Mopoke, by Philip Bunting

This is a mopoke.

So begins this delightful, understated picture book featuring (as the title suggests) a mopoke – or  bookbook owl. Each spread features just one line of text – or even a single word, as the mopoke becomes a poorpoke, a poshpoke, and a range of rhyming ‘pokes’ – slowpoke, yopoke, crowpoke and so on. By the end of the book, the mopoke begins to look bothered, before squawking (hooting?) in frustration and flying away. Apparently, what the mopoke wants – peace and quite – is not going to be found on this branch.

The illustrations, on black backgrounds representing the night sky, are simple, with the mopoke seated on a single branch, a few stars in the background, and occasional appearances from other animals, including other mopokes and – surprisingly – a wombat, the surprise of which will make youngsters laugh.

Adult readers should find the repetition and simplicity  of the text an opportunity to use expression and encourage child participation. Creator Philip Bunting has written about this on his website.

Lots of fun.

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742991658

Available from good bookstores or online.

Bird and Bear and the Special Day Ann James

Bird wakes up to a beautiful day.

‘Happy Birdday, Bird,’ she says to herself.

Bird flies off to share it with her best friend, Bear.

Bird wakes up to a beautiful day.

‘Happy Birdday, Bird,’ she says to herself.

Bird flies off to share it with her best friend, Bear.

Bird and Bear are the best of friends so it’s no surprise they want to spend a special day together. They venture out, complete with provisions, open to whatever they might encounter. They look for big things and small things, short things and more. They even stop for a picnic. But there’s one element of their special day that Bird is waiting for and Bear saves for last. Illustrations are outlined in black pencil and filled with watercolour.

Bird and Bear are back in a new adventure, and this time it’s Bird’s birthday. They set out on an adventure to celebrate. Their visit to the park includes many diversions as they explore many opposites: big and small, low and high. Their final stop is atop the hill for Bear’s special birthday surprise. There is a Pooh Bear and Eeyore feel to their meanderings and their conversation, which is delightful. This is a wonderful celebration of not just birthdays but of the joys of discovery and sharing of everyday wonderfuls. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James

The Five Mile Press 2016 ISBN: 9781760402808

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Circle, by Jeannie Baker

In a place where mud and sand become sea…
a godwit with white wing patches
flies up with his flock.
The moment is right
for the long journey north.

A godwit leaves a sandy shore, knowing its is time to journey north. Joining his flock, it flies day and night until he knows it is time to stop for food and rest. Later, replenished, the godwit continues his journey until the flock reach their northern home and he goes alone to his remembered place. Attracting a mate, the pair breed and produce chicks. Eventually, though he knows it is time to rejoin the flock, feed and begin the long flight south to return to the beach he started from.

Circle is a beautiful picture book exploring through text and amazing art the migration of the godwits, through the perspective of a single bird. Readers are given a wonderful insight into the challenges faced on the long journey, as well as through the breeding season. The story is also bookended by hints of the story of a boy who witnesses the departure and return of the bird. AT he front of the book, preceding the title page,w e see the boy bedbound, wishing he could fly. In the opening spreads he watches the birds from a wheelchair,pushed to the edge of the beach. In the closing scene, as the godwits return, he is again on the beach, with the aid of a pair of crutches which are discarded as he tries to stop his dog chasing the birds.

With the amazing collage artwork for which Baker is known and loves, gentle text and so much detail to explore and discuss, Circle will delight young readers, teachers and adult readers.

Circle, by Jeannie Baker
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781406338010

Chip. by Kylie Howarth

He ate
fat chips, skinny chips,
doggy vhipd, sandy chips,
crunchy little bits of chips
and even spicy chilli-dipped chips.

Like most gulls, Chip would do anything for fish and chips, even though the chips he eats make his stomach ache. So, when the fish and chip van owner bans Chip and his mates from being fed chips, Chip gets desperate. He hatches a plan to impress people so much they won’t be able to resist him and his friends.

Chip is the humorous tale of a greedy, but inventive seagulll, who trains his friends to fly in formation so they can compete in an airshow and get free chips. Though the plan works, the result is not free chips (which are bad for gulls) but fresh fish, which is more satisfying. The mixed-media illustrations make use of collage, pen outlines and digital elements and Howarth’s ability to give Chip plenty of emotion and movement with just a few simple lines is clever.

A fun picture book which will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

Chip, by Kylie Howarth
Five Mile, 2016
ISBN 9781760400736

Gary, by Leila Rudge

Most of the time,
Gary was just like
the other racing pigeons.

He ate the same seeds.
Slept in the same loft.
And dreamt of adventure.

Gary is just like the other racing pigeons – except that he can’t fly. So, on race days, when the other pigeons head off on adventures, Gary stays home and dreams. And, when they come home, he collects souvenirs and information which he records in his scrapbook. When Gary accidentally finds himself in the travel basket one raceday, he wonders if he’ll ever find his way home. But his scrapbook provides the clues he needs to plot a route home.

Gary is a gently whimsical picture book about daring to take risks and follow dreams, no matter the obstacle. Readers will love the idea of a flightless bird using ingenuity – and public transport – to overcome his perceived handicap, and the way the other birds try Gary’s way, too. They will also adore the mixed media illustrations, with pastel hues and lots of detail to explore, especially in the maps and souvenirs which Gary collects for his scrapbook.

A beautiful picture book, Gary is suitable for all ages.

Gary, by Leila Rudge
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925081695

Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler

Mister CassowarySuddenly something big stepped out from the bushes on the road up ahead. It looked like a giant emu but with jet black feathers and a long blue neck. It’s sclay legs reminded me of a dinosaur’s.
But Dad was looking in the rear vision mirror at the jetty.
The creature ran out onto the bitumen.

Flynn has never visited his Grandad Barney’s banana plantation, and he doesn’t understand why. But now Grandad has died, and Flynn and Dad are on their way to clean it up, ready for sale. On the way, Flynn’s first encounter with a cassowary is when one runs out in front of their car, but it isn’t long before he discovers that his grandfather was passionate about protecting the big birds. His dad, on the other hand, hates them – and seems to be scared of them. As Flynn tries to find out what happened to Grandad Barney and what this has to do with Dad’s fear, he discovers two orphaned baby cassowaries and becomes their secret protector.
Mister Cassowary is a moving adventure story. Flynn and his dad’s relationship is good, but because Dad works away, they don’t know each other as well as either would like. This adds to the story, with tension between them as Flynn tries to convince his dad not to be overprotective and to be honest with him about the past.
Readers will enjoy learning about cassowaries through the story and through back of book facts about this unusual bird.
Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253881

Two Birds on a Wire by Coral Vass ill Heidi Cooper Smith

Little Bird Blue

Was out for the day

She perched on a wire

And decided to stay

‘What a fine place

To settle,’ said Blue

Ruffling her feathers

Enjoying the view

Two Birds on a WireLittle Bird Blue

Was out for the day

She perched on a wire

And decided to stay

‘What a fine place

To settle,’ said Blue

Ruffling her feathers

Enjoying the view

Little Bird Blue finds a fine wire to settle on and decides it’s a good place to stop. Little Bird Black also thinks the wire is the perfect spot to rest. But Little Bird Blue wants the whole view and Little Bird Black is blocking her view. So begins a battle, first of words then more as each asserts their greater claim to sole occupation of the wire. It’s not until the escalation of tensions has exhausted them both that they decide to compromise and share the perch. Illustrations are watercolour and pencil and depict an idyllic country scene, which is disturbed by the duelling birds!

Two Birds on a Wire is a rhyming story about compromise and sharing. Any parent will be familiar with the escalation that can happen with siblings or friends when they feel they ‘own’ something, be it place or thing. The rhyming text keep the tone light, and young readers will be on the side of reasonableness as they watch the two birds compete. Final pages show the pair becoming friends and sharing the wire, more than big enough for them both. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Two Birds on a Wire, Coral Vass ill Heidi Cooper Smith
Koala Books Scholastic 2015
ISBN: 9781742761619

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Magpie Learns a Lesson, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Tania Erzinger

Secretly Magpie felt jealous of her friend.
He could soar to great heights.
He could drop from the sky like a stone.
He could see over a long distance.
Magpie decided to play a trick on him.

Magpie can sing beautifully, but she is jealous of her gentle, kind friend Brown Falcon, for his hunting and flying skills. So she plays a series of mean tricks on him to make him look silly. AT first Falcon tries not to mind, but eventually he gets cross and flies away. When Magpie gets caught in a hunter’s nest she realises, almost too late, the value of Falcon’s friendship.

Magpie Learns a Lesson is a charming lesson about friendship and, in a story with echoes of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, the importance of being honest. The story is brought to life in beautiful acrylic paintings, with the oil sketch paper adding . texture. Rich blue skies alternate with creamy backgrounds and eucalypt greens for the ground and tress scenes, giving a generous echoes of the Australian bush.

A wonderfully Australian title.

Magpie Learns a Lesson, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Tania Erzinger
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990590

Available from good bookstores or online.

Our Nest is Best

Before Rocky and Ruby Robin make their own nest ready for their eggs, they decide to check out the nests of other birds to get ideas for their own. But Owl’s nest seems too big, Fairy-wren’s too small and Greb’s nest too soggy

‘It’s spring,’ said Ruby Robin. ‘Time to build our nest.’
‘Yes,’ said Rocky. ‘But what kind is best?’
“Let’s visit the other birds and find out.’

Before Rocky and Ruby Robin make their own nest ready for their eggs, they decide to check out the nests of other birds to get ideas for their own. But Owl’s nest seems too big, Fairy-wren’s too small and Greb’s nest too soggy. Finally the robins realise they need to make their nest their own way – with bark, grass and moss, lined with fur and feathers. They both agree that their nest is perfect for them – even though it wouldn’t be perfect for the other birds.

Our Nest is Best! is an educational board book which will entertain as it informs about different types of birds, their environments and, of course, their nests. Very young readers will enjoy the bird illustrations, all of which come from the National Library’s collection, while older readers will be interested in the facts which are presented through the use of a fictionalised story.

In sturdy board book format, Our Nest is Best! is suitable for children from birth up to school age.

Our Nest is Best!

Our Nest is Best! by Penny Olsen with Penny O’Hara
NLA Publishing, 2012
ISBN 9780642277374

This book is available through good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Bird, by Annette Lodge

I once met a bird, who stared out to sea
As strange and as still as a bird could be.
I sat down beside him and asked him why.
Shortly he answered, “Because I can’t fly.”

Bird, it turns out, is afraid of the sky and afraid that his strange shape will render him unable to fly. The boy who meets him realises he can’t criticise Bird because he too has been afraid to change and to try new challenges.

It is a fish who eventually helps the pair, enticing them both in to the water. Caught up in the joy of their swim, both bird and boy realise that they can take risks and be happy.

Bird is an invigourating tale, told in whimsical rhyme and perfectly complemented by the watercolour illustrations. The pages are filled with vibrant purples, greens and oranges and with delightfully odd fish, birds and other creatures.

While the story may be aimed at older readers, children of all ages will be fascinated by the illustrations, which eclipse the story. The message of the story is, however, an important one and this would be well-suited to middle and even upper primary classrooms.


Bird, by Annette Lodge
ABC Books, 2004