.

    3. Give them a large cardboard box and ask them to consider what they might turn it into. Having a large cardboard box or two in your garage (perhaps in flat pack form) is a great resource. Perhaps a cubby, robot, space vehicle, animal and so on.

    4. Suggest that they create a play to prepare and present to the family or some friends. You might help them to come up with some characters and a simple plot. For example, you might have a policeman, a dog, two children, and a school teacher. How can you create a story around these characters that you could present to others?

    5. If the weather is fine, suggest that they devise a scavenger hunt, where 'treasure' is collected from the home (with your assistance) and which can then be hidden. The treasure could be edible, or treats of some kind. When the hunt is completed everyone shares the booty.

    6. Why not create a family artistic mural, sculpture or map of the local community.

    7. Alternatively, plan a photo frenzy (yes, I know a camera is a device, but it's special and only to be used for photos). You could come up with a list of things to photograph in your house and street and give them a time limit to hunt them down, photograph them and return. Give a prize (make it food and ensure it can be shared with everyone) for the most successful scavenger.

    8. Or, why don't you suggest they create a board game around a specific theme. A simple game can be made in a race format, and with a dice and simple markers for each player. Use large pieces of cardboard and ask your children to choose their own theme and draw the squares or spaces that you progress through from start to finish (e.g. a car race, race around the world, quest for Mars, climbing Mt Everest etc). The game can have a simple format with spaces marked that can progress or retard the players. For example, in the space race, they could strike a meteor shower that forces them back home, or a time warp that accelerates their ship to another galaxy. Everyone should get to play the games at the end.

    Summing Up

    Boredom is NOT bad, it can drive children to explore new things, think creatively and move beyond the most common props in life today; screens and devices! Boredom can be used to prompt children to daydream, create, explore, imagine and play. Embrace it as a normal part of life and an opportunity, not just a problem. 

    My title was meant to be outrageous, but I've also used it because I think it's also true!

    We live in an age where children and adults alike never seem to stop! Rarely do we daydream, sit quietly on a park bench and stare into space, lie around at home resting on a wet day and so on. Lazing around does not seem easy in our driven lives. What's more, if there ever is a moment where we aren't confronting a task, conversation or activity, we reach for a device to help us fill this time with more activity. When there is a free moment, we often look to others or devices, to help us know how to use our time.

    In one sense, dealing with bored children should be less of a problem than at any time in history, because it seems that there are endless things to do and many ways to use our time. But maybe, our children need to experience boredom? Might a lack of boredom be bad for our children?

    1. Neil Burton (2014), 'The Surprising Benefits of Boredom', Psychology Today'.

    Wednesday, May 29, 2019

    'Playing with Collage' by Jeannie Baker

    Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the launch of Jeannie Baker's latest book 'Playing with Collage' at the NSW State Library in Sydney. Jeannie is of course a well-loved author/illustrator of many wonderful books. She is the author and illustrator of 15 wonderful books and has been captivating children, teachers, librarians and parents for over 30 years. And as far as I can tell all of her books are still in print. This is a remarkable endorsement of the enduring quality of her work.

    Above: Jeannie's Latest Book

    In her latest book 'Playing with Collage', she shares many of her secrets in the beautifully illustrated book. We learn how she uses collage to create the masterpieces that become her books. For Jeannie every page in each of her books is a work of art, that requires her to source and use a diverse array of materials, to create her 3 dimensional works that eventually become the plates for her books.

    For Jeannie, collage wasn't something she came to in order to supplement drawing, but was a fascination from the very beginning of her artistic endeavours. In her words: 
    'Ever since I made my first picture book, I've always worked in collage.'

    She came to use collage in art school when she experimented "... playingwith different shapes, colours and textures together"

    She encourages her readers to look around them because collage materials are everywhere. Jeannie loves using natural materials like feathers, grass, earth, metal, even cement. She mixes them together, colours them, cuts them, and 'layers' them.

    The book is so very practical, starting with her basic tools, tips on making collage, texture and how to create it, playing with materials, creating a paper collection and playing and experimenting with these elements.

    If you have a child aged 4-12 who enjoys experimentation, art and craft, they will love this book.

    I first learned about Jeannie's fascination with the materials that she needs for collage, when I heard her talk many years ago about her wonderful book 'Where the Forest Meets the Sea'. She revealed then her love of searching and collecting materials and how in some senses, the collection of materials was almost as important as the making and creating of the collage. It was in fact the beginning of the artistic process. That book involved her going deep into rain forests to collect and dream about the images and the book that one day she might create. 
    Above: Part of a page showing just some of the materials you might collect
     This is a wonderful book for any child who enjoys art, story making and creative activities.

    Some of her wonderful and highly awarded books include:

    'Home in the Sky' (1984) that won many awards, including Highly Commended in the Australian Children’s Book Council Picture Book of the Year Award (1985) and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal (1985).
    'Where the Forest Meets the Sea' (1988) which was an Australian Children’s Book Council Picture Book of the Year Honour Book (1988) and an Honour Book for the International Board of Books (IBBY) for Young People (1990).
    'Window' which was Australian Children’s Book Council Picture Book of the Year (1992) and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal UK (1992).
    'The Hidden Forest' (2000) and which won the 'Giverny Award' for Best Science Picture Book USA in 2003.
    'Belonging' which was an Australian Picture Book of the Year Honour Book (2005).
    'Mirror' which won many awards, including Children's Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year (2011), The English Assoc and the UK Literary Assoc 4-11 Award, Best Children's Illustrated Book (non fiction) (2011), Australian Indie Award, Best Children's Book (2011).
    'Circle' Indie Award, Best children’s book 2017, and the Riverby Award for Natural history writing for children (2017).

    Tuesday, April 30, 2019

    12 New Picture Books that are Keepers!

    1. 'In the Bush I see' by Kiara Honeychurch

    This is another great title from Magabala Books, the Indigenous publishers located in the remote North Western Australian town of Broome. It is a delightful little board book for toddlers aged 1-4 years. A wonderful first book that children will flip through again and again. They will also learn the simple text descriptions of each wonderful creature. Like "a screeching cockatoo", "a waddling echidna" and a "watchful bandicoot". Kiara is inspired by the bush creatures she encounters in her rural home near Hobart. With a bold and sophisticated colour palette, Kiara unleashes the beauty and character of each creature. Well done Kiara, I hope there will be more books.

    2. 'The Anzac Billy' by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Mark Jackson & Heather Potter

    This is the story of one little boy lovingly selecting, with the help of his mum and grandma, favourite and useful things for his dad's billy – butterscotch, nuts, handkerchiefs, writing paper and more. Then, with a wish that the billy makes it in time for Christmas Day, he sends it on its way... Sail, big ship of billies, sail far across the sea. Until you reach the other side, until you reach my dad...

    This wonderful new picture book from successful writer Claire Saxby is a gem. The book will introduce young readers to a little-known aspect of World War I, and a simple way that our troops were supported.

    During World War I, Australian soldiers serving on the front were sent Christmas care packages. This was a collection of gifts from home. They were carefully placed in tin billies used for boiling water to make tea or heat some food over an open fire. They billy cans were filled by families and friends. Then collected and sent to the front line.
    And what happens if it doesn't make it to the loved one? You'll have to read this special book to find out. A wonderful contribution to the extensive list of great picture books about war. This makes its own special contribution. Beautifully illustrated by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter. Wonderful!

    3.  'Up to Something' by Katrina McKelvey & illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan

    This new book is from the same author/illustrator team responsible for one of my favourite picture books in 2017 'Dandelion', that reviewed previously on this blog. 

    One day, Dad invites Billy into his shed to build something, but Billy soon finds out that he is only allowed to watch. As Dad becomes engrossed in his project, Billy takes Dad’s off-cuts and other items from around the yard and shed and starts to copy what his Dad is building. Dad remains blissfully unaware! At the end of the day, they reveal their creations — two very different racing carts — and Dad discovers that Billy has more skills and abilities than his dad had ever imagined! 

    I love this book. It offers a lovely insight into a father-son relationship. The small boy wanting to do things for himself and his Dad not quite trusting him to do more than watch. The outcome is special. The delightful simple text is beautifully complemented by Kirrili Lonergan's soft pencil and water colour illustrations. The style is similar to 'Dandelion' and works beautifully.

    4. 'Little Frida' by Anthony Browne

    One great artist inspires another, as former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal Anthony Browne creates a beautiful story about Frida Kahlo.

    There have been many books written about famous artist Frida Kahlo, but Anthony Browne weaves his magic to create a special picture book, that will bring the remarkable story of Frida Kahlo to a new generation.

    Anthony Browne is former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the ultimate award for illustrated picture books, the Kate Greenaway Medal. Browne tells the story of Frida Kahlo for a young audience. has inspired. This beautiful and almost surreal work is delightfully illustrated as we would expect. It tells the story of Frida's lonely life, and how she discovered the power of her own imagination to open up new worlds of possibility. It is a lovely book that explores the themes of belonging and hope. A great book for 4-7 year olds. The book has a brief biography of Frida Kahlo at the back that parents and teachers will want to share after they've read Browne's story. 

    5. 'The Prince and the Witch and the Thief and the Bears', by Alastair Chisholm & illustrated by Jez Tuya

    An action-packed storytelling adventure that flips the traditional fairy tale on its head. When it's time for Jamie's bedtime story, his dad begins to tell an age-old fairy tale about a prince in a faraway land full of dragons, wolves and princesses in distress. But inquisitive Jamie can't help but add to his dad's story, and the prince is soon joined by an evil-eyed witch who turns people to jelly, a broccoli-wielding ninja frog and a jewel-thief, lock picking princess. It may not be the story Dad set out to tell, but together, he and Jamie create something much more energetic and hilarious than they could have alone.

    This is a zany little book that children will love sharing with other children, as will teachers love sharing it with their students. Any adult who has shared a made up story with a child before, will know how challenging (and yet fun) it is to have to adjust your story to the wishes and suggestions of young listeners. An unusual twist in a market where it's hard to surprise the reader with something different. I've enjoyed sharing the book with some of the children in my life.

    6. 'Angry Cookie' by Laura Dockrill & illustrated by Maria Karipidou

    Laura Dockrill is a well-known performance poet who has produced the text for a funny book that features a reluctant cookie who resents our attention as readers. As we open the book he cries out:

    Oooohhh . . . not you again!
    AGGGHH It’s so bright! . . . Close this book this very second, you nosy noodle!

    It seems that Cookie has woken in a very bad mood! Why? You'll need to read the book to find out, but watch out! It seems Cookie has a lot that annoys him in life, and yet his flatmate gets out her new recorder. Of course he "HATES THE RECORDER!!" But that's not all, there are so many things that annoy him. But you'll have to read the book yourself to find out how the problem of an angry cookie is resolved.

    The wonderful crayon and watercolour illustrations are delightful, and the graphic design is perfect for this quirky book. I can see only one thing that must annoy writer and illustrator just as much, the colour choices for the cover have rendered their names almost invisible on the cover.

    A wonderful book that teachers and parents will love reading to children aged 3-7 years, and of course young readers will love reading for themselves, or each other.

    7. 'Crash! Boom! A Maths Tale' by Robie Harris & illustrated by Chris Chatterton

    Elephant has a bucket of blocks and wants to build something tall. Something as tall as Elephant. But will it stay up? CRASH! BOOM! Not this time. Build it again? One block. Two blocks? Four blocks? It’s still not as tall as Elephant. More blocks! Now will it stay up? Now will it be as tall as Elephant? Build, balance, count — question, estimate, measure — predict, crash, and build again! Young children will happily follow along as Elephant goes through the ups and downs of creating something new and finally celebrates the joy and pride of success.

    This is a delightful new mathematical concepts picture book that preschool teachers will find fun to share. This cute little elephant will be well-loved by readers. Appropriate for listeners and readers aged 1-5 years. Beautifully illustrated by Chris Chatterton

    8. 'The Jacket' by Sue-Ellen Pashley & illustrated by Thea Baker

    I love this book! Now any parent will not miss the deep sentiment in the story about a favourite jacket that is worn and worn and past down to other children, but then is seemingly to be discarded. This is a jacket that becomes 'woven into the lives of one ordinary family'.

    "The jacket was no ordinary jacket. It was soft, like dandelion fluff. It was comforting, like a hug from your favourite teddy. And it had four dazzling buttons down the front..."

    Amelia wears her favourite jacket everywhere. She wears it to nursery. And to Aunty Kath's house. And to the shops. Even to bed! But, one day, she can't fit into it any more. So Mum suggests she give it to her little sister, Lily. And so, that way, the jacket lives on...

    A beautiful story that is also wonderfully illustrated with a wonderful book design that helps to make this a special book. Like Amelia's jacket, it's what we call in our house "a keeper!"

    9. 'Maple the Brave' by Chloe Jasmine Harris

    Chloe Jasmine Harris is a debut author/illustrator. This is a well-crafted story about a little girl called Maple who has to face her fears and find strength and skills she didn't know she could have.  

    Maple lives in a tree house in the woods. She’s scared of most things, especially the animals who live below. But one day, when she bravely steps out of her comfort zone, she finds that the animals are really quite kind. With their help, she awakens a sense of bravery she never knew she had. This is a gentle, Jungle Book-like adventure, where our doll-like heroine ultimately returns to her tree house stronger, more confident, and with a whole forest of friends.

    The delightful story is well supported by Chloe's detailed and colourful line and watercolour illustrations. These will delight young readers as they look deep into each page to follow Maple's encounters with her new friends in the forest who help her to grow.

    10. 'Lucky and Spike' by Norma MacDonald

    This is another wonderful picture book from Magabala Books. This is a spin-off from the first book about Lucky and Spike. I reviewed Spinifex Mouse in a previous post. These two endearing mice leave their burrow each night to search the barren remote inland plains of Australia. This is dangerous! There are many predators to avoid, including a feral cat and a ravenous owl. They race to the people’s camp to forage for spinifex seeds and come face-to-face with a prowling cat. The chase is on! They race past people dancing near a camp fire. But will they avoid the camp dog and the ravenous owl?

    I hope that they live to appear in another Lucky and Spike tale. A fast moving tale beautifully illustrated by Norma MacDonald. 

     11. 'Little Bird's Day' by Sally Morgan & illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

    A simple, universal story of a day in the life of Little Bird as she sings the world alive, flies with Cloud, travels with Wind, nestles with Moon and dreams of flying among the stars.

    This is a gorgeous book! From the deep earth colours of the cover, the inside covers with stunning images of the night sky, to the wonderful more traditional images of the creatures that punctuate Little Bird's day, it is beautiful. And, as you'd expect Sally Morgan's beautifully crafted text makes for a memorable picture book. Is there any wonder it was the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award. 

    As with many Magabala books some excellent Teacher's notes can be found on the Magabala Books website.

    12. 'Wilam: A Birrarung Story' by Aunty Joy Murphy & Andrew Kelly, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

    This is another stunning Indigenous picture book, this time from Black Dog books. Talented Indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy, respected Elder Aunty Joy Murphy and Yarra River keeper Andrew Kelly combine to create a special book. It tells the Indigenous and geographical story of Melbourne’s beautiful Yarra river, from its source to its mouth, and from its pre-history to the present day.

    Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway People on the north-east coast of Tasmania. She was born in Melbourne and as a child lived close to the Maribyrnong River. Here she experienced the gradual restoration of the natural river environment alongside cultural regeneration and reclamation. The experience of loss and reclamation is embedded in her work. The illustrations are richly coloured with a bright palette of green, red, blue, yellow and brown. Many of the plates would be stunning works of art on their own. But in combination with the text from Aunty Joy and Andrew Kelly, we have a special book to share with children aged 3-8 years of age.


    Wednesday, April 17, 2019

    6 Great Books for Teachers, Parents & Grandparents who love children's books

    Followers of this blog know that I write about all aspects of language, literacy and children's literature. I often review literature to be read by or shared with children. But in this post, I want to share some of the great books that I receive that I'm sure adults and lovers of kids' books will enjoy. There might even be a great present here for a teacher, parent or grandparent you know.

    1. Flights of Fancy: Stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children's Laureates 

    This wonderful book from Walker Books profiles the inspirational work of 10 well-known British writers of children's literature. With household names like Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Anthony Brown, Michael Rosen, Julia Donaldson and Michael Morpurgo this is a remarkable group.

    These well-known storytellers through words and pictures, are the first 10 people to have been appointed in Britain as Children's Laureate. This is a two year appointment that recognises outstanding achievement in children's literature. What I love about the book is that each chapter offers a little of the background and work of each person, and a unique twist each time on what they share. For example, Qentin blake shares some unusual large scale "splatter creatures" and talks about his experimentation with images.

    Above: Anthony Browne's Shirley Hughes
    On the other hand, Anne Fine shares much about her home library and her love of bookplates. Michael Morpurgo offers an insight into his writing processes,  Michael Rosen plays with words to say great things about poetry (no surprise there), Anthony Browne draws some of the other laureates, and so on. This is a wonderful feast of insights into writing and illustration by giants in the field.

    2. 'Encyclopedia of Grannies' by Eric Veillé

    Now this might just be written for children, but I doubt that any grandmother will be able to put it down without laughing. This  clever French writer illustrator, gives us an insight into just how diverse 'grannies' are. Did you know there are Grannies in ski suits, some who love nature, surfboard riding Australian grannies, young grannies and old ones? Every grannie has a nickname like 'Mimi', 'Abuela', 'G-ma', 'Meemaw' and more! It's amazing what grannies do with their time - talking, opening oysters, getting names muddled, tempting us with cream buns and more.

    Grannies seem to know a lot of things that will surprise you (and maybe some grannies). Their wisdom and sayings are priceless! Some grannies knit cardigans for people, covers for cat tails, warmers for camel humps and even gloves for snowmen. Then of course, there is much to learn about the moods of grannies. And we mustn't forget about the travel of grannies and much, much more. A great book for grannies to enjoy alone or with someone on their knee!

    3. 'Poe: Stories and Poems' by Gareth Hinds (graphic novel)

    Any adult who loves poetry will love this graphic novel, and you'll look cool with your teenage grandchildren or students! Hind has taken some of the best-known works from Edgar Allan Poe and transformed them into illustrated works. Gareth Hind is well-known for his own work with graphic novels and this book won't disappoint. While Poe's work might seem challenging to some, Hind's treatment of the poems and stories might well get some teenagers (and maybe adults) across the line to love these works.

    In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a man exacts revenge on a disloyal friend at carnival, luring him into catacombs below the city. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” a prince shielding himself from plague hosts a doomed party inside his abbey stronghold. A prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition, faced with a swinging blade and swarming rats, can’t see his tormentors in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a milky eye and a deafening heartbeat reveal the effects of conscience and creeping madness. Alongside these tales are visual interpretations of three poems — “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and Poe’s poignant elegy to lost love, “Annabel Lee.” The seven concise graphic narratives, keyed to thematic icons, amplify and honor the timeless legacy of a master of gothic horror.

    Some might be offended by a few word changes, but these are limited and do little more than shorten some sentences and occasionally connect others. The majority of the text used within the graphic novel format is verbatim, but the illustrations alone will make it come to life. Adults will enjoy the book and will have some fun discussing it with their students, children or grandchildren.

    4. 'The Book that Made Me' Ed Judith Ridge

    This is the book for the would-be writers (just about everyone!). It is an edited book that contains 32 personal stories from children’s and young adult authors as they explore the books, stories, and experiences that changed them as readers. The authors include Shaun Tan, Simon French, Jaclyn Moriarty, Ursula Dubosarky, Catherine Johnson, Julia Lawrinson and Jared Thomas.

    What was the book that made them fall in love, or made them understand something for the first time? What was the book that made them feel challenged in ways they never knew they could be, emotionally, intellectually, or politically? What book made them readers, or made them writers, or made them laugh, think, or cry?

    This one looks a bit more like a text book, but the short chapters are rich in experiences and insights into each author's life as well as their formative literary experiences.

    5. 'Five on Brexit Island' by Bruno Vincent

    I bought my copy of 'Five on BREXIT Island' last year when in London. I just couldn't resist. Only the fear of excess baggage made me leave some of the other titles on the shelves. This is of course Enid Blyton with a serious twist. Obviously, Enid Blyton for grown-ups or thoughtful teenagers. In a way, this book in the series has been made even better by the 12 months of political chaos in Britain over the exit from the EU.

    The story starts on the night of the referendum. The Five are gathered relaxing on Kirrin Island. Julian has politics on his mind. He steps forward and clears his throat.

    "There's been a lot of scaremongering going on," he said, "about the potential consequences of this vote: about subsidies, about people's livelihoods being threatened, about the economy and about hope in the future." He implores the gathering to fight for the values of the Island. For of course, "... Britain is great, and Kirrin Island is great too - and they are better - together!"

    Hopefully, this will whet your appetite.

    Other titles include 'Five go on a strategy away day', 'Five go parenting', 'Five give up the booze' and one for the ages, 'Five go gluten free'.

    6. 'Raising Readers: How to nurture a child's love of books' by Megan Daley

    Some kids refuse to read, others won't stop - not even at the dinner table! Either way, many parents question the best way to support their child's literacy journey. When can you start reading to your child? How do you find that special book to inspire a reluctant reader? How can you tell if a book is age appropriate? What can you do to keep your tween reading into their adolescent years?

    Teacher librarian Megan Daley has fifteen years of experience and shares many of her in sights. Her opening chapter has some great advice on "raising a reader" in the years 0 to 5. Later chapters have good advice on the nature of reading, where technology fits, getting the most of out of a library and setting up the library or a classroom. There also excellent chapters on a balanced diet of varied reading genres (historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, plays, poetry, novels and more). As well she tackles multimodal and digital reading and books that reflect cultural diversity. 

    You'll find lots of practical tips, suggested reading lists and things as practical as how to run book-themed activities. The book is a great resource for parents and educators.


    Tuesday, March 19, 2019

    Oral Reading: Making it Useful or Making it a Waste of Time?

    Oral reading is often the 'go to' strategy for many classroom teachers teaching children aged 5-10 years of age. But while it is an essential tool for teaching the very young beginning reader, it can be badly used and even abused at school and at home. Furthermore, while it might well be an appropriate way to assess reading for beginning readers aged 4-7 years, it isn't sufficient to properly assess proficient readers, nor to act as a core part of literacy instruction for children with reading ages beyond 7 years (irrespective of the grade they are in).

    1. How can oral reading be useful?

    Oral reading can:
    • Help teachers and parents to observe and make 'visible' children's reading processes (to some extent what's going on in their heads).
    • Help children to develop reading fluency and can support vocabulary development.
    • Help teachers and parents to assess reading progress and diagnose difficulties.
    • Be a helpful skill for life that we don't want to lose.
    I've written about oral reading before covering a variety of topics, including:

    How to listen to children reading (HERE & HERE),
    The importance of reading to and with children (HERE), and
    Readers' Theatre (HERE).

     2. How can oral reading be abused?

    While oral reading does have some helpful functions, it should never be assumed by parents and teachers as the key tool for reading assessment and instruction.
      Sadly, for many children, reading around the group (or worse still the class) kills interest and motivation. What's even worse, at times oral reading can be used as the only tool to assess the ability of young readers with little attention to comprehension. Just listening to children reading is NOT an adequate tool for assessment. While some young readers might struggle with oral reading, they might possess excellent reading comprehension skills, extensive vocabulary and greater reading fluency when reading silently.

    But we also know from research that 'repeated readings' can improve fluency and ability (e.g. Stoddart & others 1993, Rasinski 1990, Rasinski & Hoffman 2003). So it has a place with young readers, but not as the key instructional and assessment tool. My key question for teachers is how can they move beyond 'round robin' reading and embrace more creative and enjoyable approaches to reading?

    3. Making it fun and enjoyable

    First of all, we need to ensure that children have frequent opportunities for silent reading and opportunities for response, discussion and comprehension tasks.

    Above: Reading to her day-old sister
    Second, if using oral reading or repeated reading make it interesting and supportive of learning? Here are some key elements to help achieve this.

    1. Choose appropriate material for your children - use graded material at varied levels; favourite passages from books the class has heard or read (e.g. Roald Dahl or Dr Seuss books work); jokes & riddles; poetry or songs that they know; speeches and famous quotes.
    2. Ensure that students are reading at their appropriate level.
    3. Use varied strategies and avoid simply reading around the group.
    4. Try to give the oral reading task an 'authentic' rather than contrived purpose.

    4. Some alternative strategies

    Most of the ideas that follow can be found in a great article by Mary Ann Cahill and Anne E. Gregory published in 'The Reading Teacher'. Here is their description of oral reading in a US 2nd grade classroom they had worked in:
    'One pair is rolling dice and using different voices to read; a small group is reading to small, plastic animals on their desks; three students are wearing masks while reading; and another pair is using little, red-beamed flashlights to shine on each word as they read.'
    What are some simple novel ways to help children remain motivated and enjoy oral reading?

    Above: Evie reads to her pet cat
    i) Read to prepare for performance - By this I mean, putting exciting material in children's hands, letting them practice and then asking them to share it with a group or the class (e.g. read a favourite section from a book, read a song, silly poem etc).
    ii) Try Readers' Theatre - I've written about this before (HERE). Obtain some free scripts and let your children have fun reading together in small groups to present the scripts to others.
    iii) Read to someone or something - This might seem strange, but some teachers get their children to read not to other people but to other 'things'. A number of classes in the UK and the US have had children read regularly to a school dog (read more HERE) with great success and benefits. Some creative teachers have had their children read to plastic dinosaurs (!), a favourite doll etc.
    iv) Some turn it into a game such as 'Reading Dice' - This involves getting children to discuss the different voices a character could have for a reading extract; they then write 6 of them on the board and giving them the numbers 1-6. They then have children work in pairs or groups to take turns, roll the dice and use the voice that matches the number.
    v) Newsreader or media presenter - Teachers have a microphone (it can be a fake one) and ask children in pairs to conduct an interview for an appropriate extract.
    vi) Reading Masks - the children practice reading passages using the voice and persona of the mask they are wearing (these can be animals, super heroes etc).
    vii) Use songs for reading - The use of songs has the added advantage that the rhythm, sound repetition, melody etc can be used to support reading (see my recent post on this topic HERE)

    Summing up

    Oral reading is a valuable instructional tool but should NEVER be used as the sole instructional or assessment tool. It has been misused for many years with the effect that some children have found it less than rewarding. But it can and should be enjoyable and fun. I'd love to hear of your own experiences with oral reading. Do you have any great ideas? Post a comment. 

    A useful reference

    Mary Ann Cahill & Anne E. Gregory (2011). Putting the fun back into fluency instruction, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 65, No. 2, pp 127-131.

    Saturday, February 23, 2019

    12 Wonderful New Picture Books for Children Aged 3-7

    I've had a number of wonderful picture books arrive recently. Here are 10 that are perfect for bedtime, reading to classes or groups of children, or also as great new self-reading for children aged 3-7 years.

    1. 'Queen Celine' by Matt Shanks

    Matt Shanks’ latest picture book introduces us to Celine Beaufort. Celine lives a fairly ordinary life, doing ordinary things, but sometimes she gets to be the queen of a very special place—her very own kingdom by the sea. But when Celine claims the land for her own and builds a fortress to keep everything else out, the kingdom starts to lose its magic and Celine realises she’s made a terrible mistake.   

     I love this simple but subtly complex tale. It's water colour plates are a joy in themselves (hope you enjoyed the video of our artist at work). But like any great picture book, 'Queen Celine' has many layers of meaning. It can be read as a funny story about an ordinary little girl, who messes up badly in trying to protect and claim her own bit of paradise. She was an ordinary little girl, who did pretty ordinary things. But she has the chance to make herself a Queen with a kingdom by the sea!

    This picture book can also be read as a book with significant ecological messages. And if you consider it for a little longer, you might just see another layer that has political messages about a self-proclaimed ruler - Celine! It was her kingdom, she had 'bagsied' it for herself! She was to control the boundaries of her special kingdom. This reading could imply that there is another political path that doesn't keep all things to ourselves in order to protect and enjoy them. Is it possible to share good things with others without losing out ourselves? Indeed, might this generosity of spirit be better.

    A brilliant book that combines delightful water colour illustrations with a well-crafted text that packs strong messages with a minimum of words. Wonderful stuff! 

    Suitable for children 3-7 years.

    2. 'Mallee Sky' by Jodi Toering &amp and illustrator Tannya Harrick

    I just love this book. Tannya Harrick's wonderful oil paintings with rich almost extravagant brush strokes bring the Australian countryside to life as few books manage to do. Each plate is so authentic I was transported to many rural locations that I've experienced. The rich beauty of trees in sometimes barren landscapes, the colour of Australia's amazing birds and the authentic images of remote towns. Tannya understands this landscape and helps us on the journey which Jodi Toering has beautifully crafted in words. The beauty and harshness of remote Australia is so well described by the author. As well, the life is captured so subtly by the images of milk urn letterboxes, showers in the paddock, dust storms, harsh drought and the glorious excitement of long awaited rain.

    Jodi was born in the Mallee at Hopetoun and grew up on a wheat farm outside a small town called Beulah, and it shows! No doubt this is why she had deftly written a moving account of the effect that drought has on families and communities. But she also enjoys in her spare time creating artworks based on her bush block. Tannya on the other hand lives in the city, but her love of the Australian landscape shines through in the joy and exuberance of her art. It won't surprise you to know that she is an award-winning visual artist/painter based in Sydney. Her paintings are derived from sketches done out in the landscape and brought to life in the studio. The book is a veritable gallery of stunning paintings worthy in their own right. Together, writer and artist have created a wonderful book. Don't miss it!.

    Suitable as a self-read for children aged 5-7 and a read aloud for children aged 3-10.

    3. 'The Box Cars' by Robert Vescio and illustrator Cara King

    Liam and Kai are the best of friends. They do everything together. Each day in the park they race around in their box cars, pretending to be everything from policemen chasing down bad guys to chauffeurs driving around movie stars! One day they notice a little girl watching them -- she's keen to join in and they're happy to be her friends too, but with only two box cars to play with it seems someone's going to be left out. The Box Cars is a fun-filled story of friendship, sharing and creative problem-solving that will appeal to boys and girls everywhere!

    This is a lovely book for younger readers aged 4-7 years to read or as a read aloud book at home or school. Cara King's quirky and delightful illustrations will captivate your readers and listeners. Robert Vescio offers a sensitive exploration of how children can learn that relationships with friends don't always need to be between two special best friends. There can be a generosity in friendships that might just enrich the existing relationships that you have, if you're prepared to open your lives to others. This is a wonderful exploration of how we can deal with the old 'problem' of two's company, but three's a 'crowd.' A beautifully crafted text from Robert Vescio and wonderful illustrations from Cara King work so well together. This is another wonderful book from a small publisher (Exisle Publishing) punching well above its weight! This new book is also a wonderful celebration of creativity, ingenuity and simple fun that children can make for themselves, if given the opportunity, time and access to basic things.

    4. 'Flat Cat' by Hiawyn Oram & illustrator Gwen Millward

    Sophie absolutely adores Jimi and smothers him with treats. She thinks he has everything a cat could possibly desire. And Jimi does ... but he doesn’t ... because secretly Jimi longs to explore the bright and bustling world outside. So, when Sophie rushes out one day forgetting her keys, there’s only one thing for it: Jimi slips on his coat and skedaddles out of there, too! Where will he go and who will he meet on those wild and exciting streets? And what on earth will Sophie say? Children and parents alike will rejoice in this funny, stylish and heart-warming celebration of freedom, adventure, friendship and love.

    Flat Cat is a very creative exploration of a basic human reality; in life at times we need to take a few chances, and break a few rules. Gwen Willard is a clever illustrator who takes a 'one-dimensional' cat and turns him into a risk taker who changes the direction of his life. Willard's simple crayon line drawings are simply captivating and work perfectly with Hiawyn Oram's clever story.

    A perfect read aloud for children aged 4-7, or a fun read for younger readers.

    5. 'Clever Crow' by Nina Lawrence & illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft

    Clever Crow is an endearing and witty tale that follows the exploits of a hungry and very clever crow. Crow searches in the bush for food but he can find none. It is only when he comes across people preparing for a ceremony that his luck changes. Crow spots a big turtle egg waiting to be cooked, and he cries out, 'Yummy, food for me!' But it is not an easy task stealing a turtle egg - even for a clever crow. Crow has to be more clever than he has ever been before!

    I'm a big fan of Magabala Books, and Indigneous Publisher located in the beautiful town of Broome located in the remote North West coast of Australia. Nina is a descendant of the Yidinji people of Far North Queensland and Bronwyn is a member of the Djanbun clan of the Bundjalung Nation. This telling of a traditional Aboriginal story is presented with English and Indigenous languages complete with a wonderful glossary included.

    Children will love Bronwyn Bancroft's colourful and evocative illustrations, and the way the Djambarrpuynu language translation (Yolnu language from North East Arnhem Land) is woven into the design of this wonderful book.

    6. 'Dinosaur Day Out' by Sara Acton

    Sally and Max love dinosaurs. They can’t wait to see them at the museum, but today the dinosaur exhibition is closed. Where will the dinosaurs go on their day off? A whimsical story with humour and heart from author and award-winning illustrator Sara Acton.

    They visit their favourite museum where they love to look at the dinosaur skeletons, but this day the exhibition is closed. The dinosaurs have a day off! Outrageous. But as the children explore the city and the museum they gain a glimpse of just what dinosaurs might do on their day off. Sara Acton's crayon and watercolour are stripped back as is her beautifully economical text. Sara of course is the Crichton Award-Winning Author/Illustrator of 'Ben and Duck'. Sara grew up in The Cotswolds, England, and trained to be an art teacher in London. After teaching stints in London and New Zealand, she moved with her family to Australia.

    This fun book would be a perfect read aloud book for any group of 4-6 year old children.

    7. 'Good Rosie!' by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Harry Bliss

    Rosie is a good dog and a faithful companion to her owner, George. She likes taking walks with George and looking at the clouds together. But the closest she comes to another dog is when she encounters her reflection in her empty dog bowl, and sometimes that makes Rosie feel lonely. One day George decides to try taking Rosie to the dog park, but the park is full of dogs that Rosie doesn’t know, which makes her feel lonelier than ever. So, when big, loud Maurice and small, yippy Fifi bound over and want to play, Rosie’s not sure how to respond. Is there a trick to making friends? And if so, can they all figure it out together?

    Kate DiCamillo is a legendary story teller. The author of 'The Magician's Elephant', a New York Times bestseller, 'The Tale of Despereaux', which was awarded the Newbery Medal, and 'Because of Winn-Dixie', a Newbery Honor book. Harry Bliss is a cartoonist and cover artist for the New Yorker magazine. He has illustrated many picture books, including illustrated many picture books, including the New York Times bestselling series by Doreen Cronin: 'Diary of a Worm', 'Diary of a Spider', and 'Diary of a Fly'. Bliss makes a wonderful visual contribution to this work. Together they have created a memorable picture book, that looks a bit like a graphic 'novel' or comic book. But it is essentially a picture book.

    This is a picture book that many readers aged 5 to 7 years will read over an over again.

    8. 'Maddie's First Day' by Penny Matthews and illustrated by Liz Anelli

    It is Maddie’s first day of school and she has everything ready – her uniform, shoes, socks and hat. But there is one special thing that Maddie can’t leave behind – her blanky! 

    This is a perfect book for children aged 4-7 who still have some insecurity in new situations. It tells of the insecurity that can creep in during the early weeks of school, whether kindergarten or simply the start-up of a new year. 

    Penny Matthews and Liz Anelli team up to tell this sensitive story of a little girl who sneaks her favourite 'snuggle' toy into her bag on the first day of school. While some classmates are surprised to see her 'Blanky' at school, Charlie understands because he had his 'blanky' too. A rich friendship develops as they adjust to school life together.

    This would be a perfect book to share in the first weeks of Kindergarten or in the lead up to those first days at 'Big School'.

    Penny Matthews has written more than thirty books for children and young adults. She writes in a variety of genres and has won a number of awards, including the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award and the Davitt Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Her delightful illustrations bring this story to life with expressive characters to whom young readers can relate. Liz is from England but now lives in Newcastle, NSW (my home town!). In 2017, her book 'Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre' (written by Pamela Freeman) was named as a CBCA Notable

    9. 'Me and my Fear' by Francesca Sanna

    When a young girl has to travel to a new country and start at a new school, her Fear tells her to be alone and afraid. How can she hope to make friends if she doesn’t understand their language?
    This is an intriguing picture book. Sanna is the author/illustrator of 'The Journey' which was a 2017 Amnesty CILIP Honour book and recounted a family's dangerous flight from their home in a war zone to a new country. This book is similar in artistic and literary style. In fact, they are unmistakably related. It is a heart-warming tale that grapples with the importance of dealing with your fears, and in particular, the importance of sharing them with others. Sanna understands that we all have fears within us, even this unnamed little girl. The little immigrant girl might well be Francesca herself, for she shares in the author's note at the back of the book that she is an anxious person, and that she has needed the help of many people to deal with anxiety.

    Fear shows itself in many forms and can be debilitating. But fear leading to anxiety, can also be our "friend" that seems to sit 'in our pocket' 'keeping us safe'. Fear might not be all bad, if we know how to deal with it. And if we are given support in doing so, it can be controlled in positive ways. Our fears might seem to get bigger and BIGGER by the day, but the can be our friends if they can be kept in perspective. Fear can take many forms; fear of a new neighbourhood, playtime at school, not understanding others, mealtime and plates that seem too big' dreams' or not having friends.

    This lovely book, with distinctive illustrations created with a simple subdued colour palette, allows the reader to identify with this unnamed little girl and the emotions portrayed. And our 'cloud-like' friend 'fear' is drawn in an appropriate non-scary way, suggesting that it can help not just hinder.

    Francesca Sanna is an Italian illustrator and graphic designer based in Switzerland. Following her studies in Cagliari (Sardinia), she moved to Germany and then Switzerland, in order to follow her dream to work as an illustrator.

    10. 'Circle' by Mac Barnett & illustrated by Jon Klassen

    The dynamic, 'dream team' of Jon Klassen (illustrator) and Mac Barnett (author) has come together again for the final instalment in their hilarious 'Shape' trilogy. They have made six books together: 'Sam and Dave Dig a Hole', 'Extra Yarn', 'The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse', 'Triangle', 'Square' and this their latest book 'Circle'. Jon was the creator of the much-acclaimed 'Hat' trilogy, which includes 'I Want My Hat Back', the Kate Greenaway and Caldecott Medal winner 'This Is Not My Hat' and 'We Found a Hat'. They both live in California, USA, but in different cities. Jon is originally from Canada.

    Jon Klassen in Shape trilogy, almost seems to echo the famous Swiss sculptor Giacometti who sought to represent the human head (and later bodies) with as little detail as possible. And yet, his plaster heads still unmistakably represented heads. Klassen's incredible geometric shaped people of course sit within illustrated backgrounds, but the 'reader' is always drawn to the head.

    In this third book of the trilogy, Triangle and Square are visiting Circle, who lives near a waterfall. One day they play hide-and-seek, and Circle gives them just one rule, 'no hiding behind the waterfall'. Why? Because "it is dark back there". But where do they go? Square stays behind because he's afraid of the dark. But Triangle hides behind the waterfall. Circle goes to find him, there is no answer. He goes deeper in and it is VERY dark! Only his eyes are now visible. Circle finds Triangle (and he is glad), but there is a third set of eyes! Who could it be? No, not Square, he's outside. So, who is it? What shape do you picture?

    Brilliant as usual, you will be left wishing that this trilogy didn't have to end. I just live these books, which will always be seen as picture books that have helped us to rethink just what they might be. Every child should have access to this series. Suitable for readers 1-99 years! But also, perfect for a read aloud to children aged 3-6 years.

    11. 'Let me Sleep sheep' by Meg McKinlay & illustrated by Leila Rudge

    It’s bedtime for Amos, who smiles as he closes his eyes and counts some fluffy sheep trotting away in the grass. Until suddenly . . . THUD. And then another. “Not again!” says the first sheep, now on Amos’s floor. “I was having my wool clipped,” grumbles the second. None too happy at being interrupted, the woolly pair fire a battery of questions at Amos, most importantly: "Where’s the fence?"

    The fence!? The sheep has a name Felix, not "one" and he the two sheep will be there until they find the fence. Amos will need to build one. But what can he use? The shelves? No, it's too high and Felix's friend Walter has a bad knee, and Judith, who is as yet un-arrived sheep 7 hates heights.

    Amos sets out to build one to their specifications, then of course he'll need to test it. This is a very funny and clever book that readers or listeners aged 3-7 will find hilarious!

    Meg McKinlay is a wonderful writer and Leila Rudge is a brilliant illustrator. Her soft and colourful crayon illustrations are 'delicious'! This great team has created a very special book.  It follows on from the previous success of this partnership with 'Duck for a Day' and 'No Bears'. 

    12. 'I Do Not Like Books Anymore' by Daisy Hirst

    Natalie and Alphonse REALLY like books. Picture books with Dad, scary stories with Mom, and especially stories they remember or make up themselves. So, when it’s time for Natalie to learn to read, she thinks it will be exciting — she can have all the stories in the world now, and even read them to Alphonse. But when Natalie gets her first reading book, the letters look like squiggles and it isn’t even a good story; it’s just about a cat that can sit. “I do not like books anymore!” Natalie declares. But she still wants to make up stories. With Alphonse’s help, can she find a way to turn a love of telling stories into a love of reading stories? With her one-of-a-kind voice and wonderfully droll artwork, Daisy Hirst captures the familiar frustration of struggling to learn something new — and the particular pride that comes when you finally succeed.

    Hirst's cartoon-like style will be endearing to younger readers, with simple brightly coloured stylistic figures and bright colours they seem just right for this quirky tale. The story will parallel the experience of many children who start out loving the joy and closeness of being read only to struggle when they need to learn how to do it for themselves. A touching story about life's simple challenges as you grow up.