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.
The Great Rabbit Chase, by Freya Blackwood
Molly thought Mae was silly and told her so.
Mae was tired of being bossed around.
Molly was angry and loud and rude.
Molly turned her back.
Molly and Mae are friends, embarking on a train journey. First they have a long wait for the train, but they play games, exchange secrets and eat together. Finally, they are on their way, and the train holds lots of adventures. But the journey grows long, and the girls quarrel. Not spekaing to each other, though, makes the journey tedious, and they build bridges to once again be best of friends.
Molly and Mae is a beautiful tale of friendship, with the highs and lows of a train journey being a wonderful metaphor for the journey a friendship can take, with togetherness, tension, obstacles and healing. The text is fittingly sparse, so that readers can fill the spaces for themselves, and also enjoy the sumptuous illustrations which capture both the emotions of the girls and the variety of life and passengers on the train. The girls are more brightly coloured than their fellow passengers, a touch which adds focus.
A beautiful picture book, to be treasured by all ages.
Molly and Mae, by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2016
Hattie watched as Mama’s breath went
in and out, in and out. She looked just like a little girl.
Poor Mama must be very tires.
I know! thought Hattie. I will help out.
It’s Dad’s birthday and Mum is getting everything ready for the party – with help from Hattie. But when Mum says it’s time for Hattie’s nap, Hattie isn’t keen. She convinces Mum to lie down with her and she doesn’t fall asleep – but Mum does. So Hattie decides that it’s up to her to help out and get everything ready for the party.
Hattie Helps Out is a gently funny story about growing up, being helpful and families. When Hattie tries to help, not everything goes the way it should – she sticks the biscuits together with stickytape (instead of icing), puts flowers in odd places all around the house and hides the mess wherever she can manage. But she does it with love – and that is how it is received by the extended family when they arrive, and Mum when she wakes up.
The water colour and pencil illustrations by Freya Blackwood bring the family to life, with the rough outlines giving a gentle quality.
Hattie Helps Out will make adult and child readers alike smile.
Hattie Helps Out, by Jane Godwin & Davina Bell, illustrated by Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2016
Uncle Tom is making himself a coffee. ‘What’s up, pumpkin? Youy’ve got a face as long as a wet week.’
Cleo shrugs. ‘There’s no one to play with and nothing to do.’
‘You’ve got an imagination,’ says Uncle Tom. ‘Use it. Make something up.’
Cleo is having a terrible day. It’s raining outside, her best friend Nick is away, and her parents are busy. There’s nothing to do that doesn’t seem to land her in trouble. When she spies her reflection in one of the rainy day puddles, Cleo has an idea – and her day gets brighter.
In a second story, Cleo desperately wants a pet. Her friend Nick has a new puppy and it seems like everybody in her class has a pet of some sort. Mum and Dad say a poet is a lot of work. But when Cleo sees Dad trying to get rid of the snails in the vegetable patch, she has an idea.
The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet is the second book featuring the endearing Cleo and her family. The two stories in this new volume are just as wonderful as those in the first. Cleo is inventive and loveable, but she’s not perfect, making her someone young readers can relate to.
The format of the books, in hardcover a little larger than a regular chapter book, and with sumptuous colour illustrations on every spread, is inviting, and makes them suitable for either independent reading or sharing with an adult. Both adult and child will fall in love with Cleo.
The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet
Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2015
Every night she does this.
Ever since she moved into my room.
Jessie won’t go to sleep. She throws her pillow on the floor, she stands at the bar of her cot, and she screams. Her big sister can’t sleep either – she wishes Jessie would be quiet, or, better still, that Jessie wasn’t sharing her room at all. It seems nothing will settle Jessie down to sleep, except maybe a little bit of sisterly love.
Go to Sleep, Jessie! is a gorgeous tale of a situation many families will relate to,from one of Australia’s favourite picture book pairings. Libby Gleeson’s text tells a fairly simple tale of a baby who won’t sleep in spite of big sister, Mum and Dad’s efforts, but at the same time there’s a deeper tale, of both sibling rivalry and sibling love. Apart from not being able to sleep, the big sister also laments the loss of her own space, and the disruption that Jessie has brought to her life. When Mum tells her she doesn’t really want her own room, big sister disagrees – but when Dad takes Jessie out for a drive to try to settle her, big sister can’t sleep, and it is her sisterly intervention which finally gets Jessie to sleep and helps her sleep, too.
Freya Blackwood’s illustrations, in watercolour, gouache and pencil, perfectly capture both the frustration and the mixed emotions of the big sister, as well as Jessie’s upset. WHile Mum and Dad are art of the story, Blackwood makes sure the children are central – with Mum and Dad only visible either from behind or from angles which don’t show their faces. This is the children’s story, and the final image of them asleep together in Jessie’s cot is gorgeous.
A beautiful picturebook.
Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online.
Cleo is about to say that she got her T-shirt for Christmas and the whole family came, even Uncle Tom from America, and now he’s going to stay here. They all went to the beach for dinner and a swim. She is suddenly quiet. Maybe the other girls will think a T-shirt is not such a great present, not like a necklace. She touches her bare neck. What would a necklace feel like?
Cleo is excited about her friend Nick’s birthday party. But she is wearing her Christmas T-shirt, even though it’s not Christmas, and the other girls are wearing necklaces. Cleo is sure that she has to get a necklace too – even though Mum and Dad say special presents are only for birthdays or Christmas. Cleo’s solution, when it comes, is typical of her unique way of thinking.
When Mum’s birthday approaches, Cleo is determined to give her something only from Cleo, but she doesn’t have much money, and she doesn’t have a single idea. Mum says she doesn’t need a present – Cleo is everything she needs. Again, Cleo’s solution is unique, and very special.
The Cleo Stories are two delightful stories of a delightful girl in one delightful hardcover volume. Cleo is an individual – she wears what she wants, and she does what she wants – but she has a big heart and a ton of imagination. Young readers will giggle at her antics just as they’ll cheer her on when she fixes her problems with innovative ideas.
The two stories are told in simple text, accessible to early readers, without feeling simplistic. The illustrations are filled with the warm, whimsical detail fans of Freya Blackwood love so much, with end papers depicting Cleo’s neighbourhood a special treat.
A book to be treasured.
The Cleo Stories, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2014
Available from good bookstores or online.
Because I got a terrible suitcase for my going-to-school present instead of the red backpack with yellow rockets and a silver sipper, I was mad.
M A D, mad!
When the young narrator gets a suitcase instead of a backpack for school, she is unhappy. And why wouldn’t she be? Her friend Max has the rocket backpack she wanted, and all the other kids have backpacks too, with attachments and pockets and stickers. Starting school should be fun, but how can she be happy with a terrible suitcase? Change comes when she hides away with her suitcase and makes a friend. Soon, their game draws in other children, and the suitcase comes in useful for all kinds of things.
The Terrible Suitcase is a beautiful picture book about the power of imagination, friendship and starting school. The terrible suitcase proves to be a tool for bringing children together in a gentle story brought to life in the tender watercolour, gouache and pencil illustrations by Freya Blackwood.
Perfect for reading with youngsters about to start school, but also lots of gentle fun for younger and older children too.
The Terrible Suitcase, by Emma Allen & Freya Blackwood
Available from good bookstores or online.
This is a picture book with a difference – and what a wonderful difference it is. Rather than containing a storyline, it contains several stories, each rendered in a double page spread, with or without a quote , all around the theme of the bicycle.
In a perfect world, this book would not exist. But we do not live in a perfect world. Even if we all learn to live in peace, there will still be millions of people who need our help.
This is a picture book with a difference – and what a wonderful difference it is. Rather than containing a storyline, it contains several stories, each rendered in a double page spread, with or without a quote , all around the theme of the bicycle. Created as an inspirational fundraiser for the Save the Children fund, the book explores all aspects of the magic of the bicycle, chosen as the central motif because it symbolises fun and adventure for children.
Contributing artists, including Quentin Blake, Shaun Tan and Freya Blackwood have each created a double page spread, each in their own style. Some are whimsical , such as David Miller’s wonderful paper sculpture of an elephant riding a unicycle, others more serious, such as Jan Bowman’s night scene where two cyclists ride through the darkened streets of London, their bike lights illuminating their way. Some have no words, others a quote from literature or famous figures, and others quotes from children whose lives have been made better through the donation of bicycles, such as 14 year old Dany from Cambodia who says: I promise to study harder and take good care of my bicycle as my best friend. We will go to the upper grade together.
Introductory notes from author/illustrator Colin Thompson and from Suzanne Dvorak, CEP of Save the Children Australia explain the concept of the book and the important work that the fund does.
The Bicycle is a celebration of the bicycle, and of the wonderful impact of acts of charity.
The Bicycle, by Colin Thompson
ABC Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2011
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.
‘Mummy,’ said Lucy, ‘can I have a hug before I go to bed? I promise I’ll give it back.’
When Lucy’s mum gives her her last hug, Lucy sets out to share it with everyone in the family. Daddy give sit back, a little bit stronger. The twins vie it back, a little reluctantly, but twice as big as before. Baby Lily gives it back all peanut buttery. But when Lucy hugs the family dog, Annie, Annie runs away without returning the hug. Lucy is devastated. How will she tell Mum that she lost the last hug? Luckily, though, Annie is not a bad dog – just energetic, and eventually she finds Lucy and gives her a slobbery hug, just in time for bedtime.
The Runaway Hug is a gorgeous picture book from two of Australia’s finest picture book creators, Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood. Bland’s story is strong, yet gentle and is well complemented by Blackwood’s watercolour and pencil illustrations. The family and their home are a lovely mix of whimsy and the kind of chaos that comes with big, loving families.
The Runaway Hug is a warm tale of love and laughter.
The Runaway Hug, by Nick Bland & Freya Blackwood
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
There was once this girl and her name was Siobhan. She lived in a big house in Dublin with her father. It was a great house, full of interesting rooms and corners, full of old magazines and old machines and old, old toys and teddy bears.
Siobhan spent hours and hours exploring the rooms and halls, and she always found something new. She loved the house.
Siobhan’s mother died when she was small. Siobhan can remember all sorts of things about her mother. She can remember her mother’s hands, her voice, her words. But no matter how she tries, Siobhan cannot remember her mother’s face. She’d ask her father but he’s too sad. She carries her sadness deep within her, and no one else notices. One day a woman tells her how to remember. She also has a message for Siobhan’s father. Siobhan races home and does as the woman suggests, but for a long time, forgets the message for her father. The illustrations are soft and gentle, in pencil and colour wash.
Her Mother’s Face is a gentle story about loss and remembering. Siobhan, the main character is sad about her mother’s absence but she manages to survive and function normally. Her father appears to have locked his grief deep inside and part of that means removing all the photographs of his wife. People work through their grief in all manner of ways and in their own time. The illustrations are full of emotion eg the opening where Siobhan is looking through her mother’s things. Siobhan is coloured as are many of her mother’s belongings, but the image fades to sepia where her father sits, alone and silent, in the next room. There are clues for the reader about the identity of the mystery lady who speaks to Siobhan. Her Mother’s Face is long for a picture book but all the words belong. It is a lovely and loving story that may be useful in discussing loss, grief and acceptance. Recommended for mid-primary readers and beyond.
Her Mother’s Face, Roddy Doyle Ill Freya Blackwood
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author