Getting ready for Christmas is an exciting time for little ones. And it is no different for Miss Wombat’s family. There is much to do such as baking a big, round pudding from Great-great-great- Grandma’s recipe and decorating the tree.
Very young readers will love seeing the things that their families do reflected in this very Australian interpretation of the Christmas experience, all helping to build anticipation for the great day.
This is a new series of board books for our youngest readers shining a light on familiar events in their lives, aimed to bridge the gap between single-word concept books and the longer narrative of picture books. Little ones can compare what the characters do to their own lives learning valuable concepts about stories and how they entertain as they do, a vital part of early literacy development. While their story might parallel Miss Wombat’s, why isn’t there any snow and the other trappings of the northern hemisphere Christmas that are so prevalent in what they see in print and on film? Critical thinking can start as early as you like!
To those of us of a certain vintage, the 80s don’t seem all that long ago but to today’s generation they really are the olden days – the days of their parents’ childhood when technology was just starting to emerge and become part of everyone’s everyday life, rather than that of industry or business. In this light-hearted lookback, today’s kids are introduced to telephones that never left the house; movies that had to be hired from and returned to a store; music that was carried on the shoulder and clothes and hairstyles that will hopefully never return.
In the colours and style of the era, students like Miss 8 and Miss 13 can look at life when their parents were the same age, and wonder at how they coped in times before the Age of Instant Gratification. But even though it could be a little tongue-in-cheek, it could also be the kickstart to investigating the development of the things that are taken for granted today as well as the impact of technology on lives and lifestyles. And to be honest, if this were Miss 8 and Miss 13, they wouldn’t have to go far to discover working examples of most of the things mentioned in the book! Just because their grandfather is a Luddite….
Sulwe was born the colour of midnight – not the colour of dawn like her mother; the colour of dusk like her father or even the colour of high noon like her sister Mich. No one in her school was as dark as Sulwe and while Mich was called “Sunshine’ and “Ray ” and “beauty”, Sulwe was called “Blackie’ and “Darky” and “Night”, names that hurt her so she hid and wished with all her might that she could be lighter like her sister. But not even wishing, using an eraser on her skin, Mama’s makeup, eating only light-coloured foods or even praying made the slightest difference.
Desperately unhappy, she finally told her mother how she was feeling and her mother gave her some great advice but it is not until she has a magical nighttime adventure and hears the story of Day and Night that she finally gets some self-belief.
In some ways mirroring the experiences of the author, actress Lupita Nyong’o , this is a story deliberately written to inspire those who look different to look inside themselves for their beauty. While “what is on the outside is only one part of being beautiful…[and] it’s important to feel good about yourself when you look in the mirror …what is more important is working on being beautiful inside.” With body image still playing such a key role in our mental health, any story like this that helps our young readers begin to feel positive about themselves as early as possible before the ignorant taunts of others do their damage, has to be shared and discussed. Highlighting how Sulwe felt when she was called names, asking what if Sulwe was in this class, listing the mean names directed at students that are heard in the classroom and playground and their impact on their peers might be what is needed to confront the bullies with the impact and power of their words, calling the behaviour for what it is could be the tough love that some of our students need.Starting with the fiction but transferring it to reality, having the students be in the shoes of Sulwe, can be the most powerful teaching tool. This is a story that is not just about empowering the individual, it’s about awakening the collective.
Tom is really looking forward to his birthday- he has had to wait a whole year while all the others in his class have had theirs and he is the last to do so. It is also his Lucky Birthday – 11 on the 11th – and so it is sure to be extra special with amazing activities and lots of presents. But then disasters begin to befall the family – the Curse of the Tooth Fairy according to his little sister Meg – and his parents are so swamped they cancel his birthday. How can this be? And with the invitations designed and delivered already!!
But then Tom draws on his resistingance, and with the help of his friends decides to throw himself the best party ever! What could go wrong?
Written in the first person so the reader is constantly viewing the circumstances through Tom’s eyes and empathising, this is an engaging read for the newly-independent reader. Peppered with cartoon-like illustrations and Dad’s peculiar expressions, it is funny without resorting to toilet humour and a seriously hilarious but concerning twist at the end, this is one to promote to the boys who are looking for something quirky and fun.
Fourteen words. If books were priced based on the number of words the story had, then you would probably ask for your money back with this one, but those 14 words document a life-changing episode in one family – a family that could be any one of a number of those whose children we teach and will teach as conflict continues to circle the world. Just fourteen words to tell such a story that are more powerful than if there were 10 or 100 times that many.
War displaces the family and their pet duck and so they must escape on a boat into the unknown. At first there is the CHAOS of the conflict; then there is the WILD ocean as a storm tosses the boat and overturns it;but BEAUTY awaits as they finally sight land ahead and at last they are SAFE.
But words alone are not enough and it is the remarkable and powerful watercolour illustrations that meld with those 14 words to tell an all-too familiar story of despair, hope, courage, resilience and joy. In fact, more mature readers might be able to empathise with the family and retell the story using an emotion for each page, perhaps sparking greater understanding and compassion for their peers who have lived the nightmare. But while those illustrations have strong words to convey, they have soft lines and gentle colours so the humanity and reality of the people is maintained and the reader is not turned off by page after page of darkness.. Again, older students could compare the illustrations and mood of this book with those of the 2019 CBCA Honours Book The Mediterranean.
Accompanying notes tell us that both author and illustrator were driven by the need to tell what is becoming a common story so that there is greater understanding and compassion amongst those whose lives are less traumatic and through that, build stronger, more cohesive communities so that life is better, enriched and enhanced for everyone. Edmonds deliberately chose a Middle Eastern family as her centrepiece because of the richness of the culture so that the reader can appreciate the depth and meaning of what is being left behind – the dilemma of leaving all that is known and loved for the uncertainty of the unknown and the heartache and danger that either choice will bring.
Beyond the storyline itself, this is a book that so clearly demonstrates the critical, integral relationship between text and illustration, that a picture really is “worth a thousand words” , and often the picture book format is the most powerful way to tell a story.
Handa and her friends Akeyo live in Kenya, and when Handa has a sleepover with Akeyo, the girls are allowed to spend the night in a little hut near the house. They’re excited to be on their own, but as they get ready for bed, Handa feels more and more nervous. She keeps hearing things – strange snorts, chitter chattering, a big thud. Akeyo says it’s only her noisy family, but on the opposite page the reader sees the nocturnal animals who are really making the noise – and while some of them are familiar, others are very peculiar-looking indeed!
With rich, vibrant night-time illustrations, sound effects, and plenty of curious animals, coupled with Akeyo’s explanations which are not only hilarious, but ingenious. this is a story that will resonate with children the world over as they step out of the familiar and have their first sleepover away from home with all the unfamiliar noises that will keep them awake. While the causes might not be as exotic as those that kept Handa awake, nevertheless there is never a limit to the imagination when it’s dark.
We first met Handa from the Luo tribe in south-west Kenya in Handa’s Surprise nearly 25 years ago and that book was included in the Seven Stories’ Diverse Voices list – 50 best children’s books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK since 1950. That, and its sequel Handa’s Hen have sold more than a million copies globally, with each focusing on a topic that children all over the world can relate to, and perhaps even adapt to their own circumstances. If you were sleeping in a tent or a caravan, what might be making the snorting, chattering, rattling, squeaking and slurping noises you can hear? Rich pickings for the imagination!
In the rockpool above the sea, live two crabs: Big Crab and Little Crab. Today, they’re going for a dip in the sea. “This is going to be so great!” says Little Crab as they go tic-a-tac, tic-a-tac over the rocks, splish splash, splish splash across the pools and squelch, squelch, squelch through the slimy, slippery seaweed. “I can go ANYWHERE”, says Little Crab.
But when he reaches the sea and sees the size of the ocean waves, he is somewhat daunted and very reluctant to take that final leap. Will he find the courage?
The illustration style is very distinctive and it tells as much of the story as the text does, about a little one finding the courage to face their uncertainty. This is a common theme in children’s picture books, this time inspired by the creator’s observations of crabs and their human-like way of moving. and the way they braced for the impact of a wave but then went about their business once it frothed away. In fact, the story of the story’s evolution gives a real insight into where authors get their ideas and how they are shaped, so it is worth sharing that too. It wasn’t so much the message that came first, but thinking about what was in front of him and working from that! Perhaps a lesson for budding writers about being observant and curious and working backwards!
Even though Ollie is small (like a pickling jar or a shoebox) and Augustus is big (like a table or a fridge), they do everything together,including cycling, painting, dressing up, digging (Ollie’s favourite thing) and stick collecting (Augustus’s favourite thing), as best friends do. But soon it will be time for Ollie to start school and he is worried that Augustus will be lonely without him. So he sets out to find him a friend. But none of the dogs that apply for the position are quite right and so Ollie has to start school and leave Augustus on his own. All day he worries that Augustus will be lonely and bored, but is he?
Term 4 has started and that means “big school” is on the horizon for many of our littlest readers, with all the anxieties that that prospect brings. There will be many Ollies among them who will worry that their treasured pets will be lonely and not being toys, they have to be left at home. So this is a timely story for them to reassure them that all will be fine and at least one concern can be alleviated. Perfect for sharing with preschoolers about to take the next big step in their growing-up adventure.
One day while out shopping with his Aunt Alligator, Hercules Quick spies a magic box in a shop window, one that he knows he would love to own. And while he is dismayed that he not only doesn’t have any money of his own in his piggy bank, he doesn’t even have a piggy bank, he is not daunted. He gets out his paints and makes a sign offering to do jobs for his neighbours for 10c a task. He explains to Aunt Alligator that 10 cents a day will be a dollar in 10 days and that’s $310 in 10 months – surely enough to buy the magic box.
But quirky neighbours mean quirky jobs and he has to work hard to earn his money. Will he reach his target? And will he still want the magic box if he does?
An intriguing story for young, newly-independent readers who still need support with short chapters and lots of illustrations, this is something very different that can inspire. In a world of instant gratification through clicking on this or that, many don’t understand the anticipation of having to wait for something and the thrill when the goal is achieved. So it’s a spark to help them set a goal, explore how they could reach it, track their progress and celebrate when they accomplish it. A great one, in fact, for Miss 8, who is supposed to be saving for her first Cuboree!!! (Maybe the moneybox I bought her for Christmas will get some use, after all.)
This could have been a rather ordinary story but Dubosarsky’s imaginative spin on the characters takes it on a whole new journey, and Joyner’s illustrations are just the perfect match!
Grandpa is explaining about the immortal jellyfish to his grandson, a creature that begins its life again when it is about to die. When the boy asks his grandfather if humans are immortal, he is told that there are other ways humans can live on but sadly the old man dies before he can explain. While the boy is devastated, one night his grandpa appears in a dream and takes him on a journey to the Life Transfer City where those that have died can choose a new identity. But before he discovers his grandfather’s choice he is taken back to the real world on the back of a beautiful white bird…. Will he ever recognise his grandfather again?
At first glance, this seems a rather morbid book with its dark palette, but it really is a most beautiful way to help young children deal with the passing of a loved one as sadly, so many have to. Helping them understand that those who die live on in our memories and thoughts, the things we see, do and smell or taste, even when they are no longer physically here is a way that we can help with the grieving process, particularly if there is no religious belief of an afterlife. It offers a way for the bereaved child to think about those memories and what their loved one might choose to be, as well as being able to share those thoughts rather than not talk at all, which is so often the case. Grown-ups often want to protect little ones by not talking, but often that’s just what the child needs to do.
Sensitive and heart-warming, but not sickly-sentimental, this is something special for one of the most difficult parts of growing up.