Children's & Young Adult Books
Three very different picture books here, all by Australian authors.
Giinagay Gaagal (Hello Ocean) by Gumbayngirr artist Melissa Greenwood (who also created My Little Barlaagany (Sunshine) among others.) It’s a celebration of the ocean and its pleasures: swimming, fishing, running on the sand, collecting pipis and shells. In the story the aunties share cultural knowledge and wisdom as well as fun:
But first, before walking on Country, we talk to the landGiinagay Gaagal (Hello Ocean)
and let her know that we are here to play.
We are grateful for what she has to offer,
we promise to take care of her during our stay.
I’m always delighted to see new books incorporating First Nations languages. It’s a gentle way to introduce young readers to the multiplicity of cultures and languages that flourished in Australia before colonisation, some of which are still in use or are being revived.
The illustrations are gorgeous, incorporating the colours of sea and sand.
Fans of Jackie French will welcome her latest picture book, The Turtle and the Flood, a companion to the wonderful The Fire Wombat. Fire and flood are the bookends of natural disaster events in this country, and our children experience them all too often.
Learning about how native animals have evolved to survive these events is one way of coming to understand the natural cycles of our land.
We are introduced to Myrtle the long necked turtle, who can sense a coming flood (even before the rains begin) and makes her long slow climb uphill to a safe spot, out of the reach of the water.
She is joined by others (snakes, wombats, water dragons, wallabies.) The animals are guided by Myrtle’s wisdom and understanding of her environment.
There are lovely soft illustrations by Danny Snell which bring Myrtle’s journey to colourful life.
The third book in my selection is a change of pace. The first in a new series featuring Bunny and Bird, How to Hatch a Dragon is a sweetly hilarious story about the importance of observation and paying attention. The two friends are so engrossed in the instruction booklet that came with their dragon egg that they completely miss most of the action!
Little ones will get the humour, as they can see in the pictures what’s going on behind Bunny and Bird’s backs.
Three new books to delight: Giinagay Gaagal, The Turtle and the Flood, and How to Hatch a Dragon are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September and October, 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for review copies.
There is a very welcome trend in books for very young readers that focus on the amazing variety of cultures, languages and traditions across the globe, while emphasizing the things we all share.
In My Garden is a lovely addition to these, celebrating as it does the attractions of the outdoors and nature across a range of landscapes.
We visit a little girl who lives on a river boat in Laos, another in Australia’s tropical north, a boy in New Zealand who watches over little penguin nests and one who sees the rubble of bombed out buildings in war-torn Syria.
Other landscapes and gardens are from Iceland, Japan, America, Malawi, Canada, Italy and Brazil.
No matter where the children live, they are all nurtured by the beauties of nature, even little Sami who holds a pine cone from a garden not far from his apartment, which helps him remember Crocuses, tulips and the great Aleppo pine. That garden is his favourite place. He is remembering something there.
The pages are filled with detail and colour and are truly lovely. Young children can spend time identifying and perhaps naming the various plants and animals they can find, as they absorb the truth that children are children the world over.
In My Garden celebrates and honours the role that nature plays in all our lives, no matter where we live.
It is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in August 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.
These two picture books celebrate special days on children’s calendars: Father’s Day and Christmas.
What My Daddy Loves is a sweet and tender portrayal of the special love between father and child.
Each double page spread portrays a daddy and his child engaged in all the magical, wild and everyday activities that a small child can imagine.
The simple text invites repetition while the colourful block pictures by author and artist Raissa Figueroa wryly illustrate the scenes.
The dads and kids represent a wide variety of shapes, sizes, abilities and interests, and it is notable that they are all people of colour.
What My Daddy Loves is published in August 2023 by HarperCollins Children’s Books; a good choice for a read-aloud on Father’s Day.
How the Grinch Lost Christmas is a follow-up to the much-loved classic by Dr Seuss, The Grinch who Stole Christmas. Written in the inimitable style of Dr Seuss by Alistair Heim, with illustrations by Aristides Ruiz, it portrays a reformed Grinch who has grown to love Christmas.
To show the Whos just how much he has changed, he decides to enter a competition to make the most Christmassy Christmas tree. But when his grand entry takes only second place, he suddenly loses his Christmas spirit.
It takes a small girl to get the Grinch to re-think and to remember what is the real spirit of Christmas.
A delightful story about sharing, playing fair and togetherness, The Grinch Who Lost Christmas is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for review copies of these books.
One of the nicest ways to welcome a new baby into the world is to gift the start of a children’s book library. The four books mentioned in this post would all earn their place there.
Board books are perfect for babies and very young toddlers. Robust, able to stand up to chewing, throwing, and dribbling, they offer hours of tactile fun, colourful pictures and simple repetitive text.
That’s not my kitten, by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells, is the newest addition to the That’s not my… series, and includes all of these features. Babies can see the five different kittens, touch a furry tongue, a smooth kitten nose, a shiny bell, rough paws, and a fluffy tummy, while learning to turn pages and recite the repetitive text along with whoever is reading aloud.
Moving along in age, for older toddlers and pre-schoolers there is another in the Playschool series by Jan Stradling and Jenna Robaard, called Beginnings and Endings. The series helps littlies to explore feelings: in this case, sadness.
Little Ted’s friends want to help him feel better when his pet goldfish dies. A special scrapbook of Swish memories, a picnic in the garden, spotting baby birds in a nest and flowers blooming all help, as do a hug and talking about Swish and his memories. The soft illustrations reinforce the gentle theme of the story, that life challenges are best tackled with friends by your side.
One Little Duck by Katrina Germein brings memories of the children’s rhyme ‘Five Little Ducks’ but it’s a story with a twist. Instead of losing a duckling with each verse, in this story Mother Duck has forgotten how to quack, so each time she calls her duckling to her, she gains a new animal, until she has a menagerie following along. The rhyming verses invite youngsters to join in:
One little duck went out one day,One Little Duck
over the hills and far away.
Mother Duck said…
and Cow said,
Wait! Now I’m coming too
Danny Snell’s illustrations are sweetly humorous and children will enjoy Mother Duck’s dilemma as she finds new friends, and at the end is reunited with her baby.
Two Sides to Every Story by Robin Feiner explores the many choices and dilemmas that life can present. Boiled or fried eggs? Meat or vegetables? Is a dog or a cat the best pet? History or science? Country or city? Jacket and tie or lucky T-shirt?
Oscar has to decide on these and other choices in his day to day life, and deals with each one with his skill of ‘mental gymnastics’.
Oscar had a special way of looking at things.Two sides to every story
He took his subject, he twisted it this way
and that. He tumbled it all around…
inside out, and outside in, exploring it
every which way.
The illustrations by Beck Feiner are in bold, block colours and bring to life Oscar’s tumbling, turning way of looking at his world.
If you are building a children’s library, these four books would make perfect additions.
They are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in July and August 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for copies to review.
What a beautiful debut book this is.
With lush, gorgeous illustrations by Perth-based Jennifer Faulkner, The Lucky Shack tells the story of a simple cottage by the sea, built and cared for by a fisherman.
One day a frightening storm strikes and the fisherman does not return. The shack feels alone and neglected…until a fisherwoman finds it and once more, the place is loved and lived in.
The story celebrates the colours, depths and beauty of nature, along with human connection and love.
There is a wonderful assortment of vocabulary for younger readers to absorb, enriching the narrative and introducing beautiful new words to try:
Boats pass me by.
I creak my tired floorboards with loud groans,
but they don’t stop.
I flicker the porch light,
like the lighthouse on the cliff
sending codes in the night.
I let go of a precious window shutter
to send a message into the deep blue,
to anyone who will listen.
This is a gorgeous addition to any child’s bookshelf.
The Lucky Shack is published by Working Title Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in July 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for a copy.
A companion book to Amazing Mum, this new picture book by UK creator Alison Brown is a celebration of dads in all their various manifestations.
There are dads who grocery shop, cook on the barbeque, use a wheelchair, play in the park. There are separated dads, same-sex couple dads, read books, and play guitar. All the dads and their kids are in cute animal form in the endearing illustrations.
This one is perfect for Father’s Day and for reading aloud together.
Amazing Dad is published by Farshore, an imprint of HarperCollins, in July 2023.
My thanks for a review copy.
I wonder if any parent out there can read this picture book by the Stephen sisters, (aka the Teeny Tiny Stevies) and not feel a little wistful?
As each double page spread charts a child’s growth and passage through their world, readers also catch glimpses of the emotions of mum and dad as they witness their daughter’s growing independence.
There’s love, and pride, and satisfaction, of course – with a little nostalgia in the mix:
Darling, I’ve been feeling wistful lately.
I’m so proud of you, but I feel sad
that you don’t need me.
Can you stay where I can watch from the side?
I won’t get in the way,
I’ll just be thinking ’bout how time flies…
…One day soon I’ll take the leapHow Brave Can I Be
and let go of that
tight grasp I keep.
I’ll move away and say,
‘I’m OK, I’ve got this, I’ll show you how brave I can be.’
Cause I had you to teach me.
The lovely thing about the illustrations by Simon Howe is that readers always know which character’s thoughts we are hearing, (mum, dad, or daughter) because the individual is highlighted in the picture. It’s a clever technique which underlines the contextual understanding of the words and pictures together.
A lovely, lovely book, How Brave Can I Be? was published by HarperCollins Children’s Books with ABC Books in May 2023.
My thanks for a review copy.
How Do You Say Hello? is the latest in the series by Australian duo Ashleigh Barton and Martina Heiduczek, exploring the richness of human language and culture in picture books. It follows on from earlier titles including What Do You Call Your Grandma?, How Do You Say I Love You? and What Do You Do To Celebrate?
This one explores a diversity of greetings from languages such as Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Gamilaraay, Turkish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Swahili, among others.
As always, the illustrations by Martina Heiduczek add a great deal to the story, showing families and friends enjoying time together.
I love this series and I’m sure there will be more to add to the collection.
How Do You Say Hello? is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in June 2023.
A Very Dinosaur Birthday is by US writer Adam Wallace with illustrations by Christopher Nielsen. It’s a fun romp through a birthday party which is gate-crashed by a bunch of dinosaurs, resulting in hilarity and a great deal of mess – perfect for youngsters who dream about dinosaurs. My grandson would have loved this book a few years ago. The illustrations are bold and bright and the rhyming text moves at a smart pace, echoing the rumbunctious antics of the dinosaurs.
A Very Dinosaur Birthday is published by Tommy Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins, also in June 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for review copies.
Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution is book no 3 in Jackie French’s superb series of middle-grade historical fiction, ‘Girls Who Changed the World’. These stories are all about putting women and girls back into the historical record.
In this book, Ming is sent by Herstory back to the 1800’s, on a sailing ship heading from Europe to Australia. Her companion, Hilde, is one of several girls looking after royal Saxon sheep that are being imported, to add to the flocks of Merino sheep made famous by the Macarthurs, amongst others.
I love that Ming has to guess at the specific timeframe she is in, judging it by the various historical facts she knows. And as always, she needs to work out which girl she meets will change the world, and how.
This particular setting and scenario were new to me: I knew nothing of this particular breed of sheep and how it contributed to the success of the Australian wool industry in the nineteenth century. Which is odd, seeing as how in my primary school classes we learnt all about how Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’ – until mineral resources overtook wool as a major export a century or so later.
Not so odd, though, when you think about it. Because according to this story, it was the young women shepherds from the part of Europe that later became Germany, who went on to demonstrate a radical new way of taking the fleece from the sheep – ushering in the technique that we now recognise as ‘shearing’. And yet, the quintessential image of Australian shearing is a Tom Roberts painting, featuring muscled bronze men grappling with woolly sheep in a colonial shearing shed.
Another example of girls and women being written out of history.
Young readers can learn these gems of history from this book, along with an understanding of earlier attitudes to Asian and First Nations Australians, the sexism taken for granted in colonial society, and attitudes to crime and punishment. The daily life on a wealthy rural estate is portrayed beautifully, especially the contrast between conditions for the rich and poor.
And as always in a Jackie French novel, the past and present are both shown in a balanced way, neither wholly bad nor wholly good. The actions that bring about change often have unforeseen and unintended consequences – the environmental consequences of colonialism and the introduction of animals such as sheep, being one example in this book.
The poor bare hills, the animals killed or driven off, and the people of this land too. The country had seemed so beautiful as they passed through it, not wild at all, but tended enough to keep its natural beauty. But we’re in the past, she reminded herself. This is the beginning of the Australia I live with today: most of its forests cleared, its rivers shrinking, its wetlands drained, so many animals extinct of in danger of it.Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution p150-151
This was how it began.
Ming is a delightful, thoughtful character, learning more about herself, her country and its past each time she is sent on another adventure by Herstory. I can’t wait to see where and when she lands next time.
Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution is published by HarperCollins Children’s Publishing in June 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.
Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement’s Australian classic Edward the Emu turns 35 this year. It was first published in 1988 – the year my son was born (which, I admit, makes me feel a teensy bit old!)
Luckily, books age much slower than their readers and this one is as fresh today as it was then.
It tells the story of Edward, an emu who has become bored with his life at the zoo.
He decides to join some of the other animals for a while, to sample what seems to be a much more exciting existence.
The rhyming verses invite youngsters to join in or read aloud.
Edward the Emu was sick of the zoo.Edward the Emu
There was nowhere to go, there was nothing to do.
And compared to the seals that lived right next door,
Well being an emu was frankly a bore.
Firstly he is in with the seals, then the lions, the snakes…until things turn around full-circle, and he realises that the emus are the best animals in the zoo after all.
The little twist at the end is a laugh-out-loud moment, as are the comical expressions on Edward’s face.
It’s a sweet story about falling for the ‘grass is greener’ phenomenon and about living and loving your own life.
Angus & Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins, re-releases this timeless picture book in 2023.
My thanks to the publishers for a copy to review.