Children's & Young Adult Books

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Picture book bounty

    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,
    over the hills and far away.
    Mother Duck said…
    Moo moo
    moo moo,
    and Cow said,
    Wait! Now I’m coming too

    One Little Duck

    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.
    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.

    Two sides to every story

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Beauty and love: ‘The Lucky Shack’ by Aspara Baldovino

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    For the dads: ‘Amazing Dad’ by Alison Brown

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Bravery at all ages: ‘How Brave Can I Be?’ by Byll & Beth Stephen

    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 leap
    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.

    How Brave Can I Be

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    June picture book arrivals

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books,  History

    Writing girls and women back into history: ‘Ming & Hilde Lead a Revolution’ by Jackie French

    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.
    This was how it began.

    Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution p150-151

    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.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Picture book classic: “Edward the Emu” turns 35

    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.
    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.

    Edward the Emu

    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.

  • Books and reading,  Children's & Young Adult Books

    Loving bedtime story: ‘My Little Barlaagany (Sunshine)’ by Melissa Greenwood

    This beautiful picture book by Gumbaynggirr author and artist Melissa Greenwood reads as a bedtime story from a mother to her child.

    With soft illustrations in pastel and ochre shades, it is a perfect introduction to a First Nations language and contemporary art style for very young Australians.

    The text follows the path of the sun and moon across a day and night, incorporating words and phrases from her Gumbaynggirr language from the mid-north coast of NSW.

    As the sun shines throughout the day,
    it warms your cheeks while we play.
    As the sun sets in the evening sky,
    say, ‘Yaarri Yarraang, goodbye.’
    Now it’s time for Giidany (the moon) to rise
    and we say, “Darrundang, thank you,’
    for the gift of the night skies.

    My Little Barlaagany

    It is wonderful to see First Nations language included in texts for children, and I look forward to more works of this kind to add to children’s bookshelves across the country.

    My Little Barlaagany was published by ABC Books and HarperCollins Children’s Books in May 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Picture book love

    Three new picture books from Harper Collins Children’s Books have hit the shelves in March, 2023. Two are perfect for reading around Mother’s Day (May, in Australia) and the third – well, it’s just perfect.

    Amazing Mum by UK author and illustrator Alison Brown is a lovely celebration of mums, in all their beautiful diversity. There are applauding mums, never-let-you-down mums, double mums, bubble mums, sharing mums, repairing mums, and mums who drive a bus. And quite a few more.
    The softly toned illustrations feature entirely cute animal mums and kids: mice, foxes, rabbits, even a dinosaur family. The pictures bring to life the message of the book: mums are amazing!

    Well-known Aussie kid’s author and presenter, Andrew Daddo, has teamed up with illustrator Stephen Michael King to produce a sweet book all about the relationship between grandmas and kids. The grandma in the book is whimsical, arty, adventurous and fun. She and her grandchild share activities like dress ups, knitting, yoga, kite flying, painting…all the ‘old fashioned’ ways to have fun.

    Whatever we do together, my grandma’s just happy.
    Grandma says that even with all the new things, old-fashioned happy still feels pretty fantastic.
    It’s a bit like a hot choccie.
    It warms you from the inside out.

    Grandma’s Guide to Happiness

    A.B. (Banjo) Paterson’s classic poem Mulga Bill’s Bicycle was first published as a children’s picture book in 1973. To celebrate its 50th year, Harper Collins have published a new version, illustrated by Deborah Niland along with original illustrations by Kilmeny Niland.

    I remember this poem from my childhood; along with Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow and The Man from Snowy River, and Henry Lawson’s The Loaded Dog, it’s an Australian classic that is timeless, and brings to life the language, sights and sounds from a past era.

    Mulga Bill’s Bicycle pokes fun at a self-assured, pompous man with ambition greater than his skill – and don’t we all know people just like that? His antics as he attempts to ride a ‘new-fangled’ penny-farthing bicycle for the first time (while assuring everyone that he is an expert) are hilarious.

    There’s a lot going on in each double-page spread as the bicycle gallops away, passing scenes from a bush and small-town landscape of yesteryear. The image of Bill himself, quite the dandy with his impressive handlebar moustaches, is perfect.

    I’d recommend this one for all kids’ bookshelves and libraries.

  • Books and reading,  Children's & Young Adult Books

    Magic with a message: ‘The Hats of Marvello’ by Amanda Graham

    Opening this book for younger readers conjured memories of the way a new book from the school or public library (or better yet, under the Christmas tree!) made me feel when I was a child. Something about the cover illustration and the first few pages brought back the pleasure of anticipating a new story. I’m pretty sure this book would have appealed to an eight-year-old me.

    Olive is a schoolgirl in country South Australia. She longs for a pet rabbit, but rabbits have been a feral pest in Australian farms and bushland since they were first introduced during British colonisation. Her beloved grandpa has just bought ‘Bunny Rid’ poison to clear their farm of the wild creatures, so she knows that a pet bunny must remain a dream.

    Then one day, one hundred fluffy white bunnies arrive at her house, accompanied by a talking black rabbit called Robbit.

    She has to work out how to hide the rabbits until she and Robbit can get them back to where they came from: a small town in England. Also, how is the velvet top hat she bought from a local op-shop connected to the mystery of how the rabbits got to Australia in the first place?

    I loved the character of Olive: she is smart, adventurous, and compassionate; all qualities that allow her (with help from her friends) to outwit a villain and rescue Robbit and his bunny buddies. Through it all Olive learns that expressing her opinion is okay, and to have faith in her ability to problem solve.

    I also enjoyed the setting: a very contemporary Aussie farm, Massey-Ferguson tractor and all, with a contemporary farming family (and a FIFO dad who works at a mine) coping with the ups and downs of rural life – including a potential rabbit plague.

    There is a gentle environmentally themed message which underlies both Olive’s dilemma with the rabbits and the theme of her class play (the reason she bought the Marvello top hat from the op-shop, to become part of her costume.)

    This story allows children to imagine the wonder and absurdities inherent in fluffy bunnies, magic and an enchanted hat. It’s a fun read that will be enjoyed by younger middle-grade readers. The lovely black and white illustrations by Lavanya Naidu draw the reader further into the story and Olive’s world.

    The Hats of Marvello is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in March 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.