Friday, December 8, 2017

Children’s Picture Books According to Theme - List of Lists!

by Susan Stephenson,

I have been using Listly to curate my reviews and others’ recommendations of children’s picture books. For example, I have:

Picture Books about Change

Picture Books that Celebrate Diversity

Wordless Picture Books


Hilarious Interactive Picture Books for Kids.

Recently I combined these along with many small lists of animal-themed, family-themed etc picture books. Now it's rapidly becoming a picture book mega-list, and you will find it embedded below. Don't forget to use the arrow at bottom right to navigate to the second page.

If you’re thinking about buying books as Christmas gifts, that’s a wonderful idea! You might like to check out my huge list of suggestions in Fun Children’s Book Gifts for Christmas.

You can also check out all my educational and literary Listly lists, browse my children’s book reviews on this Pinterest page, or click on Reviews top right to find all the reviews I’ve written.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fun Children’s Book Gifts for Christmas

by Susan Stephenson,

With all my heart and mind, I believe that the gift of reading makes the best gift of all. While I also believe in giving children ownership of their own reading for pleasure by encouraging them to choose a book, I know books also make great gifts. I still remember the books I received as a child - they became like friends to me. Receiving a carefully chosen book as a gift can open up a whole new world of reading to kids, exposing them to stories they wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.

With this in mind, this year I have been compiling a list of books that I think might make fun gifts for children you know. Many are “gift books”, meaning there’s something special about them, perhaps they come packed with a toy or are paper-engineered. Many are wonderful stories, all set to entertain and inform. Many are both! I have not concentrated on books with a Christmas theme, just on books for children that I think would make memorable and exciting gifts to open on Christmas Day.

This time of year has traditionally been a time of giving, so if you’re stuck for ideas on what to buy, check out the bookeriffic list in three sections, below:

While our very youngest readers may tend to chomp on a book or hold it upside down, their books are incredibly important as first steps on their journey to reading.

Where is the Green Sheep? 

Written by Men Fox, illustrated by Judy Horace, published by Puffin (Penguin) 2006.

This is probably my all-time favourite book for littlies. It works on so many levels, and though it’s available in different formats, I suggest you buy it as a board book. It’s also available in hardback, accompanied by a gorgeous soft green sheep.

Owl Babies 

Written by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson, first published by Walker Books 1992, has been republished in two 25th Anniversary editions, a board book and a picture book.

From the publisher:

Never has the plight of young ones who miss their mum been so sensitively told or so beautifully rendered as in this tale from picture book masters, Patrick Benson and Martin Waddell and, with a foreword and gorgeous golden foil on the cover and spine, this edition is one to share and treasure.
Owl Babies is also one of my all time favourite children’s picture books. It can only be described as a classic and I honestly believe a copy should be in every home and library. In it we read about three owl babies, Sarah, Percy and Bill, who are not quite sure where their mother is. They wait in the dark in the wood where “things moved all around them.” Kids understand the tension that builds during the story, and will inevitably heave a huge sigh of relief when they hear “AND SHE CAME.” You can read my original review here.

Benson’s beautiful atmospheric illustrations complement Waddell’s perfectly chosen words. Each baby owl’s character is made clear in dialogue, especially Bill’s. I love that Owl Babies helps kids realise they are not the only ones that worry about where Mummy might be, and are vastly reassured by the owl Mummy coming home. Owl Babies makes a great bedtime story too.

Check out the very cute trailer for this edition in the video below.

Sophie la Girafe: Sophie’s Big Busy Play Book

Sophie la Girafe is a French toy that has been made since 1961. It’s a baby teether and there are are other Sophie products. At 24 cm x 24 cm, Sophie’s Big Busy Play Book is larger than the average board book, but perfect for reading in a high chair or with a parent to help support the book. It’s published by DK, part of Penguin Random House. RRP: $Au 24.99.

I loved the range of interactivity in this board book. Little ones can touch different textures, peek through holes, and lift flaps. The book also encourages them to answer questions and make noises, identify colours and count 1, 2, 3. I also loved the mostly pastel colour scheme with brighter highlights, and Sophie the giraffe, herself. This is a sweet, cute and fun book for babies and toddlers that is sturdy and encourages conversations between parents and child.

Busy Vet 

Created by Luise Forshaw, published by Campbell Books (Pan Macmillan Australia) (2017.) RRP:
$Au 6.99

Busy Cafe 

Created by Luise Forshaw, published by Campbell Books (Pan Macmillan Australia) (2017.) RRP: $Au 6.99

Busy Vet and Busy Café are described as “novelty board books”. A novelty book generally has something special about its format, perhaps flaps to lift or other feats of paper engineering. What I like about these two is that the moving parts are quite robust. Kids will love interacting with the sliders which are made from card almost as thick as the pages. I also loved the attention to detail. The text is simple, but rhyming, making it easier for kids to memorise, an important part of their reading journey. The characters in both books are large and colourful, but there’s a lot of side detail for children to discuss as they explore all the things involved with being in a café or at the vet’s. Characters also ask questions inviting kids to observe, count, comment etc.

With an RRP of $Au 6.99, these books are excellent value.

These Dorling Kindersley books are board books, and even though I am recommending them for gift giving and for kids under 5, I know they will also make excellent library books and be very popular with slightly older kids. They are sturdy enough to stand up to repeated reading and pointing.

Both books feature large, colourful, glossy, illustrated pages. Kids are asked in the minimal text to do things like find the odd one out or spot ten differences. Often there are very strange things to notice that will make kids laugh. In Out and About, the scenarios are places we visit in an English town; in Building Site kids encounter tools and a range of construction equipment. There are answer keys at the back. I love the idea of these books as gifts because I believe they encourage parents to interact with their kids during a shared reading - discussing, chatting, counting, observing and noticing - all these are literacy skills that children develop naturally via a read-aloud with Mum or Dad. The giggles and cuddles are what make it special!

What’s Next Door?

Kids love picture books that invite them to play, especially books that ask for their help and want them to take part in the story. What’s Next Door? was created by Nicola O’Byrne and published by Nosy Crow (Allen and Unwin in Australia) (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

Carter is a crocodile who wants to go home. He can’t do that by himself though - he needs kids to help him. So children will find themselves using their fingers to trace doors and their imaginations to create environments Carter might like. They’ll blow on Carter to dry him out and jiggle the book to help him through. None of your passive listeners required here! Kids will adore the brightly coloured illustrations, especially the die-cut pages that can be peeked through and create a real sense of anticipation. I’ll be adding What’s Next Door to my List of Hilarious Interactive Picture Books for Kids.

Why Can’t I Be a Dinosaur?

Sometimes what you want in a gift is a story that will resonate on more than one level. Here’s a children’s picture book that will appeal to both kids and parents too. Why Can’t I Be a Dinosaur? was written by Kylie Westaway, illustrated by Tom Jellett and published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

It tells the story of Nellie, a little girl who would so much rather wear her green dinosaur costume than dress up as flower girl for Aunt Daisy’s imminent wedding. Parents will grin ruefully over the tactics the mum and dad in the book employ to try to influence their very determined offspring. And children will grin over the tactics Nellie employs right back! Can you guess what Nellie will wear to the wedding? Buy this one for kids who appreciate humour - they will enjoy not just the perfectly-paced story and spot-on dialogue, but also Jellett’s hilarious illustrations.

Possum Magic Book and Toy

I love the idea of pairing a book with a toy. Both add to each other’s value, becoming even more special than they would be alone. In this Book and Toy set, there is a copy of the hardcover Possum Magic picture book by Men Fox and Julie Vivas, and a very cute soft toy possum. The publisher is Omnibus, and the RRP is $Au 29.99.

Possum Magic tells the story of a possum called Hush, and his magical Grandma who makes Hush invisible. When Hush wants to become visible again, Grandma Poss and Hush set off around Australia searching for the food Grandma needs to work the reverse magic. The set would make an excellent choice for a child who doesn’t already have the book of this great Australian classic, and who would value owning a cuddly little possum. The book itself is smaller in size than a “normal” children’s picture book, but is exactly the same in illustrations and text, just slightly scaled down. The possum itself is nicely soft, and has lots of cute detail to make it look authentic.

Have You Seen My Giraffe?

If you’re buying a gift for kids, you really can’t go wrong with a children’s picture book that will appeal to their heads and their hearts. Have You Seen My Giraffe? was written by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Claire Powell and published by Simon and Schuster (2017.) RRP: $Au 14.99 PB

From the publisher:

Did you know that they don’t give away goldfish at the fairground anymore? You can win a giraffe instead. So much better! Although, you might come across a few problems when you bring your cute new pet home. Giraffes tend to be big and clumsy, so here is a handy guide of all the best places to hide them...

The appeal to children's heads comes in the form of a beautifully subversive story that invites youngsters to disregard the problems in having a pet giraffe, and come up instead with ways to hide or disguise it. The appeal to their hearts is the premise: what child wouldn’t want to have a pet giraffe of their very own? Robinson knows just how to address kids and speaks through the young protagonist who knows exactly how Mum and Dad will react, but has answers for everything. Powell’s brightly coloured and detailed illustrations add so much to the humour, giving opportunities for chuckles and chortles at each page turn. Great story, great art work, lots of laughs - you can’t go wrong!


Some gift givers look for a book that has an important message, but not one that preaches to kids. Leaf was created by Sandra Dieckmann, and published by Flying Eye Books (distributed in Australia by Walker Books) (2017.) RRP: $Au 27.99 HB

From the publisher:

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore...

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, the other animals fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous – and his odd habit of collecting leaves only adds to their distrust. Then one day, they watch as he attempts to fly over the water with wings made of colourful leaves... trying to get back home. Perhaps he isn't so different after all?

Leaf is a beautiful quality children’s picture book. Its message is one about acceptance and friendship, and also touches on climate change. I believe many children will recognize the way we humans tend to be suspicious of anyone who seems different, and react with anger, driven by fear. Leaf is nevertheless a joyous story, with clever crows finding a solution that helps everyone. The illustrations are almost breath-taking, glowing with bright colours and patterns on matte paper.

I am including Leaf in my list here today because I am in awe of its beauty and want everyone to share my delight. It's currently on my draft list of The Book Chook's Top Picture Books 2017. I’ll also be adding Leaf to my List of Children’s Picture Books that Celebrate Diversity.

Find It! Christmas

Find It! Christmas is an activity book with a jazzy Christmas theme. The publisher is Make Believe Ideas. It’s available in Australia through Scholastic, and is also available in the US and UK. RRP: $Au 12.99

From the publisher:

This festive activity book is packed with Christmas-themed search-and-find activities to keep children busy and happy!

Children can read the fun, rhyming text, and then explore the busy pictures to find the items that are different. There are also fun card press-outs and more than 500 cute stickers.

It’s great to find puzzle books that are suitable for younger kids. Those of us older folk who love crosswords, jigsaws etc will definitely want to share the fun solving puzzles can bring. Although there’s no story involved in this book, there ARE short rhyming instructions for the search and find activities. I loved the very cute and colourful art work, and wish I could credit the artist involved. But the book is not just full of search and find activities. At the back, there are press-out pieces that can become cards, gift tags and decorations, along with really cute Christmas-themed stickers.

This book makes a great stocking filler - I know children’s eyes will light up when they see all the activities they can do, including such bling as stickers!

Rodney Loses It

Rodney Loses It is a children’s picture book by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Chrissie Krebs and published by Omnibus Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

From the publisher:

Rodney was a rabbit who loved nothing more than drawing. He never found it tiresome, tedious or boring. But then one day, disaster struck, the one thing Rodney feared, while working at his drawing desk his pen just...DISAPPEARED!

Here’s a picture book I’ve chosen for kids 5 plus because I think they will truly appreciate its clever use of language. Its rollicking rhyme and rhythm make it great for memorisation, and it definitely begs to be read aloud. I loved the clever twist at the end, and kids will too.

The illustrations really add to the fun. Rodney is portrayed as a slightly demented buck-toothed and bespectacled rabbit, and at times we see him complete with shower cap, or bow-tie, or upside down in a waste basket. Krebs proves she is game for all the linguistic challenges Bauer throws at her!

Rodney Loses It makes a hilarious gift for any child, but particularly those very special kids who love to play with words. Bauer happens to be one of my favourite Australian authors of children's chapter books too.

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate

When you’e getting older and learning to read independently, it’s nice to discover a book that’s tailor-made for you. The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate was written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and published by Walker Books Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB. I have previously reviewed The Princess in Black, and The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party.

From the publisher:

Princess Magnolia and Princess Sneezewort have plans . . . mysterious plans, like a princess playdate! They dress-up slam! They karaoke jam! They playhouse romp and snack-time stomp! But then a shout from outside Princess Sneezewort's castle interrupts their fun. It’s a monster trying to eat someone’s kitty! This is a job for the Princess in Black. Yet when the Princess in Black gets there, she finds only a masked stranger and no monster in sight . . . or is there?

There’s just as much action and fun in this latest in the Princess in Black series. Girls in particular will love that here is a real chapter book for them to read, with the additional help of large font and many accompanying illustrations. I love the fact that these books show strong girl heroes and have so many laugh-aloud moments. The fact that this is part of a series means that kids can rely on the characters and stories to be equally as good.

Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere!

I prefer not to make pronouncements about what people “should” or “should not” read. But here I go anyway. Deep in my heart I believe every family should own at least one Where’s Wally? book. Why? I truly don’t want anyone to miss out of the fun!

Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere! was written and illustrated by Martin Handford, and published by Walker Books (2017.)

This is the latest in the Where’s Wally stable. To celebrate Wally’s 30th anniversary, Handford has chosen 12 favourite scenes from earlier books. So Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere! would in fact, be an excellent gift choice for a child who is new to the books. However, staunch Wally fans are catered for too, because Wally and his friends are in different places to what they were in the original scenes. There are also new images not found in earlier Wally books.

There’s something so magical and entrancing about visual puzzle books. Kids love to pore over the detailed illustrations with their friends: searching, discussing, and exclaiming. In my experience, so do adults. In fact, Where’s Wally? Destination: Everywhere! would make a great gift for the whole family! Where’s Wally? books also make excellent coffee table books - visitors will immediately start searching, and neither old not young will be able to resist.

Busy Builders: Airport

Busy Builders: Airport was written by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Carlos Ballesteros and published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB

Often gift-givers want to give children something they can play with. Don’t rule out books if this applies to you! Some special books do double-duty as games AND books; others arrive as a set. Busy Builders Airport is a 92 cm airport play set that comes in a robust box which contains:
* a 32 page book
* a fold out airport
* punch out models for kids to assemble into features of the airport
* the box itself becomes part of the play experience

The Busy Builders Airport book is a great example of an information text. Short 2 page chapters include Security Check, Cargo Planes, In Flight and Landing. Each double page has cute and colourful graphics accompanied by text boxes with explanations of each feature. The construction process to put the set together is explained in back of the book, but mostly consists of slotting two or more cardboard pieces so that a model becomes free-standing.

I am recommending this set to children 5-9, but I think preschoolers would certainly enjoy it with adult help for the reading and constructing. No help needed for playing!

ABC Pop-Up

ABC Pop-Up is an alphabet book by Courtney Watson McCarthy, published by Candlewick Studio (Walker Books Australia) (2017.) RRP: $Au 29.99 HB.

Are you thinking perhaps I’ve lost the plot in placing ABC Pop-Up in the section for kids 5 - 9? This is a lovely little book, with each letter of the alphabet depicted in clever paper engineering. I think kids at 5 are old enough to take care of it by having clean hands and touching gently. Children who are beginning to learn letters and sounds will enjoy finding the small embossed letters on each 3D paper sculpture, while readers of any age will marvel over their intricacy and colourful design.

As children open each page, a sculpture unfolds as if by magic. From a juice carton complete with drinking straw, to an almost abstract depiction of the word “No”, to the visible roots of a tree sporting a tyre swing, kids will delight in each tiny art work. The 10cm x 13cm book has a very sturdy cover and sheltering box, but I think it needs to be a thoughtful gift for a child who will appreciate it and take care of it.

The Amazing Monster Detectoscope

The Amazing Monster Detectoscope is a children’s picture book by Graeme Base, published by Penguin (2017.) RRP: $Au 29.99 HB.

From the publisher:

When our hero uses his Amazing Monster DetectoScope he finds that the house is infested with monsters! Can he find the courage to face his fears? This whimsical take on facing childhood fears features intricate paper engineering and a whole host of hilariously hideous beasties lying in wait beyond the DetectoScope viewfinder.

A combination of the famous creator of Animalia, a theme like monster detection and intriguing paper engineering makes this children’s picture book an ideal gift for youngsters. The paper engineering is sturdy enough to take respectful handling. It consists of a circle on each double thickness page with a slider on the circumference. When you move the slider, the circle segments slide to reveal a new picture, implying the detectoscope has done its work of detecting monsters. Base has written each encounter with a monster in rhyming couplets, and of course his art work is both atmospheric and fantastic. Kids will enjoy the mild scariness and rejoice when the doggy hero shows those nasty monsters what’s what.

The Wunderling

The Wunderling is a novel by Mira Bartók, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

The Wunderling is a story about the groundlings, young creatures part-animal, part-human who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures. The home is dreadful, a dreary place made worse by Miss Carbunkle’s precepts. Mottos like “Why Reach for the Stars When the Stars are Out of Reach?” and “Know your Place! It’s at the Bottom!” adorn dingy grey walls, and any form of singing or humming is prohibited. But the misery changes for young Number Thirteen when he meets his first true friend, Trinket, and she gives him not only a proper name, Arthur, but a chance to escape to the outside world.

This children’s novel is huge at 464 pages and has all the hallmarks of a classic. It is set in a Dickensian world, and written in an active, yet descriptive style that grabs you from the start. Fox 2000 has already bought the film rights and I hope I get to see how my own imagination and the director’s vision mesh or differ. I am recommending it to people wanting to buy a book that will last for ages. I think good readers of 10+ will manage it independently, but I believe it makes a wonderful gift for a whole family, including kids 5 - 9. I can see that family now, worn out by festivities and gathered in a comfy place to listen to Mum or Dad read it aloud. I loved reading it, and remembering the huge impact that meaty books like Winnie the Pooh and The Swiss Family Robinson had on my young life!

Pirates Magnified

Pirates Magnified was written by David Long, illustrated by Harry Bloom and published by Wide Eyed, imprint of Quarto UK. (2017.) RRP: $Au 27.99 HB

From the publisher:

Ahoy shipmate! Grab your magnifying glass and seek out history's most notorious pirates in this swashbuckling search-and-find adventure, packed with over 200 things to spot! Explore the lives of 10 real pirates and learn about life on the high seas, whilst using the free magnifying glass to spot more than 200 pirate-themed items in each eye-boggling illustration. Kids will have fun using the magnifying glass to search whilst learning about real life pirates in this seafaring adventure!

A magnifying glass isn’t really a toy, but it’s definitely a good idea when your goal is to search incredibly detailed illustrations. Pirates Magnified has a 3x magnifying glass neatly ensconced in the front cover. There is lots of learning here inside a theme kids are definitely drawn to, but there’s a whole heap of fun too because of the challenges to locate specific items. Long writes with authority about real pirates, both men and women, and uses language kids will understand. Bloom has created an absolute visual feast with cut-aways, humorous scenes and a rogue’s gallery. I am definitely recommending this book to libraries too, as I know so many youngsters who will both adore, and pore over it!

Explanatorium of Nature

Explanatorium of Nature is by DK Books. RRP: $Au 45.00 HB.

From the publisher:

Jaw-dropping, up-close photography shows the natural world and animals as you've never seen it before.

From fruit to flowers, from shells to sharks, from ants to elephants, this extraordinary new encyclopedia will keep animal and nature enthusiasts aged 9 and over, utterly absorbed by amazing, close-up images.

DK Books has always been my publisher of choice when it comes to stunning visuals in non-fiction. Explantorium of Nature has an instantly appealing cover as you can see - where a chameleon seems ready to leap out at the reader! Inside there are close-ups taken with infrared and ultraviolet, cross sections, macro pics - in short, a world of vibrant detail to engage us.

Aside from the fantastic photography which I believe will appeal to readers young and old, I recommend this book because of the focus on how things in the natural world actually work. Encyclopaedic volumes can be fascinating, but sometimes their breadth is almost overwhelming. Parents with youngsters who want to know “How?” and “Why” will love the way Explanatorium of Nature examines topics like types of bird feet, how bats work, how fish reproduce, how spider silk works.

Although many children 5-9 won’t be able to read the text unaided, please don’t think this means the book wouldn’t make a suitable gift for them. It’s one of those books that make a great gift for the whole family, serving as both a reference book, a coffee table book for browsing, or even a book to work through during a read-aloud. Adults may need to read kids a summarised version of a text snippet, or just share the main facts - even just look at the pictures together and identify the species. The important thing is: here’s a chance to share the way reading can inform as well as entertain with kids who have a boundless curiosity about and enthusiasm for the natural world.


Find more books for younger kids in Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books about Animals 2017, Recently Published Children’s Picture Books 2017 (2),  and Recently Published Children’s Picture Books 2017 (3).

If you’re looking for recently published books for older readers, check out Recommended Books for Older Readers 2017 (1) and Recommended Books for Older Readers (2).

If you’d like to find collections of children’s picture books that focus on a certain theme, go to my Listly page.

Clicking on Reviews in the right sidebar means you can scroll through all my reviews, or check out all reviews at a glance on my Pinterest Book Review board.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with a Santa

by Susan Stephenson,

My creative prompts often suggest a specific kind of creating but these suggestions are fine to change or ignore. Creative prompts are designed to nudge kids in the direction of creating something - the something is completely up to them. Today all the prompts have something to do with Santa. You will find all my creative prompts to date embedded in the list underneath these suggestions.

***Write a letter from Santa Claus to some or all of the kids in the world. (Hint: attitude)

***Design a Santa themed meal.

***Create a Santa wiki. Make sure you present all the facts about Santa, as well as mention books, songs and movies about him.

***What if all the Santas in the world were kidnapped? Who might take their places? Tell the story.

***Write a joke about Santa.

***Gather together some toys e.g. teddy bears, and create outfits for them so they fit a theme like Santa and the elves, or Santa and Rudolph, or Trouble at the Toy Workshop.

***Choose a Christmas song and choreograph a dance to it that Santa could do. A group of friends might get together and present the song/dance to an audience.

***Imagine a sad Santa. What might the problem be? How could the problem be resolved?

***Make a Santa sculpture out of newspaper.

***Write a letter, persuading Santa to take you with him on his rounds on Christmas Eve.

***Create a cartoon about Santa.

***Get together with a friend. Improvise a conversation between Santa and your school principal.

***Can you create a cubby that a Santa Bear might like to live in?

You might also be interested in two Christmas themed counting PDFs I have created.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Recently Published Children’s Picture Books 2017 (3)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Isn’t it a joy to find new children’s picture books? Today I want to share a range of books with you, and encourage you to seek them out so you can share them with the young readers in your life. You’ll find the first edition of my 2017 children’s picture book round-up in August,and the second in October.

The Great Rabbit Chase is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, published by Scholastic Press (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Gumboots is a beautiful pet rabbit, but he likes to escape. A story that celebrates what it means to live in a community and a reminder that life is full of surprises.

Like most rabbits, Gumboot is a skilled escapologist. More and more people join in the Gumboot recovery team as it winds its way through the town and we get to know a little about each one. At last they reach the park and suddenly everyone’s cares and frowns seem to fall away. There’s a final delightful twist, and readers are left with that from-the-boots sigh which comes at the end of every fantastic picture book.

I am a huge Freya Blackwood fan. It’s lovely in The Great Rabbit Chase to read her own words and see their seamless integration with her beautiful illustrations. Mellow light seems to fill each page and her characters are captured in evocative detail. I loved that the end papers are a board game of the story that kids can play with dice. Wouldn’t that make a wonderful challenge once you’ve shared this book with kids? They could invent board games about a chase, or use found objects or paper and pencil to map the journey.

Do look out for The Great Rabbit Chase, for library and home. It’s sure to become a classic, and I am awarding it the coveted Book Chook Feather of Approval. It’s a definite contender for The Book Chook’s Top Children’s Picture Books 2017.

Say Zoop is a children’s picture book by Hervé Tullet, published by Allen and Unwin (2017.) RRP: $Au 22.99 HB I have previously reviewed Tullet’s Let’s Play.

From the publisher:

Best-selling author Herve Tullet extends an irresistible invitation to young children to whisper, sing and shout their way through another magical book experience.

Let's make some noise! Shout OH! Whisper AH! Say ZOOP!

Simply turn the page to embark on a magical journey of sound, colour, motion and imagination.

Here’s a new children’s picture book that invites kids to interact with it. The first page addresses young readers with a question: “Hello, would you like to play?” and away we go. We press dots and make louder noises on the bigger ones. We change noises, use robot voices, have fun, all the while surrounded by colourful dots and lines. And then these shapes sort themselves onto a background of five horizontal lines that look a lot like a musical staff. The mostly blue, red and yellow on white palette is stunning. What a wonderful way to have children think about and react to sounds, colours and shapes, and be introduced almost incidentally to the idea of recording sounds as music.

I will be adding Say Zoop to my list of Hilarious Interactive Children’s Picture Books for Kids.

Animals Rock and Other Wild Songs is a children’s picture book of songs from Beau Young and Shelley Craft, illustrated by Susy Boyer and published by Koala Books (Scholastic) (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Beau Young and Shelley Craft team up with the Animals Rock band to bring you a heap of catchy songs all about animals–straight from the jungle!

Includes audio CD with all the tracks from the book.
Great wildly coloured illustrations and 5 rockin’ song tracks will encourage kids to choose this children’s picture book with accompanying CD. The songs (Animals Rock, Crocodile Fishin’, A Lion’s Roar, Long Neck Giraffe and Hip Hippo) are short and catchy. You can listen to some on the Animals Rock website, and find out more about the Byron Bay-based band. Being able to read along while listening is a great way for kids to develop skills they need for reading, making Animals Rock a great choice for car, for home or for the classroom.

Pig the Star is a children’s picture book, written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey, and published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Pig just LOVES attention. In fact, he's a great, big SHOW-OFF.

But when ANOTHER star appears at the photo shoot, Pig doesn't like it. No, Pig doesn't like it at ALL...

One of the many things I appreciate about Blabey’s books is his attention to detail. The front endpaper has a photo shoot call sheet with Star 1: Pig (Pug). Star 2 is Trevor (Dachshund) but someone has apparently taken a red felt pen, crossed out Trevor’s name and scrawled “Pig, Pig, Pig, Pig”. I wonder who did that? Even before they start the actual story, kids will be grinning.

Inside we find Pig up to his old trick of hogging the limelight, and oh, Blabey has outdone himself with the costumes the dogs put on! (My favourite is Pig as Mona Lisa, but Tarzan comes a close second.) Needless to say the whole story is in rollicking rhythm and rhyme, perfect for sharing with kids as a read-aloud, or for young readers who want a laugh. Another great Pig book to add to your collection.

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero is a children’s picture book written by Susan Hall, illustrated by Cheryl Westenberg, and published by National Library of Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 17.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Wesley Wombat tries very hard to be a superhero. 'If only I had superpowers like all my friends!' he thinks longingly.

All of Wesley's friends can do special things: the kangaroo can jump really high, the frilled lizard can make itself look big and scary, the ant can lift up things bigger than itself and the eagle can see things miles away. . . children will enjoy lifting the flaps to see Wesley's disastrous attempts to copy his friends!

Feeling despondent, Wesley sets off to a bush birthday party, only to find his friends trapped in a burning shed. Finally he discovers his very own superpowers - just in time!

I don’t know any child who hasn’t longed to be a superhero. Sadly, it seems as if Wesley has nothing special about him at all, unlike his amazing friends. In I Wish I Could Be a Superhero, Hall has chosen a theme children will relate to, and gifted us with lots of hilarious situations as Wesley tries to emulate his friends. There’s an underlying message of self-acceptance, and a feel-good ending, followed by a a final section describing the real ‘superpowers’ of the animals in the book.

Flaps are on many pages and really introduce a lovely tension to the read-aloud experience. For example: Wesley kits himself up to swim underwater in snorkel, mask and a huge inflatable swim ring. The closed flap tells us “But when he tried…” so kids just know something is going to go wrong. Sure enough, when we open the flap, there is Wesley upside down underwater, gargling “Help!” Children will love the way the different scenarios are repeated in the same format, allowing them to build anticipation and predict what might happen next. Westenberg’s bush characters are priceless, especially Wesley, a rotund wombat in slightly too small superhero outfit.

I Want to Be in a Scary Story is a children’s picture book written by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien, published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au24.99 I have previously reviewed Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Taylor and Jullien and it is on my list of Top Children’s Picture Books 2015.

From the publisher:

Monster wants to be in a scary story – but is he brave enough? Scary stories have creepy witches and creaky stairs and dark hallways and spooky shadows… Oh my goodness me! That is very scary. Maybe, a funny story would be better after all? Brilliantly interactive, children will delight in the wickedly funny turn-of-the-pages, see themselves in the goofy, unconventional monster, and revel in the bold, hilarious illustration of celebrated graphic artist, Jean Jullien.

Taylor and Jullien work so well together, seamlessly weaving a very funny tale of a little monster who reminds me of many kids I know. They “think” they like scary, but sometimes “scary” overwhelms them with terror. Taylor’s words reveal little monster’s youth, his enthusiasm, then his growing doubts as his plans backfire. Jullien’s graphic art uses bold yellows and purples in some plain background pages, and contrasts these with pages that show more detailed dark backgrounds of the spooky house and scary forest. It’s tremendous fun to read aloud, and will also be a book that kids will want to read for themselves, over and over.

I Want to Be in a Scary Story lends itself to being read aloud in two voices, one the enthusiastic little monster in his own large purple font, and the second the calm voice of the narrator, keen to put little monster into scary situations. The story thus unfolds as dialogue, with Taylor and Jullien guiding the read-alouder with text, font, punctuation and illustrations. I can certainly see the book being a great vehicle for reader’s theatre, and it will appeal to a wide age range as a read-aloud. Students could also compare it with a picture book like Narelle Oliver’s I Want to Be in a Book.

I’ll be adding I Want to Be in a Scary Story to my list of Hilarious Interactive Picture Books for Kids.

Goodnight Everyone is a children’s picture book, written and illustrated by Chris Haughton, and published by Walker Books (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

I have previously reviewed Haughton’s books Shh! We Have a Plan, Oh No, George! A Bit Lost, and his app, Hat Monkey.

From the publisher:

In this stunningly illustrated bedtime book, perfect for the end of the day, a series of exquisitely coloured cut pages of increasing size introduce woodland families – bears, deer, rabbits and teeny, tiny mice – who are all beginning to feel really ... rather ... tired ... YAWN! "Dear me," says Great Big Bear, "it must be time for bed!" But Little Bear is certainly not sleepy – he's wide awake! (For now...) With sublime, starry night time scenes and an infectious yawny "Good night" refrain, Chris Haughton creates a lulling bedtime read, perfect for parents and children to share together.

Open this book and you fall immediately fall into a most exquisitely coloured landscape. Vibrant purple, fluoro pink, lime green, acid yellow with splashes of orange and turquoise, and tiny hints of black and white reveal sunset in the woods, with little creatures’ eyes growing sleepy. We not only meet various woodland creatures getting ready to sleep, but we join in with their yawning and stretching, a wonderful idea for settling readers and listeners down.

But wait! We meet Little Bear, and he really doesn’t seem ready to sleep. Kids will nod in recognition, and probably giggle softly as finally even Little Bear succumbs to all these sleepifying noises and the gentle “goodnight” refrain. Anyone still awake will enjoy the end papers with their depiction of the stars in both the southern and northern night skies. Goodnight Everyone makes a lovely bedtime story and is a must for homes and libraries wanting quality picture books. Check out the trailer for more insights into the book.

Santa’s Gone Surfing is a children’s picture book written by P. Crumble, illustrated by Thomas Fitzpatrick and published by Koala Books, an imprint of Scholastic (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 HB.

From the publisher:

On one Christmas Eve
As he did each year
Santa crossed the equator
To the Southern Hemisphere.

But this year, Santa decides it’s too hot to deliver presents. He grabs a surfboard and heads out to catch some waves... Can Trev, his old ute and a flock of emus save Christmas Day?

If you’re looking for a new Chrismassy and Australian themed picture book, check out this one. Santa is fed up when he gets to Australia in his hot and itchy suit, so he decides to go surfing instead. Emergency! Who you gonna call? Well, in this case, Trev, the emergency Santa. Poor Trev hasn’t even passed Santa school yet, but he grabs his ute and emus and gives it a shot.

There are references to Australian towns, slapstick humour kids will appreciate, and the narrative unfurls in rhyming couplets. Fitzpatrick’s cartoon-style illustrations add lots of colour and fun. I especially enjoyed the fierce look on Squinty, the emu with a glowing red eye!

Koalas Eat Gum Leaves is a children’s picture book by Laura and Philip Bunting, published by Omnibus Books (2017.) RRP: $Au $16.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Bunting’s Mopoke and Koalas Eat Gum Leaves is a contender for The Book Chook's Top Children's Picture Books 2017.

From the publisher:

Koalas eat gum leaves. Nothing but gum leaves. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even on their birthdays. But one koala discovers something a lot more tempting. This koala eats nothing but ice cream. Ever heard of too much of a good thing?

The incredibly cute koala on the front cover delights and intrigues immediately. What is he half-hiding behind his back? The endpapers feature koalas too - some conventionally munching gum leaves, but one clearly eating something else. Inside we discover that though most koalas endlessly eat gum leaves, there is one who wants something tastier. He searches for more and through his binoculars we see a snail - No, gum leaves - No!, a snake - Woah. and then an ice-cream - Hello! Such clever use of minimal rhyming text has us chortling and the accompanying graphic design milks every ounce of humour from each situation. Kids will understand Koala’s obsession with the sweet treat, nod ruefully over what looks like a marsupial tummy-ache, and recognise that in anyone’s life, there can be too much of a good thing.

As in Mopoke, Koalas Eat Gum Leaves uses sparse text, with an emphasis on visual communication. Children will love Bunting’s art work and I know they will be keen to create koalas from simple shapes in shades of grey with touches of black and white. This could be achieved in an art lesson, with construction paper, or using digital design with an app like Assembly or Google Drawings. The book is a worthy addition to fiction resources about Australian animals, and would be great paired with an information text like Koala by Claire Saxby and Julie Vivas for some research into real life koalas.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog is a children’s picture book by Lisa Papp, published by Old Barn Books (Walker Books in Australia) (2017.) RRP: $24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

A beautiful, reassuring, story for all those struggling to read.

Madeline Finn does not like to read. Not books. Not magazines. Not even the menu on the ice cream van. Fortunately, Madeline meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading aloud to Bonnie isn’t so bad. When Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn’t mind. As it turns out, it’s fun to read when you’re not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it’s okay to go slow, to keep trying, and to get support from a friend.

When I was a child, I had no idea that there were people who struggled to read. I know it now, and it is so unfair! How can reading be the wonderful pleasure I know if it doesn’t come easily like breathing? Madeline HATES to read. She says the sentences get stuck in her mouth like peanut butter. She gets stickers that say “Keep Trying” when all she wants is the star. Children know in their hearts the difference between first place and an encouragement award!

Papp’s illustrations are full of detail and emotion. They work seamlessly with the text to show us what it’s like to be Madeline, and how the first tendrils of optimism unfurl when she meets Bonnie the Reading Dog. I KNOW there are kids who will understand Madeline and her problem. Maybe this book will be the one that will make them feel less alone and misunderstood. I believe Madeline Finn and the Library Dog should be in every library and hope that teachers will share it with any student who needs to hear its reassuring message.

If you're looking for books to give as Christmas gifts, all of the above would make fine choices. On December 6 I'll publish a long and carefully chosen list of even more wonderful book gifts for you. Find still more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Nine Nifty Writing Prompts for Kids

by Susan Stephenson,

Some of us know how to write, but getting started can be tricky. We’re the ones found chewing a pencil while gazing out the window. Having a prompt to nudge us in a certain direction often helps. Try these with your kids:

* The day you wake up with super powers should be the happiest day of your life so far. What goes wrong?

* You desperately want to write a letter to send a friend an invitation …or a warning. You have no pens or pencils, no electronic devices. What can you use to convey your message? What does the message say?

* You open an old bottle you find on the shore, and a genie comes out. What happens next?

* Write a story about somebody who has a goldfish bowl stuck on their head.

* Create the most convincing argument you can think of to persuade your principal to cancel school for a week.

* A grasshopper, and a pig in a hat meet in the middle of a bridge. Write out the conversation they have.

* Describe the ugliest monster you can imagine.

* Your friend invents a machine that can provide a never-ending supply of treats. What treats does it give? There’s only one problem …what is it, and how do you discover that problem? Draw and label the machine and write the story.

* Invent a comic strip about any characters you can draw or create in digital format. Write a summary of the plot.

You might also like to read Ten Writing Challenges for Kids, Ten Fun Word Challenges for Kids or check out some more of my articles on teaching kids to write.
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