In the Lamplight, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Bessie says the nurses have set to work at Harefield House, scrubbing floors, dragging beds and mattresses upstairs, unpacking bed linen and stamping it with their hospital mark.
The nurses are asking local women to read to the Australian soldiers. I wonder if I dare. Bessie says she’ll read to them if I will…

When war breaks out, fourteen year old Rose O’Reilly’s life changes. A local manor house is converted into a hospital for Australian soldiers, and soon Rosie is volunteering there, keeping the soldiers company and, eventually, allowed to help with their care. Rosie loves her job, but when she’s not busy, she worries about her brother, away fighting on the Western Front. Life in war-time England is not easy, but when a new Australian soldier arrives, Rose finds some happiness.

In the Lamplight is a satisfying complement to the Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy, from the same author/illustrator pairing of Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmons, again exploring Australian’s role in World War 1. This time the setting is England, with the main character an English girl, but with Australian soldiers being a key part of the story. As with the earlier books, the narrative uses a scrapbook like blend of diary entries from the perspective of the main character, photographs, newspaper clippings, and third person narrative, as well as the stunning black and white illustration work of Simmonds.

In sumptuous hard cover, this is a collector’s delight and will be adored by young and old alike.

In the Lamplight, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591224

Bird to Bird, by Claire Saxby & Wayne Harris

Deep in the forest where sundrops spill
a bird sends seeds to the floor.

Over the seas, a bird drops a seeds which sprouts and, slowly, grows into a tree. When that tree is felled it becomes, in turn, part of a ship bearing convicts, then a frame for a weaving loom and, eventually, part of a lean-to. When the lean-to is abandoned the wood lies dormant until a crafter finds it and from it carves a wooden bird.

This beautiful story shows the journey of one tree, with the use of the bird at the beginning and end drawing an elegant circle which even young children will connect with. The repurposing of the wood from convict bunk to loom to building material to carving material connects history with the growing contemporary re-awakening of the importance of recycling and upcycling.

The poetic text is simple, and a delight to read aloud, and Harris’s illustrations make stunning use of light and perspective.

A delight for a home library as well as a useful classroom read.

Bird to Bird, by Claire Saxby & Wayne Harris
Black Dog, 2018
ISBN 9781925381122

The Poesy Ring: A Love Story, by Bob Graham

County Kerry,
west coast of Ireland, 1830.
Bitter tears were shed and a ring was thrown.

In an act of sorrow, a woman throws away a poesy ring. Inscribed with the words ‘Love never dies’, the ring lies first in a field then,  under an oak tree which grows nearby, before being caught in the hoof a deer which stops to eat acorns. From there the ring begins a journey which sees it eventually at the bottom of the ocean where it is swallowed by a fish and so, almost two centuries after it was thrown, finally finds its way back to human hands. Purchased by young lovers from a gold trader, the ring is finally placed once again on a young woman’s finger.

There is so much to ponder on and love in this book. The fascinating journey of the ring, the idea of love travelling and being passed on, the mystery of the woman who threw the ring, and her story, will leave readers pondering and even discussing for quite some time. The illustrations, with Bob Graham’s special blend of realism and whimsy, will also delight and inspire further examination.

A treasure of a book about a unique treasure.

The Poesy Ring, by Bob Graham
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781406378276

Sandcastle, by Philip Bunting

‘Don’t worry,’ says Grandad.
‘The sandcastle is still here;
you just can’t see it.’

Rae wants to build a magnificent sandacste, and when Grandad offers to help they do indeed build a very fine castle. But when the tide starts to come in, Rae watches as, bit by bit, the magnificent castle is washed away. Grandad, though, explains that the castle isn’t really gone, because everything that made it is still there.

Sandcastle is a beuatiful exploration of the ebb and flow of life, and of the gentle bond between grandparent and grandchild. Whil Grandad’s wisdom is deep, so too is Rae’s willingness to accept that wisdom.

The deceptively simple illustrations use sandy tones as well as blues with embellishments of red and yellow. The focus is squarely on Rae and Grandad as they enjoy time together, seemingly the only two at the beach – with the exception of a gorgeous orange crab. Another lovely touch is the absence of any gendered pronouns for Rae, something which is difficult to achieve but doesn’t seem forced in this text.

A beautiful book.

Sandcastle, by Philip Bunting
Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN 9781760634438

Yoga Babies, by Fearne Cotton ill Sheena Dempsey

We’re the Yoga Babies,
look what we can do.
George can sit up straight like this.
Can you do it too?

Yoga Babies’ features 11 babies/toddlers and myriad yoga positions, across a day. There are many cultures represented and a variety of urban and less-so dwellings. Illustrations also depict a wide variety of families. Endpapers begin with the babies heading into class, and end with them assuming a range of poses.

Yoga Babies’ has been vetted by a yoga instructor, and includes many poses that yoga practitioners will recognise. If they are parents/carers of young children, they will also recognise some of the challenges as well as benefits of sharing yoga time with small people. First published in UK. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Yoga Babies, Fearne Cotton ill Sheena Dempsey
New Frontier 2018
ISBN: 9781925594072

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

Ash Dresses her Friends written & illustrated by Fu Wenzheng

Ash, the azure-winged magpie,
lives in a nest all by herself

Ash lives by herself and although peripherally included in local bird gatherings, remains almost silent. Her companions are bigger, louder, perhaps more confident than she is. She imagines herself condemned to a life of solitude and loneliness. Until she encounters a sad elephant in need of a shirt. So she makes him one. He tells other animals and one by one, she kits them out in rose-covered clothing. When her fabric is all gone, Ash is alone again, until her new friends gather around her. Illustrations are in black, white and red. End papers are red on white and show all the flower-dressed animals.

Ash feels lost in a crowd of other birds, and they seem almost not to notice the small, quiet neighbour. But when she encounters the elephant, Ash realises that there are others who might be friends, and other ways to make friends. As the story progresses, there are hints on each opening to show who will be the recipient of Ash’s next creation. Limited colour palette used to great effect. Originally published in China. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Ash Dresses her Friends, Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925594027

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

The Great Rabbit Chase,by Freya Blackwood

Mum went out to buy a new pair of gumboots,
but came home with a rabbit.
I named him Gumboots.

Gumboots the rabbit is a much loved pet, but the thing he does best is escape. Today, he chooses the moment Mum is in the shower and the narrator’s friend Norman is at the door to escape. Soon Mum (wrapped in a towel) and the two children are in pursuit. As they move through the town,more people join in the chase – a neighbour with a plate of cakes,a man with shiny black shoes, even a mum with a crying baby. Finally, Gumboots leads them to a park, where everyone feels more rested, and Gumboots has a surprise.

The Great Rabbit Chase is an adorable picture book about happiness, slowing down -and rabbits. Blackwood, best known for her gentle, life-filled watercolour illustrations, shows that her creative talents extend to writing with a similar touch of gentle whimsy.

Adorable.

The Great Rabbit Chase, by Freya Blackwood
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743811641

Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas

It is midnight. The young prince has been hunting in the forest with a party of friends. Now he is alone and deep in thought. It is the eve of the grand ball that the Queen is holding in his honour. He must choose a bride from all the princesses in the land. His heart is heavy.

The story of Swan Lake is known and loved. In this picture book version, the story is set out first in text, as it is in the ballet. Each of the three acts is summarised on a single page, then shown in mostly monotone illustrations in the following pages. In the first act, a prince meets the Swan Queen, who has been cursed by a Sorcerer. In Act 2, the ball proceeds and the Prince is bewitched by the Sorcerer’s daughter. In Act 3, he realises he has been tricked and pursues the Swan Queen.

Swan Lake’ is simply glorious, from the swan embrace on the front cover, through the drama and tragedy, all the way to the final dramatic image. Setting it in the three acts allows those familiar with the story to ready themselves for the next instalment, and for those new to the story to absorb the words before tipping headlong into the romance of the images. It is no surprise that the story spills across 48 pages rather than the more familiar 32 pages. Colour is used sparingly and with great insight and skill. Notes at the end give some hints of techniques used to create images. Highly recommended for lovers of dance and this story; for artists and creators; and for readers of all ages.

Swan Lake, Anne Spudvilas
Allen & Unwin 2017
ISBN: 9781743318454

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

Slowly! Slowly! by T. M. Clark, ill Helene Magisson

Bongani stood tall.
‘Dad, am I big enough? Am I higher than the hyena? Can I go to school?’
‘No, my son. But today you can look after the crops. Chase the animals away.’

Bongani is desperate to go to school, but he’s too small. His father has another job for him. He can protect the crops from the cunning crows and the marching monkeys. He does his jobs but would rather be at school with his cousins. His grandfather, seeing his sadness, tells him that his cousins will never have the chance to catch a monkey. Despite his sadness, Bongani is intrigued. Slowly, slowly, says his grandfather. That’s how you catch a monkey. Illustrations are in pencil and watercolour in rich greens and blues, purples and oranges.

It’s a terrible thing to be too small to do what you want to do, when growing is taking too long. Bongani is keen to go to school but he is too small. His father sets him a task to keep him occupied but it is his grandfather who diverts him and teaches him how to catch a monkey. It is Bongani, however, who makes his own decisions once a monkey is caught. Grandfather’s gentleness and instructions allow Bongani to learn how to catch a monkey, and then to learn the consequences of the catching. A lovely story of family and learning. An interpretation of a traditional African tale, ‘Slowly! Slowly!’ will appeal to pre- and early-schoolers.

Slowly! Slowly! T. M. Clark ill Helene Magisson
Wombat Books 2017
ISBN: 9781925563221

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

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, by Anna Pignataro

In your arms it’s safe and snug,
you always give a thousand hugs.
And I’m as happy as can be-
one hug is not enough for me!

Starting at home and then out into the day a father and child go through the day playing, resting and even overcoming obstacles in the ford of bad weather – with hugs every step of the way.

While the text could be any pairing of adult and child, the illustrations, coupled with the use of ‘Daddy’ in the title, show this pair as a father and infant polar bear. Home is an igloo, and most of the book takes place outside against snowy backgrounds. The palette of mainly whites and greys is gently brightened with soft yellows of light and muted blue skies and snowflakes. This visual gentleness echoes the lyrical rhyming text, making it suitable for cuddle time or bed time.

A beautiful, tender celebration of father-child bonds.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, by AnnaPignataro
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781760276973