The Leaky Story
EK Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., 2017
The Leaky Story
EK Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
For children moving house away from friends and familiar things can be tougher than parents realise, and especially so when the move is from one well-known environment to one that is completely unknown.
Mae and her family move from her house with a garden, an apple tree, daisies and daffodils, green grass and birds to an inner-city apartment that is all rooftops and tall buildings – the epitome of the concrete jungle. There are no windy paths and leafy cubbies, just statues and Keep Off The Grass signs. There are no treasures for her treasure jar, just boxes and more boxes and when she tries to draw familiar things on the pavement outside, the rain washes them away. No matter what she does, Mae cannot make this new place resemble her old one.
But one day, standing on a box peering through her binoculars at the endless rooftops, she spies an open space with swings in the distance and so she, her mum and dog set off to find it. It is a long walk through this unforgiving city and the end result is a disappointment. But as she sits forlornly on the swing, she spies a bird and follows it until it disappears into a leafy forest. But the forest is closed. And then Mae spots something that changes things…
Anna Walker is the creator of Mr Huff, winner of the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year in 2016, Peggy shortlisted in 2013 and a host of other books that centre around her ability to get into the head of the subject, consider “what if…” and then emerges through her gentle, detailed illustrations that bring the text to life and invite the reader to delve deeply into them.
Mae could be any child who has moved house, perhaps with little say in the decision made by parents concerned with adult-things, who has discovered themselves amongst the totally unfamiliar but who has drawn on their inner reserves and resilience to try to make it work until eventually it does. Without describing Mae’s feelings, but detailing her actions in words and pictures, the reader feels and understands Mae’s vulnerability and bewilderment and yet throughout there is a sense of hope and a knowledge that she will prevail. Despite the bleakness of the city and its harsh facade there is a feeling that Mae will break through – perhaps it is in the children who come to view her courtyard art amidst empty plants pots or in the new budding trees as she goes through the streets, or in the swan, duck and ducklings in the river as the city awakens to spring… Florette, a small flower that makes up a bigger one, is the perfect title for this story perfectly encapsulating that concept of from little things…
A look through Anna Walker’ website shows a host of awards for her work – this could well be added to that list.
Me and You
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
There are many people in a child’s life – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, neighbours, best friends, parents’ friends, pets…and that’s before they even venture into the world of preschool and big school! And the shape of the relationship with each one is different.
In this new book by Deborah Kelly, as softly illustrated as its focus, the connections are explored and enjoyed – the arty-crafty days; the yummy-scrummy days; the pedal-pushing days; the silly-billy days; the sandy-sandwich days; the footy-playing days; the slippery-sliding days; the grubby-garden days; the woofy-wagging days; the handy-helper days; the sausage-sizzling days; the stretchy-yawning days – all mixing, matching and melding together to enrich the child’s life and cocoon them in love.
Apart from the variety of adventures that the child has and the reader will resonate with, the richness of the language and its rhyme, rhythm and repetition will engage and perhaps even encourage the young reader/listener to start thinking about the relationships they have and starting to describe them using similar language. Primarily aimed at the preschooler, this book could also have traction with older students as an extension of learning about friendships so they move from thinking about what makes a friend and how to be one but also the types of relationships they have with those in their lives. For example, the relationship with their parents will be different from that with their teacher, and that with other children can be shaped by age, expertise and even power. Discussing why we are friends with particular people (or aspire to be), how friends should make us feel and where we fit in others’ lives brings confidence and builds empathy and resilience when things don’t work out. Are friendships always smooth sailing?
Many parents seem to be deeply concerned about the friendships their children make particularly when the meetings are beyond parental control – as evidenced by this request to an international email group where a parent was looking for books about “choosing the “right” friends. She has requested that there be African American characters and she is concerned that he [bright son] seems to be choosing friends who are in the lower academic classes.” By sharing Me and You older children might examine the friendships they have and what holds them together; debate the notion of “right friends”; discuss how a variety of friends who bring different circumstances, skills and attitudes can enrich lives; and begin to understand the role and influence that friends have in their lives as well as their position in the lives of their friends. Such understanding may well offer valuable insight into their connections with other people, now and in the future helping them to make the sorts of choices their parents would be happy with. and defending those that they wouldn’t.
Perhaps author and illustrator just wanted to share the joy of being a child with all its fun and activity, but for me the best picture books work across a number of levels and delve deeper than the immediate storyline and pictures and therefore this one works very well.
The Fix-It Man
EK Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Dads can fix anything – that’s what dads do. Kites, kennels, teapots – whatever is needed. He can even cobble together a rug made of rainbows and old hugs for mum – but he can’t fix mum. Not even with his special peach and honey brew. Even the doctors and lots of rest can’t fix mum. Not even all the love in the world.
And no matter how hard they try, little girls can’t mend broken hearts – not hers, not dad’s and not Tiger’s. Well, not with stick tape or glue or needle and thread.. But dad has one more special thing up his sleeve and together they start to mend.
This is a poignant story of loss and one that will resonate with many children who have lost a parent or other loved one. With its gentle text and soft palette, even though it is sad it is not gloomy because the love between this family oozes from the page and from that, the hope is tangible. And the threads that bind the family are stronger and more enduring than nails, glue, sticky-tape or any other kind of man-made adhesive or fastening.
Grief is a natural part of life and while we might like to protect our children from it, nevertheless it happens and we often struggle helping them to cope with their loss. This book allows conversations to start and explores the way it is an emotion that we each express and deal with in our own way. Dad’s lap is cosy and warm but his face is crumpled and wet; pieces spill out from Tiger’s heart and little girls try to do what they can to paper over the cracks – but they are too wide. But together…
Whether shared as a 1:1 or as a class, it offers children the opportunity to talk about losses in their life and to learn that they are not alone in feeling lonely, lost, scared and even betrayed but there is love and it does get easier.
John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia
32 pp., hbk + CD, RRP $A19.99
Christmas in Australia – time for families to get together and of, course, the perfect family photo for posterity. But getting everyone together at the same time is not as easy as it sounds.
This is an hilarious, rollicking tune, probably known to every Australian school student, brought to life in picture book format through the talents of Mitch Vane. As families gather together as the big day draws closer, no doubt its scenarios will be played out in real life in many backyards and children will be heard singing the song.
A must-have in any Christmas collection and for sending overseas to those who want to know about a summer Christmas as well.
The Legend of the Christmas Cookie
Dandi Daley Mackall
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
It is the Great Depression and Jack is missing his father who has gone West to work, desperately – even moreso now that he knows he won’t be home for Christmas. As he walks into the kitchen on Christmas Eve, he smells sweet bread and licorice but there haven’t been cookies in the cookie jar for over a year. But tonight his mother has decided to make traditional Christmas cookies for the needy at church, although Jack would rather have them for himself. The wooden cookie boards with their Nativity moulds are brought out and as she bakes, his mother tells him the story of Christ’s birth through the shapes, just as was done in medieval times when people were too poor to go to school to read.
Next day, they take the cookies to church, but to Jack’s delight his mother has saved him the angel one that he liked so much. But just as he is about to take a bit, there is a knock on the door….
In the Scwaben region of Southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland these cookie moulds – or springerle moulds – were used to press into biscuit dough and this story is built on that. While not necessarily a regular custom in Australian homes, it is common in the US and it is yet another tale associated with the traditions of Christmas that is worth exploring and discussing the virtue of selflessness and giving rather than receiving. It does have a strong Christian bent although the message of helping others in need is universal regardless of beliefs. The back flap includes a recipe for Christmas cookies and while the wooden moulds may be hard to obtain, there are enough Christmas shapes available to start a new family tradition.
Puffin Books, 2016
165pp, pbk., RRP $A14.99
The blurb reads, “Stop your mum picking her nose, read the secret diary of a dog, catch a bus and then let it go, discover how one slice of toast can make you the most popular person in school, start wearing a crown and give up eating pig-nostril gruel, use a wrecking ball to defeat a bully, show your big sister the very scary secret in your wardrobe, unleash the awesome power of chips, live in a house that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom.”
But there is so much more to this collection of short stories from a master storyteller who seamlessly switches between the poignancy of Two weeks with the Queen, the gaiety of Toad Rage and the seriousness and sincerity of the Once series. Gleitzman himself says, “Nine stories, and I’ve made them different lengths because different parents have different ideas about how long a person should be allowed to read before turning the lights out.”
With a title designed to attract that reader who loves to makes sure parents and teachers have a stomach-churning moment when they see it, nevertheless there are serious undertones to each as the central character of each tries to grapple with a big problem affecting family or friends using a thought process and logic that are particular to that age group. Creativity is alive and well in children – until the formality and seriousness of school try to quell it.
Along with Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake, these stories which give the author “a break from the stiff neck and stiff brain you sometimes get writing book-length stories” might seem a long way from the stories Gleitzman commonly crafts and which he is so valued for, but as he says, he would” hate to forget that in stories a laugh can have a teardrop as a very close neighbour.” However, despite the sombre notes this is a collection that will keep those newly independent readers, particularly boys, reading and help them transition to the next phase of their reading journey – which will probably be a Gleitzman novel – as they show that even short stories with wicked titles can have great, credible characters and a depth of plot that makes reading so worthwhile.
Parents, teachers and teacher librarians are blessed to have such a gifted writer as Gleitzman on their side.
Read what Morris Gleitzman has to say on the value of short stories.
Worm Loves Worm
Balzer & Bray, 2016
32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
Worm loves Worm. So they decide to get married. It shouldn’t be a problem but suddenly all their minibeast friends chip in. “You’ll need someone to marry you. That’s how it’s always been done.” You’ll need a best man, bridesmaids, rings, a band… and so on and so on, because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Worm and Worm agree to each suggestion hoping that after they acquiesce they can get married but no… there is always something else.
So when they are told that they need to have a bride and groom, worms being hermaphrodites, they have no trouble with being either or both – but that isn’t how it’s always been done. Will they ever just celebrate their love by getting married???
This is a charming book that, on the surface, is just a story about two worms wanting to get married because they love each other, and that, to a four-year-old is a natural thing to do. It is just a celebration of love. For those in different circumstances or a little bit older there is a sub-text of marriage equality and things can change – they don’t always have to be because they have always been. It’s enough to love each other without all the other trappings; it’s about inclusion and equality and showing affection regardless of any traditional views and values that have been imposed on a natural state of mind. That’s what little ones understand and accept – intolerance is something they learn.
Choosing worms as the main characters is a masterstroke because there are no physical differences between worms – there is nothing to say which is female and therefore the bride or male and therefore the groom. So the central message of love being the key ingredient and the rest of the elements of a wedding just being seasoning remains the central theme.
Perhaps some of our politicians and those who influence them should read this and get to the core of what really matters.
A great addition to a school library collection that allows children to see their own family structure in a story, to show others that there are all sorts of family structures, and to explain marriage equality to those unfamiliar with the concept.
Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover
Robin Preiss Glasser
32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99
Fancy Nancy’s mum has won a weekend at a resort , and sadly for Nancy, children are not included. So she and little sister JoJo are going to have a sleepover at Mrs DeVine’s. Even though both girls love Mrs DeVine, this is Jo Jo’s first sleepover and she is a little nervous.
Being a good big sister, Nancy is determined to help JoJo overcome her nerves and help her through this experience, rehearsing it, making her a survival kit and showing her the photo album of the sleepover she had recently. Mrs DeVine is also an expert at sleepovers and has much fun planned and in the end, it isn’t JoJo who has trouble going to sleep.
This is a series that will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are big sisters. Lavishly illustrated including a sparkling, glittery cover, it has all the things that little girls love as they take early steps into reading series and learning to carry characters through a number of stories. She has her own website and even her own YouTube channel where all the stories are read.
Three Little Monkeys
Emma Chichester Clark
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Hilda Snibbs is not like other people. She doesn’t have a dog or a cat or even a goldfish – she has three little monkeys. Their names are Tim and Sam and Lulu and they are very lively. Every time she leaves the house and leaves them on their own, they trash it. Nothing is safe – not her hat, her knitting, her favourite shampoo, the toilet paper…
She tells them she is disappointed in them, she asks what she has done to deserve such wretched little monkeys; she wonders how long she can put up with them – and each time Tim and Sam and Lulu look at her with their big round eye and say nothing. One day after they had been into everything in her bathroom, she cries, “Oh, for a peaceful life without these wicked little monkeys!” But when she comes home the next day and they are gone, she realises how much she misses them until…
This is a funny, lovable story that will become a favourite of little ones as they recognise some of the mischief they themselves might have created over time. Quentin Blake’s words marry so well with Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations – little vignettes that are full of action and fun as they show the monkeys at work – that this is a masterful collaboration. Even though the monkeys are so naughty they remain lovable and it’s Hilda Snibbs who becomes the “villain”. As Miss 5 said, “Why did she keep leaving them on their own? She’s stupid!”
Three Little Monkeys is the perfect bedtime read-aloud as the children delight in the antics and naughtiness of the monkeys and see that they are loved regardless of what they do, while Hilda Snibbs will resonate with exasperated parents who sometimes long for the quiet life they had before their own little monkeys were born., even though they know they wouldn’t have it any other way.