Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reviews: Recent Children’s Picture Books 2018 (6)

Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson,

Below is the sixth in my series of children’s picture books reviewed this year. Find the first here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth here. Is there a child near you who would benefit from reading some of these books?

Benny Bungarra’s Big Bush Clean-Up is a children’s picture book written by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina and published by Magabala Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB. I have previously reviewed The Perfect Thing by Morgan and Kwaymullina.

From the publisher:

When the animals work as a team to come up with ways to look after the bush, they decide to ask the humans to REDUCE, RECYCLE and use RUBBISH BINS. But it is Benny Bungarra who has the bright idea of a BIG BUSH CLEAN-UP so the animals can also help look after the bush.

Perfect for young kids - pre-school, Kinder/Prep, Grade 1/2 - who are learning how to look after their environment, Benny Bungarra’s Bush Clean-Up tells a simple tale about Australian animals with a messy problem. The rubbish situation in the bush has become so bad that animals are even being physically hurt by fishing line and pieces of glass.

Kwaymullina’s illustrations are beautifully simple and glow with colour. The environmental theme and simple story make this a great choice for schools looking for resources. Libraries wanting stories that resonate with indigenous students will also grab Benny Bungarra’s Big Bush Clean-Up. I’ll be adding this book to my List of Children’s Picture Books with an Environmental Theme.

At the End of Holyrood Lane is a children’s picture book written by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston, and published by EK Books (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed The Fix-It Man by Powell and Johnston.

From the publisher:

Flick is just like any other youngster. She loves to chase butterflies and jump in autumn leaves. But life at the end of Holyrood Lane is often violent and unpredictable due to the constant storms that plague her home, causing her to cringe with dread and flee whenever they strike. Visually arresting, emotionally incisive, and ultimately uplifting, this beautifully crafted picture book provides a sensitive glimpse into one aspect of domestic violence and how it can affect young lives.

I very much appreciated the deft touch Powell displays when dealing with such a fraught subject as domestic violence. Her character, Flick, suffers when storms strike. Those storms may be physical, or may in fact be a metaphor for something else. The image of the “storm” is a strong one - “angry clouds muscle in”, “wild winds bully the curtains”. Johnston’s illustration adds even more tension and action with the swirling wind and the look on Flick’s face.

There’s a great opportunity here for children to think about, and perhaps volunteer to describe things that make them fearful or want to hide. Johnston has some suggestions in her images of great hiding places and I can well imagine the ideas might be very comforting for kids. But the storm gets worse, worse than ever before (Johnston’s illustrations are beautifully eerie here) and finally Flick seeks help. The ribbon she has been dancing with unifies the story and we discover in the end that the kinds of storms that terrified her have completely disappeared.

At the End of Hollyrood Lane is enigmatic. Different children will be able to interpret the story in different ways. I think this is excellent, as children can detect a preachy, didactic tone from a mile away. Kudos to both author and illustrator for a successful creation that I hope will enrich many children’s lives. Teacher notes are available via EK’s website. Check out the book’s trailer for more of an idea.

A Forest is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Marc Martin, and published by Puffin/Penguin Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 14.99 PB . I have previously reviewed Martin’s The Curious Explorer’s Illustrated Guide to Exotic Animals, Max and What’s Up Top?

From the publisher:

There once was a forest . . .
So begins this timeless and touching story of renewal from one of Australia's most talented new picture-book creators.

I fell in love with A Forest at first sight. The story itself is simple but powerful. It shows what happens to a forest when people become greedy and destroy it. Then we see what happens to man-made cities because the forest is no longer there. There’s a strong environmental theme, obviously, and I know children will enjoy discussing this. But quite young kids will also respond well to the machines, the strong graphic design and the myriad tiny elements that make up a forest.

Martin’s illustrations are just delightful. There is such a contrast between the large city buildings with their geometric lines, and the forest with its smaller, more organic shapes. His illustrative work just keeps getting better and better, and I eagerly await his next book! I’ll be adding A Forest to my List of Children’s Picture Books with an Environmental Theme.

Collecting Sunshine is a children’s picture book written by Rachel Flynn, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie and published by Penguin (2018.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Gus Dog Goes to Work by Flynn.

From the publisher:

Mabel and Robert love to collect things on their walks – leaves and stones and seeds and berries. But when they are caught in the rain and can’t take their collection home they have an even better idea . . .

A book for those magical days when a walk to the park is nothing short of an adventure.

Collecting Sunshine had a cumulative effect on me. Wearing my “picture book aficionado” hat, I relished each page turn and was transported back to my younger days. Between them, Flynn and Ainslie have succeeded in capturing the essence of joyful childhood adventures. Mabel and Robert begin by collecting physical things but move on to exploring what their senses tell them. We share their joy in sticks, flowers, raindrops, puddles, and even wet dogs. (Well, maybe not wet dogs!) At the end of the story, there is time for quiet reflection as they create memories through drawing pictures of what they “collected”.

This would make an excellent read-aloud or resource box book for themes like Who We Are, Myself, or Our Senses. Kinders and pre-schoolers will love to share what they too can see, hear, smell, taste, touch in their environments. I hope they will be prompted to make a record of what they observe and collect, because this is such a wonderful part of learning. The book doubles as a puzzle book too, because kids are asked to find a mouse and a budgie on every page. Collecting Sunshine is a lovely gentle picture book that deserves a space in every home and library. Penguin have also kindly provided an accompanying activity pack to download.

Aleph is a large-format first book of words and pictures by Janik Coat, published by Gecko Press (2018.) RRP: $NZ $30.43 HB

From the publisher:

Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet—or maybe a nickname for a toy elephant.

Through powerful graphic images, contrasting colours and a thoughtful progression, Aleph moves from basic shapes and familiar objects to a wider world, full of story, character and wonder.

Janik Coat’s unforgettable illustrations are perfect for sharing with babies—big, simple images with instant appeal.

To me, Aleph is a kind of picture dictionary for babies. It starts with very simple and basic shapes, and moves on to slightly more complicated ones that may or may not be part of little ones’ lives. So circle, square star, then hug, car, toucan, train through to cupcake, rainbow, king. The images are more graphic design than realism, and are striking and memorable. At the back there is a list with all the images named and with someone’s special toys (Aleph, Rome, Popov and Cyrus) highlighted in fluoro pink.

I liked so much about this book until I came to the witch. I have no problem with fantasy but why do babies need to see a scary witch? I argued with myself that perhaps it is important to have a range of images, and who says a witch is scary anyway? But I admit that it still made me uncomfortable.

Incy Wincy Spider is a children’s picture book illustrated by Matt Shanks and published by Scholastic Australia (2018.) RRP: $Au 15.99 HB. I have previously reviewed Shanks’ Eric the Postie.

From the publisher:

Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the water spout,
Down came the rain and washed poor Incy out!

Where will Incy Wincy Spider go next and who will she meet along the way?
Find out in this new Australian version of a favourite nursery rhyme.

Often it’s encouraging for little ones to meet a book that has a connection with something they know. In this case, kids will probably know the rhyme or song of the small spider with a real never-say-drown attitude. In this Incy Wincy Spider picture book, not only will children encounter the usual verse, but many more verses with the same rhythm, AND meet Australian animal characters too.

It’s charmingly illustrated in soft colours by Shanks, and has lots of great movement and expression opportunities. Incy Wincy Spider joins others in Scholastic's Aussie Nursery Rhyme series.

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