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Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Bill Baillie

Bill Baillie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Ellis Rowan

NLA Publishing, 2018

104pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279200

In the harsh, hot Western Australian desert, several hundred miles inland from Perth lies the town of Goongarrie, where, at the turn of last century, Tabitha, a painter, came to paint the wonders of the landscape and its inhabitants.  Despite its remoteness there were people there and each day they brought her “curious plants and queer beasts” to examine and paint.  

Among those “queer beasts” was a little creature – naked, five inches (12.5 cm) long at most, long legs with a strange eyelet mouth that had been attached to a teat in its mother’s pouch before she was killed in the sharp teeth of a deadly trap. Looking like he had given up and decided to die, it felt the warm, comforting hands of Tabitha around him and in that moment both were determined that he would live.  Bill Baillie’s life and adventures with this itinerant painter had begun!

And what a life it was – becoming famous and known as ‘Master Bill Baillie of Goongarrie” he travelled everywhere with Tabitha for the rest of his life, his energy unbounded, his curiosity unsated,  especially at night time which was his day, and his love for her unequalled. Getting into precarious situations, dodging a host of bilby enemies who wanted to eat him and travelling on trains and boats and wagons from Perth to Melbourne, Bill Baillie was Tabitha’s constant companion until his inevitable, sad death in her arms just two years later. 

“Tabitha’ is actually Ellis Rowan herself who was determined “to find and paint every wildflower on the continent”, and she initially wrote this story in 1908 at a time when having a native creature for a pet was considered a curiosity rather than a concern.  Using remarkable skill that keeps the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about these almost mythical creatures, Stephanie Owen Reeder has abridged the original using more accessible vocabulary and shorter chapters while omitting none of the drama of this curious relationship.  Rowan’s descriptions of the environment as viewed through the eyes of a painter are exquisite and the reader is transported to that vast lonely landscape with its brilliant colours and on-the-surface desolation brought to life.  Many of the original illustrations by Rowan and Hans Praetorius have been left in while others from the NLA’s collection of bilby paintings have also been included.

As is usual with NLA publications, the story is complemented by  several pages of further information, all based on the library’s relevant collections including the Rowan collection itself.  

Bilbies are an endearing but endangered species brought to our attention as the Australian symbol of Easter to raise awareness of the damage done to the environment by the introduced wild rabbits so the release of the charming story is fitting, with Easter on the horizon.

 

 

Dingo

Dingo

Dingo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dingo

Clare Saxby

Tannya Harricks

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925381283

Australia’s high country, nestled amongst the ginormous boulders and gum trees, as the sun sets and the pinks and purples of dusk steal across the landscape, Dingo lies waiting, pointed ears twitching and tawny eyes flashing.  Around her, her pups and her pack still sleep as she watches and waits as hunting time draws near.  Here in the cool mountain regions she will hunt now and tomorrow at dawn, rather than through the night like her desert and hot-climate cousins. While she will eat insects, eggs and some plants she needs meat to maintain her energy as she may roam as much as 40 kilometres  in an evening. But possums climb, wombats burrow and kangaroos are too large so the pickings can be lean on snow-covered winter plains.

But she is smart and determined and her nose tells her that there is dinner nearby – rabbits! With her superb night vision it’s not long before there is tucker for her pups.  But it is not enough for them all so back into the darkening forest she goes, this time with her mate…

This is a new addition to the narrative non-fiction Nature Storybook series that opens the world of Australia’s fauna to young readers by telling the story of one creature and accompanying it with facts about the species in general.  Despite dingoes making their homes in many of Australia’s habitats, including the harshest, and having been here sometime between 5000 and 18000 years ago, generally there is little junior literature about them for those who want to know more.  Books about koalas, kangaroos and wombats abound, but dingoes seem to have missed the spotlight somewhat so this beautifully told and sublimely illustrated book is a welcome addition to the collection.

Saxby, also the author of Koala , brings her ability to create pictures with her words – not for her “the sun is setting”, rather it’s “the low-slung sun” – to create magic on the tongue, while Harricks has captured the colours and the contours of the mountain environment in oils with her bold strokes – I was immediately in a landscape that is so familiar.

A peek inside…

Koala is among the 2018 CBCA Notables; it would not surprise me to see this one there next year.

Bush Birthday

Bush Birthday

Bush Birthday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Birthday

Lorette Broekstra

Allen & Unwin, 2018

24pp., hbk.,  RRP $A14.99

9781925267051

One climbs up a tree with an intriguing gift-wrapped package and Two climbs down to receive it.  Then they pass it to Three, and together  they creep through the hollow log to the burrow of Four.  And so it goes on, the group getting larger and larger until they finally reach the home of the recipient.  Whose birthday is it?  And what could be in the package? 

Using iconic but stylised Australian creatures in their natural habitats, this is a delightful story for little ones that uses a minimum of text to tell it, but that text is carefully chosen to explore both numbers and position so that the reader has a better understanding of both.  Little ones will have fun identifying each of the animals as well as working out which one has not yet been featured as  they try to identify whose birthday it is.   And what sort of gift could come in a parcel of that shape and size?

More to this one than it appears at first glance and something new to explore with each reading.  

An Aussie Day Before Christmas

 

 

 

An Aussie Day Before Christmas

An Aussie Day Before Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Aussie Day Before Christmas

Kilmeny Niland

Scholastic, 2008

32pp., hbk., RRP $A15.99

9781741690972

‘Twas the day before Christmas
And in his beach shack,
Santa was snoozing,
Flat out on his back.

‘Shake a leg, love,’
Sheila Claus said.
‘Time to get ready
For the big night ahead.’

There is much to do before Santa makes his once-a-year flight…chooks to feed, breakfast to have, a walk with his missus, the news to read, pressies to wrap and the ‘roos to sort out. “The koalas won’t help me, they’re too flamin’ slow.” 

Putting iconic Australian sayings and slang to the familiar rhythm of the Clement C. Moore poem, Kilmeny Niland uses her artistic talent to portray a DownUnder day before Christmas through stunning illustrations that capture a very different picture of Santa than the traditional one our children are so familiar with.  

Before sharing it, children might like to speculate on what it is that Aussie Santa does in preparation – perhaps a surf, perhaps a nap, perhaps prawns and a beer – whatever they predict they will delight in Niland’s interpretation that might dispel their snowy North Pole images forever. And a must for any collection of Australian Christmas stories you might be sending to children overseas.

Koala Bare

Koala Bare

Koala Bare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Koala Bare

Jackie French

Matt Shanks

HarperCollins, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781460751619

If there is anything more than an Australian who hates hearing koalas being labelled “bears”, it is the koalas themselves. 

I may be furry, fat and square-

but I am definitely not a bear!

In this joyful romp in rhyme Koala points out to the little bird trying to stick a “bear” label on his toe why he is not a teddy, a grizzly, a panda, a polar bear, or any other sort of bear – not even one from Goldilocks. 

Who wants blue or yellow fur?

Grey is the colour I prefer!

he says in absolute disdain of teddies and as for wearing trousers!! Teddy bears may feel superior, but not when faced with my posterior!

Jackie French is a most gifted and versatile author, writing for and entertaining older readers with the fabulous Matilda saga ; the newly independents with her Secret History series; history buffs with her family’s story about Horace and of course the very young with the tales about her resident wombat and echidna.  And now she has again drawn on the wonderful wildlife of her idyllic bush home to entertain and educate about koalas!  For me, one of the most appealing aspects of Jackie’s writing apart from telling a ripper yarn which has to be paramount, is her ability to teach as she tells so the reader finishes the book so much richer for having read it. 

But there is also a strong message that we are each unique and as individuals we shouldn’t be stereotyped or taken for what we are not.  As a natural redhead I’ve been plagued with assumptions that I have a fiery temper when really I’m quite placid and reasonable, and if I fire up it’s the issue at hand and nothing to do with my hair colour.  Everywhere we turn these days people are being labelled based on what they look like not who they are and this is a great story to start young readers thinking about the value of the individual rather than judging by how they are dressed or the colour of their skin. 

Matt Shanks has emphasised the gentle but firm thread of this story with his soft lines and light palette using watercolours.  Even the cover is soft to touch.   The addition of the scholarly cockatoo taking notes on each page is masterful.  Little ones will enjoy looking for him while others might predict what he has learned and recorded from each experience. There’s an opportunity to summarise right there – informal, in context and purposeful!

Apart from being a must-have addition to the library’s collection, this is the perfect gift for any little ones but particularly those who live overseas.  Maybe it will help dispel the belief that koalas are bears and save the grating on the ears from all those who know they are NOT!

Teaching notes are available but whether the little ones for whom this is intended need to know the technicalities of ‘onset and rime’ baffles me.  This is where schools stomp on the joy and wonder of reading – they have to teach a curriculum that focuses on deconstructing text rather than constructing imagination and wonderment! Shame, ACARA, shame!

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

Susan Hall

Cheryl Westenberg

NLA Publishing, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780642278890

Wesley Wombat really wanted to be a superhero.

‘If only I had superpowers like all my friends!’ he thought longingly.

If only he could fly like the king parrot, swim like the platypus, jump like the kangaroo or protect himself with body armour like the echidna.  But, sadly, no matter how hard he tries to be like his friends in the bush, his attempts end in near disaster.  He is feeling really despondent but his mother reassures him he will find his special talent and to look forward to the birthday party with his friends the next day.  And it is on his way to the party that Wesley discovers his super power and becomes a super hero.

This is a charming story written for the very young who are learning to identify our unique indigenous creatures and their special characteristics.  Using a lift-the-flap format, Cheryl Westenberg has created the most wonderful illustrations of Wesley’s mishaps that little ones (and bigger ones too) will roll on the floor laughing and really understand the fun to be had in stories while understanding that each of us has our own super power because we are all really good at something. Bright and colourful and accompanied by extra pages of facts about each of the featured creatures, this is a must-have addition for the early childhood collection.  

Can You Find Me?

Can You Find Me?

Can You Find Me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Find Me?

Gordon Winch

Patrick Shirvington

New Frontier, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925059793

Mother Nature has provided many of our commonly seen creatures with the most amazing camouflage so that when they are in their natural habitat they are very hard to see.  In this stunning book by Gordon Winch, author of Samantha Seagull’s Sandals which has delighted so many children in my care over the years, readers are encouraged to spot familiar and not-so-familiar creatures hidden in plain sight in Pat Shirvington’s beautiful lifelike illustrations which really connect to the natural world.  

Apart from little ones loving these sorts of hide and seek books, it also encourages them to look with new eyes at their local landscape and wonder what might be living there.  Perhaps before they go stomping through the bush or the sand dunes they will stop and tread more carefully appreciating it more as a home for creatures, camouflaged though they may be.

Then using the text format as a model, they could investigate a different creature and then create their own page to add to the book – a new way of presenting information for the ubiquitous report about Australian animals that is in every early childhood curriculum.

Why Crocodiles Smile

Why Crocodiles Smile

Why Crocodiles Smile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Crocodiles Smile: Cric Croc discovers nature’s wonders

Anthony W Buirchell

Laila Savolainen

Cric Croc Enterprises, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

 

9780995424340

Young children are warned from an early age to “never smile at a crocodile” but what if the crocodile smiles at you?

Cric the Crocodile has spent a week with his family in the Daintree region of Far North Queensland but he is puzzled because all the crocodiles he met smiled all the time. So his dad Crisis explains why.

The bull Crocodile was a sneaky beast

It was looking around for a scrumptious feast

With big yellow eyes it searched around

Looking for food from the watery ground.

And as those big yellow eyes alighted on a possible meal, it smiled with anticipation. But the creatures – cassowaries, brolgas, cormorants, barramundi and a host of other beautiful creatures indigenous to the area- were smarter that Crocodile and took themselves out of harm’s way very quickly.  Until an unwary Pelican came by…

Like its predecessors the story is told in rhyme as young readers are introduced to a range of Australia’s unique but less familiar creatures.  Beautiful drawings by Pickawoowoo illustrator, Laila Savolainen bring the text to life with their accuracy and spectacular colour palettes as well as inspiring interest in the flora and fauna of a part of Australia that would be unfamiliar to many.  It also introduces the concept of the food chain – after all, the crocodile does have to eat – and perhaps an investigation into the mechanisms that Mother Nature provides so that creatures do not become easy prey.

A worthy addition to the library’s collection of books for younger readers that introduce them to the amazing wonders of this country. 

A is for Australian Animals: A factastic tour

A is for Australian Animals

A is for Australian Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A is for Australian Animals: A Factastic Tour

Frané Lessac

Walker Books, 2017

48pp., hbk., RRP $SA24.99

9781925381009

Australia is full of the most amazing animals on the planet! What animal has six thumbs? What animal produces square poo? What animal is made up of 95 per cent water and is highly venomous? 

There have been many books, including alphabet books, published about Australian fauna over the years that one wonders what a new one could add to the collection.  Renowned author and illustrator Frané Lessac has found the answer in this fabulous new publication described as a FACTASTIC tour of our unique wildlife.

While the familiar candidates like the kangaroo and koala are there, she has also included many not so well-known creatures like the Irukandji Jellyfish, the Hopping Mouse, the Ulysses Butterfly and the Velvet Gecko. Beautifully setting each in its own natural environment with a brief introductory caption, she has also scattered bite-sized facts about each for those who want to know more.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Even more....

Even more….

Stunning in its presentation, thorough in its research this is a must-have modern approach to a perennial topic that can not only assist young children in their search for knowledge about this country’s amazing fauna but also offers a model for how they could present their own information when they do their own investigations.  After all, it is one that is done in the early childhood years in almost every school so why not challenge the class to develop their own factastic tour? 

Paddy O’Melon the Irish Kangaroo

Paddy O'Melon the Irish Kangaroo

Paddy O’Melon the Irish Kangaroo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paddy O’Melon the Irish Kangaroo

Julia Cooper

Daryl Dickson

Exisle, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925335637

On the very day that he took his first steps out of his mother’s pouch, the little kangaroo is separated from her as two large black marauding dogs race through the clearing, scattering them to shelter.  The joey cannot keep up with his mum so he hides, found hours later by the O’Melon family who live in a valley in the rainforest and who care for injured and orphaned native creatures.  They all him Paddy O’Melon, their Irish kangaroo.

Wrapped in a pillowcase pouch and bottle-fed a special milk mixture, Paddy not only survives but thrives. He spends more and more time in the garden as he grows meeting and making friends with the other creatures that the O’Melons have rescued.  Eventually, all his time is spent outdoors and the family tell him that when he is old enough he can return to the wild and live with his own kind.  But just what is his “own kind”? When he introduces himself as Paddy O’Melon the Irish kangaroo, he is met with sniggers and giggles and no one is able to help him.  The best advice he can get is to find the cassowary who knows everything and everyone…

This is a charming story with echoes of Are You My Mother? but with much more depth and interest.  Written by a highly regarded naturalist, who has since passed away, it not only introduces the reader to the unfamiliar and unique creatures of Far North Queensland but carries a lot of information about them in both the text and the stunning illustrations, but never intruding into the story of Paddy’s quest.  

While many are familiar with kangaroos and wallabies,  few know about their cousins the pademelons who inhabit the northern rainforests  In an effort to spread the word about the species of her home region, Cooper has deliberately included the more unusual and suggests that readers can go here for more information about them. There are also Teachers’ Notes available and royalties are being donated to further the conservation of the area.

Apart from just being a good story, this book also introduces us to more of Australia’s wonderful wildlife, perhaps setting up an investigation that compares and contrasts those of the FNQ region to those in the students’ region.