Michael Morpurgo: Owl or Pussycat?

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Published by David Fickling Books, Great Britain, 2020

I think I have read just about everything that Michael Morpurgo has written…I just love the way he invites the reader into the story, makes the characters come to life, draws on our collective emotional experiences of what it is like to navigate the complexities of the world and shows us the way to go forward with integrity, honesty, and respect, even as we sometimes fail and make mistakes.

This story is about something that actually happened to Michael Morpurgo when he was a six-year-old schoolboy at St Cuthbert’s in England. His mum had read Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, to young Michael so often, and he had recited it so well in class, that the teacher nominated him to play the part of Owl in the Christmas school play. This was especially wonderful because the Pussycat was going to be played by Belinda…Michael’s best friend and the first girl he had ever loved. That’s a big thing for a six-year-old boy.

There are lots of preparations for the big night, lots of ups and downs in the rehearsals, but finally the curtains open on the stage and Michael and Belinda begin the performance of their young lives, as Owl and Pussycat.

All is going well, until the Owl picks up his guitar from the bottom of the pea green boat and his mind, voice, and heart freezes. The miracle that happens next is a testament to the wonder of friendship, love and team-work.

The illustrations for this story are so tenderly drawn by Polly Dunbar, with gorgeous details on every page: parquetry floors, costumes, paperchains, a double page spread for the opening night on stage and the wonder of friendship and miracles etched in people’s faces. An added bonus is that the end pages beautifully illustrate the complete poem by Edward Lear.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and anyone who has memories of school plays and being saved by a friend. Below are more picture book titles by Michael Morpurgo, but if you have older children, please check out his other popular junior fiction books, you won’t be disappointed:

Coming Home
Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

Wombat Goes Walkabout Illustrated by
Christian Birmingham

On Angel Wings
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Grandpa Christmas
Illustrated by Jim Field

Dolphin Boy
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

It’s a Dog’s Life
Illustrated by Patrick Benson

The Silver Swan Illustrated by Christian Birmingham

The Best of Times
Illustrated by
Emma Chichester Clark

The Little Albatross
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

The Goose is Getting Fat
Illustrated by Sophie Allsopp

We Are Not Frogs!
Illustrated by Sam Usher

Simon James: Days Like This

Illustrated by the author

Published by Candlewick Press, 1999

My first day at school to-day.

Funny sort of day.

Didn’t seem to learn much.

Seemed all we did was play.

Then teacher wrote some letters

On a board all painted black,

And then we had a story…

I don’t think I’ll go back.

By Rod Hull

Simon James has selected and illustrated a collection of small poems to be enjoyed and savoured by young and older readers alike. The poem written above by Rod Hull is my favourite. It reminded me of something my daughter said when she started kindergarten.

My mother-in-law had made her three new and wondrous dresses for the occasion. One dress for each day of the week she would be there. When the first three days were over, my daughter asked what she would be wearing next time she went to kinder. When she discovered there were no more new dresses, my daughter declined very politely to go to kindergarten ever again!

Poetry is a wonderful medium that can be used to introduce young children to the emotive power of words and to help them see the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life.

In this collection, we are sledding down mountains, fishing for guppies, stepping over stones, going on adventures, feeling the summer sun, and wondering about the mystery of a fallen seed and what it might become. Each poem has its own double page spread, giving you time to pause and contemplate the language and the illustration before turning the page and investing your thoughts anew.

Contributions have been made by Charlotte Zolotow, Ogden Nash, Steve Turner and many others. I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years as a gentle introduction to poetry and below are suggestions for more of my favourite poetry and nursery rhyme books:

Animal Crackers by Jane Dyer

A Classic Treasury of Nursery Songs and Rhymes
Illustrated by Trace Moroney

Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn & Play Together Illustrated by Marc Brown

Eric Carle’s Animals Animals Compiled by Laura Whipple Illustrated by Eric Carle

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar Illustrated by Andrew McLean

My Very First Mother Goose
Edited by Iona Opie
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Chicken Soup With Rice:
A Book of Months
by Maurice Sendak

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli Illustrated by Archie Preston

Honey For You, Honey For Me: A First Book of Nursery Rhymes
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Shuffle and Squelch: Poems and Rhymes for Children
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Here’s a Little Poem
Collected by
Jane Yolen & Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Little Poems for Tiny Ears
Poems by Lin Oliver
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Each Peach Pear Plum
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes by Raymond Briggs

Winter Bees and
Other Poems of the Cold
by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Rick Allen

Wynken, Blynken, & Nod
A Poem by Eugene Field
Illustrated by Johanna Westerman

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Out and About:
A First Book of Poems
by Shirley Hughes

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Ian Beck

Sing me the Summer
by Jane Godwin
Illustrated by Alison Lester

Patricia Hegarty: Home

Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

Published by Little Tiger Kids, Great Britain, 2020

All of us need a place to rest –

A cave, a warren, a pond, a nest…

Wherever we may choose to roam,

We need a place to call our home.”

Writing about this picture book today is especially meaningful. A few suburbs away my daughter and her partner are busily packing up boxes and heaving them into a moving truck which will take all their belongings and hopes for the future to a new home. It will be their own home, after years of renting and the excitement of this new phase in their lives, along with the responsibility of the mortgage, is palpable.

They say that “home is where the heart is” and for myself I feel that this is true. The walls, the roof, the people who inhabit the space, the atmosphere, the belongings, the events, the memorabilia, the warmth, and cosiness…all combine to give us an emotive connection to the space we live in. Whether we are animals or humans, these shelters enable us to thrive, create, and rest.

In this picture book, we meet a family of bears waking up from their winter den hibernation and venturing out into a world that is showing the first signs of spring. Almost all the pages have cut-outs, so you can peek through trees and branches to catch a glimpse of owls, squirrels, and beavers as they go about the business of making their homes. Rabbits in warrens, birds in nests, wolves in dens – this is a wonderful introduction to animals and their homes. Teckentrup’s illustrations vividly bring to life the creativity and wonder of home-making, the place that keeps us safe.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for books which explore the idea of home, whether you are animal or human:

Home by Jeannie Baker

Let’s Go Home by Cynthia Rylant Illustrated by
Wendy Anderson Halperin

A House in the Woods
by Inga Moore

Mouse House by John Burningham

Minerva Louise
by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Two Homes by Claire Masurel Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Home by Carson Ellis

The Colour of Home
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Nest by Jorey Hurley

If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche

This Is Our House by Hyewon Yum

Welcome Home, Bear by Il Sung Na

No Place Like Home
by Ronojoy Ghosh

The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

Red House, Blue House,
Green House by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Jane Reiseger

A House for Hermit Crab
by Eric Carle

This is Our House
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Bob Graham

My Very First Book of Animal Homes by Eric Carle

Nicola Davies: Ride the Wind

Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Published by Walker Books, 2020

The title of this picture book and the soaring wingspan of the bird on the front cover suggests that this story is all about an albatross. And it is. But it is also a tender story about a father and son, grieving the loss of wife and mother, and learning to live with her absence in their lives.

We meet Javier, his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, on the choppy seas sailing the Magdalena off the coast of their hometown, catching fish and whatever else might get caught up in their nets. Tomas has changed since the death of his wife, and we learn from the things he says and they way he says it, that this change has not been for the better.

One afternoon, an albatross gets caught up in the fishing nets and is thrown aside on the deck of the boat while Tomas and Felipe sort through the catch. Javier, a boy with a big heart, keeps the bird safely wrapped in a tarpaulin and hides it until the boat makes it back to the shore. Once there, with the help of other people in the village, and without his father’s knowledge, Javier creates a makeshift home for the albatross.

In the old storeroom behind the house, the albatross settles and grows strong again in Javier’s old play pen. During this time, we begin to understand why Javier feels compelled to help the injured bird. Like the albatross leaving its partner in search of food, Javier’s mother left home to travel to the city for work, but she never came back. Javier needs to help this albatross find its way back. He knows it won’t bring his mother home again, but he understands the nature of waiting and wanting.

When Tomas finds out that Javier has rescued and hidden the albatross, his father is so angry that he does something unforgivable. Javier responds in the only way that makes sense to him. Suddenly, father and son must face their own worst fears and make brave choices about what it means to love and be loved.

This is a dramatic story brought to vivid life by the intimate connection between text and illustration. Rubbino’s drawings are brilliant and evoke all the emotions and pathos of the story. I can highly recommend it for children 4-8 years and anyone who loves a good story about albatrosses.

For me, however, this story is a gateway to understanding that we all grieve in different ways, and that communicating how we feel can be hard, even with the people that we love the most. 

Below are more suggestions for picture books about fathers and sons, a relationship that is precious, but not always easy. Fortunately, most of the books that are my favourites positively celebrate the wonderful bond that can be shared between fathers and sons:

Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig

On My Daddy’s Shoulders
by Peter Lawson

My Dad Used to Be so Cool
by Keith Negley

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by David McKean

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

When You Were Small
by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Boy From Mars
by Simon James

The Deer Watch
by Pat Lowery Collins
Illustrated by David Slonim

Hello, Jimmy! by Anna Walker

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

No Kind of Superman
by Danny Parker
Illustrated by Matt Ottley

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Phi

Spot Loves His Daddy by Eric Hill

Why I Love Footy
by Michael Wagner
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Rachel Bright: Slug in Love

Illustrated by Nadia Shireen

Published by Simon & Schuster, Great Britain, 2021

This is a bright and cheerful story about finding love, taking chances, and following your heart. Who would have thought that a story about all of that could be imagined featuring a slug named Doug in need of a hug?

I’m in the garden almost every day, discovering slugs and snails under pots and in pots and slithering towards pots…they are squelchy, icky, slimy and yucky! So, I can understand Doug’s problem. Who would want to hug something like that?

But, one day, close to the white daisies and just over the log, there is a snail called Gail, who is just as grimy, icky, squelchy, and yucky as Doug. And she is gorgeous, with her red lips, red eyeglasses and leopard print shell. Gail looks like a perfect match for Doug…but is she?

There is a lesson here for everyone. Finding love can be hard, and sometimes the partner that you think will suit you best, is not the one that makes your heart sing. Sometimes, love surprises you most when you least expect it. The path of life and love is not always straightforward, but when it works out, we can be like Doug:

 he found his bug and now he’s super duper snug!

This is a picture book that can be easily read and understood by a child learning to read and, at the same time, appeal to adults who might be doing the reading for the fourth or fifth time! Like Jon Klassen and Mo Willems, Rachel Bright has created a story that is satisfying, humorous and instructive on many levels.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and adults of any age. Below are more of my favourite picture books about icky, squishy, squelchy snails:

Snail Trail by Ruth Brown

Slow Snail by Mary Murphy

The Biggest House in the World
by Leo Lionni

Snail Trail by Jo Saxton

The Snail House by Allan Ahlberg Illustrated by Gillian Tyler

Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen Illustrated by Tudor Humphries

Snail, Where Are You?
by Tomi Ungerer

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes

Norman, the Slug with the Silly Shell by Sue Hendra

The Legend of the Golden Snail
by Graeme Base

Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor

Where Do You Live Snail?
by Petr Horacek

Pip and Posy: The Friendly Snail
by Axel Scheffler

Little Spiral by Pat Simmons Illustrated by Patrick Shirvington

Snail and Turtle are Friends
by Stephen Michael King

Snail by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Julia Donaldson: The Hospital Dog

Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan, 2020

Dogs make wonderful pets. Some dogs are so wonderful, they become therapists!

We have friends who own two Havanese dogs, Josh and Viva. They are so well loved and hard working. Anne brings them with her when she visits residents in aged care facilities, nursing homes and respite care. They have little jackets to wear on these special visiting days. That way, everyone knows they have unique jobs to do. Sometimes just their presence is enough to bring a smile on someone’s face for the first time that day. Other times, the dogs’ exuberance is just the thing that encourages someone to go for a walk or get out of bed. Often, all a person needs is the unconditional acceptance of their little bodies being close and two hearts beating together. The residents will say to Anne, “Don’t come visiting again, unless you bring Josh and Viva with you!”

This picture book is all about a Dalmatian called Dot and her owner Rose, “with rings on her fingers and specs on her nose”. Rose takes Dot to all the sick children in Wallaby Ward and there we see how Dot can change the way people feel in one afternoon. Whether it’s calming someone’s anxiety or relieving the boredom of being cooped up and immobile, Dot seems to know just what to do. And Dot doesn’t just help the children who are sick, she also seems to sense that doctors and mothers need attention and care too.

One afternoon Dot does something very brave. In a moment, the tables have turned, and Dot is the one who needs to be patted, stroked, and cared for. The children of Wallaby Ward come to the rescue in the best way possible.

Julia Donaldson tells this story with so much love, bubbliness, and rhythm. The illustrations superbly compliment the text, with extraordinary details on every page. It’s as if Sara Ogilvie has taken her notepad to the hospital ward and sketched everyone and everything she saw. There are crutches leaning up against the wall, hand sanitizers, tea trolleys, pigeons, stethoscopes and all the paraphernalia of life to be seen on these pages. It’s comforting and familiar. I feel like I know Rose and Dot, they could be my neighbours…I wish they were!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years, it’s a sensitive introduction to the importance and relevance of pet therapy and how it can be used in a hospital setting. Below are more picture book suggestions that explore what it is like to feel unwell and going to hospital:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
by Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Do I Have to Go to the Hospital?
by Pat Thomas

Clifford Visits the Hospital by Norman Bridwell

Maisy Goes to the Hospital
by Lucy Cousins

Curious George
Goes to the Hospital
by Margret Rey & H.A. Rey

Franklin Goes to the Hospital
by Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrated by Brenda Clark

I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems

Nurse Clementine by Simon James

Llama Llama Home with Mama
by Anna Dewdney

The Sniffles for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

Get Well Soon, Spot by Eric Hill

Betsy Goes to the Doctor
by Helen Stephens

Next Door’s Dog is a Therapy Dog by Gina Dawson
Illustrated by Vivienne da Silva

Taking Care of Mama Rabbit
by Anita Lobel

The Berenstain Bears
Go to the Doctor
by Stan & Jan Berenstain

I Don’t Want to go to the Hospital Tony Ross

I’m Really Ever So Not Well
by Lauren Child

Claire Saxby: Iceberg

Illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

Published by Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2021

Like many unique environments, the flora and fauna of that southern, icy and ever- changing continent of Antarctica is threatened by pollution, global warming and climate change. This picture book helps us to understand what we might lose if sea ice continues to diminish across this vast and seemingly uninhabitable land.

Following the life cycle of an iceberg as it shears off a glacier in spring, we are encouraged to look closely at what appears to be, at first glance, an empty continent.  As summer nears, animals appear underwater and on shore: leopard seals, penguins, krill, terns, cormorants, humpback whales, squid and orca. All of them dependant on one another and the ice that surrounds them, for food and a place to rest, eat, mate and reproduce.

The illustrations in this picture book have been made using a combination of water colour, acrylic paint, collage, pencil, ink and digital aids. It is wonderful to see so many different shades of blue. The central pages fold outwards to a double spread revealing some of the creatures living in the ocean. Unfolding it, helps us to reflect upon the immensity of this continent, which is almost twice the size of Australia, by that feeling that it is almost too big to hold on your lap!

Accompanying the illustrations, the text is informative, thoughtful and expressed with poetic clarity. For younger readers, visual imagery is captured with creative descriptions:

Terns wheel overhead. Blue-eyed cormorant too, their wingspans wider than outstretched arms….

Penguins dive deep for fish. Seals dive deeper to twitch-whisker hunt.

For older readers, there are enough hints in the text to embark upon their own research and investigate some of the complexities of this fragile ecosystem:

The iceberg is flat-topped, sharp and angular and carries ancient weather in its layers of ice-clothing; a coat for each year volcanoes blew and black ash fell like snow.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that delve into the problems of global warming and climate change:

Where’s the Elephant? by Barroux

The Great Kapok Tree
by Lynne Cherry

The Tantrum that Saved the World by Megan Herbert
Illustrated by Michael E. Mann

The Lazy Friend by Ronan Badel

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh

The Trouble With Dragons
by Debi Gliori

Stand up! Speak Up!
by Andrew Joyner

Window by Jeannie Baker

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish
by Michael Foreman

Greta Thunberg
by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Illustrated by Anke Weckmann

One World by Michael Foreman

Curious George Plants a Tree by Margret & H.A. Rey

Mallee Sky by Jodi Toering Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

A Little Paper Caper
by Oliver Jeffers

The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour by Beck & Robin Feiner

Who Makes a Forest?
by Sally Nicholls
Illustrated by Carolina Rabei

The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le

The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean by Deborah Diesen Illustrated by Dan Hanna

Julia Donaldson: Counting Creatures

Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2020

This is a glorious picture book. There are so many ways to enjoy it, there are so many things you can learn from it, there is so much to visually feast upon.

From the first page and first flap, we are drawn into a magical world of flora and fauna, created from paint, ink, leaves, sticks, fruit, vegetables, collage and Photoshop.

It’s a counting and rhyming book, beginning with a mother bat and her one baby and the constant question, “Who has more babies than that?”

It’s an information book, did you know that owls have babies called owlets? And do you know the names of all the creatures featured?

It’s an interactive book, every page has at least one flap and sometimes more, opening up to the side, or down or up the page. There are also smaller cut-outs that you can use to peek through to the next page or look back at the page you have just turned.

It’s a seek-and-find book, where are all those little spiderlings that you missed when you read the book for the first time?

A companion to Animalphabet, also written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai, these are treasure books that could be read again and again.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below I have more of my favorite stories by Julia Donaldson, and one of my favourite poems written by her:

Animalphabet
Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

The Gruffalo
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo’s Child
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Stick Man
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

A Squash and a Squeeze
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Where’s My Mom?
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Paper Dolls
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

The Ugly Five
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Smeds and the Smoos Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Magic Paintbrush
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

The Further Adventures of The Owl and the Pussy-cat
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

The Everywhere Bear
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Night Monkey Day Monkey Illustrated by Lucy Richards

The Go-Away Bird
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner

The Detective Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

The Hospital Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Room on the Broom
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Snail and the Whale
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

I Opened A Book….

I opened a book and in I strode
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

From Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, first published 2004 by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers International Limited. Text copyright © Julia Donaldson 2004

Claire Saxby: Kookaburra

Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Kookaburra  by Claire Saxby at Abbey's Bookshop,

Published by Walker Books, NSW, 2020

Magpies and kookaburras are my favourite birds. Why?

Because they sing!

There is something about their song that brings me joy, knowing that they are calling to one another, conversing and living in their environments and following the familiar rhythms of the seasons.

This picture book about kookaburras has been beautifully illustrated by Tannya Harricks using oil paints. You just want to touch the pages, because the medium is so tactile even on glossy paper. Deep green gum leaves, rough brown tree bark, fanned feathers and brilliant blue sky all combine to place you right in the middle of the Australian bush.

The text is simple, but informative too. With almost poetic language, we follow the life of a kookaburra and her mate, as they search for food, find a nest, defend their territory and lay eggs. Accompanying the story, each page has italicised text with extra facts about kookaburras, explaining in more detail why the birds behave as they do, how they choose a nest, how they defend their territory and what they like to eat.

At the end of the book, there is more information for older readers about where you would find kookaburras in Australia, how many species there are and how long it takes for baby kookaburras (chicks) to mature and leave the nest.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and all bird enthusiasts. Below are more suggestions for picture books about kookaburras:

I See a Kookaburra by Steve Jenkins Illustrated by Robin Page

Cheeky Kookaburra
by Rebecca Johnson
Illustrated by Steve Parish

Kookaburra Kookaburra
by Bridget Farmer

Kookaburras Love to Laugh
by Laura and Philip Bunting

Who is Laughing?
by Eva-Marie Welsh

The Butterfly Garden
by Michael Torres
Illustrated by Fern Martins

Kookoo Kookaburra
by Gregg Dreise

Jeremy by Chris Faille
Illustrated by Danny Snell

My Mum’s Special Secret
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Story of Kurri Kurri the Kookaburra by Leslie Rees Illustrated by Margaret Senior

We All Sleep by
Ezekiel Kwaymullina
and Sally Morgan

Kookaburra School by Jill Morris Illustrated by Heather Gall

Backyard Birds by Helen Milroy

Corrinne Averiss: Love

Illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman

Published by Words & Pictures, The Quarto Group, 2020

There is a story in our family about a time when I did not pick up my daughter from primary school. It wasn’t an end of school day pick up at 3.30pm with all the other mums and dads. On this day, it was close to midnight and a chartered bus was delivering children home from school camp. I had waited up sitting on our couch and made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes just for a minute. I woke suddenly to the phone ringing with a concerned teacher on the other end of the line. By the time I got to the school, my daughter was the only child left, standing alone and tearful in the dark, with a teacher by her side.

These moments stay with us. Separation and anxiety are real fears for everyone.

This beautifully illustrated picture book helps young readers to visualise love like a piece of string, connecting us to our family and friends, even when they are not close. Like a warm scarf or a shining light, the strings of love connecting us to those we cherish can envelop us, make us feel safe and help us endure moments of anxiety.

When young Tess goes to school for the first time, she is worried that the string of love connecting herself to her mother will not stretch far enough without breaking. A kind teacher reassures Tess that her mother will return, and a new friend talks about his string of love connecting him to a parent who has died. Tess discovers that everyone has connections that unite them to others, even when they are far apart.

But what happens when Mummy is late to pick Tess up from school and she is left in the classroom with her teacher after all the other children have gone home? Can strings that have been broken, be reconnected again?

The illustrations in this picture book are endearing and heartfelt. I can highly recommend this story for young readers 4-6 years, especially for those who are starting school for the first time and feel anxious about taking the first step. Below are more picture books which explore the concepts of separation and anxiety, love and connectedness:

Ten Beautiful Things
by Molly Beth Griffin
Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga

Starting School by Jane Goodwin Illustrated by Anne Walker

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

I Am Absolutely Too Small for School by Lauren Child

Lucy and Tom Go to School
by Shirley Hughes

Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn Illustrations by Ruth E. Harper
and Nancy M. Leak

Come to School Too,
Blue Kangaroo!
by Emma Chichester Clark

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Maddie’s First Day
by Penny Matthews
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

The Pigeon HAS to go to School!
by Mo Willems

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

Llama Llama Misses Mama
by Anna Dewdney

The Red Thread by Grace Lin

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson