Thursday, March 20, 2014

10 New Picture Books that Will Challenge, Amuse and Teach

1. 'Rivertime' written illustrated by Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin)

I love this book! Of course I approach it as a lover of birds and wildlife, a person who always has an eye towards the sky. I also love clever well-written, designed and illustrated picture books. This book ticks lots of boxes for me. And it will for readers of varied ages.

It is a lovely story of a boy and his bird-watching uncle who head off on a paddling trip on Australia's Glenelg River. Like many 10 years old boys Clancy doesn't see much appeal in camping and leaving behind technology. And then of course there will be mosquitoes and other things that bight. This is a story told in word and image. The illustrations are cartoon-like and work wonderfully well with the text to tell this story about slowing down life, growing up, and connecting with the land and its creatures.

You will finish the book thinking just like David Suzuki (in his commendation of the book) that 'All children need an Uncle Egg to open up the magical world of nature. We all need to get outside, away from television, computers and mobile phones, and what better way than a canoeing-camping trip? This is a delightful story about the joy of the outdoors.'

Readers aged 6-11 will love this quirky book. NB The book is due for release on 26th March 2014.

2. 'My Two Blankets' written by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books)

This is the story of a young girl called Cartwheel. She leaves her war-ravaged country and heads for somewhere seen as safe. But the new country is so strange and foreign that she is confused and wonders who she is. She finds comfort in a metaphorical blanket. This is a blanket of words and sounds. A young girl offers her friendship and teaches her some words. Cartwheel takes these words and begins to create a new blanket. This is a blue-grey blanket of angular sounds. And from these words and sounds she learns new things. At first it is all too hard, but over time her angular world develops a smoother and more comfortable form and is as warm and familiar as her old blanket.

Freya Blackwood is a brilliant illustrator and she takes this complex text and weaves her magic to create a very special book. In the illustrator's words:

"The metaphorical blanket was a difficult concept to illustrate and took me a long time to solve. But I was really attracted to the idea of a visual interpretation of feelings, sounds and words.

3. 'My Mum Says the Strangest Things' written by Katrina Germein and illustrated by Tom Jellett (Black Dog Press)

This is a delightful book that turns the colloquial sayings of everyday life upside down. Telling the story through the eyes of a toddler the author playfully weaves the daily sayings of a busy mother to create an insight into the sometimes confusing world of the young child. Just what is my Mum meaning when she says:

"I'm away with the pixies"
"I have ants in my pants"
"That I must stop running around like a headless chook"
"My room is like a pigsty"
"When her ship comes in"
"I'm good as gold"

Tom Jellet's simple silhouette-like illustrations that use 2, 3 and more colours to great effect helps to add to the sense of fun in the book. This book will make children laugh and generate more language play as children share their own strange things that parents say. Children aged 4-7 will love the book.

4. 'To the Goldfields' written and illustrated by Rachel Tonkin (Walker Books)

This is a picture book that tells the story of a family that goes to the gold diggings in the 1850s, and the life they lived there. At that time Sixty thousand people headed off to seek their fortune, shouting, singing, laughing and sometimes arguing and fighting all at once. This was a scene of chaotic digging, sluicing, cradling, panning and puddling in the creek. But there were also deep and dangerous mine shafts, claim stealers, bushrangers and more. People from all around the world came to the one crazy place, to look for gold.

The story is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old heading off with his family. Life was different. He lived in a tent, slept on mattresses stuffed with leaves and sometimes ate parrots that his Father had shot. He played quoits and marbles with friends, fished for yabbies and made kites. They witnessed miners hiding from troopers and drunken arguments and fights at night.

Rachel Tonkin's wonderfully rich waters colour and line drawings and her vibrant text bring this era to life. It is a wonderful example of history being communicated to children in faithful and exciting ways. This is highly recommended for children aged 6-12 years.

5. 'Australian Federation: One People, One Destiny' by Net Brennan (Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books)

This is a fascinating book for any Australian. Whether you are aged 9-12 years of age (the group the book targets) or an adult who is a bit fuzzy on Australian history this book will teach you things through its well-written text and numerous wonderful images. After you've read this book you will:
Know more about Australia's colonial history
Understand how Federation came into being
Learn about the key advocates and drivers of the federation of Australia's states
Understand more about the varied waves of immigrants that shaped our nation
Learn about the history of our flag and national anthem
Gain an insight into our early leaders
Before 1901 the nation of Australia did not exist. Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia were six separate colonies under British rule. But among the people of the colonies, the idea of unity was emerging as "a whole continent for a nation, and a nation for a continent". This is the story of how ordinary citizens became the first in the world to write and vote for their own Constitution, and how they came together to form the nation of Australia.

Since this is a curriculum topic for upper primary children in every state in the new national curriculum, this book will be well received.

6. 'Chooky-doodle-doo' written by Jan Whiten and illustrated by Sinéad Hanley (Walker Books)

This is a delightful book for readers aged 2-5 years. It is a counting book that uses non-rhyming verse and repetition to good effect.

One little chooky chick
pulling at a worm.
Clucky cluck, worm's stuck.
What should chooky do?

Of course we end up with two, then three, four and five before 'lots' of chooks pull the 'worm' out and receive a great surprise. The carefully crafted words of Jan Whiten are beautifully supported by Sinéad Hanley's images. These use pencil, paper cuts, textures, surfaces, screen-printing and colour in abundance. Chooky-Doodle-Doo is the first book for both author and illustrator.

7. 'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The lyrics are used exactly as in the song and with Craig Smith's wonderful water colour and line drawings are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

8. 'Journey,' written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press.

This is the first children's book by Aaron Becker who is an experienced artist; it is 'a masterwork' (to quote the New York Times). It is a story told completely using through images. It tells of a lonely little girl in a dull world, which she longs to escape. The sepia-toned city images give way to a world of colour when one day she takes a red crayon one day and draws a doorway on her bedroom wall that permits entry to another world. This is a completely different world of colour and imagination. Bedroom walls give way to an incredible walled city where every challenge and need can be solved with the stroke of her new tool to other places. The imagination is all that it takes to be transported to other places. In new worlds filled with the product of such imaginings our main character soars and navigates air and water, escapes problems and challenges and triumphs. Even on her return life now has more colour and life. Children aged 3 to 7 years will enjoy this stunning picture book.

The book was named as one of just three honour books for the prestigious 2014 Caldecott Medal.

9. 'Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers', by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick Press)

This is a true story that has been a long time coming. It tells in a fair but powerful way of the racism that has often existed in armed forces around the world. Americans may well have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but few would know of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - the Triple Nickle. These were the first US black paratroopers. They showed that black soldiers could do anything their white counterparts could do. The text and over 100 carefully labelled photographs in this 150 page book offer us an insight into how some brave and persistent African American men paved the way for others to be a full part of the US armed forces.

Tanya Lee Stone (author of 'Almost Astronauts') has done extensive research to tell her true story for readers of all ages. Boys in particular will love reading and looking at the historic photos. The work took Stone almost 10 years and the meticulous care and passion shows in this wonderful book. This amazing story will challenge all readers irrespective of age, race or ethnicity. It is a very worthy winner.

The book recently won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, it was published by Candlewick Press. This prestigious American award honours the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18).

10. 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Walker Books)

This latest book in the Walker Illustrated Classics series is stunning! Robert Ingpen is at the top of his craft in this work. As usual, his illustrations offer extraordinary detail. He uses a variety of media, including watercolour, pencil, and pastel. But whatever the media, the detail is always amazing and at times almost breathtaking. He brings characters to life. Each of the 36 chapters have a double page spread that offers an engaging start to each new chapter in the life of this mischievous puppet. The first double page for chapter 1 shows the carpenter Mastro Cherry in his workshop. You can 'drink' this in for ages before wanting to read on. Fantastic!

What is also wonderful about this volume is the fact that it is based on the original text of Pinocchio published first in 1883 from a collection of separate chapters that appeared previously in an Italian newspaper for children. This is not the Disney form of the story. This is a more 'gritty' tale that will surprise you in places. The original Collodi version portrays a strange topsy-turvy world that hints at Tuscany and where sinister things happen. The young Pinocchio lurches from one problem to another, just surviving on many occasions. In fact, Collodi meant for him to die after chapter 15, but his readers were so outraged that he was forced to continue the story for another 21 chapters and give it a more satisfactory ending for the wooden puppet that becomes a boy.

As with all of the books in this series, the book design is stunning. All have hard covers, think paper and coloured pages throughout in varied soft tones. These are handsome, 'rich' collectors' editions that make you want to read the stories.

Other posts

Children's Literature HERE
Picture Books HERE


Kayleen said...

I ordered Courage Has No Color for my public middle school library. Popular!

SquiggleMum said...

Looking forward to seeing "Rivertime" - looks like our kind of book Trevor ;)


Trevor Cairney said...

It is indeed our kind of book Cath! I felt like heading off on a 10 day trip before I'd even finished the book. You'll love it.

You'll enjoy 'Courage Has No Color' as well Kayleen.

Nice to hear from you both.

Janeen said...

A great selection! Thanks.