Ava sat at her desk, gazing at the board.
‘Ava,’ said Mrs Cook. ‘Where are your glasses today?’
Ava looked down at her schoolbag.
She hated her glasses.
Ava hates her glasses, and sometimes chooses not to wear them, even when wearing them would help her to read. Ava’s teacher sympathises and rather than tell her to put them on, she opens a book of fairy tales. One by one, Mrs Cook suggests that all of the main characters in her favourite stories, could have avoided their troubles by wearing their glasses. By the end, Ava is adding to the stories, and seeing her own life more clearly. Glasses have become the hero of every story. Illustrations are black pencil and block colour set in pastel backgrounds.
Ava would rather not see than use her glasses, when they mark her out as different. Her teacher uses fairy tales to suggest that wearing her glasses will make her the hero of her own story. In a classroom, Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles offers the opportunity to have students reframe fairy tales for different outcomes. At home, it could form the basis of conversations about the strengths in difference. And young spectacle-wearers may enjoy seeing themselves reflected in story.
Recommended for early-schoolers.
Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex ill Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing 2017
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
My name is Christy but nobody calls me that. I’m in the same class with another girl named Christie, so I’ve become just the other Christy, the spare Christy. Not the popular, loud one everyone likes.
Christy Ung has been on the outer ever since she arrived in Australia. Every year she is put in the same class as Christie Owen, and that makes Christy the other Christy. Christie Owen is loud and popular – but she’s also mean, especially to Christy. Christy, meanwhile, has no friends, and her classmates don’t even seem to notice her. The only people who seem to care are Auntie Mayly and Grandpa, who is really strange, and whose main passion in life is cleaning. With such a strange home life, Christy wonders if she will ever be able to make a friend.
The Other Christy is a humorous but touching story of searching for friendship an fitting in, dealing as well with issues of immigration and bereavement. Christy is being raised by her Grandfather after the death of her mother in Cambodia, and is keenly aware of the differences between her own homelife and those of her classmates. Christy is a likeable protagonist, and the resolution is satisfying.
The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books, 2016
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
Archie was a sloth.
But, while all the other sloths liked to flop and snooze and sloth about, Archie liked to leap and swing!
He liked to juggle
He liked to move and groove!
But he was the only one.
It’s widely known that sloths are –to be honest – slothful. They don’t have any energy and they don’t mind a bit. They sloth about all day and all night. Except for Archie. He likes to leap and swing and move. He tries to get his friends to join in, but they don’t want to. What’s worse, they tell him to go away.
In the deepest corner of the jungle, Archie makes friends with other animals who are different – a white zebra, a short giraffe, an elephant with a small trunk, and a hyena who doesn’t laugh – but Archie misses the other sloths. When he goes home to see if they will take him back, he discovers they are in danger. And it is his energy that will help them.
Archie is a comical, warm-hearted book about difference, and friendship – and sloths. The text is laugh out loud funny, but the illustrations are simply sublime. Archie’s expressions are adorable and the supporting cast is bought to life with humorous detail.
Will be loved by adults and children alike.
Archie: no ordinary sloth by Heath McKenzie
Five Mile Press, 2016
The young Royal was taller than Joey and he had four long legs that all reached to the ground. Joey looked at his own short front paws and sighed.
“I wish I had four long legs that could take me wherever I wanted to go. Maybe the Royal joey could teach me,” he whispered hopefully.
Joey wants to be better at hopping, so that he can go wherever he wants to. So when outsiders – Royals (deer) – come to the valley, Joey envies their long legs, and wonders if he can learn from them. He follows them into the hills, but before he can talk to them, danger arrives, and Joey has to hide. When his mother finds him, she explains to him that he is special just as he is.
The Creatures of Dryden Gully is a picture book story about belonging, difference and being unique. Joey learns that being different does not make him less special. He also learns the reassurance of his mother’s love and understanding.
Aboriginal elder Dr Ruth Hegarty tells the story in clear language, allowing readers to learn from Joey’s experience. The illustrations use colours of the Australian landscape against textured backgrounds and are both gentle and warm.
A touching story.
The Creatures of Dryden Gully, by Aunty Ruth Hegarty, illustrated by Sandi Harrold
He ran day after day,
week after week,
year after year.
Sometimes he felt bored,
but he didn’t know why.
Sometimes he wished things would change,
but he didn’t know how or what or why.
Every day Bogtrotter comes out of his cave, stretches and runs: up the bog, down the bog and around the bog, until it is time to go home. Sometimes he feels discontent, but he doesn’t know why, or how to change things, until he meets a frog who causes him to question why he always does things the same way. That afternoon he picks a flower for the first time, which leads to other changes.
Bogtrotter is a lovely tale of the joy of life and taking risks. The Bogtrotter is a grassy green being with a cuddly body and big smile. His surroundings are simple, making him the chief focus of the illustrations. His energy and expressions make him a delightful star.
Bogtrotter, suitable for kids (and adults) of all ages, is wonderful way of exploring the value of thinking outside the square.
Bogtrotter, by Margaret Wild & Judith Rossell
Walker Books, 2015
Available from good bookstores and online.
Snail and Turtle…
Snail and Turtle are friends. They like to spend time together, walking and running and being quiet together. But they are also very different: Snail eats leaves, while Turtle eats flowers; Snail likes to climb while Turtle loves to dive. Difference, though, doesn’t mean they can’t be friends – they can do things together even when doing them differently.
Snail and Turtle are Friends is a divine celebration of friendship and difference and whimsy told with the simple brilliance we’ve come to expect from Stephen Michael King. There’s no need for overt explanation of what’s going on – the minimal text and the delightful illustrations work together to have the reader smiling and nodding throughout.
Visually, the characters of Snail and Turtle are created very simply, and complemented by a cast of other animals and insects who appear in the illustrations but not the text. Their landscape is green and lush with hints of seasons passing through rain, flowers and autumnal shades on different spreads (though the latter are attributed to the creative efforts of the pair). Young viewers will enjoy spotting embellishments and details throughout.
This a totally huggable book.
Snail and Turtle are Friends, by Stephen Michael King
Available from good bookstores and online.
Whenever Mr Barraclough saw one of Luke’s pictures, he went off his brain.
“Why do you do this, boy?” he yelled.
Luke didn’t know. So he said nothing.
All the boys in Luke’s class see things the same way – except Luke. So every Friday in Art class, all the boys paint what is in front of them – but Luke paints things the way he sees them, with bright colours, or noses and ears in the wrong places. When he does this, Mr Barraclough goes ballistic. Even Luke’s class mates think he’s odd, and Luke feels like he does’t fit in. Until he visits an anrt gallery and feels right at home. Suddenly his whole world changes.
Luke’s Way of Looking is a celebration of difference and of creativity from the award-wining pairing of Nadia Wheatley and Matt Ottley. First published in 1999 and now re-released as part of the Walker Classics series this is a beautiful and important picture book offering.
Luke’s Way of Looking , by Nadia Wheatley & Matt Ottley
Walker Books, 2012
Available from good bookstores or online .
Finding the right animal wasn’t easy.
It was Camille who gave me the idea of being a frog.
The narrator of this whimsical picture book and his friend Camille are quite different. Camille is a numbers person – she loves them so much that sometimes she speaks only in numbers. The narrator is a little more creative and,w hen they meet, dresses in a cat costume. But being a cat is causing problems with a local dog, so Camille comes up with a solution, and helps the narrator to choose a new animal – the frog. This works fine until he asks Camille to be a frog, too.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog is a whimsical story of friendship and difference. Both Camille and her friend are a little odd – one wearing a costume every day, the other being obsessed by numbers. But each learns not just to accept the other’s difference, but to value it, because it is because of these differences that they complement each other.
The messages about uniqueness and about friendship are apparent, but the whimsy of the story is what drives it, making both laugh out loud funny and heartwarmingly touching. The illustrations, using collage, pencil and ink are similarly whimsical, with neither the practicality of the numbers or the creativity overwhelming – instead uniting to make a delightful whole. The cover, with its embossed numbers and image of the two characters considering the title, is perfect.
The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog, by Sue deGennaro
Available from good bookstores or online.
Nog has a pretty fine looking nose, reader’s will note, if size has any bearing. But Nog’s nose doesn’t do anything special. Everybody else in the land of Nog has a special nose which does something special – whether it’s a fat nose for sheltering others from rain, or a long nose for picking fruit, or even a nose for balancing things on. But Nog’s nose does nothing – it just sits there on his face.
In the land of noses everyboydy’s nose was different and everybody had a nose that did something special.
Except for Nog.
Nog has a pretty fine looking nose, reader’s will note, if size has any bearing. But Nog’s nose doesn’t do anything special. Everybody else in the land of noses has a special nose which does something special – whether it’s a fat nose for sheltering others from rain, or a long nose for picking fruit, or even a nose for balancing things on. But Nog’s nose does nothing – it just sits there on his face. Nog’s grandmother has been saying since he was a baby that he has a ‘nose for trouble’ but nobody understands what that means – until Nog smells an approaching pepper storm one day, and saves the whole land from being exposed – because in a land of spectacular noses, nothing could be worse than a pepper storm!
Nog and the Land of Noses is recognisably a Bruce Whatley offering – whimsical, funny, yet subtly ‘right’ in its message that everyone has a purpose or talent. Whilst Nog hasn’t discovered his nose’s specialness, it seems more to worry him than it does those around him, so this is not so much a story of being accepted as it is a tale of self-acceptance and discovering one’s self worth.
Whatley’s illustrations are, as always, a delight, with the whimsy of fantastically shaped noses complemented by fantastically shaped owners of those noses – some are bird like, others more like moles or elephants, but all beautifully rendered so that each character is distinct. The colour palette is a kind of gentle fruit salad , with lots of white space so the focus is on those characters.
This is laugh out loud funny and will bear repeated readings.
Nog and the Land of Noses, by Bruce Whatley
Scholastic Press, 2011
This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.