Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reviews, Five Fabulous Picture Books for Australia: Story Country

by Susan Stephenson,

As I said in Children’s Book Week 2016 - Resources:

I think it's important not to get too fixed on what makes a book suit this 2016 Children's Book Week theme. Australia IS a Story Country. Our stories come from all over: from our own indigenous people, from migrants and refugees who have come to live here, from books, movies and orally transmitted stories. Let's encourage Australia's children to immerse themselves in a range of stories, to read them, listen to them, watch them, think about them, and go on to share them with others!

So, besides all the wonderful short-listed and notable books selected by the CBCA, there are stacks of other books that would suit the theme: Australia: Story Country. For instance, here are five children’s picture books I read recently that would also be outstanding. Some have already been chosen in the CBCA Notables.

Perfect by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood , published by Little Hare, an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont (2015). Perfect has been chosen in two categories in the CBCA’s Notables for 2016. I think it makes lots of sense to include it in your 2016 Children’s Book Week resources because it is so evocative of a life many many children in Australia know well. And it's just beautiful.

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

Perfect really is. It leaves you with a warm glow in your heart, and words and pictures dancing through your mind. The combination of Blackwood’s mellow, golden and light-filled illustrations and Parker’s lyrical but simple, rhyming and evocative text makes this one of those special picture books which will become a classic. The two creators help us all rejoice in long lazy summer days and evenings; days filled with kite-flying and sandcastle-building; night-times of cuddles and dreams. I loved it, and hope you’ll grab and share it with a young reader you love. SOON!

Crabbing with Dad by Paul Seden and published by Magabala Books (2016).

From the publisher:

Crabbing with Dad is a beautiful children’s picture book debut from Darwin-based author and illustrator, Paul Seden. Aimed at a younger audience, children will love reading about the adventures of two small children as they go out in the boat with Dad to set crab pots in their secret spot.

Sunscreen and life jackets on, they zoom off into the creek, passing other boats and people fishing along the way. It’s a good tide to be on the water and they even come across Cousin Dan throwing his net as far as he can. Crab pots set, they all wait patiently and play games as they guess what fish could be swimming under their boat. When it’s finally time to check the crab pots, the adventure begins as they pull up a big, angry crab! Dad teaches the children how to handle the crabs very carefully so they don’t get nipped!

Lots of kids will grin as soon as they hear the title of this children’s picture book. Crabbing or fishing with Dad or Grandpa or Mum or Grandma is never dull. (It may well be uncomfortable and scary in my experience, though!) Seden’s illustrations zing with action, colour and fun and his story is simple but evocative of the Australian coastal life, and of kids who love to spend time with Dad.

Here is another book kids can relate to for Australia: Story Country. What adventures have they had like the kids in the book? What do they like to do with their dads? What connections to their own lives can they make? Can they explain to someone else (the procedure of) how to go crabbing now?

Rockhopping is on the CBCA’s Notables list for 2016. Written and illustrated by Trace Balla, it was published by Allen and Unwin, (2016). RRP: $Au24.99 (You might remember Trace Balla’s Rivertime was shortlisted for Picture Book of the Year in 2015, and Rockhopping follows on from it.)

From the publisher:

The story of an eventful hike in Gariwerd (the Grampians), from the creator of the multi-award-winning Rivertime.

Join Clancy and Uncle Egg on a rambling, rockhopping adventure in Gariwerd (the Grampians), to find the source of the Glenelg River. A story about following your flow, and the unexpected places you may go.

This is a wonderful book for children 7+ . Of course, any age child can get lots from a picture book but this particular picture book is intriguing for independent readers. It is in a graphic novel or comic style, mostly with lots of panels to a page but with some larger and/or very detailed panels. The drawings are lovely, softly coloured cartoon-style pencil sketches I think, and occasional panels also introduce the fauna and flora encountered. There’s a mud map of Uncle Egg and Clance’s journey and so much detail and fascinating stuff for children to pore over. It would work as a read-aloud but I definitely hope to see it being borrowed or bought by kids who love to read independently. The story itself will resonate with any Aussie kids who like to spend time outdoors - another opportunity for them to go on and share their own adventures in the bush. I loved this book and highly recommend it!

Hattie Helps Out by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, published by Allen and Unwin (2016).

From the publisher:

It's a busy day at Hattie's house. There's a lot to do before Dad's birthday party.

Hattie is being very helpful, until it's time for her afternoon nap.

Hattie's not even sleepy! But Mama looks tired. Very tired...

A delightfully funny story about a little girl with big ideas, from a winning combination of creators.

This is one of my new favourite children’s picture books. It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to read aloud to kids. Why would I choose it for Children’s Book Week 2016? Two words: why not? Is the story obviously set in Australia? No, but it might be. Can kids recognise elements from their own homes and lives? I'll bet they will. Do they have any stories to share about things they did when they were “little”? Yes!

Hattie is a newish big sister, bursting for the baby to grow up and be a playmate, scorning sleeps in the daytime, eager to be a big girl and help. The humour comes of course from Hattie’s interpretations of helping, and the fun of reading between those lines of dialogue. The ending is very satisfying, with just a tiny twist to tie the story nicely together.

This makes a great choice if you need a picture book parents can enjoy too during Children’s Book Week, and I’m sure they’d listen keenly to oral stories about what their kids did when they were “little”!

Nannie Loves was written and illustrated by Kylie Dunstan and published by Working Title Press (2016). $Au24.99

I don’t want our very youngest to miss out on Children’s Book Week, and here’s a sweet and endearing children’s picture book they will relate to immediately. It’s a story about Nannie - well not so much a narrative type story as an interaction between text and illustration of what Nannie loves. Things like Grandpa, Sunday lunch with her family gathered around her, her dog, her chooks, even her sheep when they dare to graze in the vege patch. The large colourful collaged illustrations bring the characters and setting to life, and children’s own imaginations will supply all the baa-ing, clucking, smells of Sunday roast and hugging necessary for a beloved Grandma living in Australia: Story Country.

In Focus on Storytelling, I asked:

Is a story always fiction? Can a story be written in a book? People talk about “stories” and mean things as diverse as a televised oral description of a factual event, a written account of a series of life events, a fairy tale told orally, something with a beginning, a middle and an end as text, a ballad, a tapestry or a series of photographs.
Lots of what children want to tell us is not a story in the traditional narrative sense, yet it means so much to them to share a fragment about their lives. I really like the fact that Nannie Loves reminds us that everyone’s story, in whatever form, has the potential to entertain us, remind us of what we love, and even change the way we look at the world.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar. Check out other Children's Book Week 2016 resources in Educational Activities and Focus on Storytelling.

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