Debi Gliori: The Boy and the Moonimal

Illustrated by the author

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, UK, 2021

This is a story about Moonimal, a little blue rabbit with three floppy ears, who is found one day on a shelf inside a shop full of wonderful knick-knacks. The Boy and Moonimal are inseparable. They have exploring adventures together, they pretend to be doctor and patient, and even fly into space and back again in their cardboard rocket. It feels like they will be together forever.

One day, deep in the woods, with autumnal leaves littering the ground, the young Boy trips, breaks his glasses and can’t find his beloved blue rabbit anywhere. Turning the page, Moonimal begins to tell the tale of what happens next.

Moonimal waits and waits, hoping to be found again. Instead, some woodland rabbits, who are small and grey, with two floppy ears each, find Moonimal and take him back to their underground burrows. Time passes.

In a meadow one day, Moonimal gets snatched up by a hunting owl and dropped into a cold rushing river. Swept away by the strong currents, Moonimal is found downstream by grazing deer and he stays with the herd for many more years.

Until one day, danger comes again! A dog appears suddenly, scattering the reindeer, and in their haste to flee, Moonimal gets left behind. The dog proudly picks up Moonimal in his jaw to present to his owner. Could this be the end, or has the story come full circle?

This is a gently crafted story of hope when all seems lost. Something similar happened to us many years ago when our two-year-old daughter lost her favourite teddy. We looked everywhere for it. We asked everyone we knew to look for it. I even tried to buy a new one, ringing up stores and asking friends and family to keep searching. I remember days and nights full of tears and longing. Time passed, the ache of loss eased, and my daughter discovered other favourite toys. But do you know what? A friend turned up on our doorstep about six months later, with the lost teddy in her hands!

I expected my daughter to be overjoyed, and she was, but there was another overriding emotion, cautious reserve. If teddy was lost once, then he could be lost again. It was sad to see this understanding in my daughter’s eyes, because sometimes in life, that’s just the way it is. It was my daughter’s first experience of loss and grief, sadly not the last, and one of the many lessons to learn in life.

I can highly recommend this picture for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the experience of losing a beloved toy:

The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams
Illustrated by Sarah Massini

Little Bear Lost by Jane Hissey

Good Dog by Cori Doerrfeld

The Lost Toys by Irina Hale

Nothing by Mick Inkpen

Clown by Quentin Blake

The Lost Property Office
by Emily Rand

Arno and his Horse by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Felicita Sala

Red Ted and the Lost Things
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

The Everywhere Bear
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Rebecca Cob

Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo?
by Emma Chichester Clark

Lost in Little Bear’s Room
by Else Holmelund Minarik Illustrated by David T. Wenzel

The Sea Saw by Tom Percival

Float by Daniel Miyares

Elmer and the Lost Teddy
by David McKee

This is the Bear and the Scary Night by Sarah Hayes
Illustrated by Helen Craig

Where’s Teddy? by Rod Campbell

Where’s My Teddy?
by Jez Alborough

Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton Illustrated by Laura Wood

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Olivia and the Missing Toy
by Ian Falconer

I Lost My Bear by Jules Feiffer

The Teddy Bear by David McPhail

Bun Bun Button by Patricia Polacco

Helen Milroy: Backyard Bugs

Illustrated by the author

Published by Fremantle Press, WA, 2021

Helen Milroy is a First Nations artist and illustrator, born in Perth and a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Helen has dedicated this picture book to her brother David, in remembrance of all those times when they were children, finding bugs together in the wide outdoors.

I don’t remember looking for insects and bugs in my childhood, but I do remember being stung by bees many times and my mother using toothpaste to soothe the painful wound. We saw lots of bull ants in the red soil of my grandfather’s farm in Monbulk and heavy, iridescent beetles winging their way to shade under the chestnut trees.

When I am out in the garden today, I’m happy to find a ladybug. They are feather light, small and delicate, unique in colour and the number of dots they carry on their backs. Sometimes I see praying mantises too, swaying hypnotically, until they pounce, faster than you can imagine, upon an unsuspecting fly. Some spider webs are engineering marvels, and make you think of strands of pearls on dewy mornings.

This picture book is a wonderful introduction to the world of insects and bugs for very young children. You could walk out the back door and discover all of them in your backyard. Ants marching, dragonflies flitting, worms wriggling, spiders hanging, snails slipping and sliding, crickets chirping and ladybirds landing upon your sleeve. Each insect has its own double page spread, simple rhyme, and is illustrated using bright and vibrant colours nestled within stunning indigenous designs.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature insects and bugs:

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Bugs Everywhere by Lily Murray Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

Bug Bear by Patricia Hegarty Illustrated by Carmen Saldana

Peep Inside Bug Homes
by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Simona Dimitri

Beehive by Jorey Hurley

The Spider and the Fly
by Mary Botham Howitt
Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi

Caterpillar and Bean
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Flutter by, Butterfly
by Petr Horacek

I Love Bugs by Emma Dodd

What the Ladybird Heard
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Lydia Monks

Superworm by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar
by Julian Donaldson
Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

Be Nice to Spiders
by Margaret Bloy Graham

Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr.
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

Caterpillar Butterfly
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Yucky Worms by Vivian French Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar
by Clare Jarrett

Alpha Bugs by David A. Carter

How Many Bugs in a Box?
by David A. Carter

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle
by Eric Carle

The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle

Sam McBratney: Mindi and the Goose No One Else Could See

Illustrated by Linda Ólafsdóttir

Published by Walker Books, London, 2021

The goose on the front cover of this picture book caught my eye, mostly because my son affectionately calls me a silly goose sometimes! In my mind, a goose could never be anything to be feared, mistrusted, or avoided, unless of course that goose was nibbling my hand or chasing me around the farmyard. But that’s just it, isn’t it? The things that make me feel unsafe, worried, or anxious might not be the same for everyone. My worries and anxieties might take the shape of clawing ogres or dark looming shadows, but for someone else it just might be a big goose.

That’s the way it is for a little girl called Mindi. She’s such a sweet character, small and cute, with her yellow sweater and matching yellow gum boots. She is afraid of the goose that comes to her room unbidden and uninvited, that no one else can see. Her dad can’t find it, so he can’t get rid of it. Her mum can’t see it, so even threatening to smack it’s silly bottom won’t help.

Mindi’s parents have a problem, how can they help their beloved daughter?

Luckily for them, there is a wise old man called Austen who lives in the village nearby, perhaps he can help. When Mindi’s dad visits him on Shelling Hill, Austen gives some thought to the problem and says:

“I think you should bring Mindi to see me. Make sure she knows I live a long way away. Make sure she knows that she is going on a journey.”

Mindi and her dad make the short ‘long’ journey to Austen’s farm. Mindi greets all the animals, even two geese! But she makes a special connection with a young goat that Mindi names Black-and-whitey. This young goat has a special talent: if you give her a stone fruit, she will eat it and give you back the stone.

Herein lies the kernel of the story. Sometimes, we have to give something in return for a gift. Austen gives the young goat to Mindi, but in return, she must give Austen the Big Goose that no one else can see. It’s a decision-making moment for Mindi. As heavy as our fears and anxieties may be, their weight is familiar, and it can be hard to let go of them. What will Mindi do?

This is a wonderful story for children who might be experiencing anxiety or fear, real or imagined. It gives them a chance to read about what happened to Mindi, how she described her worries, how her family tried to help her and how they turned to the wider community for advice. It’s encouraging to know that solutions can be found, and that problems don’t have to remain as permanent features of our lives.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that explore what it is like to feel anxious, worried or fearful:

Charlie Star by Terry Milne

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous
by Keith Calabrese
Illustrated by Juana Medina

Willy and the Cloud
by Anthony Browne

What If…? by Anthony Browne

The Worry Box by Suzanne Chew Illustrated by Sean Julian

Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

Be Brave, Little Tiger!
by Margaret Wise Brown Illustrated by Jean Claude

Me and my Fear
by Francesca Sanna

Thank Goodness for Bob
by Matthew Morgan
Illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo

Anxious Charlie to the Rescue
by Terry Milne

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Oliver and his Alligator
by Paul Schmid

Wemberly Worried
by Kevin Henkes

The Huge Bag of Worries
by Virginia Ironside
Illustrated by Frank Rodgers

Frané Lessac: Australia Under the Sea

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books Australia, NSW, 2020

This picture book is a wonderful introduction to marine wildlife in Australia, focussing on those creatures that make their home around our spectacular coral reefs.

The front cover invites the reader in with its beautiful sea-green blue and colourful illustrations of sea creatures in their natural habitat. A short introduction about what a coral reef is and how it is made sets the scene for a counting journey from one through to twelve.

We learn about giant whale sharks, shy dugongs, orange clownfish, stripy sea snakes, spotted rays and many more. Each marine animal is illustrated on a double page spread and accompanied by one or two concise sentences that give the reader some amazing facts which is not overwhelming for pre-schoolers.

At the end of the book, Lessac has concluded with a simple but profound statement about why we should protect this wonderful treasure of the deep:

Coral reefs are important because they keep the sea healthy. A healthy reef means a healthy sea. A healthy sea means a healthy planet.

One final page sets out all the creatures from one through to twelve, so that younger readers can identify the marine animals, count them individually and then go back to the front double page spread and play a game of I-Spy. It’s very clever!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore marine wildlife, ocean habitats and the many wonders of the sea:

Where is Little Fish?
by Lucy Cousins

In the Sea by David Elliott Illustrated by Holly Meade

Ocean by Britta Teckentrup

The Silver Sea by children at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melb with Alison Lester & Jane Godwin

Under the Sea by Anna Milbourne Illustrated by Cathy Shimmen

Fabulous Fishes
by Susan Stockdale

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

A Swim through the Sea
by Kristin Joy Pratt

Tiddler by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Over in the Ocean In a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jeanette Canyon

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Commotion in the Ocean
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by David Wojtowycz

If you want to see a whale
by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Flip Flap Ocean by Axel Scheffler

Australian Sea Life by Matt Chun

Coco the Fish with Hands
by Aleesah Darlison
Illustrated by Mel Matthews

Meet the Oceans by Caryl Hart Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

Ross Collins: There’s a Mouse in My House

Illustrated by the author

Published by Nosy Crow, London, 2020

Ross Collins has charmed us again with a sequel to There’s a Bear on my Chair.

But this time, the cheeky mouse is causing all the problems. He’s arrived at Bear’s house with a box. It looks like he’s moving in and hanging pictures on the wall.

There’s nothing that Bear can do to get that mouse out of the house!

Bear suggests a trip to Luxembourg, Mexico, Timbuktu or Borneo, but no, the mouse just does not want to go.

Mouse settles in and dresses up, helps himself to the food, plays loud music and takes a bath. Oh no! Just when things couldn’t get any worse, there’s a knock. Who could it be behind the red door?

I just love this playful, rhyming story. The illustrations are bright, elegant and expressive. The colours are bold and eye catching. Bear is wonderfully grumpy and at the same time, forbearing, despite being so big. Mouse is cheeky, and at the same time, endearing, full of mischief and mayhem.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more of my favourite picture book stories which feature mice…I didn’t know I had so many!

There’s a Bear on My Chair
by Ross Collins

The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright Illustrated by Jim Field

The Tale of Two Bad Mice
by Beatrix Potter

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

The Lion and the Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney

Little Mouse and the Red Wall
by Britta Teckentrup

The Mouse’s Apples
by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Kristyna Litten

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Wood
Illustrated by Don Wood

A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni

The Mouse who wasn’t Scared
by Petr Horacek

Town Mouse, Country Mouse
by Jan Brett

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

Little Mouse by Rod Campbell

We’re Getting a Cat!
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

A Mouse called Julian
by Joe Todd-Stanton

Maisy Goes to the Library
by Lucy Cousins

Meet Angelina Ballerina
by Katharine Holabird
Illustrated by Helen Craig

Claris by Megan Hess

I Am A Tiger by Karl Newson Illustrated by Ross Collins

Mouse House by John Burningham

The Tailor of Gloucester
by Beatrix Potter

Hannah Carmona: Anita and the Dragons

Illustrated by Anna Cunha

Published by Lantana Publishing Ltd, UK, 2021

In the early 1950s, when my father was 17 years old, he left his small village at the foot of the northern mountains in Italy and ventured alone by boat to Australia. I can’t imagine the kind of bravery that takes. To leave all that is known and loved and take steps towards all that is unknown and unseen, is a lesson in understanding oneself and finding courage to face whatever dragons come your way. For my father, everything was new: the language, the food, the culture, the work, the people and the place. But despite the hardships and the challenges, he made a life for himself here, taking the best values from his home in Italy and his home in Australia to forge something good for his long life.

Anita, in this story, is leaving her village in the Dominican Republic and travelling with her family to America. She refers to the planes that will take her away as the dragons which look like large, winged beasts. Anita is a brave and feisty princesa in her village but as she thinks about what the future will look like and what she will be leaving behind, she compares the reality of what she has with the opportunities that are yet to come. Hot water, reliable electricity, and fancy restaurants all sound exciting, but Anita’s abuela is not coming and no longer will Anita breathe the salty air or dance in the blue waves in the spicy heat of the day. No longer will she be the adored princesa, the centre of life in her village.

As Anita and her family board the mighty plane, humming in readiness for departure, she cries aloud all the thoughts that are unspoken but threatening to overwhelm everyone:

“I won’t let this horrible beast take me away from everything I love! What if I hate it? What if I’m lonely? What if I get scared? What if I’m sad? What if I’m NOT brave at all?”

Despite the unanswered questions, despite the anxiety and not knowing what is ahead, the family bravely face the dragon of the air and whatever adventures await them on the other side of this momentous flight.

This is a story of courage and bravery during immigration, the rending of a heart torn between the known and the unknown and the emotional and physical upheaval of leaving one’s country for another. The illustrations are tender, and imbued with soft colours, creating a sense of place and helping the reader to visualise the bonds that tie us to our family and our home.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more stories that explore the idea of immigration, moving house and home, and what that might feel like in different situations:

Migrant by Maxine Trottier Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn Illustrated by Barbara L.Gibson

The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

I Dream of Popo
by Livia Blackburne
Illustrated by Julia Kuo

I’m an Immigrant too! by Mem Fox Illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Bui

The Dress and the Girl
by Camille Andros
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Bad Bye, Good Bye
by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Jonathan Bean

The Matchbox Diary
by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields
by Mark Wilson

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Color of Home
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

All the Way to America
by Dan Yaccarino

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I’m New Here
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Waves: for those who come across the sea by Donna Rawlins Illustrated by Heather Potter
and Mark Jackson

Gene Zion: No Roses for Harry

Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

First published by The Bodley Head Children’s Books, 1961

I think this would have to be my favourite story about Harry the dog. I remember reading it as a child and I still love the illustrations and the way the story unfolds, with gentle humour, awkward moments, and a quirky ending.

Harry, a white dog with black spots, has been given a birthday present from Grandma. Unfortunately, it’s a green knitted woollen jumper patterned with roses and Harry definitely does not like it. Despite the jumper being quite cosy to wear, Harry decides to lose it at the very first opportunity. But after a few clever attempts to lose it, leave it, and drop it, the jumper keeps finding its way back to Harry.

Alone at last in the park, Harry notices a loose stitch in the jumper and a nearby bird does too. Before Harry knows what is happening, the bird has flown down, picked up the loose strand of wool and zoomed away again. Before long, the jumper has unravelled altogether.

This is where the story gets really interesting! Harry knows where the bird has gone, but the reader doesn’t. What happens when Grandma comes for a surprise visit and no one at home can find the special jumper that she knitted for Harry?

The ending will make you smile, if you are not already smiling. The illustrations are gorgeous and tell the tale with so much flair using only black, green and orange for colour, in the style of Dr Seuss. The characters are endearing, and the streetscapes are filled with all the everyday things we know, similar to the art of Anna Walker and Serge Bloch.

If you like this story, there are more titles in the series, Harry the Dirty Dog (1956), Harry and the Lady Next Door (1960), and Harry by the Sea (1956) – all created by Gene Zion and his wife and collaborator Margaret Bloy Graham.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the idea of gifts and gift giving, some welcome, some thoughtful and some altogether unexpected:

Strega Nona’s Harvest
by Tomie dePaola

The Spiffiest Giant in Town
by Julian Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

What is Given from the Heart
by Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrated by April Harrison

The Gift of Nothing
by Patrick McDonnell

The Gift by Penny Matthews Illustrated by Martin McKenna

Harold Loves His Woolly Hat
by Vern Kousky

Mr Nick’s Knitting
by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Dee Huxley

You won’t like this present
as much as I do!
by Lauren Child

Thankyou, Omu! by Oge Mora

A Chair for Mother
by Vera B. Williams

The Gift by Michael Speechley

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Erandi’s Braids by
Antonio Hernandez Madrigal Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The Thank-you Present
by Jane Martino
Illustrated by Anne White

The Anzac Billy by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Mark Jackson & Heather Potter

My Name is Lizzie Flynn
by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
A Present for Mother Bear
by Else Holmelund Minarik Illustrated by Chris Hahner

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Give and Take by Chris Raschka

Alfie Gives a Hand
by Shirley Hughes

If you give a mouse a cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

The Little Drummer Boy
by Ezra Jack Keats

A Christmas for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Hazel Mitchell: Sweet Pea Summer

Illustrated by the author

Published by Candlewick Press, 2021

I have come to love the garden later in my life. These days I am happiest when I am outside in my pink gumboots, with grubby overalls on, and tending to the myriad of plants that are growing in the good brown earth.

I love flowers the most and sweet peas are one of my favourites. In Melbourne, sweet pea seeds are best planted in March and with some tender care, rain, sunshine, and compost, you should be rewarded with scented flowers by November. So much about gardening is waiting and watching. This year, the sweet peas in the garden are growing up the brickwork of our chimney and in June they are almost 3 feet high.

So, it was with some joy that I picked up this picture book with that wonderful title and read about a young girl staying with her grandparents for the summer holidays while her mum is in hospital. It’s a sad beginning, because even when we are young, we are already learning that life is not all about honey and crumpets. Some days are hard, there is much uncertainty, and we have to figure out how to keep going.

Luckily for this young girl, her grandparents live in a cosy home on a large block of land not too far away. Very soon, she is in the garden and her grandpa thinks it might be a good idea if his grand-daughter looks after the sweet peas. He even suggests that she could enter some blooms in the upcoming flower show.

There is a lot to learn: how to tie up the growing tendrils, how to remove old seedpods, how much to feed and when to water, how much sun and how much shade, and lots of waiting and watching. But even with all that care and attention, the sweet peas fail to thrive. What could be the problem?

Grandpa’s watering technique needs some tweaking it seems and with that mystery solved, the sweet peas begin to thrive and flower. The hard-to-grow blue sweet peas are picked and put in a vase for the flower show. Will mum be there to see her display? Will her blue sweet peas win a prize?

This is a lovely story developing the ideas of perseverance, holding on to hope, and finding your inner strength. The illustrations are bright and colourful and filled with the sense of all that is good about family and the bonds that keep us connected and motivated.

At the end of the book there is more information about the beautiful sweet pea, its history from humble beginnings in Italy, its introduction into England during the late 17th century and competitions which celebrate its current diversity in form, colour and fragrance. If you haven’t grown these gorgeous flowers before, grab a packet of seeds and give it a go, you will be rewarded by bunches of sweet smelling flowers in just a few months.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of gardening, gardens and growing plants:

In the Garden by Emma Giuliani

We are the Gardeners
by Joanna Gaines and kids Illustrated by Julianna Swaney

Up in the Garden and
Down in the Dirt
by Kate Messner
Illustrated by
Christopher Silas Neal

A Seed is Sleepy
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

And then it’s Spring
by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Isabella’s Garden
by Glenda Millard
Illustrated by Rebecca Cool

Yucky Worms by Vivian French Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

Florette by Anna Walker

Emily’s Green Garden
by Penny Harrison
Illustrated by Megan Forward

A child’s garden: a story of hope
by Michael Foreman

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

The Garden of Hope
by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Katie Rewse

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Sunflower House by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

And the Good Brown Earth
by Kathy Henderson

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

Bumpety Bump! by Pat Hutchins

Errol’s Garden by Gillian Hibbs

Plant the Tiny Seed
by Christie Matheson

The Last Garden by Rachel Ip Illustrated by Anneli Bray

Maisy Grows a Garden
by Lucy Cousins

The Selfish Giant
by Oscar Wilde
Illustrated and abridged
by Alexis Deacon

Jenni Desmond: The Polar Bear

Illustrated by the author

Published by Enchanted Lion Books, NY, 2016

We bought a polar bear many years ago for our seven-year-old daughter. It was creamy white, as long as the width of a single bed, as cuddly as my daughter and so soft. Over the years, Snowy has been a pillow, a listener, an observer, a comfort, and a companion. Even today, more grey than creamy, there is something majestic about Snowy as he rests quietly at the end of the bed, his familiar place in our home for more than 20 years.

It’s sad to think that during those years, the real polar bears of this world have been fighting for survival whilst being hunted for sport and commercial interests. The most imminent threat for them is climate change and the effects of early melting of snow and ice in the Arctic during summer and the later freezing during autumn. These trends affect their ability to hunt, the availability of food and the time it takes for them to put on enough weight to survive the summer months going into winter.

Jenni Desmond has written and illustrated this gorgeous picture book about polar bears. We begin reading about these endangered animals through the eyes of a young girl as she picks this picture book off the shelf and begins to imagine herself in the polar bear’s world.

We learn about their Arctic habitat, how the polar bears spend their days, what they like to eat and how their bodies keep them insulated from freezing temperatures. Did you know that while the coat of a polar bear can be yellow or grey, the colour of its skin is black?

Adult male polar bears can weigh around 1,000 pounds. To help us understand how heavy that is, there is a wonderful two page spread with illustrations of twenty children around 7 years old. If you were to pile them up, that’s how heavy an adult polar bear could be.

There is so much more to learn: hunting techniques, life span, extraordinary sense of smell and sight, as well as how a polar bear manages motherhood, its life span in the wild, and how you can figure out its age from counting the rings inside its tooth!

The final page shows our young reader curled up with a mother polar bear and her cubs, it reminded me so much of my daughter with her bear.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature polar bears, some fictional, some humorous and some full of facts to amaze the most curious minds:

Polar Bear, Polar Beat, What Do You Hear by Eric Carle

Where Bear? by Sophy Henn

Love Matters Most by Mij Kelly Illustrated by Gerry Turley

No Place Like Home
by Ronojoy Ghosh

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett

The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour by Robin & Beck Feiner

The Very Hungry Bear
by Nick Bland

A Splendid Friend, Indeed
by Suzanne Bloom

Virgil & Owen by Paulette Bogan

A Polar Bear in the Snow
by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Shawn Harris

If Polar Bears Disappeared
by Lily Williams

The Rainbow Bear
by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

That’s Not My Polar Bear
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Lily and the Polar Bears
by Jion Sheibani

Little Polar Bear by Hans de Beer

Polar Bear’s Underwear
by Tupera Tupera

Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears by Jessica Olien

Ice Bear: in the steps of the polar bear by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Gary Blythe

Sea Bear by Lindsay Moore

The Bear Report by Thyra Heder

Roly Poly by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Jane Dyer

Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis Illustrated by Jarvis

Polar Bears by Mark Newman

Little Bear Dreams by Paul Schmid

Amy McQuire: Day Break

Illustrated by Matt Chun

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

I remember sitting at the kitchen table the day before Australia Day this year and asking my daughter how she would be spending that annual holiday. Her response was to go to work as usual and take the holiday any other day but that one. It made me pause for a moment and think again about what I had gained at the expense of what others had lost. When we reflect upon Australia Day from the perspective of those whose land this has belonged to for so many tens of thousands of years, then our response to it must also be challenged.

Day Break confronts this uncomfortable truth and tells the story of how one family from three different generations approaches Australia Day.

At school, a young girl learns that January 26 marks the day “that white men discovered our country.” At home, her father tells her that his ancestors were already here for many thousands of years. And Nan says that they will not be celebrating the day by sleeping in or eating fish and chips or going to the beach, instead they will be going back to Country and remembering those who died and lost everything when British settlers came to this land.  

Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander mother and journalist from Rockhampton in Queensland and in this picture book she has written a narrative not only for her two young children, but for all Aboriginal children so that they can see themselves and their place in Australian history.

The story is a gentle but forceful reminder of what happened more than 200 years ago, the survival of the Indigenous people and their continuing fight for recognition as custodians and owners of this land in the past, present and future.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4 years and above, and below are more suggestions for picture books which help us to understand Country and what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia:

My Culture and Me
by Gregg Dreise

I Saw, We Saw
by Yolnu Students of
Nhulunbuy Primary School,
with Ann James and Ann Haddon

Took the Children Away
by Archie Roach
Illustrations by Ruby Hunter

Welcome to Country
by Aunty Joy Murphy
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Sea Country
by Aunty Patsy Cameron
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Family
by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

My People by Eddie Betts

Coming Home to Country
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Wilam: a Birrarung Story
by Aunty Joy Murphy
and Andrew Kelly
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Walking in Gagudju Country: exploring the Monsoon Forest
by Diane Lucas and Ben Tyler Illustrated by Emma Long

Baby Business by Jasmine Seymour

Finding Our Heart: a story about the Uluru Statement
for young Australians
by Thomas Mayor
Illustrated by Blak Douglas

Cooee Mittigar:
a story of Darug Songlines
by Jasmine Seymour
Illustrated by
Leanne Mulgo Watson

Sorry Day by Coral Vass
Illustrated by Dub Leffler

My Story by Shirley Purdie

Main Abija: My Grandad
by Karen Rogers