Thursday, September 25, 2014

10 Great New Picture Books for Younger Readers

It has been about four months since I did a review of the latest picture books to land on my desk. I have so many wonderful books piling up I thought it was time to give the first of several updates. In this post I've chosen 10 books that have been published in 2014 that are worth reading to and with children.

1. 'Vanilla Ice Cream' written and illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Bob Graham is one of Australia's finest authors and illustrators of picture books. With the familiar sharp lines, watercolour and simple yet very expressive characters he follows a wild sparrow’s journey. A single sparrow stows away in a truck and then a ship that crosses the sea and sets in motion a toddler’s latest experience of vanilla ice cream!

The sparrow journeys south from the lush rice paddies of India, across the rough sea, and all the way into a dazzling new city. As the sun rises, he finds Edie Irvine at a Café Botanica with her grandma and granddad. Their worlds meet in an unusual way.

Readers aged 0-5 will love this delightful book.

2. 'Emus Under the Bed' written and illustrated by Leann J. Edwards (Allen & Unwin)

This book is beautifully and uniquely illustrated, and tells an authentic story about a little Indigenous girl and the fun she has at her Auntie Dollo's house. This is a story that celebrates and honours culture and the experiences of family.

The author and illustrator Leann J Edwards, was born in 1962 at Robinvale, Victoria, She is a descendant of the Mara tribe from the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the Wiradjuri tribe from central New South Wales. The book was produced through the Emerging Indigenous Picture Book Mentoring Project, which is a joint initiative between 'The Little Big Book Club' and Allen & Unwin, assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Children aged 0-6 will enjoy the story and the vibrant images that help to tell the tale.

3. 'So Many Wonderfuls' written and illustrated by Tina Matthews (Walker Books)

This simple story is told in rhyming verse takes you on a journey through a single town, and the many wonderful experiences the people who live there, experience. It is a celebration of the simple things of life.
Wonderful town 
It's a good place to stay 
So don t hurry by Hold your horses - Slow down! 
Tina Matthews is a wonderful illustrator and author who has used varied artistic styles. Previously I have reviewed 'Waiting For Later' (here).  In this book Tina combines sepia ink and digital media to create some stunning images. Children aged 2-6 will enjoy this book.

4. 'Our Village in the Sky' by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (Allen & Unwin)

This is a wonderful book that tells a simple yet a lyrical story of the daily life of children during a typical day in a remote Himalayan village. It is a day or work and play as children seek fun, adventure and excitement in the midst of the mundane and difficult tasks that are essential to family life in this place.

Janeen Brian's evocative poetic narrative is beautifully illustrated by Anne Spudvilas. Together they reveal how the vital work of children in a remote village can be transformed through the imagination into joyful play. The children are vital to the running of the village, but like children everywhere, if given a job to do, they can still manage to turn it into fun.

Children aged 3-7 will enjoy this excellent book that offers a unique insight into the universality of childhood.

5. 'What Happens Next?' written and illustrated by Tull Suwannakit (Walker Books)

This is a delightful tale of imagination, storytelling and play between a grandmother and a small child Ellie. Grandma and Ellie head out for the day and the toddler asks, "Can you tell me a story, Granny?" She immediately launches her tale:

"Deep in the woods, not far from here, lives Grandma Bear. Whenever Little Bear visits her, they go on a fun trip together". Any parent or grandparent will immediately recognise the context and the imaginative wonder of co-creating stories with young children in the 'everdayness' of life.

The gorgeous pen and watercolour drawings and the simple and warm text will be enjoyed again and again by children aged 1-5. This would be a great read aloud book.

Tull Suwannakit is relatively new author and illustrator who is originally from Thailand and now lives in Australia. He received a Bachelor in Fine Arts specializing in animation from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2004, He has worked as an animation studio sculptor and set designer in New York. He has been writing and illustrating children's picture books since 2006, first in Thailand and now in Australia through this his first book in English. He teaches at a preschool when not writing and illustrating.

6. 'Hey Dad, You're Great' written and illustrated by Corinne Fenton (Black Dog Books)

This is a simple and wonderful story about the confidence that comes from knowing that your Dad 'is always there'. The wonderfully simply and warm verse is supported by photographs of animal fathers and their young. Children aged 0-4 will love the images and enjoy being read this simple book that speaks of security, love and confidence in your Dad.

Corinne Fenton is the author of 25 books for children but her passion is picture books about social history. Her classic picture book 'Queenie: One Elephant's Story', illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe, which I have reviewed previously HERE, was an Honour Book in the 2007 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards. Corinne has also published many educational books, some translated into other languages.

7. 'The Skunk With No Funk' by Rebecca Young and illustrated by Leila Rudge (Walker Books)

Woody the skunk has a problem; he is born without the ability to make a smell. Well, it wasn't his problem but his parents. How will he survive the swoop of the Great Horned Owls with no stink?! This is a funny picture book from Rebecca Young with the quirky art of illustrator Leila Rudge. Leila's uses cartoon-like images with fine line and pastel, with a dash of pattern, text used as a creative way to render parts of the images.

While Woody isn't quite what the family (especially his mother) expected, he surprises them all with a wonderful twist at the tale end of the story (pun intended!).

Children aged 2-6 will enjoy immensely this very funny story.

8. 'The Swap' by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Little Hare)

This wonderful picture book from Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner, won the Children's Book Council of Australia's award for an early childhood book in 2014 (see my review HERE).

When Caroline Crocodile's baby brother is born, he's smelly and dribbles. He's no fun at all, but he manages to capture Mum's attention. Caroline decides to swap him for another baby. The Baby Shop assistant provides her with varied babies, but none turn out to be suitable! This funny story, reflecting the real life experiences of many big brothers and sisters, will be enjoyed by all.

Children aged 3-6 years will love this book.

9. 'The Croc and the Platypus' by Jackie Hosking and illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (Walker Books)

This is an Australian reinterpretation of Edward Lear's nonsense poem 'The Owl and the Pussycat'. In this version a croc and the platypus trundle " in a rusty old Holden ute." They take some damper and "...tea in a hamper and bundled it up in the boot" (US readers think 'trunk'). Join Croc and Platypus for an Australian outback hullabaloo!

This is a wonderful Aussie larrikin twist on a well-loved poem. It would be perfect to read aloud for and with children. Teacher will have fun with this one in any country. An ideal book for children aged 3-6.

10. 'The Lost Girl' by Ambelin Kwaymullina and illustrated by Leanne Tobin (Walker Books)

This is a wonderful story about an Aboriginal girl who has lost her way. She has wandered away from the Mothers, the Aunties and the Grandmothers, from the Fathers, Uncles and the Grandfathers. Who will show her the way home? This is a story that works at the simple narrative level as the lost girl wanders through the beautiful outback countryside, but there is a deeper metaphor here that speaks to those Indigenous children who disconnect from their elders who give them wisdom, sustenance, love and guidance.

The simple but lovely story is given richness by the gorgeous pastel illustrations from Leanne Tobin with the full richness of the outback colour palette.
Ambelin Kwaymullina comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. When not writing or reading, she works in cultural heritage, illustrates picture books and hangs out with her dogs. She has previously written a number of children's books, both alone and with other members of her family.

Leanne Tobin has worked as an artist for more than three decades. She is of Dharug descent, the traditional Aboriginal people of Greater Western Sydney. Leanne is a primary teacher but works as an educator within the community and runs creative workshops with a range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, teaching local Dharug histories, stories and land care to the public.

Children aged 3-7 years will enjoy this wonderful book.

You can find some of my other posts on picture books HERE

Monday, September 15, 2014

Literature on Civil Rights for Younger Readers

This past week Ruby Bridges celebrated her 60th birthday. It is 54 years since Ruby famously became the first African American child to attend a desegregated former all-white elementary school in the American South.

Ruby Bridges was born in Mississippi on September 8, 1954. That year the United States handed down its landmark decision ordering the integration of public schools. Previously black students were not allowed to attend the same schools as white children.

Ruby had grown up on a farm that her grandparents sharecropped.  But her father heard that there were better opportunities for his family in the city so they moved to New Orleans. Her Dad began work at a service station and her mother worked at nights to make ends meet.

When the US federal court ordered that New Orleans public schools were finally to be forced to desegregate, there was an opportunity for black children to attend regular schools. In the spring of 1960 Ruby took a test, along with other black kindergarteners in the city, to see which children would be able go to an integrated school at the start of the school year in September. Ruby was chosen to attend William Frantz Public School in First Grade. While her mother was keen to do this, her father was afraid that this would bring problems for them as a family.

Her parents argued and prayed about it and eventually her mother convinced her father that for Ruby’s sake, and that of all black children, they should do it. Just six children were chosen to be integrated. On November 14, 1960 four of the six chosen decided to attend the previously white only schools.

On the morning of November 14 federal marshals drove her mother and Ruby just five blocks to William Frantz School. Two marshals walked in front, and two behind as she entered school.  As they arrived at school her mother said to her "Ruby Nell, don't be afraid. There might be some people upset outside, but I'll be with you."

While people shouted and shook their fist when they got out of the car, they walked through the crowd and up the steps into the. Ruby spent the whole day sitting in the principal's office. At the end of the day the marshals drove them home, and this was repeated the next day.

On the second day Ruby A met her white teacher Mrs. Henry. The next day Ruby went just with the marshals. Her mother reminded her, "Remember, if you get afraid, say your prayers. You can pray to God anytime, anywhere. He will always hear you."

Above: Protestors in New Orleans (Ruby Bridges Foundation)
As the news spread militant segregationists took to the streets in protest, and riots erupted all over the city. Her parents shielded her as best they could, but Ruby knew problems had come because she was going to the white school. Her father was fired from his job, her family wasn't allowed to shop at the local grocery store and her grandparents in Mississippi were made to leave the land they had sharecropped for 25 years.

But as the year went on, Ruby did well.  The more time she spent with her teacher Mrs Henry the better she coped. In her words “…I grew to love her. I wanted to be like her.” Neither Ruby nor her teacher missed a single day of school that year. The crowd outside the school each day dwindled to just a few protestors, and before long it was June and the school year ended for summer. The next year there were no protests.

Some Key Literature

If you'd like to share Ruby Bridge’s inspiring story with the children in your life, there are several excellent books about her. Here are some.

The Story Of Ruby Bridges for ages 4 to 8. This book was written by child psychiatrist Robert Coles who volunteered to give counselling to the Bridge family. He met with Ruby weekly and later wrote the book to make children more aware of Ruby's story.

'Ruby Bridges Goes to Story' by Ruby Bridges. This is written for children aged 5 to 8 years.  It is Ruby's own account of her extraordinary experiences as a child.
'Through My Eyes' by Ruby Bridges. This is the wonderful memoir that Ruby Bridges wrote for readers 6 to 12 years of age.

There is also a wonderful highly awarded film about the story of Ruby Bridges which is titled simply 'Ruby Bridges'. It is for children seven and up. 
Other books to read with or to children about Civil Rights

'Coretta Scott' by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Walking many miles to school in the dusty road, young Coretta knew about the unfairness of life in the south of America. And yet she had a desire to be treated with equality and her life proved to be inspirational.

'Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice' by Phillip Hoose.

This multi-award winning book - including being named as a Newbery Honour book in 2010 - is about Claudette Colvin. On March 2, 1955, this inspirational teenager, fed up with the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation, refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead of being celebrated as Rosa Parks would be just nine months later, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin found herself shunned by her classmates and dismissed by community leaders. Undaunted, a year later she dared to challenge segregation again as a key plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle, the landmark case that struck down the segregation laws of Montgomery and swept away the legal underpinnings of the Jim Crow South.

'Rosa Parks: My Story' by Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is best known for the day she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, sparking the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. Yet there is much more to her story than this one act of defiance. In this straightforward, compelling autobiography, Rosa Parks talks candidly about the civil rights movement and her active role in it. Her dedication is inspiring; her story is unforgettable.

'One Crazy Summer' by Rita Williams-Garcia

Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, One Crazy Summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 in search of the mother who abandoned them. It's an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

The Story of Negro League Baseball is the story of gifted athletes and determined owners; of racial discrimination and international sportsmanship; of fortunes won and lost; of triumphs and defeats on and off the field. It is a perfect mirror for the social and political history of black America in the first half of the twentieth century.  

'The Slave Dancer' by Paula Fox

This book tells the story of a boy called Jessie Bollier who witnessed first-hand the savagery of the African slave trade. The book not only includes an historical account, but it also touches upon the emotional conflicts felt by those involved in transporting the slaves from Africa to other parts of the world. The book received the Newbery Medal in 1974.

'The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights' by Carole Boston and illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Since the earliest days of slavery, African Americans have called on their religious faith in the struggle against oppression.  In this book the Beatitudes -- from Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount -- form the backdrop for Carole Boston Weatherford's powerful free-verse poem that traces the African American journey from slavery to civil rights.

Tim Ladwig's stirring illustrations showcase a panorama of heroes in this struggle, from the slaves shackled in the hold of a ship to the first African American president taking his oath of office on the steps of the United States Capitol.


Ruby Bridges, now Ruby Bridges Hall, still lives in New Orleans with her husband, and their four sons. For 15 years she worked as a travel agent, and for a time was a full-time parent. Today, she is chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999. This is designed to foster "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences".


1. ‘The Education of Ruby Nell’ by Ruby Bridges Hall, fromGuideposts’, March 2000. Downloaded 14th Sept 2014.

2. ‘Ruby Nell Bridges Hall’ Wikipedia, downloaded 14th Sept 2014.

3. Bridges Hall, Ruby. Through My Eyes, Scholastic Press, 1999.

4. The Ruby Bridges Foundation. Viewed 14th Sept 2014 .

5. The ‘A Mighty Girl’ website is a wonderful place to go for resources. It was developed for those interested in supporting and celebrating girls. It is a resource site that points to varied resources including books, toys, music, and movies.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why Older Kids & Adults Need Picture Books & Graphic Novels

This is a revised version of a post that I wrote almost two years ago. Once again I want to pick up on my previous comment that many parents move their children on from picture books far too quickly. Even many teachers encourage their children to 'move on' to chapter books almost as soon as they become proficient and fluent in reading. I've always felt that this was a bad idea, for a range of reasons, that all stem from four myths that drive this well-motivated error.

Myth 1 - 'Picture books are easier reading than chapter books'. While some are simple, they can have very complex vocabulary, syntax and visual images & devices.  For example, Nicki Greenberg's graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is in effect a print-based staging of Hamlet's struggles with truth, meaning, morality and action. She brings the play to life in a riot of colour and visual acrobatics that makes 'Hamlet' accessible to new teenage and adult readers. And the text of Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' is a single sentence that is extremely complex, with a mix of embedded clauses, direct speech, unusual verbs and rich metaphor. Good picture books often use complex metaphors to develop themes, and the limitations of the number of words used requires the author to use language with an economy and power that many chapter books simply don't attain. The subtle use of image, word, page layout, colour and text layout variations can create sophisticated texts. Graphic novels and electronic picture books like 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore', which I've reviewed previously (here), are taking this to a completely new level.

Myth 2 - 'Illustrations make it easy for children to read and they reduce the need to read the words'. While illustrations do work in harmony with the words and can use 'stripped down' language that allows greater use of images, the interplay of illustration and words is often extremely complex, allowing the reader to discover new meaning each time they re-read the book, often over a period of many years.  So a child can read John Burningham's classic book 'Granpa' as a simple story about a little girl and her grandfather, but can revisit it years later and discover that it tells of the death of the little girl's Grandfather. And many adults may never see the underlying themes in children's books, like that of death in 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat'.

Myth 3 - 'Getting children reading longer texts earlier will maximise their reading growth'. Not necessarily! While having the chance to consolidate reading skills by reading lots of similar chapter books is good, pictures still have a place. In fact, pushing a child too quickly into long chapter books isn't necessarily best for young readers. At the point where readers 'take off' and want to read everything, to give them a series of books is satisfying for them and reinforces their knowledge of the world and knowledge of language. But this can offer less stimulation than good picture books and less challenge in terms of developing comprehension ability (see my post on 'Emerging Comprehension'). Picture books present multiple sign systems in one text. The parallel use of language, image and many other devices (e.g. colour and print layout), stimulates creativity and the imagination in ways that chapter books cannot. A book like Graeme Base's 'The Sign of the Seahorse' uses language, brilliant illustrations, a play text structure and other devices (including a map and hidden clues), to offer a complex text to be explored, read, enjoyed, 'worked out' and revisited many times.

Myth 4 - 'Picture books are just for children'. Not so! Pick up any Shaun Tan book and you might at first read think, "Wow, is this a book for adults?" 'Tales From Outer Suburbia', 'The Arrival', 'The Lost Thing', in fact any of his books, have a depth and richness that can 'stretch' and challenge any child or adult. My first reading of his more recent book, 'Rules of Summer', left me perplexed and with so many questions I had to read it again, and again to grasp the depth of this deceptively simple story about the relationship between two boys (one older and more dominant than the other). This is a story about rules and power with Tan's characteristic images prodding your imagination at every turn of the page. Like all quality picture books it can be entered by readers of all ages and leave them enriched in different ways.

While the majority of picture books are designed for readers under the age of 7 years, more and more are written for much wider readerships and the rapidly developing genre of the 'Graphic Novel' (see previous post here) because they allow the author to use word, image and other modes (including related audio, video and music) to create more complex tellings of the story the author has in mind.  For example, books like 'My Place' and 'Requiem for a Beast' and 'When the Wind Blows' were never meant just for children. In fact, Matt Ottley's book was actually meant for high school readers. The great thing about picture books is that children and adults can both enjoy them, sometimes separately, and sometimes together. The latter is an important way to grow in shared knowledge and understanding as well as a key vehicle for helping children to learn as we explore books with them.

So what do Picture books do for older readers?

Picture books communicate complex truths in relevant and economical ways - 'Harry and Hopper' by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood helps readers of any age to have a light shone on the challenge of accepting and dealing with death so that life for those left behind can move on, even though death changes things in big ways.

Picture books offer special pathways to deal with deep emotional challenges and springboards for discussion - 'Dandelion' by Calvin Scott Davis (illustrated by Anthony Ishinjerro) allows the inner pain of bullying and the fears it brings, to be visited and opened for reflection and growth.

Picture books also enliven and reintroduce wonderful classic short stories - Oscar Wilde's 'The Selfish Giant' is made fresh and relevant again through the illustrated picture book of Ritva Voutila. This tale of forgiveness is enriched by Voutila's contribution. So too Ted Hughes classic 'The Iron Man' is enriched with the illustrations of Laura Carlin and the graphic and paper craft design. 

Picture books bring the power of image and graphic layout to words in ways that add layers of meaning that would take thousands of words to communicate - Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks work 'The Dream of the Thylacine' shows this with great power when Brooks surreal images of the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger have embedded within them grainy black and white photographs of the last miserable creature caged in a Tasmanian zoo in the 1930s.

Picture books can achieve things at times which the novel cannot - Irene Kobald & Freya Blackwood's brilliant picture book 'Two Blankets' manages to offer insights into the inner struggles of a girl who arrives from a war-torn nation to he strangeness of a new land. It is primarily through the metaphorical use of an object - a blanket - that the author and illustrator jointly communicate a significant story about the strangeness of language and place in a unique way.

Summing up

It is good to encourage younger children to progress to chapter books as they become proficient in reading, but we shouldn't simply discard picture books once they can do so.  The stimulation and challenge of the mixed media opportunities that picture books offer are very important for language stimulation and development as well as creativity and the enrichment of children's imaginations.

Picture books are important for children aged 0-12 years, so don't neglect them or discard them in a perhaps well-intentioned but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember, books are foundational to language, writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text.
Other reading

Previous post on 'Requiem for a Best' and graphic novels HERE

Previous post on 'Emergent Comprehension' HERE

All my posts on picture books HERE