Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Eight Stunning New Picture Books

I typically offer an overview of the Children's Book Council of Australia awards at this time each year, but many of the shortlisted books have been hard to source. So, instead I've reviewed some of the books shortlisted as well as others that publishers have sent me that I think are worthy of review.

1. 'The Boy and the Elephant' by Freya Blackwood

This is a story about a boy with a great imagination. He lives in a busy city where noise, hurry and bustle surrounds everyone. But there is an overgrown lot next to his apartment building, and within the forest of trees he finds a friend. 

No ordinary friend, but an elephant! He sees his elephant among and within the trees, and his 'friendship' brings him comfort and a sense of companionship. But one day the block is sold and the trees are cut down. What can he do about this? The resolution of this great disruption to his life will surprise the reader.

As usual Freya Blackwood's illustrations are wonderful and are done with pencil and oil paints on water colour paper. This superb new book is very worthy of its nomination for the Children's Book Council Australia (CBCA) picture book of the year in 2022.

Freya Blackwood has won many awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal (2009) for her book 'Harry and Hopper'. In 2015 she was awarded three CBCA Book of the Year awards in a single year; an unparalleled achievement. Her book 'The Unwilling Twin' was also shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year in the 2021 CBCA Awards. Freya lives in the beautiful NSW town of Orange (that has lots of trees!).

2. 'Frank's Red Hat' by Sean E. Avery

This is a story about a very special penguin, with a very ordinary name - Frank! But Frank was far from ordinary, he was "full of ideas"! Not all were good of course, so the day he jumped on the ice wearing a knitted red hat, the other penguins were very nervous. A sharp-eyed reader might just spot in the illustration a killer whale, way off in the distance besides an iceberg. And if they do (as well as Frank's friends), they might just hold their breath. Why would he wear a red hat in an iceflow?!

As the other penguins discussed Frank's new hat, it was Neville who suggested that red was a dangerous colour. And all the while the Killer Whale drew closer. Sadly, Neville was right! But Frank survived, unconvinced that his hat had anything to do with the oh so unlucky, Neville!! Perhaps the colour was all wrong? Or was it the style? Were his ideas just ahead of their time? You'll need to read this book to find out. Preferably do this with some children who will just love it.

Stunning illustrations and a beautifully crafted text from Shaun E. Avery. Shaun is a teacher, writer-illustrator, sculptor and designer born in South Africa but living in Perth, Western Australia. He is known to many as the writer-illustrator of the well-loved children’s picture book All Monkeys Love Bananas and his previous picture book, Happy as a Hog Out of Mud.  He is also known internationally as a sculptor who uses CDs and DVDs to create incredible works of art held in many galleries and private collections around the world.

3. 'Ella and the Useless Day' by Meg McKinlay & illustrated by Karen Blair

Ella’s house is full of useless things! Bricks and boxes and plant pots and shoes and more. So, it’s time for Ella and her dad to head to the tip with all the things that are old and broken, too big, or too small, or too something-else-altogether. But who knew? Those holey blankets are just what Mrs Esposito needs and the rusty tricycle is perfect for Mr Montgomery. Will they have anything useless left by the time they reach the tip?

This is a wonderful book from a superb team! Meg McKinlay continues to come up with beautifully crafted and original stories, that always seem to resonate with the real-life experiences of the readers for whom they have been written. What child (or parent) cannot relate to the age-old problem of too much stuff?! And the solution? We need a chuck out day. 

But some funny things happen on the way to the rubbish tip after their cleanup. What is it? You'll have to read this delightful book to find out. Along the way enjoy its wonderful text, but also for the fantastic watercolour illustrations from Karen Blair.   

"A heartwarming picture book about community, sustainability and how one neighbour’s rubbish is another’s treasure."

4. 'This is my Dad' by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston

Leo has a problem. When his teacher announces they are going to have a "Tell Us About Your Dad Day" Leo's heart sank. He knows that he won't have anything to say, because he has never met his Dad. He sits and worries, "how can I celebrate someone I've never met?" Maybe his Mum will have an idea. But she needs to finish her book first, so he decides to search the house for clues. Perhaps in his birthday card collection? But no! He wonders, just who is my Dad, and what is he like?

Eventually, Leo solves the problem himself. His Dad is amazing!! Dad "discovers new galaxies", "scares off spiders" and he can "throw frisbees". He concludes, "my Dad is my everything." A wonderful and heart-warming story that children will love, and those who don't know their Dad's will find helpful.

Dimity Powell says she writes for children because "she would secretly love to be one again." She has had a number of stories shortlisted and awarded, including her digital narrative, 'The Chapel of Unlove' for the Story City App, which was shortlisted for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards in 2016. Other books by Dimity include 'At the End of Holyrood Lane' (EK Books, 2018), 'The Fix-It Man' (EK Books 2017) and 'Oswald Messweather'.

Nicky Johnston is an educator, speaker and author/illustrator of children’s books. Her style has been described as "whimsical, emotive, soft and expressive." Nicky loves teaching and school visits to share her journey in becoming an author and illustrator. She also loves to show children the process of creating a book using excerpts from her work. Her 16 books include , 'Grandma Forgets' (EK Books, 2017, with Paul Russell), 'Saying Goodbye to Barkley' (EK Books, 2019) and 'Upside-Down Friday' (EK Books, 2021).

5. 'One Book Was All It Took' by Wenda Shurety & illustrated by Amy Calautti

I love this quirky book! Violet is an avid reader, but the trouble is she has devoured (well read!) all the books in her house; except one! But it is propping up a leg on the dining table. She just has to grab it, but when she does lots of things are turned upside down. Just one book was "all it took", to ruin Dad's breakfast and set in play a chain reaction! Dad misses his bus, he can't find a cooking book, Violet needs more books, but where is the library?! There's no library in their town so a letter is sent to the Lord Mayor who is seeking ideas for a new council building... 

This is a delightful picture book that children aged 3-6 will love. Amy Calautti's cartoon-like line and water colour illustrations are a wonderful complement to Wenda Shurety's brilliantly simple story that is exciting and engaging. Together author and illustrator have created a wonderful book that children will want to hear and read many times.   

Wenda Shurety is a children’s author who loves to write stories from the heart about nature, diversity and the magical world of the imagination. Originally from London, she now lives in Brisbane with her husband and daughter.

6. 'Amira's Suitcase' by Vikki Conley & illustrated by Nicky Johnston

The judges who shortlisted this wonderful book for the Children's Book Council of Australia described it this way:

It begins with a tiny seed growing inside a suitcase. With Amira’s care, the tiny seed starts to sprout. Find out what happens when kindness flourishes...Amira’s Suitcase is a gentle, thought-provoking tale about friendship and hope.

This is a simple story about a little girl who plants a seed in one of many empty suitcases in her family’s new home. But as she nurtures this one seed, her friends give her more seeds and all flourish. They decide to plant them outside. The outcome is wonderful!! 

The water colour illustrations of Nicky Johnston are a wonderful contribution to this special book. They capture the children’s excitement as the plants grow. There is great pleasure in this garden. While it all started with a little girl and a single seed, it is to bring joy to a whole community.

7. 'Jetty Jumping' by Andrea Rowe & illustrated by Hannah Sommerville

While Milla’s friends take big, brave jumps off the jetty, Milla stays on the blistering wood, scared of what lurks below. But when Milla accidentally falls off the edge, she discovers the beauty of the deep, dark sea – and her summer changes forever.

'Jetty Jumping' deserves its shortlisting in the 2022 CBCA awards. This is a wonderful book.

It seems Andrea Rowe was fearful of jetties when young, and in particular the cracks between the planks that might lead to the murky depths below. But as she grows up she realizes that the water beneath and the deep sea below, is the best playground of all. Milla was eventually to jump bravely off jetties and swim near the barnacled pylons with her adventurous friends after school.

Andrea Rowe and Hannah Sommerville capture perfectly the challenges of childhood (and the joy of letting go) in this wonderful book that gives an insight into an Australian summer near the sea. Andrea is a writer who lives with her two kids and park ranger husband in a beach shack in the dunes on the Mornington Peninsula. She has a BA in Media Relations and Grad Dip in Crisis and Issues Communications and she's very good at playing scrabble.

Hannah Sommerville is a well-known illustrator who creates enchanting watercolour, gouache and digital illustrations in her studio on the South Coast of NSW. She began illustrating in 2010 after the arrival of her children. Her picture book Digby & Claude, written by Emma Allen, was selected for the CBCA 2019 Notables list.

8. 'Iceberg' by Claire Saxby & illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

An iceberg is born into spring and travels through the seasons before dying in a new spring. A stunning, lyrical story for our times, from renowned picture book creators Claire Saxby and Jess Racklyeft.

In this wonderful book, we follow the path of an iceberg (that is like a living thing) as it shadows the path of penguins trekking across the ice to winter homes. And 'surprisingly' it senses krill stirring underneath the ice. Summer is bringing new life. The iceberg comes across humpback whales and orcas as they gather. The iceberg is shrinking, but when autumn comes with cooling temperatures, the sea changes and it is trapped in the ice for the winter freeze. But of course, spring follows winter and the iceberg drifts into a bay where 'sadly' its life cycle ends. But wait... there's more. Way off in the ocean, another iceberg shears off and everything begins again.

The beautiful text and stunning images bring something new to our telling of this critical cycle of 'birth', 'life', 'death' and 'rebirth'. The book ends with an author's note explaining the effects of climate change on the Arctic and Antarctic regions, as well as a map and a glossary.

'Iceberg' has been short-listed for the 2022 CBCA Picture Book of the Year and also as a Notable Book for the Eve Pownall Award.

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