In any farmyard, on Christmas Eve, if you are very lucky, you can hear the animals talk.
It happens only on this most magical of nights.
And it happens only in that moment just before midnight
when the world is silent, waiting.
On Christmas Eve, at midnight, legend says that animals can talk. They speak to remember the part that animals played on the very first Christmas – where a donkey carried the baby’s mother, horses gave up their stall and other animals provided soft bedding. Even the mouse and the spider did their bit, and the rooster crowed to herald the news. Proud of the part their forbears played, the animals celebrate on Christmas Eve.
One Night is a delightful, gentle Christmas tale with the focus squarely on the animals, though two spreads show Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, and the final spread shows all the animals gazing at the sleeping baby.
The text is not overdone, using the animals’ dialogue to show their pride, and the watercolour and pencil illustrations are a perfect complement with soft, expressive animals and night time hues.
A lovely Christmas offering.
One Night, by Penny Matthews & Stephen Michael King
Omnibus Books, 2014
Available from good bookstores or online.
One by one the toys were sold.
Nobody wanted Brown Bear.
It is nearly Christmas and a plain brown bear sits in the toy shop waiting to be bought. The other toys do clever things – singing carols or banging drums – but all Bear has is a big red bow. As the other toys are sold he finds himself sitting next to a big green crocodile, who doesn’t do anything special OR have a bow. As Crocodile frets about finding a home, Brown Bear does something very special – giving his bow to Crocodile. But, when Crocodile is sold, Bear wonders if he’ll ever be chosen.
The Gift is a gorgeous Christmas picture book story about giving and friendship. Brown Bear’s generous gesture helps his frined find a home and, eventually, he too finds a home, and even a new bow.
The text is lovely and the illustrations also simply beautiful. Rendered digitally, yet with a traditional toy shop feel, the toys have loads of character but are toy-like. not overly animated even when communicating. the people are represented chiefly by hands reaching and passing until the final lovely illustration of Brown Bear’s new young owner asleep, cuddling him.
The Gift would make a lovely Christmas present.
The Gift, by Penny Matthews & Martin McKenna
Omnibus Books, 2012
Available from good bookstores or online.
As soon as I wake up, I remember that today is special.
It’s Show Day!
We’re going to the show!
There’s nothing like a country show, and in Show Day, author Penny Matthews captures the fun and magic of the day. Told through the first person perspective of young Lil, the story follows a family from waking up in the morning, getting ready and travelling to the show, and the events of the day. Every member of the family has entered at least one competition – Dad for marmalade and wood chopping, Mum for cakes and pumpkins, younger brother Henry for chickens and Best Pet, and Lil for Most Unusual Pet. They don’t all win, but there are prizes, fun and surprises. There are also plenty of other show experiences including rides, showbags and things to eat.
Andrew McLean’s watercolour illustrations bring the text to life and add lots of little glimpses of the fun and activity of the show. Young readers will enjoy spotting details like the variety of pets in the pet tent, and the side shows in side show alley.
Show Day brings to life a fun tradition of Australian life. Especially pleasing is the rural setting, and the sense of family fun which is prevalent.
Show Day, by Penny Matthews & Andrew McLean
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.
‘It’s the sea,’ said the bird. ‘It’s where the sun rises. It’s the beginning of the rest of the world. Come with me, and I’ll show you.’
‘I can’t do that,’ said Zizzy. ‘I am a sloth. I can only sleep and eat. And dream.’
The bird looked at him with her bright eyes. ‘You don’t know what you can do until you try,’ she said.
Zizzy the sloth lives in the jungle, where he hangs upside down in a tree, eating leaves or sleeping and dreaming. When he catches a glimpse of something blue in the distance, he wonders what it is, but when Bird tells him about the sea, Zizzy thinks it is too far away for a sloth like him to visit. Bird encourages him to try, and, with Bird’s encouragement sloth makes the slow journey to the sea, where he is amazed by the things he sees.
Zizzy is a beautiful tale about following dreams, self-belief and the value of friendship. A bird and a sloth is an unlikely pairing, but it is this pairing which shows just what is possible when an individual receives encouragement from a friend.
Penny Matthew’s wise text is brought to life in acrylic illustrations by Danny Snell showing the magnific contrast between the lush green jungle and the wide blue expanses of the sea, as well as the beautiful orange sunrise. Ziggy, too, is cleverly rendered to show his efforts and emotions.
Zizzy, by Penny Matthews & Danny Snell
This book can be purchased from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Bertha gives me a look of such blazing fury that I flinch.
‘How would you have any idea about what’s right or wrong?’ she spits.
‘You think you’re so much better than me, don’t you? I’m not like you, Emmie, and I never will be.’
Emmie wants to be a writer, even though her family and friends scoff at the idea. She feels it unfair that she must stay at home and help her mother instead of continuing her education like her brother. So she sets to work at writing her novel – a stormy romance set in Yorkshire, far from the South Australian hills where she lives.
When Bertha Schippan comes to work around Emmie’s home, Emmie doesn’t know what to make of her. The young German girl seems a bit wild, but she is also full of life, and funny. When Emmie realises Bertha has terrible secrets, she wonders if tragedies can happen close tohome, jsut as much as they can happen in far away Yorkshire.
based partially on true events, A Girl Like Me is a beautiful novel for teen readers. Part coming of age story, part mystery, and set early last century, the story is finely crafted, with a balance of action and character development that totally absorbs the reader.
A Girl Like Me, by Penny Matthews
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews. review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Stacey Bunn could never quite believe that she and Twyla Popovic were best friends. Her mum always said they were chalk and cheese, and it was true. For a start, Twyla was tall and thin and gorgeous, and Stacey wasn’t any of those things. But they were different in lots of other ways too.
Twyla was super-confident. Stacy was shy.
Twyla often did things on impulse. Stacey always made plans.
Twyla enjoyed taking risks. Stacey was a scaredy-cat.
They didn’t even hang around with the same people. Twyla went to the local school, where there were boys, and Stacey went to a private girls’ college. It was like they lived in different world that only connected with the two of them.
Stacey and Twyla have been best friends for a long time. Today, on Twyla’s birthday they are going to the Show together. Stacey’s mum is taking them there, Twyla’s mum is bringing them home. In between, they’ll be free to do whatever they want. But even before they reach the show, little niggles are beginning to unsettle Stacey. Even Mum seems to think Twyla is the one in charge. They arrive at the Show and it’s not at all the way Stacey imagined it would be. All of a sudden everything is changing. Then, when Stacey has a chance to make a wish, she is sure she knows just how to make things better. The gold heart pin is sure to make the difference.
Heart of Magic is part of Walker Books new series, ‘Lightning Strikes’. Stories are pitched at upper primary level, but are shorter than novels, providing a manageable-sized story for reluctant readers. Heart of Magic explores friendship. Even long term friendships can falter, particularly when one member changes at a different rate to others. In this case, Stacey is older, but is quite content to maintain the status quo, while Twyla is beginning to explore a larger world. For children on the brink of adolescence and all the challenges involved, the world can be a confusing place. Heart of Magic, told in the third person from the point of view of Stacey shows some of the uncertainties but also shows that there is a way through. Both main characters, Stacey and Twyla learn more about themselves as they simultaneously learn more about their friend. Their friendship changes but endures. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Heart of Magic, Penny Matthews
Walker Books 2008
When Hanna and her busy mother go for a quick walk, Hanna sees a litte red bear sitting alone on a wall outside an office building. He seems to be lost. Back at home, Hanna can’t stop worrying about the bear, especially when it gets windy and, the next day, wet.
Hanna’s mother is too busy to go and check on the bear, but Hanna knows what it’s like to be afraid, so she sneaks out and goes looking for him. When she finds him, wet and bedraggled, she takes him home to her worried mother.
Little Red Bear is a story about a girl and a toy bear, but it is also about reassurance and connectedness. Hanna forms a connection with the bear, relating to its being alone and uncared for. When she runs away to rescue the bear, she also learns that her busy mother does care for her. The warmth that she feels when she holds the bear in front of the fire comes from more than the feeling of having a new toy – it is, more importantly, from the reassurance of knowing she is loved.
The rich water colour illustrations by Anna Pignataro enrich this calm, heart-warming story. Hanna and the bear add colour to the muted beiges and olives of the stormy landscape, with a visual connection between the two forged by the almost-red brown of Hanna’s hair just a little darker the red of the bear. Hanna’s house and mother are similarly drab in tonings, with Hanna being the only colour in the house, until the arrival of the bear.
This is such a gentle story that youngsters are unlikely to conciously realise the lesson of reassurance that it holds, but parent readers will be sure to take note of the message that is there for adults.
Little Red Bear, by Penny Matthews and Anna Pignataro
Scholastic, First Published 2003, this edition 2005
Chips the sheepdog takes his role very seriously. If he isn’t needed to round up the sheep, he gets busy rounding up the other animals. Except there is one animal – Pudding the goose – who refuses to be rounded up. When Chips chases Pudding, she flies at him, and soon he is the one being chased.
When a fox starts visiting the farm, it is Pudding who raises the alarm. but when he catches two of the other geese, Pudding changes. All the honk goes out of her. Then, without warning she disappears.
Everyone misses Pudding, but Chips misses her the most. So, when early one morning he hears her honking on the hill, he is the first to go and greet her. Together they chase off the fox, who has made another visit, before Pudding reveals the secret reason for her absence.
Penny Matthews’ gentle but richly woven text is delightfully complemented by the pen, ink and watercolour illustrations of Janine Dawson. For teachers in preprimary or lower primary classrooms, Pudding & Chips would make an excellent complement to Matthews’ award-winning A Year on Our Farm, although of course it stands wonderfully on its own for home or school reading.
Pudding & Chips, by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Janine Dawson
ABC Books, 2004
On any Australian farm, there are jobs to do, animals to care for, crops to grow and people who live there. In A Year on Our Farm, one of the children who lives on a farm shares his year with the reader. Having introduced the residents – both human and animal – he details the monthly activities and happenings. Each month is shown in a double page spread, with the relevant season named and the key events presented both in the story and the illustrations.
As fiction, A Year on Our Farm can be read as a simple story. At the same time, the nonfiction elemnts introduce months, seasons and farming to young readers, making it an excellent classroom sharing book.
The illustrations of Andrew McLean are delightful and a perfect complement to author Penny Matthews’ text.
A Year on Our Farm, by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Three possums – Mumma, Big Sister and Baby – are eating their breakfast high in a tree in a moonlit garden. Mumma and Big Sister move around confidently, but Baby is scared. The tree is very high and he wants to stay close to his Mumma. When Mumma and Big Sister jump to the peach tree, Baby is left behind. Mumma and Big Sister plead with him to jump, but he can’t. He is left by himself in the walnut tree. How will he get to his Mumma? And how will he learn to jump?
Jump Baby is a sweet new picture book from Ominibus Books. Author Penny Matthews tells a charming tale of learning and taking risks. The illustrations of Dominique Falla, with the deep purples and greens of the night garden contrasting with the browns of the animals, are a perfect complement to the gentle text.
This is a lovely sharing book for preschoolers and their parents, and also suitable for early childhood classrooms.
Penny Matthews has previously written another picture book, A Year on Our Farm and three titles in the Omnibus Solos Series. Dominique Falla is a graphic designer and also illustrated the award-winning picture book Woodlore.
Jump, Baby, by Penny Matthews, Illustrated by Dominique Falla
Omnibus Books, an Imprint of Scholastic, 2002.