Russell Smith: Holly the Holstein

Illustrated by Milan Samadder

I have a dear friend who lives in Warrnambool, a regional city on the south-west coast of Victoria in Australia, and who works for a major dairy manufacturer. My friend is one of many hundreds who rely on this industry to provide work and income security for their families. Indeed, the milk I buy comes all the way from Warrnambool to Melbourne, and the cheese and yoghurt too. How it arrives in our local supermarket is not something I think about, but I should. Our resources are precious, our food is important, and we should respect the effort that farmers and growers make to provide for our communities.

This picture book is about Holly the black and white Holstein cow, born and bred in far north Queensland in the care of Farmer Col and his wife. Farmer Col is actually Colin Daley, he runs “Ourway Holsteins” just outside Millaa Millaa in Queensland.  Nearby is Mt. Bartle Frere and these places form the backdrop to the story.

If you listen to the audio version, Russell and members of his family provide the voices of all the characters in the book. It’s written in rhyming prose, making it easy to remember while we simultaneously learn about the twice daily milking routine of the cows, the food they eat and where they graze.

One day, Holly is chosen by Farmer Col to go to the local farm show. While she is there, Holly discovers all the varied products that are made using her milk. On display in the dairy cabinets are milk, yoghurt, butter, and cheese. Holly is delighted to see her face on all the items and is proud to be the ambassador for Hollyvale dairy products.

The following day at the show, the judges deem Holly to be the best Holstein cow in the competition. Holly comes home from her adventures with a spring in her step, a medal around her neck and a garland atop her head. She has discovered her worth, her value and her contribution to the wider community.

This picture book is a valuable educational resource for young children, helping them to understand the connection between the food we purchase at supermarkets and markets, and the production of it on farms and agricultural estates.

Most importantly, any profits made from the sale of this picture book will be donated to the NSW Mid Coast Dairy Advancement Group to support the 150 dairy farmers whose livelihoods were devastated by the floods in March 2021.

You can view this picture book on YouTube.

You can also purchase this picture book in a PDF format or as a book, just type in the title online and follow the prompts.

I can recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the concept of how food is grown and produced:

Milly the Cow Gives Milk
by Deborah Chancellor
Illustrated by Julia Groves

Bee-bim-Bop! by Linda Sue Park Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

What You Eat by Valorie Fisher

Grandpa Cacao
by Elizabeth Zunon

Eating the Alphabet
by Lois Ehlert

Pancakes, Pancakes!
by Eric Carle

Before We Eat by Pat Brisson Illustrated by Mary Azarian

The Ugly Vegetables
by Grace Lin

How Did That Get In
My Lunchbox?
by Chris Butterworth
Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti

Compost Stew
by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Ashley Wolff

It’s Milking Time
by Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrated by Steve Johnson
& Lou Fancher

The Little Red Hen
by Paul Galdone

Look Inside Food by Emily Bone

In the Garden
by Emma Giuliani

Maisy Grows a Garden
by Lucy Cousins

The Milk Makers
by Gail Gibbons

Layn Marlow: Noah’s Seal

Illustrated by the author

Published by Oxford University Press, UK, 2021

This is a lovely story about waiting, dreaming, hoping and a special seal, of course!

Young Noah is with his Nana at the edge of the wild blue sea. He is waiting for the seals to come closer to the shore. Nana is busy mending the boat and she is not sure the seals will visit this part of the coast. That doesn’t stop Noah from hoping.

While waiting for his Nana, little Noah starts to dig in the golden sand, and gradually the sandy mound begins to take the shape of a beautiful seal. With a pat here and a stroke there, with shells for its dappled back, spiky sea grass for its whiskers and glossy pebbles for its eyes, the seal stretches out to face the ocean with a contented smile upon its face.

A sudden storm blows in across the ocean, Nana and Noah must take shelter in the boat and leave the golden sandy seal to face the wind and rain alone. But when the storm blows over, the seal is gone. Noah hopes it has swum to safety in the waves.

Nana is not so sure and kindly promises a ride in the boat another time to look for frolicking seals but, just as they turn to leave, Noah spots a familiar shape on a rock close to shore. What could it be?

This story is a wonderful reminder of long, hot summer days, spending time with a beloved grandparent, dreaming of wild creatures in the watery depths of the sea, imagining them come to life, and hoping for something extraordinary to happen on ordinary days. We have made and decorated mermaids on the beach, how I wish they could have come to life on the sandy seashore. We are never too old to dream!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature seals:

Seal at the Wheel
by Lesley Sims
Illustrated by David Semple

See What a Seal Can Do
by Chris Butterworth Illustrated by Kate Nelms

Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff

The Singing Seal
by Merv Lamington
Illustrated by Allison Langton

S is for Seal by DK Publishing Illustrated by Jean Claude

Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman

Little Seal
by Benedict Blathwayt

The Storm Seal by Judy Waite Illustrated by Neil Reed

The Seal Children
by Jackie Morris

And for older children:

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal
by Judith Kerr

Jean Reidy: Truman

Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019

The first thing I have to say is that I want a turtle just like Truman. As big as a donut, just as sweet, and full of pluck, this little turtle has found a place in my heart.

Truman the turtle belongs to Sarah, and we discover that he has excellent manners, never growling or shrieking at anybody. Truman is just pensive, peaceful,l and thoughtful like Sarah and observant too.

When Sarah packed an extra big backpack, fitted a blue bow in her hair, had extra banana with her breakfast AND served up extra beans for Truman to eat, he just knew something was up.

Truman was right. His worst fears confirmed. Sarah had boarded the Number 11 bus going south and Truman had been left behind.

This is the part of the story where Truman’s character shines. He is determined to find Sarah, even if it means facing all his fears and venturing out into the world on his own. Truman’s progress out of his tank, across the couch, over some tall boots and through the vast pink rug that seems to go on and on, is an adventurous trek that requires steely determination, bravery, and ingenuity. Can he do it?

It takes a long time to travel that far, and by the time Truman reaches the front door, there are some familiar sounds on the other side. Could it be his Sarah?

This is a wonderful story that touches on themes of separation anxiety, finding your inner strength, getting out of your comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. It also reinforces the idea that relationships are built on trust and love and exist whether we are all physically together or far apart.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature turtles and tortoises, some fictional and others educational:

Franklin’s Blanket
by Paulette Bourgeois Illustrated by Brenda Clark

The Hug by Eoin McLaughlin Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

The Smallest Turtle
by Lynley Dodd

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days
by Stephen Michael King

The Tortoise and the Hare
by Bruce Whatley

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Little Turtle and
the Changing Sea
by Becky Davis
Illustrated by Jennie Poh

Emerald by Aleesah Darlison Illustrated by Leanne White

Who Saw Turtle?
by Ros Moriarty
Illustrated by Balarinji

The Green Sea Turtle
by Isabel Muller

Torty and the Soldier
by Jennifer Beck
Illustrated by Fifi Colston

Journey of the Sea Turtle
by Mark Wilson

One Tiny Turtle
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Hi, Harry! by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Barbara Firth

The Rabbit and the Turtle Retold & illustrated
by Eric Carle

Turtle and Me
by Robie H. Harris
Illustrated by Tor Freeman

Turtle and Tortoise are NOT Friends by Mike Reiss Illustrated by Ashley Spires

Mossy by Jan Brett

I’ll Follow the Moon
by Stephanie Lisa Tara Illustrated by Lee Edward Fodi

Lynley Dodd: The Nickle Nackle Tree

Illustrated by the author

Published by Penguin Random House, New Zealand, 2016

You might be more familiar with Lynley Dodd’s wonderful series of picture books about that most loveable shaggy dog called Hairy Maclary and equally adventurous and mischievous cat Slinky Malinki, but here is another sort of tale that involves neither four-legged creature.

The Nickle Nackle Tree can be found in the Manglemunching Forest, it’s full of berries that are as red as red can be and a jumbly jam of birds. How delightful it is to read those rhythmic, opening lines and then discover a whole host of other birds with weird and wonderful names. Have you seen a Ballyhoo bird? What about the Tittle Tattle birds? Or the haughty Huffpuff birds? The colourful, bright illustrations match the descriptive names too, the grouchy Grudge birds don’t look happy at all with their purple feathers, red hawk-nosed beaks and grumpy eyes.

Listening recently to a podcast called The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison, author and naturalist, she describes the arrival of the tiny chiffchaff birds to the gentle Suffolk countryside. I had never heard of the chiffchaff bird and looked it up, as one can, on the internet. Not only could I see it, but I could also play the unique song it chirrups and learn about its long migration from Africa.

Lynley Dodd’s whimsically descriptive names for the birds in her picture book brought the chiffchaff bird to mind and made me smile to think that it could also have been included, scratching, itching, and chafing after its long flight!

Other authors like Roald Dahl, Edward Lear, and Dr Seuss have written books and verse with made-up nonsense words. The sound of silly words, the chanting of nonsense rhymes, the conviviality of sharing a secret language, can make a lasting impression on young readers.

I can highly recommend The Nickle Nackle Tree for children 3-8 years, they will love it and learn to count at the same time! Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the silly side of language:

There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
by Dr Seuss

Michael Rosen’s Book of Nonsense by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Claire Mackie

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

The Owl and the Pussycat and other nonsense verse
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The Quangle Wangle’s Hat
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The Bippolo Seed and other Lost Stories by Dr Seuss

Yertle the Turtle and other stories by Dr Seuss

Mog in the Dark by Judith Kerr

I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew by Dr Seuss

The Roald Dahl Treasury
by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alice in Wonderland
Retold by Jane Werner Illustrated by
Walt Disney Studio

Fungus the Bogeyman
by Raymond Briggs

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook
by Shel Silverstein

How Do You Wokka-Wokka?
by Elizabeth Bleumle
Illustrated by Randy Cecil

Flip Flap Dinosaurs
by Axel Scheffler

A Children’s Treasury of Milligan by Spike Milligan

Alpha Bugs by David Carter

The Smeds and the Smoos
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Art of Words
by Robert Vescio
Illustrated by Joanna Bartel

Sally Morgan: The River

Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2021

Sally Morgan is a descendant of the Palyku people from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr is an award-winning artist who has collaborated with Sally on a previous picture book, Little Bird’s Day. Johnny, a Yolŋu man, lives in East Arnhem Land with other members of the Ganalbingu clan, and strives to use painting, song, and dance as mediums for others to learn more about Aboriginal culture.

In this picture book, we are invited to wander along the riverbank and use our eyes to look and our ears to listen as we encounter the animals living there. We see green ants crawling, goannas running, turtles peeping, kangaroos jumping and snakes sliding. We hear frogs croaking, fish splashing, emus calling, and crocodiles chomping. The rhythm of the text reminds me of Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s picture book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  In a similar way, the repetition of the questions and the answering prose in The River makes this an easy story to remember and read, even for the very young.

The illustrations use a limited colour palette of cerulean blue, dusty browns, and muted oranges and reds, giving the reader a sense of being under the wide-open Australian sky and standing near the muddy riverbank, watching and listening to the sights and sounds of that unique environment.

The River  is a wonderful introduction to Australian wildlife and an invitation for young readers to use their eyes and ears when they are immersed in their own neighbourhoods, backyards, and parkland environments. There are sights and sounds all around us, birds calling, crickets chirping, owls hooting, kookaburras laughing, and magpies singing. So, take a moment today, go outside and look and listen!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which focus on Australian wildlife:

Australian Baby Animals
by Frane Lessac

My Big Book of Australian Animals
by Roger Priddy

An A to Z Story of Australian Animals
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

A is for Australian Animals
by Frane Lessac

A – Z of Australian Animals by Jennifer Cossins

An Australian ABC of Animals by Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Bird’s Day
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Hello, Australia!
by Megan McKean

Rod Campbell’s Aussie Animals by Rod Campbell

Koalas eat gum leaves.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Emu by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Kookaburras love to laugh.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Dingo by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Edwina the Emu
by Sheena Knowles
Illustrated by Rod Clement

Olga the Brolga by Rod Clement

Possum Magic by Mem Fox Illustrated by Julie Vivas

Diary of a Wombat
by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Pouch! by David Ezra Stein

Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa by Margaret Wild Illustrated by Kerry Argent

Bilby by Edel Wignell
Illustrated by Mark Jackson

Hop Up! Wriggle Over!
by Elizabeth Honey

When We Go Walkabout by Rhoda & Alfred Lalara

Can You Find Me?
by Gordon Winch
Illustrated by
Patrick Shirvington

Wombat Stew
by Marcia K. Vaughan Illustrated by Pamela Lofts

Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie
by May Gibbs

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall

One Potoroo by Penny Jaye Illustrated by Alicia Rogerson

Sophie Blackall: If You Come to Earth

Illustrated by the author

Published by Chronicle Books, California, 2021

This is a wonderful picture book about our unique blue planet, I think everyone should read it, whether you are young or old. Within its pages, you will discover all the important things you need to know about our planet earth: the people who live in it, the animals that roam the skies, plains and seas, the homes we inhabit, the way we travel, the weather around us, the work we do, what we think, how we communicate, the ways we can love and hurt each other, and how we help one another.

It’s written as a handy guidebook for any curious and adventurous visitor from Outer Space that happens to stop by on its way elsewhere. The invitation comes from Quinn, a young boy lying on his bed who is thinking about the best way to describe the world he lives in, to someone who might not know.

The illustrations are breath-taking; my favourite double-page spread shows a large bird gracefully airborne, the image made up of a myriad of smaller birds within its shape. You can see a penguin, an owl, a flamingo, a puffin and a pigeon, just to name a few.

At the very end of this picture book, Sophie Blackall explains how the idea for it blossomed over many years, while she was travelling in different countries working for Save the Children, speaking to thousands of children and wishing she had a book just like this one to share with them.

The character of Quinn is based on a real boy, who said to Sophie that most likely visitors from another planet should be given mashed potato as a snack, because who knows if aliens have teeth? Very sensible.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-100 years, and below are more suggestions for books which look at our unique blue planet and explore the wonders within it:

Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

This Small Blue Dot
by Zeno Sworder

Only a Tree knows how to be a tree by Mary Murphy

The Astronaut’s Cat
by Tohby Riddle

Listen by Holly M. McGhee Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

How Did I Get Here?
by Philip Bunting

Your Planet Needs You!
by Philip Bunting

All Sorts by Pippa Goodhart Illustrated by Emily Rand

The Earth Book by Todd Parr

Hike by Pete Oswald

Small World by Ishta Mercurio Illustrated by Jen Corace

My Friend Earth
by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Francesca Senna

Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Hello World by Michael Foreman

Book of Numbers by Oliver Jeffers

Book of Animals by Oliver Jeffers

We Go Way Back
by Ishta Ben-Barack
Illustrated by Philip Bunting

A Song of Gladness
by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by Emily Gravett

James Catchpole: What Happened to You?

Illustrated by Karen George

Published by Faber, Bloomsbury House, 2021

The title of this picture book caught my eye because it reminded of another book by the same title that was written earlier this year by Dr. Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey. Through in-depth conversations, they explore how childhood trauma and difficult experiences can inform and explain the way we behave as adults.

This picture book is written by James Catchpole who is an amputee himself, and there is a great photo of him at the very back of the book holding one of his daughters on a sunny day at the beach. James has one prosthetic leg, and in writing this picture book, he has given us all some sound advice about the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to asking, what happened to you?

In the story, we meet little Joe who has only one leg. He is having a great time imagining himself as a swash-buckling pirate on the high seas fighting off imaginary sharks and crocodiles. Some kids come along to join in the fun and instantly notice Joe’s missing leg.

They all want to know what happened, but for Joe, this is the last thing he wants to talk about, not today and probably not tomorrow either. So, Joe asks them to guess. The kids come up with some imaginative ideas, but not the real reason why Joe only has one leg. And after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter.

The pirate game begins again and before long, the missing leg is not important anymore, and neither is the reason as to why it’s not there.

We never do find out why Joe has one leg, because sometimes we just need to accept that we will not know the answer, that the question is not polite to ask and that maybe that person just does not want to explain it for the one hundredth time.

The illustrations perfectly complement the text, the children are endearing, their emotions are clearly expressed and, in the end, you applaud their maturity and good sense!

I can highly recommend this book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the theme of disability, the sort you can see and the sort you can’t see:

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan Illustrated by Christiane Kromer

Hello, Goodbye Dog
by Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Looking Out for Sarah
by Glenna Lang

Thankyou, Mr Falke
by Patricia Polacco

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

When Charley Met Emma
by Amy Webb
Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

Understanding Sam and Asperger’s Syndrome
by Clarabelle van Niekerk Illustrated by Liezl Venter

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt Illustrated by Sean Qualls
& Selina Alko

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Don’t Call Me Special
by Pat Thomas

The Black Book of Colours
by Menena Cottin
Illustrated by Rosana Faria

The Adventures of Mighty Owen
by Emma Roehrs
Illustrated by Owen Roehrs

The Five of Us by Quentin Blake

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett Illustrated by Adelina Lirius

Leo and the Octopus
by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Chris Nixon

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey Illustrated by Mika Song

Frida Khalo
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Gee Fan Eng

Stevie Wonder
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Melissa Lee Johnson

Boo’s Beard by Rose Mannering Illustrated by Bethany Straker

Waiting for Hugo
by Amanda Niland
Illustrated by Claire Richards

One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly Illustrated by Sally Heinrich

Mama Zooms
by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

And for the adults:

Growing Up Disabled in Australia Edited by Carly Findlay

What Happened to You?
by Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey

Matt De La Peña: Milo Imagines the World

Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2021

“What begins as a slow, distant glow grows and grows into a tired train that clatters down the tracks. A cool rush of wind quiets into a screech of steel and when the doors slide open, Milo slips aboard.”

I love the emotive, poetic language of this picture book. I feel like I am with Milo in the underground railway station, feeling that breeze that comes before the train arrives and hearing that screech as it slows approaching the platform.

I admire Milo’s imagination and the way he observes everyone and everything around him in the train carriage. A whiskered man with a face of concentration, a woman in a wedding dress whose face is made out of light, and a dog whose face he can’t see at all, but he can see that pink tongue peeking out amongst the whiskers.

We are not sure where Milo and his big sister are going, but we know that this is a trip they take together once a month on Sundays. We know that Milo has mixed emotions: confusion, love and worry.  To help cope and keep himself from bursting, he observes and draws and imagines.

Milo imagines where that whiskered man might live, perhaps in a high-rise apartment with cats and rats and parakeets. Milo draws all these ideas on his notepad and tries to show his big sister, but she is too absorbed in her phone to take much notice.

At one stop, the woman in the wedding dress steps onto the platform while street performers play a wedding march tune. Milo imagines and draws a beautiful ceremony in a grand cathedral, after which the happy couple fly away in a colourful hot air balloon.

Soon a boy who looks quite different to Milo boards the train with his dad. Milo imagines what this boy’s life might be like: horse drawn carriages, castles, guards and servants fill his notepad. A life very different from Milo’s experiences, but something that he can still imagine.

A group of girls jump on board at the next stop and start break dancing in the carriage to collect a few coins. Milo imagines them dancing in all the carriages, being looked at there with smiles and interest. He also imagines what life is like for them outside the carriage, being observed in department stores and in well-to-do neighbourhoods. There are no smiles now, just suspicion and intolerance.

Milo then tries to imagine what people see when they look at him. Small, brown skin, glasses perched on his nose. Can people see him at school, at home, in his aunty’s apartment?

Finally, the train brings them to their stop. We walk with Milo and his big sister to a place where there is a metal detector and guards. The other boy on the train is there too, with his dad. Milo did not imagine this and he is surprised. Maybe, you can’t really imagine what a person’s life is like when you look at them. So, Milo re-imagines the people on the train that he observed and puts them in a different setting, gives them different lives.

And to his mother, in prison, Milo gives the best picture of all: a home, a cat on the windowsill, a green tree, a front door, and a mother, daughter and son enjoying the day in each other’s company, eating ice cream.

There are a lot of ideas and thoughts packed into this picture book. I can highly recommend it for children 6-8 years, to begin discussions about prejudice, racism, perceptions, assumptions, empathy, and all the ways you can use your imagination. Below are some suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of racism, prejudice and preconceived notions about the people we encounter in life:

The Same But Different Too
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoet

You Matter by Christian Robinson

Nana Akua Goes to School
by Tricia Elam Walker
Illustrated by April Harrison

Where Are You From?
by Yamile Saied Mendez
Illustrated by Jaime Kim

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated by Kerascoet

The Proudest Blue
by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali Illustrated by Hatem Aly

Say Something!
by Peter H. Reynolds

All Are Welcome
by Alexandra Penfold
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

Black is a Rainbow Color
by Angela Joy
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Shu Lin’s Grandpa
by Matt Goodfellow
Illustrated by Yu Rong

Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Room on our Rock
by Kate & Jol Temple
Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser Illustrated by Marta Antelo

Mary Anning by
Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Popy Matigot

Diamonds by Armin Greder

Jane Godwin: Mumma, Dadda, No, Mine, More!

Illustrated by Jane Massey

Published by Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2021

We live in houses full of stuff but when we go away for holidays, we take just a suitcase or two crammed with the essentials for pared down living. When we are small, we live in a world full of language, sentences, and expressions but we manage to communicate just the same with only a handful of words in our repertoire. Often our first utterances are mumma, dadda, no, mine and more. So, it’s wonderful to see these essential words in a picture book, being used in different situations, with various intonations and meanings, but absolutely understood by parent and child.

Mumma, dadda, no, mine and more are repeated on almost every page, beginning at the start of a typical day in the life of a family and ending at bedtime. The illustrations show us all that is familiar, mum combing her hair, dad brushing his teeth, baby refusing to put clothes, and wanting more toast for breakfast. Cleverly observed moments in a day of the life of a toddler reveal all the times when those five words need to be spoken, sometimes to confirm that the parents are present, other times to refuse to cooperate, and sometimes to insist on ownership!

Very young children will be able to engage with the text and pictures, and perhaps see themselves in some of the situations: not wanting to get in the bath and then not wanting to get out, not wanting to go up the playground slide but choosing the swing instead, tired for bed and wanting one last hug from mum and dad.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 1-3 years and below I have suggested more picture books which use few or no words to tell a story. Wordless picture books are wonderful for increasing vocabulary, starting discussions, developing comprehension, asking questions, and telling the story differently each time you read it, here are some of my favourites:

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Play by Jez Alborough

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Moonlight by Jan Omerod

Sunshine by Jan Omerod

Float by Daniel Miyares

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

Good Night, Gorilla
by Peggy Rathmann

Have You Seen My Duckling?
by Nancy Tafuri

Journey by Aaron Becker

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee

The Lion and the Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney

Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

Eating Out by Helen Oxenbury

Before After
by Anne-Margot Ramstein Illustrated by Matthias Aregui

Awake Beautiful Child
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Illustrated by Gracia Lam

The Chicken Thief
by Beatrice Rodriguez

No, David! by David Shannon

Fetch by Jorey Hurley

Stop, Go, Yes, No! by Mike Twohy

Footpath Flowers
by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith

Little Fox in the Forest
by Stephanie Graegin

Mopoke. by Philip Bunting

One Fox by Kate Read

Again! by Emily Gravett

Big Box Little Box by Caryl Hart Illustrated by Edward Underwood

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

Michaël El Fathi: Hard Times for Unicorn

Illustrated by Charlotte Molas

Published by Tate Publishing, London, 2021

There’s a lovely little paragraph at the beginning of this book by the author and illustrator, thanking the French railway company for their serendipitous meeting one Saturday in November where they encountered each other in seats 65 and 66 on the journey from Hendaye to Paris. This picture book may never have existed if that meeting had not taken place, and that would have been a shame, the world needs more stories about unicorns!

Beginning with the capture of unicorn by a young Siberian explorer, we follow the ups and downs of her experiences as she gets passed on to one owner and another by foul or fair means. Unicorn is lost in a game of cards, won by fishermen, sold to a knight, passed on to an athlete, used by a robber, shot out of a cannon, and remodelled as a coat rack.

Each experience is plausibly told in a few short sentences, and unicorn does her best to go with the flow, whether she is happy or not, well cared for or not. But unicorn finds real happiness at the end when the narrator finds her in an old antique shop, sensibly puts her on the Trans-Siberian Express train and leaves her at the edge of the snowy forest that is her home in the wild.

This story reminded me of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, a story of a horse that is passed from one owner to another and endures the good times and bad times with strength of character and patient stoicism. Both stories help us to understand how to endure the capricious nature of life and to bend with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. With some luck, some kindness and good fortune, the tale ends happily for unicorn, which is just as it should be for this fabled creature!

The illustrations greatly enhance the telling of the story and show an enormous variety of uses for a unicorn’s horn! (a safe opener, really?) There are a few colourful double page spreads, but mostly the sparse coloured text sits on a white page next to the illustration on the other page, the colours complementing each other beautifully.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years, and below I have further suggestions for picture books which feature magical unicorns:

You Don’t Want a Unicorn!
by Ame Dyckman
Illustrated by Liz Climo

I’m a Unicorn by Mallory C. Loehr Illustrated by Joey Chou

A Unicorn Named Sparkle
by Amy Young

Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert
by Morag Hood
Illustrated by Ella Okstad

Thelma the Unicorn
by Aaron Blabey

The Return of Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey

The Christmas Unicorn
by Anna Currey

I Wished for a Unicorn
by Robert Heidbreder
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

That’s Not My Unicorn
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn
by Lou Carter
Illustrated by Nikki Dyson

I Wish I’d Been Born a Unicorn
by Rachel Lyon
Illustrated by Andrea Ringli

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Sugarlump and the Unicorn
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Lydia Monks

There’s No Such Thing as Unicorns by Lucy Rowland
Illustrated by Katy Halford

Unicorn! by Maggie Hutchings Illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

Unicorn (and Horse) by David Miles Illustrated by Hollie Mengert

Where’s Peppa’s Magical Unicorn? created by Neville Astley
and Mark Baker

The Unicorn Prince
by Saviour Pirotta
Illustrated by Jane Ray

If I Had a Unicorn
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Alex Barrow

And for older readers:

I Believe in Unicorns
by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Gary Blythe