Ollie’s Treasure by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan

Ollie loved treasure hunts.
His grandma knew he loved them, so she sent him a treasure map.
In a letter.

Ollie loves treasure hunts and he’s very excited when his grandma, Gran, sends him a treasure map. Ollie happily speculates on what the treasure might be. Each clue has him moving closer to the ‘happiness always’ treasure that Gran promises. He follows her instructions to the letter, relishing each activity. Finally he reaches the treasure. It is nothing he had imagined. It takes Gran’s final instruction to help him understand and appreciate this treasure. Illustrations are loose black line and goache, mostly set in white space.

Ollie’s Treasure’ has a clear purpose: to model mindfulness in young children. Ollie clearly has a strong relationship with Gran, but he also clearly has very strong ideas about what a treasure is. Gran uses his love of treasure hunts to point out the wonder in the world he inhabits. Although Ollie enjoys the task, it is the potential reward that drives him forward. His disappointment when the treasure is revealed is ameliorated by Gran’s ‘unpacking’ of the real, and lifelong, treasure he can enjoy. Together they share happiness. Illustrations clearly depict Ollie’s emotions. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Ollie’s Treasure, Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan
EK Books 2017
ISBN: 9781925335422

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

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

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter ill James Henderson

I love our dog Benji.
Sometimes I think I’d like to be more like him.
He eats almost anything
and everything.
I’m not that adventurous.

A small, unnamed boy shares the adventures of his loved dog, Benji. Benji eats everything, makes friends with everyone, explores. Through his dog’s antics, the boy explores his own world and his place in it. Illustrations depict both real and imagined Benji-ness. Our Dog Benji is a smaller format hardback picture book with full colour pages and end papers detailing some of Benji’s favourite things.

Children learn a lot from observing what happens around them, and for the small child, that can often be a pet. Their adoption of what they see may not always be discriminating, but it can help them navigate their lives. Benji is a lovable, loving and loved dog. He is friend, companion, teacher and challenger to the viewpoint character. There is plenty here – particularly for a quiet observer-child – to support learning and living well. Recommended for early school years.

Our Dog Benji, Pete Carter ill James Henderson
EK Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925335330

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

The Great Sock Secret, by Susan Whelan & Gwynneth Jones

Oh no! Sarah thought. She knew where all the odd socks were, but she didn’t want her mother to find them.

Sarah’s mother – like almost every mother – is puzzled by the number of odd socks in the washing basket. She decides it’s time to go searching for all the missing socks. But Sarah is worried. She knows that the socks are being used by fairies – as sleeping bags, parachutes, tow ropes, toys and more. She doesn’t want her mother to find the socks – or the fairies.

The Great Sock Secret is a gently humorous take on one of life’s great mysteries – where all the odd socks go. Young fairy fans will love spotting the fairies that Sarah knows about but her mother is oblivious to, behind the furniture, under beds, in cupboards and, sometimes, in plain sight. Illustrations are bright and semi-realisitic, with each fairy unique.

Lots of fun.

The Great Sock Secret , by Susan Whelan & Gwynneth Jones
EK Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925335248

Dance With Me, by Penny Harrison & Gwynneth Jones

Each day a girl appeared before her and the ballerina twirled and whirled and swayed and swirled and sang to the little girl, ‘Come, dance with me.’
And the little girl would laugh and clap her hands and dance with the ballerina.

A music box ballerina likes nothing more than to dance to the music with the little girl who owns the music box. But the girls grows up, and develops other interests, and one day she stops dancing. The ballerina tries to find someone – or something – else to dance with her, but without luck. For years she is silent, shut in her box with nobody to dance with. Then, a little girl very similar to the one from years before, discovers her, and the ballerina dances one more.

Dance with Me is a delightful, slightly sad, story of growing up, and the toys that are left behind. Happily, in this story, the dancer survives until the next generation of owner falls in love with her. The illustrations, by Gwynneth Jones, use watercolour and outlines with soft pastel colours for the ballerina and her world, and bolder colours when she ventures out into the world looking for a dance partner.
Likely to appeal to young dancers, especially those with a fondness for music boxes.

Dance with Me, by Penny Harrison & Gwynneth Jones
EK Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925335231

Smile/Cry by Tania McCartney ill Jess Racklyeft

Sometimes – A lot of sometimes – I want to smile.

It could be …

Sometimes – A lot of sometimes – I want to smile.

It could be …

Smile/Cry is a ‘flip’ book. ‘Smile’ is read from the front, and offers different kinds of smiles that appear on the faces of three childlike characters: a rabbit, a cat and a pig. Flip the book and ‘Cry’ details the trio experiencing sadness of different sorts as they traverse their day/week/friendship. ‘Smile’ and ‘Cry’ meet in the middle with a double page spread that envelops the reader in a big hug full of smiles and tears simultaneously. Illustrations are pencil and watercolour and help the reader to recognise emotions. The ‘Smile’ cover is bright sunshine-y yellow and the ‘Cry’ cover is in more muted tones.

Smile/Cry has a sticker on the front advertising that it is a ‘A Beginner’s Book of Feelings’. (It also suggests which side to start reading). It’s also a story about friendship and play. It offers the opportunity to talk about how each individual feels and about how their feelings can affect how they relate to others. It’s easy to imagine young readers emulating both the activities and the response depicted. Recommended for preschoolers and early schoolers.

Smile/Cry, Tania McCartney ill Jess Racklyeft
EK Books 2016 ISBN: 9781921966989

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com