It's been years since I read an Anthony Browne book, but his picture books were staples of my primary school library, I must have read Piggybook - the...moreIt's been years since I read an Anthony Browne book, but his picture books were staples of my primary school library, I must have read Piggybook - the one about the fed-up mother leaving her husband and sons to fend for themselves (and they're so hopeless they turn into pigs, and have to beg her to come home and promise not to take her for granted anymore) - so many times, it was a real favourite of everyone in grade 1!
Silly Billy is about a small boy called Billy who worries a lot. He worries about hats, shoes, clouds, rain and giant birds. His parents try to comfort him but nothing they say actually help. Then one day he goes to stay at his grandmother's, and he was especially worried about staying at other people's houses. He tells his grandma, and she has just the thing to help: worry dolls. She tells Billy to tell each doll one of his worries and put them under his pillow. It works, and for several nights Billy has wonderful worry-free sleep.
But then, he worries about the worry dolls, having to deal with all the worry he put on them. So he makes the worry dolls their own worry dolls, to share their worries with. No one worried after that, and Billy continued to make worry dolls for the worry dolls.
Paired with Browne's well-known, richly detailed illustrations that often hide clever little details, Silly Billy is a solid story that children will easily relate to. Ideal for kids who are of a similar age to Billy and starting to worry, themselves, the trick of using worry dolls could be very handy - though what it's really saying is that you should share your worries with someone you trust, and it might lighten the burden.
The illustrations are just gorgeous, and the story is wonderful too - simple, but meaningful and realistic, and given a touch of fantasy, Browne-style. (less)
Ernest B Spinosaurus isn't wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of...moreErnest B Spinosaurus isn't wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of January and continues to write throughout the year. And he's determined to stay on Santasaurus' Nice List! Through Ernest's letters, at once hopeful and cheeky, we get to know this young dinosaur, about his friend Ty, his little sister Amber, and his desire for a Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. He wants to stay on Santasaurus' "nice" list, and keeps up a steady stream of letters partly to explain away his naughtiness.
Ernest may be a dinosaur, but really he's a typical young boy that children (and their parents) will be able to relate to easily. Coupled with Jef Kaminsky's cartoon-like illustrations, this book reminded me a lot of children's television shows. Granted, the ones I've started letting my two-year-old watch (yes, it's come to that, there's only so long you can hold out!) are predominately British and a mix of fancy 3D CGI and old-style animation a la Peppa Pig, but they all tend to have one thing in common: using animals (like pigs or bees) or mythological creatures (like fairies or elves) or fictional characters (like robots or aliens) to make everyday stories more interesting, as well as to show a universality to human stories. Children's books are, likewise, often used to help dispel the classic "us vs. them" dichotomy that seems to rise in children instinctually, and I do find the books to be less obvious than the TV shows (and I have zero guilt in letting my child read books!).
Dear Santasaurus is a sweet, funny and very entertaining book, a picture book for older children. It was too long and too advanced for my boy, who doesn't really remember his first two Christmas' and is only just getting his head around the typical Christmas symbols: Santa etc. The concept of naughty and nice, or of writing to Santa, these are a bit too abstract for him yet. The story itself has lovely context jokes where the illustrations play off the text - and vice versa - in really fun ways, but likewise my boy is too young yet to get any of the humour, or even really understand the situations or what Ernest is really saying in his letters. It's one I will have to wait a couple more years before getting out again to read to him, which isn't a bad thing. If your child is five or older, they will get a lot out of this.
Here's a taste:
April 1 Dear Santasaurus, For Christmas, I want rainbow underwear with white polka dots. Seven hundred pairs of underwear. And Ty wants a thousand pairs of socks. That's it. No toys. No scooter. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus PS: Just kidding. APRIL FOOL'S DAY!! Ha ha ha.
April 2 Dear Santasaurus, Yesterday's letter was a joke. You knew that, right? I do NOT want seven hundred pairs of underwear for Christmas. I don't want any underwear. I want the Jurassic Turbo Scooter X(. Please, please, please do not bring me any underwear. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus PS: Ty doesn't want socks, either.
May 13 Dear Santasaurus, Today, I scored two soccer goals (one for my team, one for the other team). I ate all my dinner (except for what dropped on the floor). I even helped Amber take her first steps. So let's forget about yesterday's mess with the glitter glue, paint, and Dad's toothbrush. Besides, Mom sure did like the Mother's Day card I made with my own claws. I've been thinking about my Christmas list. I want the Sea Serpent Blue Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. I also want a Raging Raptor action figure. Please. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus
The illustrations are bold, colourful and lively, and don't simply echo the text but rather show another side to the story, a kind of "what really happened" side to it. They're fresh and fun and really help with the whole book's festive, exciting, cheerful vibe. And what was really nice, especially for a Christmas picture book, was the fact that there was no in-your-face, saccharine moral at the end. Ernest got the Christmas present he wanted, and was really really happy. The point of the story isn't about good deeds and impressing on kids any kind of pressure to be something they're not; it's about kids being kids, and enjoying their childhood, and striving and trying without weighty repercussions or negative consequences. You could read this as "Santasaurus" standing in for God, but not being religious I didn't read it that way (but you could). Children reading this will be able to enjoy it for the entertaining story it is, while also seeing a bigger picture. It's a story that makes an impression, but isn't heavy-handed or lecturing or do-goody. Know what I mean? Kids don't respond well to that anyway.
Children will connect well with Ernest, who is proud of himself for taking a bath without being told, and who does harmless pranks. They will enjoy reading about a year in Ernest's life, and getting to know him. And if anything, it will teach kids that it's okay to play, that you should try to be good and helpful and considerate, but if you mess up nothing bad's going to happen. Your life won't be - shouldn't be, if you have decent parents - ruined. (Sadly, not every child has the freedom to be a child that Ernest does.) Being a child is about learning, in more ways than one, and I've never thought that placing adult responsibilities - with adult repercussions and punishments - on children is at all useful, or teaches them anything but to be scared and anxious or that they're bad and that's that. At first glance, Dear Santasaurus is pure silly fun, but at its heart it's good, solid storytelling that, if nothing else, will secretly reassure kids that there's nothing wrong with being a kid.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.
Visit my blog to see Stacy McAnulty's guest post as she shares her "12 days of Christmas in picture books" and a cookie recipe!(less)
Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Splash is part of the Harry and the Dinosaurs series of picture books, but this was the first one we'd read. Harry has...moreHarry and the Dinosaurs Make a Splash is part of the Harry and the Dinosaurs series of picture books, but this was the first one we'd read. Harry has a collection of toy dinosaurs who are his friends, he takes them everywhere. In this story, he and his older sister Sam go with their grandmother to the indoor Water World. He and the dinosaurs are having loads of fun until a big wave came and knocked them all over.
They run back to Nan and she tries to coax them into another pool, but they all hate the water now. After an ice cream distraction, she again tries to encourage Harry and the dinosaurs to get back in the water, but Harry tells her he'll only go in if she comes too. It's been a while since Nan's been swimming and she's a bit hesitant, but in the end she gets herself a yellow swimsuit and a pair of arm floaties and they all go down the big water slide together, and make a big SPLASH at the other end.
This is a fun story, a nice blend of realistic family dynamics (the grouchy older sister, the lovely nan who joins in the fun, plenty of insecurities at play) and an encouraging message of how to overcome fear. There's also a double-page spread at front and back that show all Harry's dinosaurs and their names, with pronunciation guide. I picked this up for a dollar at the op-shop and it was a good find. My two-year-old enjoyed it but slightly older children (four year olds perhaps) would get even more out of it.(less)
During the early years of colonisation in Australia, the captains of convict ships as well as whaling boats were encouraged to kill whales - especiall...moreDuring the early years of colonisation in Australia, the captains of convict ships as well as whaling boats were encouraged to kill whales - especially the "right whale", so called because they were considered the "right" whale to hunt. The Southern right whale - or baleen whale - have been a protected species since 1935, but before then over 26,000 of them were killed by European settlers. They are playful mammals who have young only once every three years, and their carcasses were used to make everything from oil to umbrellas, weaving looms to fabrics.
All this I learned from the last pages of Christina Booth's beautiful new picture book, Welcome Home. I had never heard of the right whale before - sadly, a whale is a whale to me, for while I admire and respect them, I've never spent any time looking them up and learning about the different species and their attributes. Booth's story was inspired, she says, by an article she read "about a southern right whale that swam into Hobart's Derwent River and gave birth. This was the first birth there in over 190 years." Once a safe - and mostly deserted - place for these whales to have their calves, it became a busy port full of whaling ships.
Welcome Home is about a boy living in Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, who hears the whale's call "echoing off the mountain like a whisper while the moon danced on the waves." No one else hears it, but he does - and in her call he learns sad truths, the history of whale hunting and her yearning for a safe harbour.
I hear her story. She is telling of her fear and darkness.
Her story turns inside my head, and twists around my heart and I don't want to listen anymore. I want to run away and hide but I stay, looking for her in the cold winter dawn.
Then, as dark shifts to grey, I see her.
She looks for me and comes in closer to the shore.
'We wanted to come home but we did not feel safe,' she says. 'Why did they hurt us? Why did they send us away?'
I hang my head. It wasn't me, but I know what she means.
I do not know what to say. I have no words to tell her.
'Sorry,' I whisper.
Accompanied by truly beautiful illustrations that flow through water and time and dreams and one boy's sadness, the story works on more than one level. For children, it both educates and engages the imagination, drawing connections between past and present as well as the future. It navigates that grey area between past wrongs and present responsibilities, and shows deep empathy for these magnificent ocean mammals.
More than that, even, it uses the story of the right whale to help children work through those feelings of responsibility, and blame. In Australia's past history and present affairs, there are many examples of wrongs being committed against certain peoples - the Aborigines, and boat people, for example, not to mention the environment. And there are issues that we care about and want to do something about but feel useless, hopeless. Young children are just starting on this very human journey of trying to understand the complex nuances of human cruelty: why people do bad things, what role we can play in correcting injustices, and that the majority isn't always right. It's a long journey and it doesn't always end well, but Booth's Welcome Home does an admirable job of opening that conversation, of starting the wheels turning and of doing it in a way that children of various ages would respond well to. In many ways, it's easier - simpler - for children to connect with animals and animal stories, than human ones.
This is ideal for slightly older children, ones who haven't grown out of picture books but are old enough to understand the stories in the pictures. I got this for my two-year-old son, Hugh; haven't read it to him yet as it's for Christmas, and while he's old enough to follow and enjoy the story on some levels, he'll be too young yet for the deeper meanings. Still, that's no reason not to read it to him, and over the years his understanding of the story will deepen and in turn enrich his own learning of the world. This is why I love picture books, and as an adult still love them.
I am in awe of authors like Christina Booth, not just for the beautiful artwork or for being able to tell a powerful, rich story in just a few pages and several lines of text, but for using the picture book medium not to tell a silly, fun story but to teach, and broaden kids' understanding, and open their eyes and minds to the wider world and the stories it contains. That's not to say that there isn't a place for the fun stories, or that I don't enjoy them, but it's a great idea to balance them with really meaningful works like Welcome Home.(less)
When my brother (who is five years younger than me) was little, he had this book - a much earlier edition, of course, with slightly different illustra...moreWhen my brother (who is five years younger than me) was little, he had this book - a much earlier edition, of course, with slightly different illustrations (different compositions, some of the details are different). I loved it, as I loved so many of his picture books, so I was full of excited nostalgia to read it again - and introduce it to my boy.
It's Christmas morning. Morris is a young rabbit with three older siblings: Victor, Rose and Betty. Victor gets a hockey outfit for Christmas. Rose gets a beauty kit, and Betty gets a chemistry set. Morris gets a bear. Victor, Rose and Betty have lots of fun with their presents, and when they've had a turn they switch:
All Christmas day Victor played hockey and Rose made herself beautiful and Betty mixed acids.
And then Betty made herself beautiful and Victor sorted test tubes and Rose played left wing.
And then Victor made himself beautiful and Betty played goalie and Rose invented a new gas.
Morris wants to play, too, but they say he's too young and too little and too silly to play with their things - and no one wants Morris's bear. His parents try to console him but he sulks and won't join them at dinner. While they're eating, Morris notices an overlooked present under the tree. In it is a disappearing bag. Morris climbs in side and disappears. His siblings can't find him anywhere, but when he comes out they all want a turn.
Victor, Rose and Betty all disappear inside the bag, and Morris plays with the hockey gear, the chemistry set and the beauty kit until bedtime.
This is one of my favourite picture books, and I'm so glad it's still in print. It's one that really makes me laugh, with jokes that I got as a kid and still delight me as an adult (I just love the line, "and Rose invented a new gas"; there are others just as funny). As one of the younger kids in my family, I could certainly identify with Morris who has older, more sophisticated siblings who won't let him play with their sophisticated toys. And I could certainly relate to Morris when he sits in the corner, sulking, and then crawls into a bag to disappear.
At its heart, it is of course partly about sharing, and being nice to people. But like all good picture books, it's so much more than basic messaging. The illustrations are really engaging too, not precise or too realistic, but bold and colourful and with a hint of childlike two-dimensional simplicity. I don't want that to sound in the slightest way negative. It's interesting, actually, comparing this contemporary edition with my brother's older version, and seeing how much Wells' illustrations have been fine-tuned and improved. The style is the same, but the lines are more confident and the composition better. Paired with the engaging story, this is truly a delightful book.
Incidentally, I remember back in Toronto on the kids' cartoon channel (what was it called, Treefrog? something like that) there was a cartoon that I didn't like very much, about two rabbit siblings called Ruby and Max. It was only while I was looking up this book that I learned the cartoon is based on other books about those two characters by Rosemary Wells. I should have recognised the style of drawing, but I had forgotten all about this book until I had it in my hands again just recently.(less)
I went walking. What did you see? I saw a black cat Looking at me.
I went walking. What did you see? I saw a brown horse Looking at me.
The difference here is that it's about a little kid - boy or girl, who knows and who cares? - wandering about a farm, and all the animals are ones you'd find there and are realistic colours. The animals keep following the child and on the very last page is a drawing of them all dancing together. It's very sweet!
My two-year-old really likes this one, and it'd be great with younger toddlers and one-year-olds too. It's good for animal and colour vocab and Julie Vivas's beautiful watercolour illustrations are so lovely (I think of her as Mem Fox's illustrator, because as a kid they always seemed to work together - Possum Magic, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge for example - so whenever I see Vivas illustrations I think I've found a Mem Fox book!).(less)
This is a bit of a classic, if a sleepy one. It's the non-rhyming story of Sebastian, a baby wombat who was rescued from his mother's pouch after she...moreThis is a bit of a classic, if a sleepy one. It's the non-rhyming story of Sebastian, a baby wombat who was rescued from his mother's pouch after she was hit by a car. They keep him in a brown woollen hat and the story details all the things they do to care for him and how well he's growing.
The illustrations, by Kerry Argent, fill in the gaps in the text. When we're told, for instance, that "Sometimes Sebastian has to change his brown hat for a grey hat. We won't say why. But when the brown hat is dry Sebastian has it back again and he is happy." The illustration to complement this shows his daggy brown hat hanging on the clothesline.
The style of the text is reminiscent of a child's voice. It reminds me of those little segments on Play School that follow a primary-school-aged child on an excursion somewhere-or-other, and the kid narrates. Simple sentences, automatically cute and endearing, with that touch of wisdom.
Wombats are such wonderful, quietly charismatic creatures, and reading about Sebastian and how the family cared for him is a real delight.(less)
Joey is sleeping curled up in Mum's pouch. Koala is resting on a limb like a couch.
Turtle is dreaming far out in the sea Cockatoo is yawning high up in a tr...moreJoey is sleeping curled up in Mum's pouch. Koala is resting on a limb like a couch.
Turtle is dreaming far out in the sea Cockatoo is yawning high up in a tree.
The rhymes are just beautiful in this book; as is appropriate for a "going to bed" book, a lullaby book, the text is very soothing to read. It has the rhythm of gentle waves, is what it reminds me of.
Pamela Lofts' illustrations are colourful and vivid and striking, while also being soft and slightly hallucinogenic. Silvery and glowing, strong but also somehow out of focus - no doubt due to the use of pencils and her style. It suits the book perfectly, and the animals - all native to Australia (except the dingo) - are rendered with loving detail.
The last page reads "I love you ... I love you ... I love you ... Sleep tight." My two-year-old sometimes says this to me as we're getting him into his pyjamas, and I love it every time he repeats lines from a book - especially this line!(less)
This is a newer Australian picture book, written and illustrated by Clement whose day-job is cartoonist for one of the big national newspapers. His il...moreThis is a newer Australian picture book, written and illustrated by Clement whose day-job is cartoonist for one of the big national newspapers. His illustration style is what really caught me eye, I'm really drawn to this style of artwork in picture books. It has a high level of fine detail, rich colours, is very vibrant and visually captivating, and the scenes are original - they're not obvious, or flat, angles or perspectives.
The story is told in a slight sing-song rhyme, nothing too formal and structured but that, for the most part, rolls off the tongue easily (there are a couple of awkward spots that take a while to get the hang of). The story itself reminds me a bit of Giles Andreae picture book, Giraffes Can't Dance - the tune is the same and the story is similar.
Olga the Brolga (a type of long-legged bird) wants to go dancing, but no one will dance with her. Her parents just want to eat their breakfast and tell her to go and ask her friends. Her friends are too tired, and everyone's getting a bit annoyed with Olga and her demands. She's a bit selfish and whiny and bossy, and not much fun to be around these days.
So Olga decides to shut up and just start dancing. She's having so much fun that soon others come to watch and they start joining in. There's a cute little moral:
Olga stayed silent, she said not a word. Sometimes it's better To be seen and not heard. [...] Olga was tired, but happy at last. She'd got what she wanted without having asked.
A simple story, nicely told and beautifully illustrated. I can see why Clement wins awards for his work.(less)
This is a classic from 1955, but I'd never read it until now. I got the small board book edition but I think the regular paperback would have been bet...moreThis is a classic from 1955, but I'd never read it until now. I got the small board book edition but I think the regular paperback would have been better instead. Despite it being about a young toddler, the concept is fairly advanced and I don't know that really young kids would be able to follow it all that well.
Harold is, as I mentioned, a small toddler - he looks like a baby still, though he can walk - and draw. He has a purple crayon, and he uses it to draw a full-on adventure on his bedroom wall. First he goes for a walk in the moonlight, then he gets bored and cuts across a field to where he thought a forest should be. So he draws a tree, which turns out to be an apple tree.
The apples would be very tasty, Harold thought, when they got red. So he put a frightening dragon under the tree to guard the apples. It was a terribly frightening dragon. It even frightened Harold. He backed away. His hand holding the purple crayon shook. Suddenly he realized what was happening. But by then Harold was over his head in an ocean.
The story takes Harold over the ocean, in a hot air balloon and through a city as he searches for his bedroom window, now that he's tired and wants to go to sleep.
The imaginative adventure that Harold goes on is just delightful, and this is definitely a book I would have loved as a kid (like I said, I have no memory of ever reading it before). My boy liked it but at two and a half, he's still a bit young for it. He asks a lot of questions though, and really engages in it. I think it's more that he can't hold two contrary contexts in his head yet: that Harold is just drawing on his wall and hasn't really left his bedroom, and the fantastic adventure, or journey, itself. But I think he's starting to get the idea of interacting with something you've drawn. I mean, when you think about it, it's quite a complex concept. It just looks so simple, the way Harold does it.
The story is very engaging, and full of surprises. It's like an epic fantasy novel condensed into a little picture book. A journey, a quest, a terrifying dragon, getting lost, all the rest of it. The one that strikes me as an adult, though, is how alone Harold is. I actually feel lonely and a bit sad, reading this now, whereas as a child, I would have been captured by the magical qualities of the whole story and all its details. Ah the things you lose as you grow older! (less)
I kept seeing this book in the window of my local secondhand bookshop, and the title kept catching my eye so of course I had to go in and check it out...moreI kept seeing this book in the window of my local secondhand bookshop, and the title kept catching my eye so of course I had to go in and check it out - and it is just as engaging as I had hoped. I am sorry I didn't have a chance to scan some of the pages to show you George Booth's quirky and captivating, Quentin-Blake-esque illustrations, for they really connect with the text in a way that makes the original (with illustrator Denman Hampson) seem a bit hum-drum.
This is one of those rhyming stories that has no plot, just a series of scenarios that are quite ludicrous but, in the context of the book, okay to do - just as long as you never tease a weasel!
You could make a riding habit For a rabbit if you choose; Or make a turkey perky With a pair of high-heeled shoes.
Essentially the book differentiates between things that are harmless fun, or just plain silly, and things that are mean - like teasing a weasel. In the end, it's better to make friends with the weasel (and watch telly with him, as in the picture). It's not that the book gives a good reason for not teasing people, but it stresses that no one likes being teased (i.e. picked on, which is just shy of bullying) and that it's more fun to be friends than to pick on others. (less)