One orange evening,
tiger-striped with blackened trees,
a pig sat, reminiscing.
In the wake of a bushfire which has ravaged his owners’ home, Applesauce the pig struggles to feel any joy in Christmas. Wise Owl tells Applesauce that Christmas comes from the heart, but Applesauce’s heart is heavy. He wants joys for his people, Marigold and Joe. And, in the final pages of this delightful tale, Applesauce learns Owl’s lesson as he sees a Christmas miracle unfold.
This poignant tale is written in prose, yet has a delightful lyrical quality, with every word tenderly wrought. Adult and child readers alike will feel Applesauce’s melancholy in the words, as well as the whimsical yet gently muted illustrations by Stephen Michael King.
This is a book not just for Christmas but for any day – and it is a heart-warming tale with a message for everyone.
Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle, by Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King (ill)
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Emily loves to bounce. Sometimes she sleeps, sometimes she eats, but most of the time she bounces.
As Emily bounces her way through the day and through the pages of this delightful picture book, young readers will find themselves springing along. The text is simple – full of boings and different kinds of bounces – and the plot is equally uncomplicated. We learn of Emily’s seemingly boundless energy and then we see what happens when the day comes to its end and she rests, finally, in her parents’ bed.
Emily is brought to life by author/illustrator Stephen Michael King’s gorgeous pen and ink rendering of Emily, complete with boinging ringlets and a bright red and yellow polka dot dress. King uses bold, bright colours effectively framed with lots of white space to keep the eye focussed on the action.
Toddlers and preschoolers will love this book and parents with energetic young ones will relate well.
Emily Loves to Bounce, by Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 2005, first published 2000
Early one morning when Henry was out walking backwards, trying very hard to walk forwards, he bumped into Amy.
Whatever Henry tries to do, it turns out wrong. When he tries to draw a straight line, it turns out wiggly and when everyone around him is looking up, Henry looks down. When he meets Amy, who does everything perfectly, Henry thinks she is wonderful. Amy teaches Henry his right from his left and his front from his back. But deep down Amy wishes she didn’t do everything quite so perfectly, so Henry teaches her back-to-front and topsy-turvy. Together they become the very best of friends – right-way-round and upside down.
Henry and Amy is a gorgeous book about non-conformity and about friendship. Written by award winning author/illustrator Stephen Michael King, this treasure is filled with the whimsy which is his trademark. Henry and Amy are too good, too silly and too cute to be true – but that’s just the point. Youngsters (and adults) can enjoy the story whilst receiving a gentle but important message about individuality.
First published in 1998, Henry and Amy is in its sixth reprint, a testament to its popularity.
Henry and Amy (right-way-wound and upside down), by Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, 1998, reprinted 2005
One morning in the farmyard, Piglet lost her mama.
“Oinkkkkkk!” cried Piglet.
When Piglet loses her mama, the other animals want to help. Duck offers to give her a cuddle, Donkey offers to play chasey and Cat suggests they snooze in the sun. But Piglet wants her mama and won’t be consoled until she finds her. When she does, she will do all those things with Mama.
Piglet and Mama is a delightful story for preschool children about the bond between mother and baby. The images of an increasingly despondent Piglet searching for her Mama culminate in a bleak – but not too dark for young readers – moment, when Piglet covers her eyes and gives one last oinkkkkk, a sound which is echoed by Mama’s response as the pair are reunited and proceed to joyfully do all the things the other farmyard mothers have suggested – a gentle cuddle, a a delighted game of chasey and so on, before settling down for a content snooze in the sun.
Stephen Michael Kings gorgeous illustrations – watercolours outlined in black ink – are gentle yet joyful, with the golden glow of Piglet and Mama’s cuddle especially endearing.
Piglet and Mama, by Margaret Wild and Stephen Michael King
Working Title Press, 2004, reprinted 2005
Once there was man, Stephen Michael King writes, who loved boxes and who also loved his son. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to tell his son that he loved him – so he made things with boxes to share with his son, to show his love. Other people thought that the man was strange, even a bit crazy, but the man didn’t mind, and neither did his son, because they had a special way of showing their love.
This delightful picture book, King’s first, was first published in 1995 and subsequently won the Australian Family Therapist’s Award as well as being shortlisted for the Chrichton Award for Children’s Book Illustration. The fact that Scholastic have seen fit to reprint the book some ten years later is of little surprise – it is a timeless piece with a timeless message about family relationships.
King’s whimiscal illustrations use a combination of watercolours with ink outlines and the use of dusky blues and greens captures the gentle tone of the piece.
This is a book which should be read by every father – both to himself and with his children – and would make perfect bedtime reading.
The one disappointment of this particular issue is the very thin card of the softback cover, which may not withstand the regular reading and rereading which such an offering is likely to inspire. Still, it is such a delightful book, that parents will look for a way to preserve iit, raather than passing it over.
The Man Who Loved Boxes, written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King
Scholastic, first Published 1995, this edition 2005
In the city there lives a dog who belongs to no-one. He spends his days searching for food and a place to sleep, until one day he chances upon a half way house, where people are lining up for food and a bed for the night.
The lady working at the refuge tries to turn the dog away but when he sneaks back in she relents and lets him stay the night. The next morning, she decides to offer the dog a home at her place in the country and soon the newly-christened Mutt Dog is settling in to life in a family.
This gorgeous new offering from the talented Stephen Michael King is a cute story about a dog but it is much more than just a dog story. Mutt Dog looks at issues of homelessness – both for animals and humans. It is no coincidence that Mutt Dog is picked up at a refuge for homeless people or that, while he is on the streets, he is surrounded by people who are in the same situation as he is. Probably the most telling part of the whole book is the line, when Mutt Dog discovers the half way house: There wasn’t enough room … or even enough food for a dog.
Mutt Dog will be enjoyed for its quirky illustrations and feel-good story but it will also pave the way for discussions, both in the classroom and at home, about the plight of the homeless.
Mutt Dog is a warm and touching combination of cute story and important subject matter which belongs in every home and library.
Mutt Dog, by Stephen Michael King
Milli is clever. She can take a thing that is nothing and turn it into something. She finds things that have been forgotten or discarded, gives them a bit of a wiggle, and transforms them into amazing things. But the other villagers don’t ever want anything amazing. What they do want are practical things. They have no time for anything different. So Milli spends her days making what the villagers need – sensible shoes and boots.
Every day is the same for Milli, until the day two strangers come to town. Jack and the Dancing Cat find Milli in her shop and she suggests they need new boots. They have no money to pay, but offer to give her dancing lessons in exchange.
So, Milli has dancing lessons and soon learns tap, jazz, ballet, the two step and more. And Milli is so inspired that she can’t make plain boots for Jack and the Cat. Instead she makes wonderful shoes, with clothes to match. That’s not all – she also makes things for herself. Soon her house and shop are so spectatcular people come from far and wide to see it.
Milli’s life will never be the same again.
Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat is a whimsical tale with an important message about setting your imagination free and celebrating the joy of being yourself. King’s illustrations, as whimsical as the text, will delight young readers.
Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat, by Stephen Michael King
Allen & Unwin, 2003