I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox & Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)

My auntie came from Athens
with her brother and her niece.
And now we live in Adelaide
because it’s so like Greece.
How about you?

Since the first white settlers arrived in Australia, there have been ongoing debates, discussions and worse, regarding just who has the right to be here, or to call themselves Australian. This is a really important topic, but not always an easy one to explore in a child-accessible way. I’m Australian Too manages to explore a wide range of versions of being Australian, from the first peoples, through to refugees – including those still waiting to find out if they will be ‘let in’ –  in a form which is easily digestible but also offers a way to discuss belonging and nationhood with even quite young children.

Opening with the lines I’m Australian!/ How about you?, each subsequent spread is from the voice of a different Australian child, telling where their family is from and where they live now. The closing pages focus on Australia’s tradition of opening doors to strangers, with echoes of the national anthem, and a reminder (or rejoinder) to live in peace. The important message of the story is reflected in the wonderful illustrations, showing the diversity of Australian homes, customs, landscapes and, of course, children.

Perfect for classroom discussions of belonging, multiculturalism, refugees and more, this is also perfect for at home sharing.

I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276218

Through the Gate, by Sally Fawcett

I sat on the broken front step of the ‘new’ house.
New town, new school … nothing was the same.

When she first sees her ‘new’ house, a young girl sees nothing but ‘old’ – drooping roof, peeling paint, a crumbling step, and cracks everywhere. She is not impressed. She does not like change. At all. She plods off to her first week of school. But after the first week, she notices a tiny change to her house. As the weeks past, the house continues to change – and so does her movement, until, finally, she skips towards her new home.

Through the Gate is a clever, feel-good book about coping with change and, particularly, moving home. Visually, the transformation of the house from a tumble down cottage with a broken picket fence, to a beautifully restored house, with fence and garden, is clever. The use of colour – with early illustrations showing all but the girl in grey scale, and colour being added progressively as the house changes – highlights the girl’s changing attitude as she finds pleasure in her new life, and adapts to the changes.

A wonderful story of resilience.

Through the Gate, by Sally Fawcett
EK Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925335415

The Fix-It man, by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston

My dad can fix anything.
It’s what dad’s do.

Dad can fix anything. He’s handy with a hammer and nails, sticky tape and glue and even with making peach tea and cupcakes. But when mum dies, Dad and daughter find that sticky tape and super glue are not enough – they need a special kind of fix-it, in the form of love.

The Fix-It man is a heart warming story of the bond between a father and young daughter, exploring the impact of the loss of a parent in a gentle manner. It is dad who keeps the house running while Mum is sick, with gentle humour and persistence, but it is the daughter who, in the midst of her own grief, reaches out to Dad. Together they start to put their lives back together, surrounded with gentle reminders of Mum.

This is a difficult topic for a children’s book – which is why it is so important. Powell’s text gives just enough detail, without over explaining or analysing what is happening, and Johnston’s illustrations are gently whimsical. A grey scale illustration at the darkest point of the book is particularly poignant, with no need for text to show how the pair cope with their loss.

A wonderful book for exploring themes of bereavement.

The Fix-It man, by Dimity Powell & Nicky Johnston
EK Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925335347

Twinkle , Twinkle, Little Star, illustrated by Matt Shanks

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

There is no doubting the popularity of classic nursery rhyme brought to life in this book, though probably many readers will be surprised at the number of verses, some of which may be less familiar. But it is the way it is brought to life in the adorable illustrations which make this version so appealing. Olive the owl (named only in the blurb), flies across the darkening landscape, delivering books (each adorned with a star) to her sleepy friends – a flock of sheep, a family of wombats, even a human child – before returning home to read to her three owlets.

The gentle blues and purples of the night skies, together with the expressive, sweet faced animals and the familiar text make this an ideal bedtime or rest time offering.

Lovely.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, illustrated by Matt Shanks
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781760158668

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

I love sharing time!
It’s the best time of the year.

It’s shearing time, and it’s all hands on deck to get the job done. From mustering sheep, to drafting out the ewes, to the actual shearing, keeping the shed clean, sorting the wool and, of course, keeping everybody fed, there’s a lot to be done.

Shearing Time is both a celebration of this time of year for youngsters who know and loev farming, and an explanation of it for those who may be less familiar. following the events of one day of shearing – with promise of more days to come – from the perspective of a child who helps her parents and the shearers.

With realistic-styled digital and ink illustrations, and back of book notes and glossary, a useful insight into farming life.

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925520095

Rock Pool Secrets, by Narelle Oliver

Down on the rocky shore,
waves crash and smash.
Then the tide goes out and the sea is calm.
It’s a good time to explore rock pools.

At first glance, there isn’t much to see in a rock pool, but a closer look reveals lots of interesting creatures, from anemones, to crabs, shrimp, tiny fish and more.

Rock Pool Secrets is a divine non-fiction picturebook, taking youngsters inside the secrets of a beach side rock pool. the text is informative, but also beautifully crafted, enticing readers to keep exploring. the use of large flaps on most spreads is similarly enticing, with left sized text hinting and encouraging readers to look closely at the outside of the flap before opening it to see what new creature is there.

One of the last picture books created by the late Narelle Oliver, Rock Pool Secrets was crafted from beautiful lino cut and watercolour illustrations, with beauty and detail which offer much to explore.

Divine.

Rock Pool Secrets , by Narelle Oliver
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781922179357

Toffee Apple by Peter Combe, ill Danielle McDonald

Toffee Apple, nice and licky,
One for Judy, one for Nicky.
Crunchy munchy,
Very sticky
Don’t forget to clean your teeth!

‘Toffee Apple’ is a collection of three much-loved songs from performer Peter Combe. Here they are illustrated with bright colours, with words in larger fonts and a variety of colours. Animals dance as they eat their toffee apples, read the daily newspaper and imagine what it would be like to have six flies land on your jelly. This sturdy paperback comes with a cd of the three songs so everyone can sing along!

There is so much colour and movement in every page of ‘Toffee Apple’ that it is virtually impossible to sit still while it is read. And that’s probably the plan. Peter Combe’s songs are full of wonderful silliness designed to get children dancing about. The colourful pages and all-over-the-place text contribute to the fun. Sing along! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Toffee Apple, Peter Combe ill Danielle McDonald
Scholastic Australia 2017 ISBN:
9781760275082

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew ill Anil Tortop

When Jess and Jack opened the gates to the Zoo,
it was strangely deserted. Nobody said BOO!
‘Where’s the new roo?’ said Jess, looking round.
‘It’s never this quiet. I can’t hear a sound.’

When Jess and Jack arrive at the zoo to begin their day and to check on their newest animal, they find everything suspiciously quiet. None of the animals are to be seen, but it’s clear where they’ve been. There are open cages, and animal scats and tracks everywhere. They follow the tracks, the scats, the feathers and down. They know their animals love to roam free, but are keen to get them back before night falls. Just when Jess is beginning to worry, she finds Jack and the animals too. Illustrations are full of fun and humour as the animals conduct their big Hullabaloo.

‘The Great Zoo Hullabaloo’ tells a story of disappearing zoo animals, the tracks they leave behind and the reason they have vanished, all in rhyme. Young readers are invited to speculate about where the animals might be, then to join in when they are discovered. Both zookeepers are relieved to find their animals, and to join in the shenanigans. There are plenty of animals to identify, and rhythms to replicate. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo!, Mark Carthew ill Anil Tortop New Frontier Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925059786

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Rose’s Red Boots by Maura Finn, ill Karen Erasmus

When Rose and Banjo started out the day was bright and new,
The clouds small puffs of fairy floss against the dazzling blue.
A gentle breeze brushed though the trees and made their branches sway.
And …

Rose and her puppy Banjo are ready for a day flying Rose’s kite. They set off from the house. Along the way there are streams to ford, hills to climb, mud to jump in. At the top, Rose flies her kite until the weather changes and they run away home. The little red boots of the title offer a regular refrain. Illustrations are loose black pencil outline with soft watercolours, a mix of full colour pages and vignettes set in white. This almost square hardback has paw- and boot-prints on front and back, with the title in the red of Rose’s boots. Endpapers show Rose and Banjo and kite-fun.

Rose and her puppy have a plan for the day but as so often is the case with small people, the journey is as important as the destination and the activity planned. The refrain will soon have young listeners joining in. Rose’s Red Boots is a celebration of free play and discovery, and the illustrations are delightful. A spread with Rose and Banjo huddled under a tree when lightning strikes offers the opportunity to discuss safe storm havens. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Rose’s Red Boots, Maura Finn ill Karen Erasmus New Frontier Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9780957988446

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

My Brother is a Beast by Damon Young, ill Peter Carnavas

Some brothers fish in cloaks,
casting off on drizzly docks.
Some brothers climb in kilts,
hiking round the highland rocks.

The narrator of ‘My Brother is a Beast’ is a younger sister. The reader doesn’t meet her until they also meet the ‘beast’ of a brother. First we meet other brothers who do other things. This narrator idolises the brother who spends time with her, does crazy things. She’s not completely sure about his slime monster concoction, but she loves playing with him. Illustrations are both real and fantastical, and text curls around images. End-papers show the beast of a brother at play.

My Brother is a Beast’, a new title in a picture book series about family members. Previous titles include ‘My Sister is a Superhero’ and ‘My Nanna is a Ninja’. ‘My Brother is a Beast’ celebrates the wonderfulness of brothers They might be weird, they might be wild, but they are for loving and for playing with. Young readers may recognise characteristics of their own brothers, or be encouraged to articulate what it is that makes their own brothers wonderful. They may also be encouraged to invent a new brother who is also a beast. Recommended for early-schoolers.

My Brother is a Beast, Damon Young ill Peter Carnavas
UQP 2017 ISBN: 9781702259579

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com