My Lovely Frankie, by Judith Clarke

Frankie believed in Heaven quite literally, as if it was another lovely world out past the stars. And when he spoke the word “love”, it seemed to spring free and fly into the air like a beautiful balloon you wanted to run after. But I couldn’t tell my parents about Frankie. I couldn’t tell them how he was becoming the best thing in my world. I couldn’t tell anyone, I  hardly admitted it myself.

When teenage Tom decides to enter the seminary his intentions are clear: he wants something more than ordinary happiness, and feels, in spite of his parents’ uncertainty, that he is being called to become a priest. At St Finbar’s life is more difficult than Tom imagined, filled with rules and restrictions. Yet it is here that he meets Frankie, and learns that happiness and love are inextricably linkd.

My Lovely Frankie  is a tale of seminary life, love and self-discovery set in 1950s Australia. From the moment he meets Frankie, Tom feels a connection he struggles to comprehend, particularly in light of his sheltered existence. What is it he feels for Frankie?

Told in the first person voice of a modern day, much older, Tom as he looks back on the events of his teen years, the story gradually unfolds, with the narrative style giving glimpses of the life he has lived in the intervening years, as well as keeping the reader guessing as to the events of the year in question.

Beautifully written, this is a story which will haunt long after the last page.

My Lovely Frankie, by Judith Clarke
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760296339

Pea Pod Lullaby, by Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King

I am the small green pea
you are the tender pod
hold me.

This gently lilting lullaby weaves its way across the pages of the book, with no more than three lines per spread, encouraging the text to be read and digested slowly. The text speaks of love and togetherness, and how people complete each other, in language that could apply as much to a parent and child as to any pairing of friends or partners.

The accompanying illustrations tell the tale of a mother, her two children and a dog, fleeing danger in a little boat, and drifting across the sea. They rescue a polar bear, also adrift, before finally finding land and a welcome. The illustrations, in watercolour with ink outlines, are tenderly whimsical, and slightly older readers will be able to make links to tales of refugees and displacement, as well as issues of global warming, among others, whilst babies and toddlers, and their parents, will be lulled by the gentle hues coupled with the tender words.

Simply beautiful.

Pea Pod Lullaby, by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760290085

You Have My Heart, by Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher

On good days and bad days
and all those in-between days…
you have my heart.

Whether its a sunshine-inside-of-me day, a tears-tumbling-down day or an en-between day, the voice of this books tells ‘you’, the reader/listener, that you always have ‘my heart’. The simple but whimsical text is an attestation of love between reader and listener, between parent and child, or between giver and receiver, being a book perfect both for quiet-time reading with a young child and for gift giving to another adult.

The illustrations too are deceptively simple, using ink and watercolour with greys and reddy-pinks to depict a child of indeterminate age demonstrating the range of emotions with the help of a single red balloon which, at the end, becomes heart-shaped.

This gorgeous small format hardcover is sheer delight.

You Have My Heart, by Corinne Fenton & Robin Cowcher
Five Mile Press, 2016
ISBN 9781760401917

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, by Margaret Wild & Stephen Michael King

But one day they noticed that Mr Pockets was spending a lot of time playing with the kitten.
He laughed when she sat on his head.
He laughed when she scampered away with his ball of wool.
He laughed when she tip-toed around the bath.
And he looked contented when she fell asleep on his chest.

Biff and Buff love living with Mr Pockets – and riding in the pockets of his very big coat. But when a lost kitten arrives on their doorstep, they are at first concerned and help to look after the kitten. Until they notice how much Mr Pockets loves the kitten, and start to worry that Mr Pockets might neglect them. When clever Mr Pockets realises this, he reassures them, but in the meantime the kitten has run away, and it’s up to the Pocket Dogs to get her to come back.

ThePocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten is the third wonderful story featuring the wise and whimsical Mr Pockets and his two adorable canine companions. It is a tale about companionship, and friendship and, of course, the idea that there is no limit on how many people (or animals) a person can love. It could also be used as preparation for the arrival of a new sibling. Mostly, though, it is a joyous book about a man and his animal companions.

With the whimsy and quirky detail of the previous books, the illustrations, in ink and pencil, are divine.

The Pocket Dogs and the Lost Kitten, by Margaret Wild & Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991054

Sad, The Dog by Sandy Fussell, ill Tull Suwannakit

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Sad ‘s owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps, feed him and wash him, but they certainly don’t love him. They disapprove of almost all his behaviours, until he is too sad to do anything much at all. When his owners move out and leave him behind, he is so lonely he howls. Then new owners move in and Sad is not sure how to interact with them or their boy, Jack. Jack, however, is happy to include Sad in everything he does, to love and to play with him. Under Jack’s care, Sad abandons his old name, his old life and happily accepts a new one. Watercolour illustrations fill every spread and depict the Cripps with sad, pinched faces. In contrast, Jack and his parents are constantly smiling. Spreads are full of tiny details for young readers to discover.

Sad, the Dog is a lovely story, sensitively told, beautifully illustrated about a dog and his family, and the power of love. Sad’s life is very limited with the Cripps. They are not cruel, but they are really not interested in having a pet. And Sad knows it. He is wary of the newcomers, having known only functional not emotional care. But he is soon won over by the simple love and care and companionship Jack and his family offer. Readers will boo the Cripps’ and cheer Jack as ‘Sad’ becomes ‘Lucky’. Highly recommended for pre- and early schoolers, and junior year levels.

Sad, the Dog, Sandy Fussell ill Tull Suwannakit
Walker Books Australia, 2015
ISBN: 9781921529641

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

The Cat With the Coloured Tail, by Gillian Mears

Mr Hooper’s cat was not like any ordinary cat. For a start, his face was the shape of a heart. Most amazing of all, and unlike any other cat in the world, Mr Hooper’s cat had a tail that could change colour.

Mr Hooper and his cat are an amazing pair. For a start, Mr Hooper has an icecream van which looks like a full moon, and dispenses ice creams – or “Moon-creams” – in any flavour imaginable. When The Cat With the Coloured Tail finds someone who is unhappy or in need of help, the colour of his tail changes and tells Mr Hooper just what flavour ice cream is needed.

Their relationship, too, is special. They travel together, revelling in each other’s company, singing and searching for heart-shapes in the world around them. But when the cat’s tail starts to turn black and he senses that something terrible is going to happen, things look grim. The heart of the world is suffering, and it may take all of the cat’s strength to fix it.

The Cat with the Coloured Tail is a moving, whimsical fable about the power of hope and of love. Readers of all ages will love the mysterious, joyful cat and his kindly companion, and the joy they bring each other and those they meet. Their adventure, which becomes a quest to save the heart of the world, is in turns frightening, sad, and uplifting.

In hardcover format with gently coloured pencil illustrations, the beautiful design of the book perfectly complements the story it contains.

The Cat with the Coloured Tail, by Gillian Mears, illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN 9781922077400

Our Love Grows, by Anna Pignataro

In the deep green forest, Pip asked, ‘Mama, when will I be big?’
‘You’re bigger than you were before,’ said Mama.

Pip the panda looks forward to being big, but her gentle, wise Mama tells her she is bigger than she was, and goes on to tell her just how she has grown – and how their love has grown, too.

This gentle, lyrical picture book is a celebration of love and parent-child bonding, told partly in rhyming prose, and with just a line or two of text per spread. This allows the simple but divine watercolour illustrations to take centre stage, with the love between mother and child obvious through their facial expressions and the range of activities they do together: playing, exploring, resting and admiring the world around them.

A feature of both text and illustration is that Pip’s gender is not mentioned, an ambiguity which allows the child reader to choose (or not to choose) whether (s)he is a girl or boy.

Perfect for bedtime, cuddle time or any time reading.

Our Love Grows, by Anna Pignataro
Scholastic Press, 2015
ISBN 9781743626269

Available from good bookstores and online.

I Love You Too, by Stephen Michael King

…there’s one thing I know,
You love me and I love you too.

Four animal friends (a rabbit,a mouse, a bird and a fourth which is possibly a cat) play and explore their way through life. Not everything goes their way – their sunny day rolling down hills leads to pollen sneezes and some days are stay inside days – but none of that matters because even when things go wrong, their love for each other is constant.

This is such a simple text, with perhaps a hundred words, but there is so much meaning in those words, which are a pleasure to read, especially aloud. And, like any Stephen Michael King book, the illustrations are breathtaking. The characters are apparently simple, too, but say so much with their expressions and movement. Each friend is very different, which is part of the lovely message of the book. The colour palette is also gentle – pastel colours in watercolours with pencil lines – making this a lovely nap time, cuddle time or any quiet time story.

There is only one Stephen Michael King. His gentle, very canny touch is sheer genius.

I Love You Too

I Love You Too, by Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 2013

Available from good bookstores or online. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

In Falling Snow, by Mary-Rose MacColl

In the beginning, it was the summers I remembered – long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies.

When Iris receives an invitation to attend a reunion in France, she is determined to go. Her granddaughter Grace, a doctor, discourages her. Iris is getting old, and a trip like this might be too much. But for Iris, the memories of the ast are strong, and the invitation has brought back memories of her time in France during World War I when she found herself working in a hospital staffed only by women as she tries to find her 15 year old brother, Tom, who has joined up against his father’s wishes.

Grace, meanwhile, is facing her own battles. A female doctor in a male-dominated hospital world of the 1970s, she tries to balance her career with parenthood and keeping an eye on her ailing grandmother. When her husband suggests there is something wrong with their son, Grace is stunned. Surely he is just different from their daughters?

In Falling Snow is a beautiful, moving dual narrative, telling two seemingly separate stories. Initially it seems the link is simply one of blood – of a grandmother and granddaughter – but as each story progresses there are surprises, and the complexity of their relationship is explored. A second commonality is the idea of women breaking new ground, as it were, with the 1917 storyline showing women playing vital roles in war time, and the more modern tale exploring some of the complexities of being a female doctor in struggling with a male-dominated work place. But what is perhaps the key kink here is the impact of events in the earlier time period on the later one, events and implications which are only slowly unravelled.

There is so much explored in this book that it could easily have become overwhelming – with war, family, motherhood, women’s roles, friendship and more all important themes – but it is so well woven and told through the voice of the elderly Violet and the third person perspective of the younger Grace that it is just lovely.

In Falling Snow

In Falling Snow, by Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311219

Available from good bookstores or online.