Wednesday, 5 August 2015

How the Sun Got to Coco’s House

How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781406359008

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Soft understated watercolours with dark outlines create the visual scenes while the simple prose tells a story of nature and the Sun’s travels. It creeps up over snow-filled hills before it touches water and a fisherman’s hat which flies off with the wind.

The golden ball steams through the water over a whale, and sets off across bushland to cast shadows upon snow and footsteps. High in the sky it meets birds and a plane and shines through portholes. It crosses cities and waits outside windows to enter. It rises high over countrysides to awaken animals and birds, and catches travellers in their tracks, follows villagers, boats and eagles.

The Sun shines over high-rise buildings, meets the dark and makes it dawn, and then explodes into Coco’s window. It shares itself with Coco’s mum and dad still in bed, and accompanies them all to breakfast. 

When the Sun and the children have time on their hands, then, that is the best part of the day.

Always stunning and utterly thought-provoking, Bob Graham’s work is like the Sun on a cold day; welcome and refreshing, necessary and irreplaceable. Strong themes of freedom, the value of the Universe and its protection, are the motivators of this exceptional creation.

Amnesty International endorses Bob Graham’s book. ‘It reminds us that the world belongs to all of us and we have the right to enjoy life, freedom and safety.’

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Bob the Railway Dog

Bob the Railway Dog by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Andrew McLean (black dog books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781922179890

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

We are taken back in time and history as soon as the book is opened; to South Australia, 1884 in fact. With lyrical prose that shines and illuminates Corinne Fenton’s love of social history, we view the real life story of Bob from his arrival at Carrieton Station. He is among a collection of homeless dogs from Adelaide destined as rabbit hunters in outback South Australia. Will Ferry, a guard, sees the pup and ‘something tumbled in the man’s heart.’ He names him Bob.

But Bob is a restless spirit, a lover of trains, and a traveller. He becomes known from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. Housed and fed by drivers and guards, even in the porter’s room at wherever station he stops, Bob is welcomed by everyone.

It’s a magnificent adventure undertaken by Bob the Railway Dog who rides trains, and follows train tracks. His travels allow him to experience many historical events during his lifetime. And he always returns to visit his friend and saviour, Will Ferry.

This story is about Bob, but also is an historical portrayal of the birth and expansion of the railway in outback Australia. The outstanding illustrations by Andrew McLean of Bob and the railway’s history are created with watercolour and charcoal and black coloured pencil. This stunning book is suitable for the 5 -105 age group. It comes highly recommended.

Monday, 3 August 2015


Alpha by Isabelle Arsenault (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781406361834

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Isabelle Arsenault, award-winning Canadian illustrator of the outstanding Jane, the Fox and Me turns to the NATO phonetic alphabet/ International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, used in emergency services, to create a visual feast while educating children and adults. Its superb and eye-catching cover prepares the reader for the content.

Highly creative, Arsenault has taken each letter and produced an unforgettable image. The letter B for Bravo is presented by a beautiful pair of hands clapping. F for Foxtrot has a pair of dancers dressed in 1920s style dancing the foxtrot. I for India uses an image of an elephant. K for Kilo has a thick slice of chocolate cake on a plate. O for Oscar depicts a divine evening gown fit for the Oscars. R for Romeo claims the dagger that was used in Romeo and Juliet. T for Tango has a brilliant red and black dancing shoe.

Each letter is a surprise. It’s a game to guess how the picture associates with the letter and word.

This is a brilliant concept; highly imaginative and attractive. Definitely a collector’s book, it will be enjoyed by curious minds and people of all ages that find beauty in all things. It’s ideal for picture book lovers of all ages beginning from the 7+ age group.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

My Amazing Dad

My Amazing Dad written by Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921894862

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Individuality, embracing imperfection and the warmth of unconditional love are at the heart of this sweet ode to dads.

Told from the perspective of a young boy and his little brother (with their ever-present crocodile and red frog in tow throughout the book), the narrative opens with ‘My dad is not like other dads’, building anticipation straight away.

Jellett’s illustrations depict a lovable yet goofy-looking father, appearing comically dazed at the responsibilities that await. As it turns out, he’s not so good at mowing lawns, fixing taps or baking cakes, but that doesn’t matter to the kids when he creates a maze in the grass, makes bath-time a mess of bubbles and takes them to the cake shop instead.

While some stereotypical chores that are traditionally expected of dads are included, they are seamlessly mixed with other more equitable expectations, like taking the kids to school or reading them a bedtime story. Mum arrives home at lights-out time at the end, presenting readers with a realistic look at contemporary families, where gender roles are much more fluid.

Creativity is another theme at this book’s core; after all, who wouldn’t rather arrive at school via a supersized hopscotch or listen to stories in a makeshift tent past bedtime? Jellett’s vibrant, full-bleed illustrations on each page beautifully highlight the fun and joy of a childhood made all the more exciting by this amazing dad’s ideas.

The release of My Amazing Dad is timed perfectly for the lead-up to Father’s Day, and sends positive messages around togetherness, fun, affection and love, and turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

In the Evening

In the Evening by Edwina Wyatt, Illustrations by Gaye Chapman (Little Hare Books (an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont)
RRP $24.95 Hardback
ISBN 978-1-742975-28-3

Review by Dianne Cook

Edwina Wyatt’s In the Evening concerns itself with that ‘time of day’ when not only the light changes, but how our perceptions of the world around us can be affected too. It is the time described in a common French idiom as “the hour between the wolf and the dog” – when the light can cause you to confuse the friendly dog and the unfriendly wolf.  A stanza from Emily Dickinson, used as an epigraph, describes this effect.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
          Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
          Of Cathedral Tunes –     

Both the story and the illustrations are, in the strict sense of the word, fabulous.  At the launch of her book Edwina Wyatt described the relationship between writer and illustrator as the “co-imagining” of a story. This is an example of “co-imagining” at its best.

The book introduces us to Charlie and Oscar who are neighbours but not yet neighbourly. They spend their evenings differently, apart, but observing each other. The images of these endearing squirrely characters have a mythical quality; their story has universal resonance while at the same time showing homely particulars of how these two begin a friendship.  This layering of meaning is expressed verbally in the story’s ‘fable’ quality and visually in the wash of watercolour over clear outlines. Gaye Chapman’s artwork was inspired by the atmospheric paintings of JMW Turner, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Gaye Chapman used loose washes of transparent watercolours and tea over graphite and coloured pencils and spatterings of masking-fluid stars, rain and snow.

The story has significance for Charlie and Oscar and for everyone, for this place and everywhere. In appreciating the story of the two creatures, children see possibilities for dealing with their own times of fearfulness and doubt.

Recurring uncertainty is expressed in the repetition of the line, “Oscar didn’t know what to do” -  a feeling every child and every adult will know.  But the cycle is broken with a gesture of outreach.  Oscar begins to “hope” for more signs of friendship from Charlie, and makes a move. A “knock, knock” on Charlie’s door, and a “hello” lead to an evening of delightful conviviality.

“That evening, bellies ached from laughter.
That evening, spoons went back for thirds.”

That “slant of light” that “oppresses” has been displaced by illuminated windows and a cosy fireside as “the night had just begun.”  So too has a friendship and an understanding. “Knock, knock” and “Hello!” won’t be strange sounds to Charlie any more.

There is a lesson here in this whimsical fable, but it’s conveyed with the lightest touch.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Silly Squid!

Silly Squid! by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Cheryll Johns (Koala Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-096-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Silly Squid is a picture book packed full of poems about Australian sea creatures. Inside its pages you get to meet all manner of characters which frolic in or under the waves. From the Leafy Sea Dragon to the Penguin to the Whale, these animals are explored in poetry and explained by prose fact which is written around the edges of each page.

The poems are fabulously fun. I did not trip over any awkward rhymes. Each one has a great rhythm, which makes reading them out loud a joy.  They all differ in form, length and tempo, which really make this collection sing. They are each individual and some of them short enough for young children to memorise.

Pitched perfectly at the preschool age, these humorous poems will entertain children and also teach them about undersea animals. The illustrations are bright and vibrant and based on the environment and colors of these sea creature’s homes. 

This is a great book for any young child who likes the sea, animals or poetry and would be a fun way to introduce poetry to those not yet indulging. A really great addition for any young person’s library!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Gus the Asparagus

Gus the Asparagus by Kaylene Hobson illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP: $19.95
ISBN 9780992523992

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

The Green family (made up of a selection of adorable vegetables) love their peculiar little Gus the Asparagus just the way he is. But when Gus starts school it becomes clear that Gus doesn’t quite fit in and doesn’t understand the rules. And now Gus no longer wants to go to school.

Mum takes Gus to the Doctor who diagnoses him with ‘Asparagus Syndrome’. There is relief when everyone finally understands why Gus is different, and how they are able to support him.

This is an attractive book; the illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn, featuring vegetables with googly eyes are fun and strangely endearing.

The page where the vegetables at school are having a rolling competition and Gus tries to roll lengthways made me laugh and it illustrates perfectly just how differently Gus thinks. 

This short picture book has relatable characters for those families who live with a child with Asperger’s syndrome, and especially for the child itself.

The story, inspired Kaylene Hobson’s own experiences, however, is not a story of woe, instead it uplifts and recognises and accepts the eccentricities of the asparaguses’ around us.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her picture books, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) and Oliver’s Grumbles (Dragon Tales Publishing) are scheduled for release in October 2015.